Liverpool have been accused of letting their squad grow old but lack of availability has hampered Jurgen Klopp transformation this season
Liverpool were preparing for the Champions League final against Real Madrid but already Jurgen Klopp was looking to the future.
“What I am really happy about is that we are in the transformation – not a transformation like ‘bam’ (clicks fingers) – it’s more slight,” he said back in May ahead of the showdown in Paris.
“We have another young exciting player coming in with Fab (Carvalho), we have Harvey (Elliott) and Curtis (Jones). It’s really nice.”
But when Liverpool floundered during a dreadful first half at Manchester United on Monday, the transformation was not in the direction Klopp and his coaching staff would have envisaged given the success of the previous campaign.
Among the many criticisms of a poor performance was the Reds suddenly looked an old team. And the statistics suggest it is an argument difficult to convincingly counter.
While the average age of Liverpool’s starting line-up was 28.5 years old, for United it was a significantly sprightlier 25.84. While too simplistic to explain the latter’s extra energy, there’s no doubt those younger legs make a difference at certain stages of both an individual game and a season as a whole. United, able to make four major changes to their side, ran more than Liverpool just a week after being almost static in defeat to Brentford.
And it has been a recurring theme for Liverpool this season. The starting XI in the Community Shield against Manchester City was 29 years and 315 days – their oldest since 1953. The following week, the Liverpool team that stepped out at Fulham included six players aged 30 or over, the first time that has happened in the Premier League since 1994.
Indeed, going into the new season, Liverpool had a higher proportion of players aged 30 or over than any other top-flight squad.
This has been an issue of which the Reds have been acutely aware. In the 2-0 home win over Crystal Palace on the final game of the 2020/21 season, the average of the Liverpool XI was 27.17. For the 5-3 win over Chelsea in 2019/20 on the night the Premier League trophy was lifted, it was 26.84.
The Champions League final win over Tottenham Hotspur in 2019 saw a Liverpool team with an average age of 26.65 take to the field, while the previous year against Real Madrid it was 26.47.
When a player peaks is largely down to the individual. Some bloom later, for example, while others can find themselves burnt out long before they reach their landmark 30th birthday. But it’s instructive that Liverpool have only six players between the ages of 26 and 29 – left-backs Andy Robertson (28) and Kostas Tsimikas (26), defensive midfielder Fabinho (28), goalkeeper Alisson Becker (29) and injured midfielders Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (29) and Naby Keita (27).
The willingness to retain the core of the trophy-winning squad of recent years has inevitably led to them ageing together, even if some – such as Trent Alexander-Arnold – cannot be construed as being anywhere near being past their best.
And the transformation to which Klopp has previously referred has actually been ongoing for some time, and continued this summer. Darwin Nunez is 23, with fellow new arrivals Carvalho and Calvin Ramsay both aged 19. Ibrahima Konate was 22 when signed last year, Kaide Gordon just 16 and, earlier in the campaign, Diogo Jota 23. That’s a potential spend of around £180million.