A new season for Liverpool begins with some familiar question marks: what to do in midfield and which system best suits the players available to Jurgen Klopp?
The German’s squad for the trip to Stamford Bridge is very different to the one that visited in April, but the question now is how best he should deploy those resources.
Our experts offer their verdicts on who they believe should start in west London. Let us know your preferred starting XI in the comments below…
Liverpool’s failure to sign a new holding midfielder leaves Jurgen Klopp with a big decision to make ahead of the match at Stamford Bridge.
It’s been a month since it became clear that captain Jordan Henderson and Fabinho were both Saudi Arabia-bound, but the club’s surprise bid to sign Moises Caicedo, and their more prolonged pursuit of Southampton’s Romeo Lavia, have not yielded rewards.
Where should he turn? Alexis Mac Allister played there in the final friendly against Darmstadt and I’d like to see him trusted in that role until that gap in the squad is filled. He’s a World Cup winner and he has experience of playing deeper for Brighton, albeit usually when he had Caicedo for company.
Selecting a back four is more straightforward with Andy Robertson on the left, Ibrahima Konate and Virgil van Dijk in the middle, and Trent Alexander-Arnold in the hybrid role, operating as the right-back out of possession and then stepping into midfield when Liverpool are building attacks.
I toyed with leaving out Jones, picking Gakpo in midfield and then having Diogo Jota as the central striker but I think that would be too bold away to Chelsea. Jota and Darwin Nunez would be great options off the bench.
This fixture will be different to the goalless draw at Stamford Bridge four months ago when the perilous state of both clubs was highlighted.
But since then, Liverpool’s move to a new-look system has helped inject fresh life into a faltering team.
The back line, alongside goalkeeper Alisson, is undisputed with the only real question around Alexander-Arnold and how progressive he is in the hybrid role between right-back and holding midfield.
New captain Van Dijk should partner Konate with Robertson on the left and the safest option — albeit a not entirely secure one — feels like starting with Jones at No 6.
That leaves five more starting positions with seven realistic options to choose from plus Ben Doak, who is emerging as a player with genuine potential to get minutes from the bench this season.
A sensible suggestion is to leave Szoboszlai out and slowly bed him into the team. Mac Allister is already well up to speed with the pace of the Premier League, so playing him alongside Gakpo — who has been tested in an advanced central role — with Diaz, Jota and Salah as the attackers sounds like a plan.
Liverpool’s biggest strength this season will be their goalscoring forwards.
While I wish I was slotting in either Caicedo or Lavia into the No 6 position against Chelsea, Klopp has little choice in who does line up in that role.
It’s between Mac Allister and Jones, and I would opt for the former. He’s a responsible, calm footballer who has experience playing that position in the Premier League. That’s not to take anything away from Jones, but he excelled at the end of last season in the more advanced role.
Gakpo is such a smooth player to watch and his tactical intelligence and positional understanding have allowed Klopp to use him in a deeper role briefly last season and in pre-season. What’s been really impressive from the Dutchman in that role is the relationships he’s formed with Diaz and Jota, who I would start alongside Salah, as he’s been able to link play.
I would use Szoboszlai from the bench. Away at Stamford Bridge in a Premier League game is a tough ask — let alone for a debutant. He’s shown plenty of encouraging glimpses in pre-season but the thought of him and Nunez coming on at 60 minutes to cause havoc is more appealing.
The back five picks itself and the front three mentioned have all enjoyed positive pre-seasons.
Liverpool’s failure to sign a replacement for Fabinho before the opening game of the season means Jones is my pick to play at No 6. It will be a test but, as he proved in that run he went on at the end of last season and during the summer with England Under-21s, he’s in the best form of his career to date. Let him carry on.
It feels like a long time ago in a galaxy far away, but Liverpool did actually sign two midfielders earlier in the window — start them both.
Mac Allister’s name keeps autocorrecting to Mac All-star on my laptop, which feels like a good omen. He is Premier League-proven and his transition will be seamless. Szoboszlai, on the other hand, is not well-versed in the art of England’s top flight yet, but pre-season glimpses and a quick run through his back catalogue tell us he looks ready.
In the middle of the front three, I’d go with Jota. It feels like — if he can stay fit — he might just be about to have his most successful season yet.
On the left, Diaz is raring to begin his completed take-ons tally and Salah in his usual spot is on a mission to never stop proving Chelsea why they were wrong to sell him in 2016.
(Top photo: Alex Livesey/Getty Images)