08 August 2019

2019-20 Liverpool Season Preview

This season preview will read a lot like the last. Because this season should look a lot like the last. Which, as I suspect you remember, is very much a good thing.

I mean, Liverpool probably won't get 97 points again – a total only two sides have ever surpassed. Real Madrid's three-peat from 2015-16 through 2017-18 is the the only time there has been back-to-back Champions League winners in the last 30 years, since AC Milan in 1988-89 and 1989-90.

Doing those things again is gonna be hard.

That said, if you've spent your summer complaining about Liverpool's lack of transfers, you probably shouldn't have. For multiple reasons.

Sure, there's the sanity aspect. Sun being good for everyone and all. Your favorite internet basement clichés. But more importantly, Liverpool really didn't need to add anyone. Honestly. Not after what was spent and who was signed in the previous two or three windows. Not after what Liverpool accomplished last season, which seems to feel mostly sustainable; Liverpool ran hot at both ends of the pitch at times, but neither xG nor xG allowed was a ton different than actual goals scored and conceded. And not with a handful of players already on the books expected to play far bigger roles this season.

There ain't a whole lot of room for improvement. There are marginal gains to be made, to be sure, but continuity and cohesion are the priority.

The only surprise is that Liverpool failed to sign a back-up left back after Moreno's exit, but Klopp's gotta be happy with Milner and Gomez if needed. He's definitely happy with Gomez to play at right back, and Clyne's gotta still be at the club for a reason. And for what it's worth, both Adam Lewis and Yasser Larouci had runs in preseason too.

"Like a new signing" is often nonsense, but Keïta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gomez, and Origi will all play more minutes than last season, and some by a vast difference. Three of them are between 24 and 26 years old, while Joe Gomez turned 22 a couple months ago. Plus, Adam Lallana, which, whatever, he exists and is squad depth. I'd be surprised if Shaqiri didn't see more minutes as well. And I'm setting the over/under for Rhian Brewster's minutes at what Origi saw in 2018-19: 585 minutes.

I will be surprised if Keïta or Oxlade-Chamberlain don't become close to regular starters, taking a decent amount of minutes off either Henderson or Wijnaldum or both. Last season, Klopp compensated for a lack of creativity and goals from midfield with both fullback involvement and that front three, but it was still one of the bigger concerns. Not that any of Klopp's sides over the last few seasons have featured goal-scoring or table-setting midfielders; Oxlade-Chamberlain's five goals and seven assists in the PL and CL in 2017-18 are still the high-water for a Liverpool midfielder in the last four seasons. But it would be another helpful arrow in the quiver.

And yeah, you can probably find more talented players than Origi, Shaqiri, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Brewster – Liverpool's primary attacking back-ups – in the transfer market. But Liverpool aren't paying £40m or more for back-ups to this XI, and – tweaks, injuries, and questions in midfield aside – this is the XI.

Plus, it really is a reasonably deep side. And, more importantly, it's a side that's found the tenuous balance between being in relatively young and/or in its prime and being both settled and experienced.

Liverpool have the same players, many of them peak age, after a 97-point domestic season where Liverpool won the Champions League. Liverpool will play the same formation and style, with few tweaks to the starting XI, at least at the beginning of the season.

All but eight players who'll probably feature this season were either signed or promoted from the Academy by Jürgen Klopp. Lallana, Lovren, and Clyne don't much count at this point, while Firmino, Milner, and Origi have all played the vast majority of their matches – and vastly improved as players – under this manager.

13 of 25 players listed in the "When Did They Debut?" graphic have made more than 76 Liverpool appearances – two full league campaigns – but only five have made more than 150 appearances, with only Henderson above 200.

10 of Liverpool's 11 projected starters are between 24 and 29 years-old, with Alexander-Arnold still only 20. Aside from the 33-year-old ageless miracle that is James Milner, Liverpool's primary backups are 22 (Gomez), 24 (Keïta, Origi), 25 (Oxlade-Chamberlain), and 27 (Shaqiri). All of them have been at the club for at least one full season, if not longer.

Liverpool had the youngest average squad age in 2017-18, and the fifth-youngest in 2018-19. I suspect they'll be slightly higher up that table in this season.

Reasonably experienced but still reasonably young. Still with a bunch to prove, yet already having won the most prestigious trophy in European football.

It is very hard to find that balance.

Even Liverpool's fixture list isn't too bad, although it'll undoubtedly be made harder by some very congested periods.

October into November will be tricky, and December and January have some less than fun matches back to back to back – especially since the Club World Cup's gonna truly mess December up – but there are few stints where you go "oh crap." Which, again, is a lot like last season.

Injury or act of Fowler aside, Liverpool will remain very good. But so will their peers.

Tottenham clearly look like improving, adding Ndombele, Lo Celso, and Sessegnon, whether or not they sell Eriksen today. Spurs made the Champions League final and finished fourth, and probably would've finished third if not for the European distraction. I am curious how they adjust to new faces after going nearly two full seasons with the same XI but they're still probably the third best team in the division, and the biggest threat to leap-frogging Liverpool.

Chelsea and Arsenal remain in periods of adjustment. Chelsea's on yet another new manager and lost Hazard but added Pulisic and remains Chelsea and who the hell ever knows with them. It's Year Two for Unai Emery and Arsenal's spent a pile of money on Nicolas Pepe but still has that defense, even if Tierney and David Luiz should make it both better and more amusing.

At least we still get to point and laugh at Manchester United, who could well be passed by one or two from Everton, Wolves, West Ham, and Leicester if they start the season poorly.

