Premier League Team Review: Liverpool Under Luke
With the World Cup set to get underway and the unusual break for Premier League sides, we at Sky are reviewing each premier league team's season so far. Today, we will analyse Liverpool, in their first few months under new manager, Luke Hendricks.
Luke Hendricks took charge of a Liverpool team who had significantly underperformed last season. Finishing seventh in the table, many were disappointed with the sides performances, despite a Champions League final, the clubs fourth in five seasons. But what has Luke done to turn a team that won just twelve games in a possible twenty-nine (losing nine) in the final five months of last season, into table toppers and unbeaten in all competitions so far.
A Change in Transfer Policy
In Jurgen Klopp's first five windows as Liverpool manager he had a net spend of just £74,000,000. The focus was on buying ‘project’ players who could come in at a relatively cheap price to fit the Klopp mould. The likes of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, all joining the club for under £40,000,000 each. Liverpool spent £50,000,000 on signings on just three occasions in Klopp's first five windows, with those being on Alisson, Naby Keita and Virgil van Dijk all who became vital cogs in the team who won the 2019 Champions League.
But having come so close in the 2018/19 season, finishing second to Manchester City, Liverpool changed their transfer policy. Liverpool moved from buying those who could fit Klopp's system with some work, to buying the finished product. The likes of Toby Alderweireld (£25,000,000) Álex Grimaldo (£40,000,000) and Arkadiusz Milik (£45,500,000) all joined the club in the 2019/20 season. Between the three of them, they made 132 league appearances for the club before being sold on all but Alderweireld for a loss to PSG three seasons later.
The trend of buying the finished product didn’t end there either, with Paulo Dybala joining for a club record £103,000,000 in the 2020/21 season. Again in Klopp's last season, Liverpool signed twenty-eight year old Florian Thauvin (£41,500,000) twenty-seven year old Memphis Depay (£69,000,000) twenty-six year old José Giménez (£63,000,000) and Ben Chilwell who played just fourteen games in a deal worth £40,000,000. The large outlays spent on players who are coming towards the end of their careers or to be used as rotation players, isn’t something Luke Hendricks has done in his time as a manager.
Luke was known to find young talent on low prices during his time at CSKA Moscow, with his most expensive window seeing a total spending of £26,500,000. That was despite raking in £62,500,000 worth of player sales that season following the sale of Nikola Vlasic. Luke’s spending within his means is something he has seemingly begun with at Liverpool.
With the big money sale of Fabinho (£57,000,000) coming before Luke’s arrival. Luke made three deals valued at £60,000,000.Alphonso Davies, Leonidas and Armerl Bella-Kotchap joined his team, with both Davies and Leonidas playing vital first team roles already. That total net spend of just £3,000,000 means Liverpool had the fourth lowest spending in the league this summer. Only Tottenham Hotspur, Brighton Hove Albion and Everton spent less.
Alphonso Davies’ arrival
The signing of Alphonso Davies was considered a great capture when it was first announced, but it has been made to look even better in the first thirteen games of the season. Davies made an immediate impact, receiving his first start in Liverpool's opening game of the season against Arsenal, scoring twice in his side's 5-1 victory. Many believe that his start was partly down to Memphis Depay’s injury and original plans would have seen the dutchman start, however, Davies took his opportunity.
Since then, the Canadian hasn’t slowed down, scoring ten goals in his twelve league appearances, with eleven of those being starts. The left wingers involvement has seen him named Young player of the month twice already this season. Although commonly thought of as a traditional winger, Luke has employed him as an inside forward this season. The move has seemed to work, with Davies producing numbers he has never seen before. Having previously never had a double digit scoring season, at any level of professional football, Davies has hit that total with a large percentage of the season still to play.
It isn't just Davies that has seen an improvement since Luke’s arrival however, with his sides new found attacking intent clear. In his last three seasons, Mohamed Salah has scored twenty plus goals just once in all competitions in a season. That came in 2019/20 with his numbers seeing a drop off in the last two seasons. However, in seventeen games this season, he has managed thirteen goals from the right and is well on his way to breaking twenty for the first time in three years.
