The pause that club football takes over the international break brings a great opportunity to reflect. With the climax of the season almost upon us, this is the last and probably best time to look both behind and ahead. It’s a good time for clubs to assess what worked well and how to make sure it continues, compared with what could be worked on and seeing how those things could be addressed.
Liverpool currently sit in 3rd place in the Premier League table, and are soon to face-off with Manchester City in a mouth-watering Champions League tie. Most of Liverpool’s key points of discussion from now until August seem to be almost entirely personnel based. Whether that’s keeping hold of talent, or acquiring some that’s new.
Assuming the club manages to keep all of its stars (with the exception of Emre Can), in what areas could the acquisition of new players make the difference to push the team right to the top of the league.
What better way to start this list off than with a question mark. If this was written before the turn of the new year, then the indecision in this claim would be nowhere to be seen. The reason for this boils down to the much improved performances that we’ve seen from Loris Karius. The German was re-established as Jurgen Klopp’s number 1 for the Manchester City game, and he’s continued to go from strength to strength.
This new breath of life in the young goalkeeper subsequently led to reports stating that the club cooled their interest in Roma’s highly rated Alisson. Whether that’s accurate or not, Klopp has made it clear that he has been impressed with his compatriot. The future of Karius is strictly in his own hands now. If he continues to impress then he’ll be Liverpool’s #1 heading into the new campaign, if not then we’ll likely see the club dip into the transfer market this summer.
It seems as though this is an area that needs addressing every window. Contrary to instances in the past however, this issue is not as pressing. This is almost entirely due to the acquisition of Virgil Van Dijk in January. With the club now boasting a (dare I say it) world class defender in their ranks, the overall level of the backline has been significantly boosted.
However, the shaky performances of every other centre half at the club are why a new face just may be necessary. Joel Matip isn’t as bad as many of his performances this season would suggest, and Joe Gomez could turn out to be a fine centre half in the future, but Dejan Lovren and Ragnar Klavan don’t really fill anyone with confidence.
The team can probably still have a very successful campaign with the central defenders already in the squad. But one needs only to look at Manchester City to see the security that having 4 top players in that position can bring. Granted, no one is expecting Liverpool to become that rich in depth; but if they want to challenge for the title, then they can’t afford to be a Van Dijk injury away from having the defence fall apart.
This is probably the most crucial area that needs to be addressed. Not even due to the imminent departure of Emre Can, although that certainly doesn’t help. Even if the German somehow commits his long term future to the club, a player who specialises in the position is still necessary.
Neither Can nor Henderson is perfectly suited to play this extremely disciplined role. Both like to venture forward, and both are not very good at sniffing out danger. How many times have Liverpool conceded because a player was able to make an off the ball run right past either one of those midfielders and subsequently make them pay?
Additionally, if this new signing is capable of controlling the tempo of a match as well, then that would be ideal. The 2nd half of the recent game with Tottenham, the 2nd half of the away trip to Seville, and the last 15 minutes of the 4-3 victory over City are all instances where the team simply lost control of the game. Having someone capable of keeping a cool head, and dictating play from deep would have helped the team manage those leads much better.
The most pressing issue however, is the former. Wilfred Ndidi would be good enough to perform that task and his signing would be a welcome one. However, a player of the ilk of Jorginho or Fabinho would be perfect. With either one of the latter two being capable of managing both responsibilities.
Pretty much whatever it was that Philippe Coutinho used to do. Liverpool’s good form over the last 2 months has led to many claiming that Brazilian hasn’t been missed at all. And while that might be true to an extent, there’s a chance that it could be completely false tomorrow. Luck has favoured Klopp’s men so far since the sale of Coutinho, with the German being one Mané or Salah injury away from having a real problem on his hands. I knock on wood as I write these words, but this is much too risky a position for the club to keep itself in.
Coutinho’s talents were unique, and his departure has certainly left a certain hole in the squad (whether we currently notice it or not). A player who is productive in both attacking midfield and on the wing is pretty hard to find. Names like Julian Draxler, Julian Brandt, and –to a lesser extent – Manuel Lanzini are realistic signings who could help solve this issue.
Having an extra creative force playing in behind the front 3 could be crucial when facing teams that just want to sit deep and frustrate. And if this player is capable of deputising on the left wing, then they would offer a quality option there as well. Both Mané and Salah are more than capable of playing on the right of a front 3, meaning that this potential attacker would –like Coutinho did – be capable of filling either one of those two crucial roles when needed.
Unlike the other positions that have been mentioned, this one is pretty much strictly for the purpose of squad depth. Despite what almost everyone had been predicting for the past 18 months or so, Roberto Firmino has truly been playing at a world class level this season. The Brazilian has already notched 23 goals, blowing away the notion that the club needed to sign a “20 goal a season striker”. He’s integral to how the team plays, with his intelligence and willingness to start the press, paired with his incredible movement and link-up play proven to be priceless.
The level of the former Hoffenheim man is made even more apparent when the gap in quality between him and the players next in the pecking order is assessed. Danny Ings and Dominic Solanke are good footballers, however one hasn’t scored a Premier League goal since 2015, and the other hasn’t scored one ever.
Going into the market for a player who has the skill necessary to fill in whenever Firmino is absent is a challenging one. Especially when the club has to try and convince this player that he should still sign even if he’s going to be 2nd choice.
None of these potential acquisitions will be completed easily. The scouting, finance allocating, and negotiating are all facets that have to be carefully and strategically completed. And if Jurgen Klopp manages to convince all of his big guns to stay, then we’re looking at a team that could challenge at the very top.