Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp will have a lot of work to get through when his squad reconvenes after the international break
If Jurgen Klopp thought there was plenty on the agenda at the start of the campaign, his inbox is now surely close to brimming after a difficult start for Liverpool.
With just two wins from their opening six Premier League games and a worst European defeat in 56 years, the early-season promise of the Community Shield triumph over Manchester City has evaporated due to a variety of reasons.
Injuries, a dip in form from a number of key players and adjusting to a new-look attack following the absence of Sadio Mane have all contributed, along with a shortened pre-season programme.
But the postponement of the last two league games following the death of Queen Elizabeth II at least gave Klopp and his coaching staff more time with the players on the training ground at Kirkby before the majority of his squad dispersed for the current international break.
And when they reconvene towards the end of next week, the Liverpool boss has a number of particularly pressing issues.
Sort the midfield out
The main problem with the opening weeks was the malfunctioning midfield that didn’t offer enough protection to the defence and wasn’t always in tune with the forward line.
Chronic injury problems didn’t help matters, which in turn meant the likes of veteran James Milner was starting more games than expected and suffered as a consequence.
The return of Thiago Alcantara has already shown a benefit while Jordan Henderson is also back fit again. And while Harvey Elliott was initially impressive on the right of the three, his inexperience defensively means Klopp will likely now capitalise on the ability to pick and choose moments to use the youngster, similar to summer signing Fabio Carvalho.
Kickstart the full-backs
Given their importance to the way Klopp’s side play, it’s difficult to determine whether the slow start to the season is affecting or is being affected by the full-back positions.
While Andy Robertson has been steady enough at left-back, there hasn’t quite been the same zip to his game and Kostas Tsimikas has done reasonably well when called upon.
On the other flank, Trent Alexander-Arnold has provided goals and assists going forward but has been exposed too often defensively, not helped by a lack of energy at key times and no real competition for his place. A midfield reconfiguration could help rejuvenate the wide roles.
Integrate Darwin Nunez
After two goals in his first two outings, Nunez didn’t help himself with the red card that cut short his home debut against Crystal Palace and ruled him out of the next three games.
But the Uruguayan has since been hampered by the indifferent form of those around him, while still attempting to settle in a new country and learn a new language.
A goal or two will take the pressure off and bolster the player’s confidence, and Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino can ease the load, but Liverpool need to understand how to make the most of Nunez as much as vice-versa.
Get Arthur Melo playing
The loan signing of Arthur Melo from Juventus on deadline day at the start of the month was hardly the new midfielder some supporters had been crying out for all summer, not least given the Brazil international hadn’t featured in a match of any sort since May 11.
Arthur has decent pedigree having also played for Barcelona, but an understandable lack of fitness meant he turned out for the under-21s twice in the last week. Getting him up to speed quickly will offer another option.
Keeping players fit
Arguably the big one. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ibrahima Konate, Calvin Ramsay and Caoimhin Kelleher haven’t featured at all this season, while Naby Keita and Curtis Jones have been limited to just a brief substitute appearance each.
Konate and Jones are at least near a return, and with Jota, Thiago and Henderson now back, Liverpool have much-needed options.
But maintaining availability will be crucial over the coming weeks with the Reds facing 13 games – eight Premier League, four Champions League and one League Cup match – between October 1 and November 12, when the season pauses for the World Cup.
Ensure youngsters stay involved
One of the few encouraging sights of the opening few weeks of the season was that of young faces in the Liverpool squad aside from Elliott and Carvalho.
Both Stefan Bajcetic and Bobby Clark were handed a senior debut in the 9-0 romp against Bournemouth while Harvey Davies and Luke Chambers have both made the bench this term.
The sheer volume of games both over the next seven weeks and the second half of the season mean opportunities will arise for the Academy hopefuls. Keeping them in and around the squad will ensure the step up is as smooth as conceivably possible.