Loading scores...
Virgil van Dijk
Getty Images
Season Preview

Liverpool Season Preview

by Steve Rothgeb
Updated On: July 20, 2021, 8:19 am ET

With the action and intriguing storylines of this summer's Euros now behind us, which came quickly after the end of Manchester City's title-winning campaign, now would be a good time to catch your breath and relax for a bit from all the football activity.

...okay, break is over now. We are just a few week from the start of a new PL season, and clubs are already underway with preseason fixtures. At any point you have reached your destination, you may have to jump, because this train simply does not stop. With less than a month before the Week 1 deadline, we plan to present as many team previews as we can, and keep you up to date with the latest player movement along the way. In order to ease into this series, Liverpool has stood out as a good candidate to begin things, a club even casual fans are rather familiar with, and one that seems relatively straightforward in terms of how they plan to line up this season. 

Last Season Summary

The Reds began last season with the goal of defending the league title, and for many, despite the historic challenges of a repeat, pegged Jurgen Klopp's side to dominate again. After one month, their chances took a massive blow, when Virgil Van Dijk suffered a season-ending injury after just four games. He was coming off not only the league title but UEFA Player of the Year honors. Naturally, when you lose the best player of the year...on Earth, you would expect a negative effect, and that's precisely what told the story of the Reds last season, who still managed to earn a Champions League spot with a third place finish. Still, they accrued just 69 points in the table versus 99 the year before. They carried an unbeaten home record well into the campaign, but that eventually cracked as, after 68 straight at Anfield without a loss, the streak was snapped by Burnley mid-season.

The loss of van Dijk was paired with injury issues at the center back position, with Joe Gomez falling to a long-term injury himself and Joel Matip missing significant time as well. It got to the point where an unexpected pairing of Fabinho and Nathaniel Phillips was the settled choice, with the Reds defense finally improving with this duo down the final stretch of last season. Still, a severe drop in clean sheets saw a dramatic drop in fantasy value from the back. Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold still managed to be the two top scoring defenders this past FPL season like we thought they would be, but Robertson scored 20 less points than he did the previous campaign, while TA-A was short a whopping 50 points, making their price tags sting a bit.

Meanwhile, in attack, it was much of the same from the front trident of Roberto Firmino, Mo Salah and Sadio Mané, with Salah once again gunning for a Golden Boot, falling just one goal shy. The major shakeup here would have to be the addition of Diogo Jota from Wolves, who really made the most of his opportunities as a bench weapon to a degree where Klopp had no other choice but to find a way to work him into his XI. Salah would outscore Mane by 55 points last season, causing FPL interest in the latter to wane considerably. The midfield, meanwhile, did the hard work that FPL does not reward, with Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and ThIago all putting in solid seasons.

Summer Subtractions

Gini Wijnaldum - Liverpool, to date, have only seen one of their senior players depart Anfield this summer, but it was a considerable one, as versatile midfielder Wijnaldum has moved on to play for PSG. He played all 38 league games for the Reds, scoring just a pair of goals, but doing every bit his part in midfield to dispossess the opponent or link up play when on the ball. Wijnaldum had not featured in every league game since his final season with Newcastle back in 2015/16. Now 30 years old, he spent his prime years with great success at Anfield, but the Dutchman moves on.

Summer Additions

To date, Liverpool have made only one summer signing, but it was a big one. Coming over from RB Leipzig is Ibrahima Konate, a young, athletic, physical center back that should be an imposing figure for years to come. He is only 22 years old and has room to grow but is already considered an odds-on favorite to nail down a starting gig in his first season at Anfield. The FPL game seems to think this way, as they priced Konate a half-million more than other center backs who would otherwise partner a healthy van Dijk. Konate is not what one would call an attacking threat (one goal in two seasons), but he's a big man who will have some of the world's best crossers putting the ball on a platter from set pieces.

