Liverpool will start their warm weather training camp in Dubai on Monday and Jürgen Klopp and Pep Lijnders have a to-do list to complete in the Middle East.
After a short break from the hectic world of football, Liverpool are scheduled to return to action on Monday. With the World Cup currently ongoing in Qatar and Premier League football not scheduled to return until after Christmas, the Reds have travelled to Dubai.
Jürgen Klopp and his players will recharge their batteries in warm weather, with the German presented with a unique opportunity to assess the landscape before attacking the second half of the campaign. The break will be welcomed by the Reds boss, who was forced to manage a tricky schedule between August and November.
Liverpool are currently sixth in the Premier League table — which has to improve — and they have a two-legged Champions League tie against Real Madrid on the horizon. So between now and the Premier League restart on Boxing Day, what will be on Klopp’s to-do list in Dubai?
First of all, Klopp needs to pick a system and stick with his choice. His previous commitment to 4-3-3 benefited his players for over six years but this term, as a means of improving his team’s form amid injuries to key players, he’s moved away from his go-to formation on a number of occasions.
Liverpool have adopted 4-4-2 and 4-3-1-2 in certain matches over the past few months, with 4-3-3 restored shortly before the World Cup commenced, delivering three wins against Tottenham Hotspur, Napoli and Southampton.
Once the World Cup ends, all of Klopp’s offensive players should be fit and available, with the exception of Diogo Jota. Luis Díaz has just returned to the fold — more on that shortly. The upshot is that the manager will have the opportunity to pick a favoured system before coaching his players within that shape in Dubai. The valuable time on the training ground should foster good form once club football returns.
Remember how to defend
Last term, Liverpool posted the joint-best defensive record in the Premier League alongside Manchester City, conceding a total of just 26 goals. Indeed, strength without the ball has been a consistent theme across Klopp’s managerial career. His sides are renowned for being difficult to play against because of their relentless intensity and organisation.
That ability has been truly lost this season, for reasons which remain largely unknown. They rank eighth in England’s top-flight for goals conceded per match, and 14th for Expected Goals against per match, which captures how Alisson Becker has been a saviour for the Reds so far.
Liverpool’s attacking firepower has been relatively normal, but until things improve on the defensive side of the game, they will struggle to pick up consistent results. Based on the evidence so far this term, they are cut open too easily. In fact, Klopp’s outfit have the joint-worst Expected Goals per shot faced in the Premier League at present, meaning when opponents generate chances, they are quite clear-cut.
Reintegrate Luis Díaz
Díaz has been absent for Liverpool since the start of October, having picked up a serious injury in a high-profile contest against Arsenal. After months on the treatment table, he now appears ready to return.
The Colombian has been so good since his move to Anfield that Klopp has barely felt the absence of Sadio Mané, who spent years as Liverpool’s left-sided forward before moving to Bayern Munich in the summer.
Díaz is a natural on that side of the pitch but since the Colombian’s visit to the medical room, Darwin Núñez has been deployed out wide. The Uruguayan striker has scored a fair few goals, but it is reasonable to suggest he’s a player for the middle, with Díaz better suited to the flanks.
Now that he’s back, Klopp can move things around, ensuring that his best attacking players are presented with roles which suit them as the business end of the campaign approaches. Hand-in-hand with the formation question, he can use the time in Dubai to ensure Díaz returns more lethal than ever.