Premier League club manager increasingly reliant on youth even as continues to reinvent players.
Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp have plenty more attacking options ahead of new season
Dominic Solanke has been both problem and prodigy, an indictment of Premier League clubs and an example of England’s youth policies belatedly producing. He played just 17 minutes of first-team football for Chelsea. He won the Under 20 World Cup. Indeed, he won its Golden Ball and, at the risk of elevating expectations, previous recipients include Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and Paul Pogba.
Liverpool’s first summer signing tired of Chelsea’s reluctance to promote from within. An outsider has indicated a determination to force his way into Jurgen Klopp’s side. A skimming drive helped defeat Crystal Palace and secure Liverpool a place in the Premier League Asia Trophy final while proving a second goal in three pre-season outings for his new employers.
“You need to be unpredictable, especially as strikers,” Klopp said, savouring the enterprising Solanke’s contribution.
And yet what was an uplifting occasion for the 19-year-old player nevertheless carried a warning for one who covets a central attacking role. It seemed to underline how Klopp is becoming the scourge of the specialist striker. A newcomer illuminated the first half in Hong Kong: the winger Mohamed Salah.
With the Egyptian an added option on the flanks, Roberto Firmino’s role as false nine turned full-time nine seems cemented. Daniel Sturridge started and the substitute Divock Origi also scored and provided Solanke’s goal but both bear the look of squad players. Solanke’s age means he will begin as an understudy. Salah should not. At least Liverpool, too reliant on their preferred attacking quartet last season, are sensing they have strength in depth.
“We need options and we need speed,” Klopp said.
Salah offers it. "He is quicker than I thought,” his manager joked.
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There were hints of Arjen Robben in one moment when Salah cut infield to shoot left-footed, though his effort cleared the crossbar. As with Robben, too, the combination of raw pace and direct running posed defenders difficulties.
Meanwhile, the impression Sturridge is not quite on the same wavelength as his teammates was highlighted when he inadvertently blocked an Adam Lallana shot. In fairness, they combined better when the forward set up the midfielder, who blazed over, with an improvised backheel. Sturridge would surely have found the net had Scott Dann not blocked a shot.
The chance was created by Trent Alexander-Arnold. There is a school of thought that the 18-year-old defender will displace Nathaniel Clyne as first-choice right-back. Perhaps by the end of the season, possibly at the start. Clyne is sidelined now and his deputy has seized early opportunities to impress.
He might be proof of Klopp’s faith in youth, which could render Liverpool the antithesis of Chelsea and should encourage Solanke. A third teenager who may feel that the manager’s promise to rotate offers opportunities is Ben Woodburn. The use of the precocious forward in midfield is one feature of pre-season. Klopp’s capacity to reinvent players is evident in James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Firmino.
Gini Wijnaldum anchored the midfield, as he had done at Wigan on Friday. With Lucas Leiva gone, Kevin Stewart going and Emre Can unavailable, Klopp is short of specialist holding midfielders, but the Dutchman does not look a natural No 6 yet.
He came on for Henderson, who had looked understandably rusty in his previous two outings, his first games since February. In this third game, however, his passing range was more apparent. The captain’s penchant for diagonal balls showed how he can instigate attacks.
With Red Bull Leipzig reluctant to sell midfielder Naby Keita and suggesting they have rejected a £66 million (Dh316m) bid from Liverpool, Henderson seems to assume more importance.
In more attacking areas, however, they may have alleviated a dependence on a select few.