This is our fix up look sharp series, which will look to profile a selection of Premier League teams for their FPL potential. We’ll give some key info on the players, talk about their first five fixtures and pick out five key individuals from that side, then offer a verdict on them at the end.
In this article, Nick (matamatics) runs the rule over Liverpool’s FPL chances for next season.
It has been another summer of expansion, hope and new purchases for Liverpool, but can the perennial underachievers of the Premier League press on and mount another title challenge? The club are back in the Champions League and there is an air of optimism amongst the fans. Their campaign last season ended successfully, with their grabbing Arsenal’s 4th spot and with it a place in the qualifying playoff for Europe’s Big Cup. There were patches of excellent form near the beginning of season, which made people consider them title contenders, but their performances against the weaker teams let them down.
Jurgen Klopp will not be wanting a repeat of embarrassing losses against the likes of Burnley, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace (who love causing ‘Pool to slip up), Swansea and Hull.
As mentioned, they firstly have to make it through Champions League qualifiers and this could interfere directly with the start of their season with the first round taking place between GW1 and GW2 and the second round taking place between GW2 and GW3. But with new players coming in, a good squad of players, and plenty of options from the youth team like Ben Woodburn also emerging, Liverpool seem to have the squad to compete on multiple fronts.
Liverpool have made some astute signings over the transfer window and appear to have a fully fit squad coming into the beginning of the season. The cheque book has been opened and Andrew Robertson (£10 million from Hull), Dominic Solanke (£5 million subject to a tribunal from Chelsea) and Mohamed Salah (£36.9 million from Roma – we profiled him here) have all joined up with the first team. There is the possibility of further signings too with big money moves for RB Leipzig’s Naby Keita and Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk (about whom there’s already been quite the controversy this summer) being mooted.
Liverpool were very impressive going forward all throughout last season with 78 goals in total, fittingly the 4th highest sum in the league. They also had a great start, making them look like genuine title contenders. However, too many goals were once again conceded at the back, and if key men were out they suffered: an injury to Coutinho, plus Sadio Mane heading off to the Africa Cup of Nations unsettled them and stalled their momentum after the first half of the season, with Spurs to some extent taking over as the form team.
For FPL players however, there was always a question as to which Liverpool asset to own. This is something we coined the term ‘red roulette’ for on the pod. We never knew, which Liverpool asset was going to deliver. For example, at the beginning of the season many chose Firmino as their Liverpool option but with 18 points after 6 Gameweeks, some started to lose patience as Coutinho (the man to own at the beginning) had 41 points in the same time period, more than double. All of this meant that come the beginning of Gameweek 7, Firmino had net sales that week of 33,962, meanwhile Coutinho had net purchases of 180,895. That of course meant that Firmino decided to show up with a 12 point haul whilst Coutinho picked up just the 2 points resulting in many who risked that sideways move tearing their hair out. With other midfielders like Mane and the new man Salah, as well as some more midfielder players potentially incoming, there will be more spinning of the roulette wheel next season.
Player in focus: Sadio Mane
Despite only having been at the club for one season, he instantly made an impact with 3 goals and an assist within his first 6 PL games for the club. Mane played 27 games for Liverpool and with him in the team their record was 17 wins, 7 draws with 3 losses (63% win rate). Without him, their record was a lot poorer, with only 5 wins, 3 draws and 3 losses (45% win rate). This simple fact illustrates the impact he has on the team. If he can stay fit this year – and without an international tournament to leave for – Mane will be crucial Liverpool’s success. Priced at 9.5 this year, making him the joint fourth most expensive midfielder in the game, many (including myself) will struggle to include him in their initial set ups. But now, with three seasons in the PL all with double figure returns in terms of goals, the Senegalese danger man will not be far from our thoughts.
When comparing him against the other top midfielders in the Premier League, what he offers really stands out: goal threat, with only Sanchez and Alli (by a whisker) having a higher goals per game, which are, of course particularly valuable for midfielders due to the 5 point return that they offer. He does, however, rank the lowest for chances created and assists per game when compared to other ‘premium’ midfielders. This also affected his bonus points awards, It seems like with Mane you are really relying on goals to elicit value.
This makes me wonder a little about Mane, though there is an argument that fatigue from ACON and then injury may have curtailed a potentially good season. Tom is more keen on him than I am, though.
