7 big questions for Liverpool heading into the 2023/24 season

The start of the Premier League season is just ten days away.

Excitement is building and everything is possible, as it all starts again with a fresh slate.

Things are particularly new seeming for Liverpool, who have undergone the biggest squad upheaval since Jurgen Klopp's arrival, as they attempt to banish the memory of a particularly underwhelming 2022/23 campaign.

But where exactly are Liverpool at going into 2023/24?

Here are the seven biggest questions about the team right now.

Who will be the number six?

© Proshots - Romeo Lavia

The big obvious one.

Liverpool are less than two weeks away from starting the new Premier League season and the first-team squad doesn't have a fit, specialist defensive midfielder.

The mainstay at the base of Liverpool midfield for the last five years, Fabinho, has gone, while just about anyone else mildly capable of performing a similar role has either also left (Jordan Henderson, James Milner) or is recovering from injury (Stefan Bajcetic, Thiago, Tyler Morton).

Klopp has insisted Curtis Jones can play as a 'number six' with the right structure around him, but he is certainly not a 'destroyer' like Fabinho was.

The Reds may get away with a form of double-pivot using a combination of Jones, Bajcetic, Thiago, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alexis Mac Allister some of the time, but it is clear that a more physical, defensive profile is needed, especially for the big games.

Melissa Reddy has reported that Liverpool are still looking for two different types of deeper lying midfield players this summer – though it's not guaranteed two will arrive this window.

Romeo Lavia remains the main target to succeed Fabinho, with a third bid expected for the 19-year-old Southampton rate at £50m.

Even if he is signed now, he will have missed the entirety of pre-season.

Will the Reds land him in time for the 13 August opener against Chelsea?

And, with just one season of Premier League experience, is he even ready for the step up and become Liverpool's new 'lighthouse'?

Is the defence good enough?

© ProShots - Virgil van Dijk

With all the talk of the midfield rebuild, there is a worry that Liverpool are delaying a similar shake-up required at the back.

Liverpool have leaked goals in pre-season (ten in four outings). While it is 'only pre-season', the warning signs are there.

Joel Matip's contract expires next summer and the German-born former Cameroon international looks far off the player he once was. The 31-year-old appears particularly ill-suited to a back three, without the pace and physicality to cope with the demands of the role.

Joe Gomez too, now Liverpool's longest-serving first-team player, looks little more than a squad option.

Ibrahima Konate is superb and surely first-choice to partner new captain Virgil van Dik, but can he stay fit for an entire season? In his two years so far, the France centre back has never managed more than 18 Premier League appearances.

It's clear depth is needed.

If Liverpool persist with the 3-2-2-3 formation that worked well in the latter stages of the 2022/23 campaign, they will need a specialist left-sided centre back, rather than relying on Andy Robertson – a world class attacking full back, granted, but not someone equipped to deal regularly with aerials duels, while holding his position and playing out calmly from the back.

READ MORE: Why Liverpool simply must sign a new defender this summer

Levi Colwill was talked up as a potential target earlier in the window but he has now committed his future to Chelsea. Precious few other defenders have been credibly linked.

One report has claimed that Liverpool want a younger, cheaper option for the left-sided role and are prepared to wait until next year to buy, if they can't find the right target this summer.

Can they afford not to buy now?

Where will Trent Alexander-Arnold play?

Liverpool ended an underwhelming 2022/23 Premier League campaign with seven wins from nine, thanks in part to a switch from 4-3-3 to 3-2-2-3.

The 'box midfield' system gave Alexander-Arnold in particular a new lease of life after a tepid first half of the season. Liverpool's new vice-captain registered seven assists in ten games at the back end of 202/23, and has also thrived in a midfield role for England.

In pre-season, he has been used in both midfield and at full back and can clearly do both roles very well.

He is both the present and future of Liverpool. But where he is used this season and how that affects the rest of the team still raises several questions.

If Alexander-Arnold plays the 'inverted full back' role in a 3-2-2-3, does Robertson still have a position where he can be effective?

If he plays in a pure midfield role in a 4-3-3, do Liverpool have quality right back cover?

READ MORE: What impact can Conor Bradley make for Liverpool in 2023/24? 

Is a double pivot of Alexander-Arnold and (potentially) Lavia, experienced and physical enough to deal with the league's very best?

