Are Liverpool still one attacker short ahead of their Premier League title challenge?

Following the collapse of their £48.4 million deal for Nabil Fekir, Liverpool appear to have concluded their transfer business for the summer—but should they have?


The fact that Jurgen Klopp was prepared to sanction such a hefty fee to secure Lyon’s captain suggests that he felt the need to add another high-quality, versatile attacking option to his squad ahead of the new season, before it broke down due concerns flagged up in the medical.

Fekir had been pinpointed as a priority target for Klopp this summer, and while a deal was later concluded for Xherdan Shaqiri, there was never any suggestion that the Swiss was an alternative, as both players had been targeted irrespective of each other.

Despite suggestions that Liverpool might have been able to eventually reach a compromise with Lyon on renegotiated terms, all reports suggest that the club have walked away from Fekir and will not be pursuing the Frenchman in the final days of the transfer window.

It also appears highly unlikely—despite speculation—that Liverpool will move for Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic this summer, with the German club reportedly looking for around £60 million for the American starlet.

With a week left until the transfer window closes for English clubs looking to buy, Liverpool’s remaining business looks set revolve around outgoings rather than any further acquisitions.

That, however, begs the question: are Liverpool one attacking player light heading into the new season?

 

The Importance of Quality Depth

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, May 13, 2018: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates scoring the first goal during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Brighton & Hove Albion FC at Anfield. It was his 32nd league goal of the season making him the leading scorer. Liverpool won 4-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool were fortunate last season that, despite injuries in other areas of the pitch, the trio of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah all remained fit and available for the vast majority of the season.

They are arguably the most potent front three in Europe at this moment in time, and all three are now back in pre-season training, ready to hit the ground running once more.

Mane and Salah made a scintillating return to action on the US tour in victories over Man City and Man United, while Firmino is expected to feature in the coming friendlies.

However, a lack of viable options beyond the first-choice trio was evident throughout last season, especially following Philippe Coutinho’s move to Barcelona in January.

This removed Klopp’s ability to rotate his attacking lineup without a significant drop-off in quality.

ANN ARBOR, USA - Saturday, July 28, 2018: Liverpool's new signing Xherdan Shaqiri scores the fourth goal during the preseason International Champions Cup match between Manchester United and Liverpool FC at the Michigan Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Shaqiri’s arrival certainly bolsters the attacking department, as he can play on either wing or as a No. 10, as he did so impressively in his debut against United.

The return of Daniel Sturridge, who appears revitalised with a string of excellent pre-season displays, means Klopp has another top-class striker at his disposal.

And should he remain fit for the majority of the season, Sturridge can be a potential game-changer for Liverpool. There are few better backup centre-forwards around.

However, quality has never been a question regarding Sturridge and, as ever, it’s a case of whether he can be relied upon to be fit whenever Liverpool need to call upon him. Past experience suggests that’s never a guarantee.

With Danny Ings and Divock Origi likely to move on, it leaves Dominic Solanke as Klopp’s sixth forward option—a player who is still young, developing, and for all his potential, only scored once last season, that being on the final day.

ANN ARBOR, USA - Saturday, July 28, 2018: Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge scores the second goal during the preseason International Champions Cup match between Manchester United and Liverpool FC at the Michigan Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool need to be prepared for a worst-case scenario, in which Sturridge picks up an injury, and any one of Mane, Salah or Firmino is unavailable for a sustained period of time.

In that case, Shaqiri would automatically become a starter, leaving only Solanke as the remaining backup option.

Rhian Brewster is full of promise, but the youngster—who recently signed a new long-term deal at the club—is still recovering from injury and is unlikely to make his comeback until December, while Curtis Jones is also unproven at first-team level.

The signing of Fekir would’ve provided an extra layer of insurance should Liverpool pick up a couple of injuries to key players in those positions.

But in not pursuing an alternative, there is an element of risk in relying on the front three—and Sturridge—all to have relatively injury-free seasons again.

 

The Oxlade-Chamberlain Blow

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, April 24, 2018: Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is carried off injured during the UEFA Champions League Semi-Final 1st Leg match between Liverpool FC and AS Roma at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

With the devastating news that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be ruled out for the entirety of the campaign due to the severity of the knee injury he sustained last campaign, Klopp has lost one of his most creative players, who made such a significant impact in his first season at the club.

Although Oxlade-Chamberlain was brought in having mostly played out wide for Arsenal, Klopp quickly converted him into an all-action central midfielder who linked up superbly with the attack.

He brought speed, drive and vision from midfield, his direct running offering something unique compared to Liverpool’s other midfielders.

Naby Keita softens the blow of losing the 24-year-old, and his arrival can elevate Liverpool’s midfield to another level.

The early signs in pre-season suggests he’ll settle in very quickly, and has all the tools to be the fulcrum of Klopp’s midfield for years to come.

Unlike Oxlade-Chamberlain, however, Keita is unlikely to provide a viable option in the forward positions, and while the Englishman was never quite as effective on the wing as he was in midfield, he still added depth and could fill in for Mane or Salah if needed.

NABIL FEKIR during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 game between Lyon and Villareal - First Round (Photo Stephane GUIOCHON/Maxppp/PA Images)

Fekir, too, is able to play out wide as well as centrally, and had Oxlade-Chamberlain been fit and available this season, the deal arguably would have been seen as more of a luxury than a necessity.

Without Oxlade-Chamberlain, though, it’s difficult to escape the feeling that Liverpool could do with adding one more body who is versatile enough to play in attacking midfield as well as in the forward positions.

This would minimise the impact of any injuries to Mane, Salah or Firmino—and, most importantly, to give Klopp more scope to rotate his attackers and sustain a similar level of quality.

 

The Man City Factor

NEW JERSEY, USA - Wednesday, July 25, 2018: Liverpool's Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' and Manchester City's Riyad Mahrez during a preseason International Champions Cup match between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at the Met Life Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Top four is the minimum standard again for Liverpool this season, but having kept all their star players, and added several new ones with significant investment to upgrade key positions, Liverpool should be targeting a serious title tilt this time round.

To do so, they will have to compete with a City squad who secured 100 points last season, and have not lost any of their key players either.

It’s unlikely their level will drop off dramatically, and Liverpool will need much more than last season’s 75 points if they are to take the next step and sustain a genuine challenge at the top.

Pep Guardiola is able to choose from Sergio Aguero, Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez for his front line.

The Spaniard has six top-class options, meaning that any injury to one, two or even three of his key attackers means he still has quality replacements to bring in.

That’s the level Liverpool are competing against, and while their forward line is at least on par—if not better—than City’s, the three waiting in the wings are not nearly as strong, or reliable.

NEW JERSEY, USA - Wednesday, July 25, 2018: Liverpool's new signing Xherdan Shaqiri after a preseason International Champions Cup match between Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC at the Met Life Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Had Fekir joined, Liverpool would’ve been close to matching City’s array of quality attacking depth, but with Sturridge, Shaqiri and Solanke as the main three backup options, they don’t look quite as strong as their main rivals.

Of course, it’s impossible to fully address every issue within the squad in a single summer, and it’s worth emphasising that Alisson, Fabinho and Keita are three exceptional acquisitions—while Shaqiri can also prove a very smart buy—but the injury to Oxlade-Chamberlain is a game-changer.

Liverpool have the strongest squad they’ve had in arguably over a decade, and this summer transfer window has been a very good one.

It could have been perfect with Fekir, though, and not signing an alternative possibly leaves Klopp one body short in the attacking department.

It could work out fine, but much of that will now rest in the hands of luck, regarding the fitness and availability of his key players.

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