The first five fixtures
Liverpool have a decent start to the season with FPL’s ticker rating them as below:
Using the Premier League’s own “head-to-head meter”, here is Liverpool’s track record against the above sides, and our thoughts on their imminent matchups:
Watford (A): 8 games played in PL, 6w Liverpool, 0d, 2w Watford.
Last season: LIV 6-1 wat, wat 0-1 LIV
Liverpool confidently swatted Watford aside last season at home in the aforementioned game when Bobby returned 15 points, but found them tougher to break down away. Still, this is a decent opening fixture for Liverpool and fans will be expecting a strong start and 3 points in the bag.
Crystal Palace (H): 16 games played in PL, 8w Liverpool, 3d, 5w Crystal Palace
Last season: CRY 2-4 liv, LIV 1-2 cry
Benteke showed Liverpool what he was missing by scoring a brace for the Palace in the 2-1 victory at Anfield last season. Once again the big centre forward will be a threat, as Palace come to Anfield again hoping for a repeat of last years heroics under new manager Frank de Boer. Will the Reds deal with their former player better this time out?
Arsenal (H): 50 games played in PL, 18w Liverpool, 17d, 15w Arsenal
Last season: ARS 3-4 liv, LIV 3-1 ars
As mentioned earlier, Liverpool were recognised last season for their strong performances against their closest rivals but dropped points against lower level teams. Arsenal at home will be their first big challenge of the season, but we will be expecting again their attack to be ready and prepared to face the Gunners with the hope that they can once again exploit fragility in their side.
Man City (A): 40 games played in PL, 18w Liverpool, 15d, 7w Man City
Last season: LIV1-0 mci, MCI 1-1 liv
A very challenging and tricky fixture for Liverpool, as City’s the new £200m defence (perhaps even with a fit Vincent Kompany) will be much tougher to break down. It is possible that we will see the first blanker for the Liverpool attack with the ball landing on black this time in the ‘red roulette.’
Burnley (H): 6 games played in PL, 5w Liverpool, 0d, 1w Burnley
Last season: BUR 2-0 liv / LIV 2-1 bur
The disappointment of a 2-0 loss against Burnley in the second game of the season last year stung deeply for Liverpool fans who were desperately hoping for a strong start, whilst the former Championship champions demonstrated to the league that they were no pushovers. Klopp will be hoping that the ghosts of last year’s fixtures are exorcised with another victory against a lower level PL team.
The key players
The top targets
James Milner: Whenever I speak about this guy, and I spoke about him in length on the third pod, Tom will inevitably chime in with the ‘boring boring Milner’ chant. However, the potential that this guy offers, now having been classified as a 6.5m defender on penalties is extremely high. Despite being classified as a midfielder last season, only 4 defenders outscored him for points; if he had been a defender last season he would have gained an extra 30 points (nearly matching his team mate Coutinho’s tally), which would have been extremely impressive at his price point. Certainly the signing of Andrew Robertson from Hull for £10 million will have unsettled some of the Milnerites, but my view is that Robertson will likely be a backup: if Liverpool were serious about buying a top class full-back then more than £10 million would have been spent – see Manchester City – with £10m being the going rate in these economic times. There is also the risk of shared penalty duties with a fully fit Jordan Henderson. The only thing that might mean I’m without him to begin with is a thigh injury in pre-season, which may mean that Milner will not start the season. However, it would be foolish to rule him out as an FPL asset.
Philippe Coutinho: Another great midfield option, and 0.5 cheaper than Sadio Mane at 9.0m, the Brazilian playmaker is another popular FPL asset, currently in a third of all registered FPL sides. It is no surprise, him having scored 13 goals and got 8 assists last season. As with Mane, Coutinho was crucial to Liverpool’s success and, as a player, is fantastic to watch perform, always passing the “eye test”. Until he got injured in that fateful late-November game against Sunderland (which I still feel bitter about as he was my 1 pointer captain in my GW13 last year), he was looking undroppable as a Liverpool asset and had an average of 5.9 ppg over the first 13 games. Injury, however, derailed the bright start to the campaign and it wasn’t until game week 31 that he picked up his impressive form again. If he can avoid injury, I wouldn’t bet against him improving on last year’s overall total of 171 and having his best ever season. It is no surprise that Barcelona have expressed an interest but Liverpool will be determined to keep their man.