Club Needs

This is an area that will be better analyzed after a bit of preseason, but we have yet to see the Reds in action. They play only two proper preseason games, the first of which will occur later this week. Clearly, the biggest question is, who fills the shoes of Wijnaldum. Can someone on the roster fill the void or do the Reds want to do some more summer shopping. Both options are possible, with transfer rumors already swirling about, with the name Nicolo Barella popping up lately, an Italian CM who offers much the same skill set that Wijnaldum did. Otherwise, no pressing needs in terms of the starting XI for the Reds, but they could do with some depth, as some positions have some relatively inexperienced backups, particularly at the full back positions.

Position Battles

Should Liverpool pursue a big fish like Barella, what does that then say for Naby Keita, who was lauded upon his arrival for his midfield skill set. Keita would be the best choice to replace Wijnaldum in house, otherwise, it may be in Jurgen Klopp's best interest to deploy two CDM anchors deep with a more attack-minded CAM pushing forward more often than not. With Fabinho now not necessarily needed on the defensive line, he could partner Jordan Henderson as anchors. This would allow Klopp to create an opening for Jota to play along with Salah, Mane and Firmino.

We can pencil in the following:

Alisson between the sticks

Robertson, Alexander-Arnold, and a fully fit van Dijk will be regulars

Jordan Henderson is nailed on

Mane, Salah and Firmino are set for another year on the front lines

So that leaves the partner to van Dijk. As mentioned already, Ibrahima Konate would appear to have the inside track on the gig, if not immediately out of the starting gate, then at some point during the season. Joe Gomez is still recovering from injury, so he is low on the depth chart now, but certainly was on track to be a top CB in the league. Joel Matip does have health on his side, but it seems he can never hold the job for very long when he gets it the past couple of seasons.

Again, with Fabinho not required to play the role of CB, he now becomes competition in Liverpool's midfield. At the moment, he would make the most sense to play up alongside Henderson, though ThIago presents an alternative option. Neither would be of much interest in the FPL format, but whoever among Fabinho or ThIago nails down a regular role will be a fantasy hit in most draft leagues. Set to come up short for a regular role but still worth keeping an eye on are the versatile Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, developing youngster Curtis Jones, along with veteran attacking options Xherdan Shaqiri, Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi. Oxlade-Chamberlain has apparently impressed in early training sessions, so he is a name to bookmark.

Fantasy Take

In just about any non-FPL draft format, every starter for Liverpool will be on a fantasy roster and one of the higher picks at their respective positions. There is simply too much to like about the Reds chances for rebounding and chasing down another PL title with the return of van Dijk. The defense should tighten up considerably and make it all the more easier for the attack to ply their trade. 

Some things for an FPL manager to consider - Is Alexander-Arnold worth .5m more than Robertson? Is Mo Salah an essential, no-questions-asked selection? Will Jota carve out a regular role? Because, in my mind, those are your three Liverpool players for an FPL squad should you max out on three. Salah, one of the full backs, and Jota if he is going to start. That is about 27m of your team budget immediately tied up.

Last season, Salah and Mane were getting near-equal consideration at the start of the season for FPL rosters, but it is clear that Salah's .5m more than Mane is a no-brainer to the vast majority of the community. Consider Mane one of the most expensive, if not THE most expensive differentials in the game. And a quick shout out to perhaps the best player in the league that the FPL game was simply not designed for - Roberto Firmino. Between his penchant for assisting the assist and the fact that just about every FPL forward people want, who is not named Harry Kane or Jamie Vardy, can be had for cheaper.

Final Takeaway

FPL - Get Salah. Get one of Robertson or Alexander-Arnold. Wait and see on Jota.

Draft - Rank defenders higher than their performance last season with van Dijk's return. Oxlade-Chamberlain is worth a late-round add until there is new addition to midfield. Risk/reward in reaching for Jota.

Steve Rothgeb

Steve Rothgeb is a contributor for NBC Sports Edge and WorldSoccerTalk.com, a self-proclaimed fantasy sports oracle, and Tottenham Hotspur fanatic. He can be found on Twitter @FuzzyWarbles.