If he plays right back, does his creative side put too much extra work in Konate – or whoever the right-side centre back is?

While Klopp can – and should – pick and choose his tactics on a game by game basis, there are still issues to be worked out with how the team fits together cohesively.

Will leadership be an issue?

For the first time since 2015, Liverpool have a brand new captain – only their tenth of the Premier League era.

While I don't think anyone is questioning Van Dijk's leadership qualities, the Reds have lost two 'standard setters' this summer in Henderson and Milner, and the impact that has on the dressing room remains to be seen.

In addition, the club's longest-serving forward in Roberto Firmino and the guiding light of the midfield, Fabinho, have also gone.

It's a summer of change like no other in Klopp's time.

The newly confirmed leadership group is incredibly strong, containing three international captains, but the dynamic and culture of the club is shifting and it's important that the team does not lose direction in this period of transition.

Which youngsters will we see?

© Proshots - Ben Doak

Klopp has described the current crop of Liverpool youngsters on the verge of a first-team breakthrough as 'special', with the likes of Ben Doak, Conor Bradley, Bobby Clark, James McConnell and Jarell Quansah all impressing in pre-season, but how much of the next generation will we see in 2023/24?

With Fabio Carvalho and Firmino's departures there is a greater lack of depth in attack meaning we could see more of the exciting Doak (17), who may develop into Salah's understudy.

READ MORE: How Ben Doak could end up as Mohamed Salah's successor

Any failure to full address the holes at 'number six' and centre back could provide opportunities for Morton and Quansah (both 20), while the Europa League group stages may be an ideal proving ground for many others.

Bajcetic was the breakthrough act in 2022/23, a huge beneficiary of the midfield decline. Can anyone follow the 18-year-old Spaniard's example?

Hopefully, those attempting to step up this year won't just be turned to in the event of a crisis.

Will contracts become a distraction?

KARLSRUHE, GERMANY - Wednesday, July 19, 2023: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah during a pre-season friendly match between Karlsruher SC and Liverpool FC at the Wildparkstadion. Liverpool won 4-2. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

With only Adrian, Matip and Thiago on contracts due to expire in 2024, Liverpool appear fairly well settled in terms of squad planning.

However, just one year later, the current deals for captain Van Dijk, vice Alexander-Arnold and Premier League record scorer Salah will all be up.

The onus is on Liverpool to make decisions on the players' futures and avoid getting caught in a situation where the trio could become daily news stories and transfer targets for other clubs.

While talks have been mooted for Alexander-Arnold – and it's hard to see the homegrown star seriously threatening to leave – the other two pose more of a conundrum.

Should Salah and Van Dijk (33 and 34 by the summer of 2025 respectively) be given expensive, long-term extensions to their deals?

It's a question that may be decided by performance this season.

If the answer is no, do Liverpool have to consider succession planning and the potential of selling those two names as soon as next year – however sacrilegious that sounds right now – rather than risk losing them on a free?

READ MORE: Should Liverpool be preparing for Mohamed Salah's goodbye?

In Salah's case in particular, it's not hard to imagine that Liverpool will face sizeable offers from the Saudi Pro League soon for the Arab world's biggest footballing star.

Can they start well?


© Proshots - Jurgen Klopp

Finally, the last big question about Liverpool heading into the new season is simply: can they avoid a slow start?

The Reds' 2022/23 campaign was undone barely weeks after it had started.

Despite beating City to the Community Shield, Klopp's side failed to get a win in any of their opening three Premier League games – and registered just four victories across their first 12 fixtures.

It was a sluggish start that undermined confidence that a title challenge was actually possible, particularly in an era where a campaign of 90+ points is typically required to get close to Manchester City.

In 2021/22, the Reds won six of their first ten matches (not losing any), and in 2019/20 it was a scarcely believable start of 26 wins out of 27 that got them the title.

Klopp has made changes to the club's pre-season – including a boot camp in Germany to focus on fitness work – in order to get his team as ready as possible to hit the ground running in the new season.

They'll need to.

The Reds start 2023/24 away to Mauricio Pochettino's Chelsea on 13 August, while they travel to Newcastle, Tottenham and Brighton, as well as hosting a Merseyside derby all before the end of October.

The Premier League season is famously a marathon not a sprint, but what kind of race Liverpool are in come May – title, top four, or worse – will likely be defined by the yards they put in this autumn.

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