Liverpool FC in Singapore: What to expect at the Singapore Festival of Football 2023

This upcoming season will be a transitional season for Liverpool FC, more so than even when Jürgen Klopp took over in 2015. A couple of weeks ago, this would have been a very different article. As it stands, the imminent departure of two senior players ahead of the team’s arrival in Singapore brings new problems that need solving, and quickly as well.

Liverpool may have brought a positive end to fans with their 11-game unbeaten run, but it does not hide the fact that last season as a whole was a failure for the club. Such are the high standards that have been set in recent years that the Champions League is an absolute minimum — Europa League participation is little consolation.

The root of that failure stemmed from Liverpool’s midfield. A change in the system meant that they were constantly being overrun by the opposition, which meant that they could not control games like they could and were especially vulnerable to conceding goals. It was clear that a change was needed. 

And change has come; the club has bought a couple of players in a bid to reinvigorate their midfield engine. So as they arrive in Singapore, what can we expect out of them against Leicester City and Bayern Munich, as well as the upcoming Premier League season?

What to expect?

Much of Liverpool’s late-season success can be attributed to Jürgen Klopp’s decision to have Trent Alexander-Arnold take up a new inverted fullback role. Alexander-Arnold is one of the best passers of the ball on his day. That switch allowed him to get into a central position to better supply the attackers — 7 assists from the last 10 games underlines how significant his contribution was to the attack.

Liverpool Singapore 2023: Trent Alexander-Arnold
Trent Alexander-Arnold will once again be the spearhead of Liverpool’s attack

A constant criticism made of Alexander-Arnold was that he was a defensive liability. Because of the space within the midfield, opposition teams could go through that section easily and exploit his side. Moving him more centrally adds an extra body in the midfield and covers up that aspect of his game. It was a genius move.

We expect that Klopp will persist with this new system going forward for the upcoming season, and with that, midfielders have been recruited to complement it.

Klopp’s first signing of the season is Alexis Mac Allister, who has just completed a productive year with Brighton & Hove Albion and the Argentina national team. Mac Allister will presumably be playing on the left side of the midfield, and his role will be to add control to the team’s play.

Liverpool Singapore 2023: Alexis Mac Allister
Fans in Singapore will get to see how Alexis Mac Allister (centre) plays in this Liverpool team

With one of the lowest turnover rates in the league last season, it means that Mac Allister is great at retaining the ball, but the context is that he does so in an advanced midfield position, making that stat even more impressive. He’ll be tasked with ensuring that Liverpool keeps possession of the ball as they make their way up their field.

All of that is well and good, but one thing that Mac Allister lacks is the creative side. Yes, he can play accurate long balls across to teammates, but his passes tend to lean toward the safer side — it’s why his ball retention is so good. That’s where Dominik Szoboszlai comes in.

Szoboszlai is another one of Klopp’s recruits in the summer transfer window, and he will be looking at taking a role on the right side of the midfield, where he will dovetail nicely with Mac Allister.

At his previous club RB Leipzig, his shot-creating actions (offensive actions directly leading to a shot) were the highest amongst the squad as he threatened from both open play and set-piece situations. Liverpool will also look to take advantage of his long-range striking prowess from outside the box against teams who sit deeper, an aspect they still need to improve from their midfield.

Szoboszlai will also help Liverpool in the defensive sense. He tends to stay high positioning-wise around the field, which allows him to regain the ball from the opposition should the team lose the ball up the field. And since he regains possession in these lucrative areas, it lets him create dangerous opportunities for himself or his teammates—a two-fold contribution to defence and attack. 

In this new-look midfield, there is much for Liverpool fans to be excited about as they look to banish the demons from last season. 

What problems do they face?

While the additions of Mac Allister and Szoboszlai brought them a step forward in re-energising the midfield, recent events have moved them back. 

As of writing, Jordan Henderson has moved to Al-Ettifaq, while Fabinho has all but confirmed that he will be plying his trade for Al-Ittihad. Liverpool had already lost 3 midfield players from last season, and the further loss of two more will leave them severely lacking in that department for the upcoming season. 

However, it is even worse when put in context. If Fabinho leaves, Liverpool’s next most senior midfield players are Thiago and Curtis Jones, who have 97 appearances each — Fabinho has more than double that at 217 appearances. Ideally, transitioning the midfield would be done slowly, with the senior players guiding the new players as they adapt to the play. Now Klopp has to gamble that his new transfers will be able to take to the team right away.

Fabinho’s imminent departure is particularly worrisome. As the team’s starting defensive midfielder, he was pivotal in breaking up any opposing attacking play. Liverpool immediately becomes more vulnerable without his presence, which brings them back to square one. 

Stefan Bajcetic, who had a breakout season last year, can play in that role, but is still very young and is coming back from a serious injury (he won’t be making an appearance in Singapore because of that) — they won’t be able to rely on him for the start of the season. High-quality defensive midfielders that can slot into this team immediately are also at a premium, so Liverpool have to be smart on how they recruit.

There’s also the matter of leadership. While it is hard to argue that Henderson was on the wane, being at the age of 33, he brought an invaluable contribution to the team with his leadership qualities as Liverpool’s captain. James Milner, the vice-captain last season, has also left the team, which means there is a vacuum in that aspect. Liverpool has a number of players that could potentially succeed them, with some being captains of the national team; it will be interesting to see who will take up the now-vacant captain and vice-captain positions.

Midfield will once again be the issue that they will need to plug, but centre-back is another position they should also keep in mind.

While Liverpool has a decent number of players covering the right-side centre-back role, the same can’t be said for the left side. As of now, only Virgil van Dijk plays in that position. Van Dijk is an exceptional player, but last season showed that his standards have dropped. Even if he can perform at his best every match, it is inconceivable to let him play all the games — he needs to be rested, especially as he gets older. Certainly, Liverpool’s other right-sided centre-back can cover for him, but they aren’t specialists in that role like Van Dijk. 

Liverpool Singapore 2023: Virgil van Dijk
Virgil van Dijk will need cover ahead of the season

While elevating Trent Alexander-Arnold’s capabilities, this new system limits Andrew Robertson (left back) as a player too. He is now required to sit back more often to cover the space left by Alexander-Arnold, which isn’t how he operates to the best of his abilities — making a left-sided centre-back more of a necessity. 

With Liverpool facing off against Leicester City and Bayern Munich quickly after one another, we will see how the team fares with the shortage in midfield and defence. 

Liverpool FC will face Leicester City FC on 30 July 2023 and FC Bayern Munich on 2 August 2023 for the Singapore Festival of Football. You can find tickets to catch the game in person over on Ticketek’s website.

Liverpool Singapore 2023: Crowd

Liverpool FC v Leicester City FC

Date: 30 July 2023
Time: 5pm (SGT)
Location: National Stadium, 1 Stadium Dr, Singapore 397629
Price: Starting at S$99

Liverpool FC v FC Bayern Munich

Date: 2 August 2023
Time: 7.30pm (SGT)
Location: National Stadium, 1 Stadium Dr, Singapore 397629
Price: Starting at S$199 (as of writing)

Photos by Brandon Neo and Lau Lup Yun of the DANAMIC Team.

Russell Matthew Loh

Watcher of films and player of games. Dabble with writing in between.

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