Erling Haaland has six goals in twelve games, having replaced Roberto Firmino as his side's number one striker. Whilst Paulo Dybala has shown why the club spent such a large amount on him scoring five in Liverpool's thirteen league games, with eight assists on top of that.
This attacking intent has been in part down to the tactical changes that Liverpool have made this season. Last season, under Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool looked to employ a 4-3-3 with a defensive midfielder. This season however, Liverpool have moved towards a more attacking midfielder with Paulo Dybala being moved forward from the center of midfield.
The system is one that Luke employed, with much success, at CSKA Moscow, with his side breaking scoring records in his time in Russia. When asked in his first press-conference on his tactical style, Luke reaffirmed he will be implementing a similar style to what he did at CSKA, and he hasn’t backed down from that either.
The movement away from the defensive midfielder has seen Liverpool score a league best thirty-three goals, two better than second place Manchester United. Liverpool have struggled for goals in recent years, scoring seventy plus just once in the last three seasons. The issue was seen when the side managed to win the league title scoring just fifty-eight goals, something many suggested wasn’t sustainable, to be proven right last year. Despite improving their scoring to sixty-five Liverpool fell to seventh.
Liverpool’s tally of thirty-three goals this season is therefore just twenty five off of their tally from the 2020/21 season, having played less than half their games. This hasn't, however, affected the league leaders' defense. The suggestion is that stability and consistency has been the advantage Liverpool have had this season, with a consistent defense playing week in week out.
Last season, just Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez played thirty or more league games (30 and 31 respectively) in the Liverpool defense. At left back, Andrew Robertson and Ben Chilwell rotated almost weekly, with Robertson playing twenty-five games and Chilwell the remaining thirteen. That rotation was seen to a lesser extent at right back too, with Trent Alexander-Arnold starting twenty-eight league games and Max Aarons starting ten.
Whilst rotation is a luxury, many believed that the lack of consistency cost Liverpool numerous points last season, with new combinations being tried every few weeks. Under Luke that trend has changed once more. Only Trent Alexander-Arnold, in Luke’s preferred starting four, has missed more than one league game this season. His captain's absence was due to injury, with Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Andrew Robertson all starting every game together.
This improved consistency in the back four has seen Liverpool concede just five goals in their thirteen league games so far, with just two coming in their last eight games. Like scoring, Liverpool topped the charts in stopping goals going in at the other end, with Manchester City sitting second in the ‘conceded’ table with seven. Alisson has also seemingly returned to his best, keeping eight clean sheets for his team this season, just three off his league tally last season.
The impressive lack of goals conceded can in part be put down to Liverpool's equally impressive tackling percentage. Winning 91% of their tackles so far this season Liverpool are also considered to be the ‘cleanest’ side in the league, with just eight yellow cards to their name. The record suggests that Liverpool will have a more consistent lineup throughout, with less players being unavailable due to suspension.
What do Liverpool have to be worried about following the end of the World Cup? Well the small challenge of playing greatest rivals Manchester United would be one. Liverpool will travel to Old Trafford in their first game back in competitive action on December 21st.
The table toppers schedule doesn’t get much kinder either, as they face Watford and West Brom before a home tie against Manchester City. Although Liverpool's record against the ‘top six’ this season has been impressive, beating Arsenal (who now sit second), Tottenham Hotspur (6th) and Chelsea (4th) playing the two Manchester sides will be a tough test.
With a number of games continuing to impact the team as we enter the new year, what also may be a concern is the apparent lack of depth at the club in some key areas. In central attacking midfield, Paulo Dybala has played nineteen of his club’s twenty-one games this season. That total could be a concern with the only true backup being seventeen year old Ryan Fraser.
The same can be said on the right flank, with Luke clearly not a fan of Florian Thauvin, with the thirty year old not even being named on the bench in recent weeks.
Under new manager Luke Hendricks, a number of changes have taken place. The recruitment strategy has changed, whilst tactically adaptations have been made too. This has allowed both new and existing players to make a real difference compared to previous seasons, with Liverpool clearly a more dominant force going forward.
They will have two major tests early into the return of the Premier League, but if they manage to pass them, Luke Hendricks may well bring another league title to Merseyside.
Who know's if anyone will be there...
It seems as though they have a target and do whatever to take them out.
I think that should help
How did you know??