Liverpool must lay-down an early marker of title credentials against West Ham

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Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes his players have to summon the spirit of Rocky Balboa if they are to close the gap to defending Premier League champions Manchester City.

They therefore must deliver an immediate knockout of West Ham in their 2018/19 campaign opener to show they can get in the ring with City.

The Reds welcome the Hammers to Anfield on Sunday and with that in mind, we examine some of the key talking points heading into the clash.

IMPORTANCE OF THE PERFORMANCE

The majority of the big six are playing through a World Cup hangover but no such issue exists for Liverpool.

Only Jordan Henderson and Dejan Lovren – albeit the Croatian returning crocked – required extended breaks from their exertions in Russia and so Klopp has been afforded the luxury of a full pre-season with the majority of his squad.

New signings Fabinho and Naby Keita were there from the start, Xherdan Shaqiri joined up with the team on their tour of the US while goalkeeper Alisson has two friendlies under his belt to settle the nerves.

Liverpool should and quite simply have to make a fast start against West Ham. For Tottenham, Manchester United and to a lesser extent Chelsea, the results rather than performance were paramount but that’s not the case for Klopp’s Reds.

If they are to be considered serious challengers for the title this season, making an early impression, akin to the way in which Manchester City did last term, is crucial.

Their weapons are locked and loaded, now its time to fire.

WHICH THREE WILL IT BE?

Liverpool closed out last season in an attacking 4-2-3-1 which prompted talk Klopp could dip into the past to shepherd in a new future for the club.

The German’s time with Borussia Dortmund was famed for his utilisation of a 4-2-3-1 and in theory, it would actually suit the players at his disposal right now. One of the biggest questions is building an environment which will allow Mohamed Salah to replicate the feats of last season.

Naturally, teams will be far more prepared in dealing with his threat from the right but partnering the Egyptian with Roberto Firmino in a front two, would see his starting position move centrally.

However, the vast majority of pre-season was conducted in the tried and tested 4-3-3 shape which would indicate it’s more of the same for the 2018/19 campaign.

If that is the case, the analysis shifts from the forward line and into midfield. With Fabinho and Keita added to the ranks, Klopp has at least six options for the three middle roles.

So who starts against West Ham from Adam Lallana, Fabinho, Keita, Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Georginio Wijnaldum?

Fabinho has a minor muscle strain so is likely to be benched, Jordan Henderson only played 20 minutes of their final friendly against Torino while Lallana has looked out of rhythm in pre-season.

Decision made then? Keita as the No10, Wijnaldum as the No6 and Milner as the No8.

TIME TO GO WITH JOE

The uncertainty of Lovren’s fitness and injuries to Joel Matip (hip) and Ragnar Klavan (hamstring) means Klopp is dealing with defensive issues already.

Liverpool look a little short of options. Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez are the only two fit senior centre-backs but perhaps it is a blessing in disguise.

Supporters have longed called for a partnership of Van Dijk and Gomez with the 21-year-old usually shunted awkwardly into the full-back slots as opposed to his more familiar central role.

But the England international has been impressive during pre-season and can continue his development alongside Van Dijk.

Physically, he’s a great asset, a modern-day defender blending speed and strength but he does have a tendency to switch off and that’s where having the Dutchman alongside him can help.

Liverpool’s back four could possess an average age of 22.75 with Van Dijk (27), Trent Alexander-Arnold (19) and Andrew Robertson (24) lining up alongside Gomez.

A defence for the present and future but Gomez must take his chance to have any hope of dislodging Lovren long term.

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