Red Letter: Liverpool’s best XI – No Lucas or Lallana

Date published: Friday 19th February 2016 10:21

In his weekly Liverpool blog, Dave Tindall lists what he believes to be Jurgen Klopp’s strongest XI when everyone is fit.

With a Wembley final on the horizon, it’s surely time that Klopp now knows his strongest starting XI.

To be fair, it’s one thing knowing it and another thing being able to pick it given how many injuries Liverpool have suffered this season.

But in this latest week of extremes – we’re now the Premier League’s top scorers in 2016 (16 goals) having started the year with the least amount of goals (22) in our history from the opening 20 games – it seems that Klopp has settled on his best team.

The point was underlined when, for the first time in his reign, the German picked the same XI in successive games – the 6-0 drubbing of Aston Villa followed by the 0-0 draw in Augsburg.

It’s a game we all like to play so I sat down after the hugely enjoyable Villa romp and picked my own. As you can see, I’m very much on the same page as Klopp. Are you?

Simon Mignolet

I’m probably more understanding and hopeful about the Belgian than most, despite him testing my patience repeatedly this season. The downsides are obvious and, as well as the flapping at corners, his shot-stopping is also now under scrutiny. He’s without doubt the club’s No.1 goalkeeper – the hapless Adam Bogdan has ensured that – and part of me still thinks that Mignolet has the component parts to be a strong goalkeeper. However, it’s a position that could certainly be upgraded in the summer.

Nathaniel Clyne

Just fine. Nothing to see here. Great energy, reliable, consistent and takes his defensive duties seriously. His end product in the final third is still frustrating, but if that improved he’d be a hell of a player. Clyne has two goals this season from rebounds in the penalty area, but we need to see more of it. He’s good on the ball and only one Liverpool player has made more passes (1176) in the Premier League this season so he can link the play well.

Alberto Moreno

A total enigma. He’s created more chances (46) than any other Liverpool player (compare it to just 15 from Clyne on the other wing) and has also put in nearly twice as many crosses (119) as Clyne (67). But it’s all come at a cost. Moreno goes walkabout too often and, in the final analysis, is it really worth it given the amount of goals he’s responsible for giving away at the other end? With no league goals and just a single assist, an obvious answer is no. Brad Smith is emerging as a reliable understudy while fit-again Jon Flanagan may be the best solution of all. The local lad looks far more dependable and would provide the added bonus of bringing a solid Scouse heartbeat to the team. For now, Moreno gets the nod, but he’s on thin ice.

Mamadou Sakho

Yes, he can have his moments, but it’s very much a matter of perception with the Frenchman. Fans and commentators should see through the so-called crime of being a bit gangly and looking awkward and look at the numbers. Time and time again, Sakho emerges at the end of 90 minutes as the team’s most accurate passer, while he’s second this season in total clearances with 105. With an extended injury-free run, I’d pencil him in as our first-choice centre-back.

Dejan Lovren

I expect to be pencilling Joel Matip into my starting XI when he arrives in the summer. I’m also tempted to put in Kolo Toure given recent performances. It’s not unusual for centre-backs to still be effective in their mid-30s and the Ivorian is a leader on the pitch – and you can never have enough of those. Speaking in his native tongue (French) with Sakho probably helps them gel too. However, a fully fit and functioning Lovren clearly has a greater upside and he gets the vote. Lovren is built like a commanding centre-half, reads the game well but just needs to stop thinking he needs to be Alan Hansen. Row Z will do sometimes. Keep it simple.

Emre Can

There are times when Can looks as though he could develop into something special. There are also times when he looks an average player in an average team. I like to think of him as a future thoroughbred running green so will forgive the midfielder the follies of youth. Just one goal from 19 shots shows he has work to do as an attacking force, but he’s created as many chances (28) as Adam Lallana and leads the total passes count by a mile. Can has made 1474 in the Premier League this season, which is 298 more than any other Liverpool player. He adds power and a physical presence too as our midfield can often look lightweight.

Jordan Henderson

The skipper has been held back by injury this season and it’s still hard to shake off the idea that he’s more Spock (ultra-reliable assistant) than Captain Kirk. The biggest problem though is his heel injury. Take out the relentless energy from Henderson’s game and you’ve stripped him of much of his powers. A good lad and all that, but he needs to be playing at 100% otherwise we have a problem.

James Milner

My chief worry for the midfield is that it lacks a big star/big presence. Milner is a great foil for more luxurious players around him but isn’t ever going to be a dominant force. You could say the same of Henderson. That said, Milner is worth his weight in… let’s say bronze rather than gold as it sounds more fitting. Milner’s tally of six makes him our joint best assists maker in the league alongside Firmino and he’s chipped in with four goals too. There probably isn’t a better penalty taker in the club either. As long as we can field some elaborate talents around him, I’d find a place for Milner. I think!

Roberto Firmino

I’ve liked the Brazilian from the start even though it took a while before he made an impact. Not that it should have come as a surprise as the silkier foreign players often take a while to adapt. His numbers on the stat counter are now turning over at rapid speed and Firmino has become our joint top scorer in the league (6) and also joint top in assists (6). Five of those goals have come in the last six games. By comparison, Adam Lallana has just two goals and four assists from virtually the same number of appearances.

Philippe Coutinho

If he’s fit, the little maestro is one of the first names on team-sheet. He can suffer lean patches and from poor decision-making (i.e. cutting inside and trying to score a worldy far too often), but he can come up with the big goals as highlighted by his double at Chelsea and early strike at Man City. Overall, his tally of five goals and five assists is less than Firmino, but imagine all that FIFA-style ‘chemistry’ he adds when playing with those on the same wavelength – i.e. his mate Firmino and Daniel Sturridge. Talking of which….

Daniel Sturridge

He adds so much to this Liverpool team even though, as one fan said on social media, he’s made of crisps. His lethal finishing and clever movement open up so many more avenues of danger and it’s absolutely no coincidence that he’s been heavily involved in our two big away-day goal-fests – the 6-1 at Southampton (he scored the first two) and the 6-0 at Aston Villa (Sturridge got the opener). We’ve hardly seen him this season, but he’s still managed three in his six league games. Liverpool’s best striker by a country mile.

The Bench – 7 allowed in Prem/Europa League

Danny Ward – I’ve watched him in the reserves. He has talent and speaks well too, giving off that aura of confidence which is important in a goalkeeper. Has moved ahead of Bogdan.

Kolo Toure – There’s even a hashtag #KeepKolo doing the rounds now and you can see why. Dependable back-up and great in the dressing room.

Lucas Leiva – Still our best defensive midfielder and I’d probably wheel him out for the big games – perhaps even against Man City at Wembley. Adds balance to the side and can even fill in at centre-back where possibly his future may lie.

Christian Benteke – Very much the Plan B which isn’t acceptable when you fork out £32.5m for a supposed star striker. Makes the bench look impressive I guess, but I’d still sell him in the summer.

Adam Lallana – Ultra-willing and obviously talented, but still his end product is lacking. I sometimes think he would have been a great 80s Liverpool player but lacks the speed and athleticism needed to stand out in the modern game.

Divock Origi – An ideal back-up striker to have in the squad. Young, hungry, quick and willing to learn. Looks to be developing nicely.

Jordan Ibe – Ibe appears to be running down too many blind alleys or simply just running the ball out of play. Clearly, there’s plenty of talent there, but he remains a work in progress. Klopp will enjoy shaping him though so let’s keep the faith.

Oh, I wanted to put Jon Flanagan in. And what about Joe Gomez when he’s fit? This isn’t easy is it!

** Do you agree with Dave? Let us know your first-choice LFC side.

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