During Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Nottingham Forest, I found myself watching Alexis Mac Allister, Dominik Szobsozlai and Ryan Gravenberch, and thinking 'imagine Fabinho or Jordan Henderson trying to do that last season.'
It seemed unfathomable.
The Reds' struggles in 2022/23 were plain to see, with the engine room too often completely lifeless, and age catching up with too many individuals, including James Milner and Thiago.
While the rest of Liverpool’s best possible starting XI has remained similar to last season, the changes made in midfield during the summer were significant and much-needed.
There were concerns over how long it would take the new signings to bed in, however, with some even of the opinion that this was going to be a transitional year that allowed Jurgen Klopp to slowly build his 2.0 era.
How wrong they were.
The Liverpool that we are watching now couldn’t be further from the struggling outfit we had to painfully sit through last time around – this new-and-improved version would wipe the floor with the team that came before it – and it’s almost completely down to the midfield rebuild.
In Mac Allister, Szoboszlai and Gravenberch, Liverpool have brought in three players who are both superb on a technical level, but also capable of covering endless ground and linking well with one another.
Granted, Mac Allister arguably isn’t perfect for the No.6 role, with many wanting him further up the pitch, but his display against Forest was his best yet in a Reds shirt, and he is only going to grow into the position working under a manager of Klopp’s tactical brilliance.
It may be that a more natural defensive midfielder is signed in the future, but who’s to say that the Argentine won’t end up making the role his own over time?
He is talented and intelligent enough to do so.
Then there’s Szoboszlai, who feels like Liverpool’s finest midfield signing since Xabi Alonso arrived at Anfield from Real Sociedad almost 20 years ago.
The level of performance that the 23-year-old is producing every week is astonishing, and the biggest compliment you can pay him is that there are genuine comparisons to draw with Steven Gerrard.
Szoboszlai possesses the Liverpool legend’s pace, power, long-range shooting ability and leadership, and there doesn’t appear to be a single fault in his game.
He was Liverpool’s best player once again on Sunday, and it feels as though he has been part of the midfield for years, taking almost no time to adapt.
Meanwhile, Gravenberch is still finding his feet on a tactical level, and will only get better in that aspect of his game, but he has done enough in his short time with the Reds to suggest that Klopp has delivered a masterstroke in signing him from Bayern Munich.
For whatever reason, things didn’t work out for the Dutchman in Germany, but he has all the tools to be a huge player for Liverpool, combining athleticism, dribbling ability and work-rate, not to mention scoring and assisting twice apiece already.
There is a reason why Gravenberch has been compared to Jude Bellingham in the past, and at 21, there is so much more to come from him.
It’s also worth noting that Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott have found another gear since the end of last season, with the former a key player before his red card away to Tottenham, and the latter an influential impact substitute in many matches in 2023/24.
At 22 and 20 respectively, there is no reason why their career trajectories shouldn’t continue to go in a positive direction, and the same applies to those mentioned above.
Even Wataru Endo has done his bit so far, albeit to a lesser extent, and while some grumbled at his low-key arrival in the summer transfer window, it is easy to envisage him being remembered as a great squad player when he eventually departs.
All of a sudden, Liverpool are fun to watch again, and they feel like a serious football team who can win major honours this season.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) October 29, 2023
The ease with which they swatted aside Forest at the weekend felt similar to victories at home to lesser teams back in 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2021/22, and Bournemouth, Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton have also been seen off in serene fashion at Anfield in recent months.
While the midfield can’t be used as the only reason for Liverpool’s vast improvements, Klopp’s decision to completely change things in the middle of the park couldn’t have paid off more handsomely.
Five players whose influence was increasingly diminishing were moved on in favour of four footballers with far more energy, guile and miles in the tank, and it has revitalised the whole club, not least some of their teammates.
It is no surprise that Virgil van Dijk now looks back to his absolute best, for example, after dipping way below his usual standard last season.
There is now actually a midfield in front of him to provide protection, rather than being exposed time and time again because Fabinho and Henderson, and others, were simply incapable of providing the dynamism they once did.
Even in attack, Darwin Nuñez is a much happier and more effective figure because he is being given superior service, as highlighted by Szoboszlai’s assist for him against Forest, following a typically lung-busting run into the box from the Hungarian.
Whether Liverpool are going to have enough to pip Man City and possibly even Arsenal to Premier League glory remains to be seen, with Pep Guardiola’s side in ominous form in their win over Man United, but either way, the Reds are a genuine force again.
For the new midfield arrivals to have made this big an impression so soon after joining is a pleasant surprise, and with each passing game, the more we get to treasure them as a unit, as well as Jones and Elliott, erasing the memory of last season’s woes at the same time.