Roberto Firmino: Reclassified as a forward having played much of last season in the number 9 position, it appears that Firmino still remains in many of our thoughts with a current ownership of 18.4% for the cheeky Brazilian forward. This may be because, at 8.5, he looks to be the cheapest way into the Liverpool offence. With double figures in goals and assists last season (11 goals, 11 assists) Firmino definitely also has it within his skill set to press on and perform even better next season. He also offers a great deal of versatility, with the ability to play behind the striker or on either flank, should Klopp look to give the likes of Sturridge or Origi more game time. With a beaming smile as impressive as Santi Cazorla’s, Bobby will no doubt remain a popular figure next season.
Mohamed Salah: The pacy Egyptian winger, who we discuss in depth as part of our prospecting the prospect series represents another very strong option in the Liverpool midfield. Despite being another Chelsea cast off from a couple of seasons, this should definitely not be treated as a black mark seeing as he enjoys such illustrious company as Romelu Lukaku and KDB. Much is expected from the 25 year old. Though his new manager chose to emphasise his versatility he will most likely will play on the wing with Sadio Mane expected to play on the other side. His return of 15 goals and 11 assists in Serie A last season was extremely impressive, however he will have a new challenge in trying to replicate this form in the PL. Many other Serie A exports have struggled previously so there is a danger that his explosive pace may be more commonplace in the Premier League, however at 9.0 (0.5 cheaper than Mane) but with a similar skill set, he could still be a canny punt.
Nathaniel Clyne: somewhat under the radar this season, especially with Milner’s reclassification as a defender, he remains Liverpool’s first choice right back. With an ownership of 3.6%, many seem to not consider Clyne at this moment a worthy investment at 5.5. Liverpool have developed a reputation of being leaky at the back, but Clyne has managed double figures in clean sheets for the last four seasons and many will remember his top performing season when he played at Southampton in 2014/15 where he scored 2 goals, got 2 assists and secured 13 clean sheets, securing a return of 142 points, which would be the joint 4th highest defender score had it been this season. If Liverpool succeed in buying another defender this summer (such as a certain lanky Dutchman playing near the Solent) then we may see a more solid defence for the club which may see him (bearing in mind the offensive ability, too) begin to enter our thoughts.
Adam Lallana: It would have been easy to select the injury-prone Daniel Sturridge in this classification and I have discussed him before as one of this year’s falling stars. However, my selection is Adam Lallana, which perhaps is slightly more dangerous, considering he finished the season with a respectable 139 points and a return of 8 goals and 7 assists. However, with the signing of Mohamed Salah, Lallana’s place within the team is under threat. Klopp will likely have an attacking front 4 of Coutinho, Salah, Firmino and Mane and with that kind of challenge in the more attacking berth, Lallana may be pushed deeper and will be challenging the likes of Wijnaldum, Can and Henderson for a position in the centre of midfield. He’s a ‘favourite’ of Klopp, but he may be limited to cup games and substitute appearances for some parts of the season.
Expect goals aplenty from Liverpool next season, but a selection headache for FPL managers once again as to who will be scoring the goals. In this way, they’re a little like Spurs with Kane, Alli and Eriksen, except by owning Kane you tend to be able to soak up the output of the two others. Arguably at the moment for Liverpool that Kane-equivalent isn’t clear, which is why we use the analogy of the red roulette wheel.
Another point is that, with Champions League involvement, it is likely to result in heavy rotation with everyone in the team having a chance to get some minutes, with the manager threatening as much according to some news outlets. The qualifiers being straddling the opening 3 Gameweeks might mean their attention is diverted elsewhere, potentially something that should be factored in to our thinking; will the likes of Mane, returning from injury, be risked in the league or will their regained fitness be protected for European football?
In terms of defensive assets much depends on whether they can acquire another quality centre back to partner Joel Matip. If they can secure van Dijk, he would be a fantastic pickup at 5.5. If they do not manage to buy a defender in the transfer window, then I expect them to continue to concede as Dejan Lovren doesn’t appear comfortable enough on the ball and makes too many mistakes.
Overall, we will likely see another campaign for Liverpool where the potential to challenge for the title is there but they ultimately fall short and settle for a Champions League spot. As for how I am approaching them, I am not certain about owning more than one Liverpool asset at the moment: I like Coutinho, but budget is stretched as I’m currently looking to fit KDB in as well, which may see, especially if he’s out, Milner downgraded to Clyne. GW1-2 are good fixtures but the risk of rotation due to the Champions League qualifiers causes my uncertainty.