Gary Neville, a Sky Sports pundit, says Liverpool must rebuild its ageing team, but the reality is a little different.
Gary Neville wasn’t entirely right about Liverpool-related issues for the first time.
The former Manchester United defender turned his attention to Anfield in a flurry of tweets after the Reds had battled to a hard-earned but well-deserved Premier League victory over Brentford on Saturday. Among those tweets was a criticism of the current squad at Jurgen Klopp’s disposal.
Neville prodded the Liverpool supporter base somewhat purposefully and exclaimed, “Klopp needs to rebuild an ageing squad but no Champions League is a lot of money lost and they don’t just need 1 or 2!”.
It has been clear for much of the season that the Reds need to make some changes to their squad, most notably in the midfield, where two or three senior signings will be made. Brighton’s Alexis Mac Allister and Chelsea’s Mason Mount are both high on Liverpool’s list of targets for the summer.
But Neville isn’t exactly correct when he says that a bigger rebuild is needed. Since the revamping of Liverpool’s team has been ongoing for a number of transfer windows, the results are finally starting to show in the starting lineup for the Reds.
With the team that took the field having an average age of nearly exactly 27 years old, the Brentford match featured five of the 11 starters – Ibrahima Konate, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Curtis Jones, Cody Gakpo, and Darwin Nunez – who were 24 or younger.
Due to the addition of new players and the regaining of fitness of several more experienced younger players, the average age of the starting lineup has been driven down over the course of the season.
When Liverpool faced Manchester City in the Community Shield last July, their starting lineup was the eldest it had been since 1953, and when they faced Fulham the following week in the Premier League’s season opener, they fielded six players older than 30 for the first time in more than 28 years.
However, despite there being nearly nine months between the games and seven players starting both, the average age of the XI had decreased by almost two years by the time the rematch against the Cottagers was played last Wednesday.
Although Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho started in midfield for the Reds’ youngest Premier League team this season’s match against Everton in September, that was the exception to the rule in the first half of the season and led to the oldest team of the season, which was at Aston Villa on Boxing Day and had an average age of close to 30.
However, Liverpool has long been cognizant of the issue of advancing years in the squad, as well as workload in terms of number of games played by several players. Because of this, only Thiago Alcantara, one of their major new signings since winning the Champions League in 2019, was older than 24 when he was acquired.
This season, the problem has been the prolonged absence of several of these players, including Luis Diaz, Konate, and homegrown talent like Jones. Each of their recent comebacks has brought fresh energy to the team, including the midfield, which had been temporarily strengthened by Stefan Bajcetic before his season-ending injury in March.
Konate, who will turn 24 later this month, has contributed significantly to the defense by starting all but one of the team’s most recent six victories at center back alongside Virgil van Dijk. And his more seasoned partner thinks that the potential of the France international is still untapped.
“He can be so much better than what he currently is”, according to Van Dijk. “Although young and still learning, he is exceptional. He is incredibly fast and strong—everything a modern center-half needs. I would be more than happy to help him if I could improve him even more by occasionally offering him one or two tips.
“He wants to learn, is eager to learn, is nice to have around the locker room, and right now he’s already playing at such a high level. As a center-half, experience is important, as is knowing how to handle challenging situations and occasional mistakes. He’s doing fantastic, in my opinion, and learning how to take care of oneself physically is also crucial. He’s taking giant strides, and I’m so, so happy to be a part of it.”
Liverpool is aware that the midfield will need to be overhauled soon as at least four players are expected to leave in the next few weeks. Even though Neville may not have noticed, the shift from an ageing team to a more youthful team with a mix of experience and youth has been happening for some time.