Liverpool have had busy summers before but the shock of the new is set for a proper test away to Newcastle United
It was the change many supporters were crying out for after a tumultuous season that ended with Liverpool tumbling out of the top four for the first time in seven years.
Nobody, though, could have quite expected the overhaul the Reds’ midfield has experienced during the ongoing transfer window.
And a first real test for Liverpool’s Champions League qualification credentials is now poised to also see the debut of a midfield triumvirate few if any would have envisaged less than a week ago.
With Alexis Mac Allister having had his controversial red card against Bournemouth on Saturday subsequently cancelled, Jurgen Klopp has the option of fielding the Argentina World Cup winner alongside Dominik Szoboszlai and latest new arrival Wataru Endo in what would represent a £106.25million refit of the central area of his team.It’s a choice the Liverpool boss is almost certain to make given Newcastle United, the team that ultimately elbowed the Reds off Europe’s top table, are next up in a clash at St James’ Park on Sunday that will provide an early glimpse of whether the two teams are likely to again be scrapping for a Champions League berth. Despite having only signed on Friday – and appeared for around half-an-hour the following day – Endo is the sole proven defensive midfielder in the Liverpool squad and can expect a full debut on Tyneside.
But he won’t be alone in still adapting to his new surrounds. Szoboszlai’s excellent home bow against Bournemouth was only his second game in English football, while Mac Allister’s dismissal means that, while well-versed in Premier League competition, he has fewer than two competitive appearances for Liverpool, both of which were in an unaccustomed number six role.
Indeed, with barely four full Reds outings between the expected starting triumvirate, rarely can Liverpool have gone into any game with such a box-fresh midfield.
While comparisons have been made with the summer of 2018 – when Liverpool identified the midfield as a key area for improvement by bringing in Fabinho with Naby Keita having already agreed to join the previous year – they don’t stand up particularly well to scrutiny.
For a start, the duo came into a Reds squad which had just reached the Champions League final and could boast experienced engine room options in Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Gini Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana.
And it meant the incoming duo weren’t thrown immediately in at the deep end. Fabinho famously didn’t make his first Premier League start until late October and was still being rotated on to the bench for the pivotal trip to Manchester City in early January. Even when then claiming a regular starting role, he was not in the starting line-up for the Champions League round of 16 second leg at Bayern Munich, although Henderson’s early injury soon thrust him into action.
Keita, meanwhile, began the season in the XI but had only started eight league games by mid-January and was injured for the closing stretch of the season as Liverpool eventually finished a point behind City and won the Champions League.
There was a similar midfield revamp during Fenway Sports Group’s first summer transfer window in 2011 when Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing were all recruited for a four-man engine room. With Steven Gerrard injured, all three started the season, but Adam didn’t begin another Premier League match for the Reds after knee ligament damage the following March and Downing spent much of the next campaign at left-back before being sold.
With Stefan Bajcetic back fit and available, Thiago Alcantara close to a return, Harvey Elliott pressing hard for a starting place and Curtis Jones hopefully not sidelined for too long, there should soon be real competition for places in the Liverpool midfield. And with more than a week still remaining before the transfer window closes, there is still scope for further reinforcement.
But Newcastle is now the focus, with an untried trio set to start. The shock of the new, then, will become apparent. And Klopp will no doubt hope the surprise factor is at the expense of Newcastle.