And Manchester City are still Manchester City. That fucking team. Liverpool were one point off their insane pace last season thanks to millimeters and goal-line technology. Liverpool start this season one step behind yet again, losing on penalties in the Community Shield after controlling the majority of the match. Like Liverpool, they're mostly peak age. Agüero, Fernandinho, Otamendi, and David Silva are getting up there but Bernardo Silva, Sterling, Jesus, Sané, Laporte, Ederson, Rodri, Stones, Foden, Zinchenko, and new signing Joao Cancelo are all 25 or younger, while Gundogan, de Bruyne, and Mahrez are still only 28.


It will be a hell of a challenge to usurp City. But Liverpool remain the best placed to do so.

So, that said. I've a bit of housekeeping.

This'll probably be the last thing up on Oh You Beauty for a while.

A few of you already knew. More may have guessed, especially when I went an entire summer without writing – although an almost complete lack of transfers probably didn't help.

It's been almost 13 years. Nearly 2400 posts. I don't even want to guess how many words.

There is an insane surplus of writing talents around these tubes these days. And that certainly wasn't the case two, five, ten years ago.

Andrew Beasley remains one of the best stats writers. Grace Robertson is my favorite "new" writer, putting in great Liverpool work in a bunch of places. Kristian Walsh has a hell of a group getting going at Liverpool.com. I am thrilled that the good folks at The Liverpool Offside are still around. There's Anfield Index, there's The Anfield Wrap.

There will be good information and analysis on the internet and I may even write some of it. Just not every week. I will still be on Twitter, making terrible jokes that I demand more of you laugh at. And I might throw something up here, or for somewhere else, from time to time. But no more deadlines, no more weekly infographics or match reviews. At least for now.

It's time to actually enjoy a season. Because we're probably going to damned well enjoy this one.


Julian said...

As always, thank you for this, Nate. I've been following your writing here since probably 2000/2001? Your work helped me get back into actual LFC fandom because it offered something different than I could find at other outlets. I was coming from a period of following baseball and watching the analytics revolution change that game substantially and I just had no interest in the conventional game stories and worn old cliches of sports reporting. OYB felt new and engaging and it pulled me right back in. So thank you again for the work you've poured into this site over the years. I'm glad I got to experience the steady climb and heights of the last few seasons along with you. Via con dios, and here's to many more all-caps celebratory pun tweets.

Keith C said...

Nate - I'll echo what Julian said in the first comment. I started following you sometime around 2007-2008. The writer of the LFC blog I initially followed when I became a fan -- Being Sven -- abruptly went MIA. Your blog was the one I found after that one. I will cop to the fact that during some of the years of my more 'passionate' fandom, I would relentlessly refresh your website starting a half hour after every game such that I could read your recap as soon as it was posted. I'm a bit more laid back now (I swear!), but have still followed you over the years. Cheers and best of luck with your ventures. If I ever run into you I owe you a beer or three.

Schoffle said...

Shame to see you go Nate, been appreciating your match write ups for quite some time.

Anyway hopefully you will have a good reason to come back at season end to give us the best ever premier league wrap up

Anonymous said...

Came looking for something about the new season and saw the news. While I can't say I'm not gonna miss the match reviews, I hope you enjoy the season and I promise to keep liking your jokes on twitter.

Josh K. said...

Thanks Nate for everything. Like up above started following you about 5 or 6 years ago, and would literally refresh your page right after matches to read your write up. It’s been Always good, calming, often funny, but generally excellent. The best thing of all was reading you after a loss. You were never hysterical even if I was. You brought me back to sanity and helped me see through your eyes when we actually started to emerge from the Hodgson Lymphoma, almost nipped the league in ‘14, floundered under the weight of Brendan’s ego, and then steadily climbed back up to one of our perches last year. You’re the best. I’ve never met you. I never probably will. But thanks my friend. May you get the full measure of life, steadily climb upward, and May your life become a fucking beauty.

To you. To the mighty reds. Up the reds. May climb back onto the perch that fucking belongs to us. YNWA.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all the posts and infographics along the years. #YNWA

Adam said...

For my money, which is not a lot, you’re the best LFC writer around. Will miss the content, but hope we all enjoy the season!

Unknown said...

You will be missed. A real writer with a knack for stating the obvious as a fan in a way that makes me want more. Peace and love.

Gravyfrus said...

Thanks so much Nate, it's been an absolute blast. Sad to see you go, but glad to think you'll get to enjoy the ride a bit more this season. Best wishes whatever you do!

criynwa said...

I echo what everyone else said above. Really loved reading your writing. You have such a distinct voice. Love your presentation of statistics too and I'm not that into statistics. You will be missed. But I hear you. Enjoy the season. See you on twitter.

Anonymous said...

As others have said, I have enjoyed your writing for a very long time! Selfishly I hate to see you take a step back because I enjoy your perspective on the matches and team. I hope you get the joy you are looking for taking a step back. Thank you for what you have done here!!!

Mar said...

Thank you for all the wonderful posts! It's been a real joy stalking your posts daily and munching on the breadcrumbs you offer because there's literally no one else doing what you do very well. It's a real loss for the LFC community when the posts start drying up, but life gets in all our way sometimes. I believe last season was just a teaser, and that 19/20 is when the real fun begins, and for your sake, it's time to enjoy the ride indeed -- just don't forget to rant on twitter. Or here. ; )

Mark said...

Just adding to the chorus of people who are grateful for all the time you've put into this blog. What is football but a strange, beautiful story for us all to watch and participate in, and your work has been a delightful addition to that story for years. Cheers and thanks.