Why Liverpool need to sign an attacker – with key trio likely to miss start of season

With Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah all enjoying international success so far this summer, Liverpool need to identify further cover for the trio.

The Reds’ new campaign starts on August 4, when they take on Man City in the Community Shield at Wembley, before their Premier League opener at home to Norwich on August 9.

Between now and then, they will play seven warmup friendlies, beginning with a trip to Tranmere, taking in a three-stop tour of the United States and culminating in a clash with Lyon in Geneva.

The shape of Jurgen Klopp‘s squad for most of pre-season is set to be affected by internationals, with the UEFA Nations League, Africa Cup of Nations, Copa America and U21 Euros all taking place this summer.

For others, there were friendlies and Euro 2020 qualifiers, meaning 19 of the Reds’ first-team squad have been in action for their nations.

Five are still on duty, with Alisson and Firmino at Copa America, and Mane, Salah and Naby Keita all at the AFCON—though the latter is likely to pull out due to injury.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, May 6, 2019: Liverpool players walk out for a training session at Melwood Training Ground ahead of the UEFA Champions League Semi-Final 2nd Leg match between Liverpool FC and FC Barcelona. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool typically allow their players a three-week break at the end of their international commitments before reporting back to Melwood.

And if this is the case, the continued involvement of Firmino, Mane and Salah in particular increases the need for a new, versatile forward to arrive on Merseyside this summer.

Brazil’s victory over Argentina in the semi-finals of the Copa America—with Alisson keeping a clean sheet and Firmino scoring one and assisting one—means they are both tied up until after the final on July 7.

Meanwhile, both Senegal and Egypt have progressed to the last 16 of the AFCON, and stationed at opposite ends of the bracket can still hope to meet in the final on July 19.

Mohamed Salah of Egypt during the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Finals match between Egypt and Zimbabwe at Cairo International Stadium, Cairo, Egypt on 21 June 2019 ©Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix ( Samuel Shivambu/Sports Inc/PA Images)

The best-case scenario for Liverpool would be that both suffer defeat in their first knockout ties, with Senegal playing Uganda on July 5 and Egypt taking on South Africa on July 6.

But that seems unlikely: Uganda progressed from a weak Group A with four points, while South Africa scraped through as the fourth-best third-placed side.

With two of the world’s best strikers in their midst, the likelihood is at least one of Egypt or Senegal will make it to the final in Cairo.

If that is the case, after a three-week break the very earliest Alisson and Firmino could return is July 29, while for Mane and Salah it would be August 10.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, May 28, 2019: Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold during a training session at Melwood Training Ground ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Given their importance to the side it could be that their holidays are reduced, but this may prove negligible ahead of a season in which Liverpool compete on seven fronts.

Last summer, Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Simon Mignolet were with England and Belgium through to their World Cup third-place decider on July 14, while Dejan Lovren played for Croatia in the final a day later.

They all reported back for training on August 5, a week before the start of the season, and only Trent started that 4-0 win over West Ham.

But the difference between Trent’s involvement for the campaign opener, despite a lack of training time, was not only his youth but also that he played just 79 minutes at the World Cup.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 22, 2018: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah (right) celebrates with Sadio Mane only to see his goal disallowed during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Southampton FC at Anfield. (Pic by Jon Super/Propaganda)

Between them, Firmino, Mane and Salah have tallied 875 minutes at Copa America and the AFCON; when both tournaments end, it could be almost double that.

They will undoubtedly need a rest, particularly as all three were among Liverpool’s six most-used outfielders in 2018/19.

Firmino played the fewest minutes of the three (3,406), with Mane (4,309) and Salah (4,342) significantly further ahead, and given he will return the earliest the No. 9 has the best chance of starting against Norwich.

On the proviso that neither Mane or Salah will, however, Klopp will be required to assess his other options ahead of 2019/20.

MADRID, SPAIN - Friday, May 31, 2019: Liverpool's Dejan Lovren, Mohamed Salah, Xherdan Shaqiri, manager Jürgen Klopp and Divock Origi during a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Estadio Metropolitano. (Pic by Handout/UEFA)

Daniel Sturridge has departed, but Divock Origi has played his way back into the manager’s plans and Rhian Brewster is in line for a first-team role this season.

Perhaps the most important, though, is Xherdan Shaqiri, who will be among the second wave of players to report back for pre-season training and is likely to play most of Liverpool’s friendlies.

Beyond Origi, Brewster and Shaqiri, Klopp is likely to call upon Harry Wilson, Ryan Kent, Ben Woodburn, Curtis Jones and possibly Liam Millar at least in the opening domestic games.

But of those only Wilson is being suggested as a possible addition to Klopp’s first-team options for the new season, and it is still more likely that the Welshman leaves.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 31, 2019: Liverpool's manager J¸rgen Klopp reacts during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool have made just one signing so far this summer, with 17-year-old centre-back Sepp van den Berg arriving from PEC Zwolle, but one of the club’s widely reported priorities is a versatile forward.

Ideally, this player would be able to cover all three roles in Klopp’s attack, which though able to at a push, none of Origi, Brewster, Shaqiri or Wilson can to a high standard both out wide and up front.

There has been little movement in the Merseyside press in that regard, with claims of interest in Lille’s Nicolas Pepe, Sporting CP’s Bruno Fernandes and a return for Lyon’s Nabil Fekir all dismissed.

But the hope is that Michael Edwards‘ work is moving swiftly ahead behind the scenes, as Liverpool had already seemed short of a forward at times last season.

MADRID, SPAIN - Friday, May 31, 2019: Liverpool's Rhian Brewster during a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Final match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and Liverpool FC at the Estadio Metropolitano. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Klopp’s faith in Brewster remains the uncertain factor, as at 19 and with no first-team experience so far after a year on the sidelines he is still something of an unknown quantity.

It would be a big gamble if he is to take over Sturridge’s duties and more, though it would certainly be welcome if he is able to flourish.

Either way, with Liverpool needing to get off the mark early as they challenge for the Premier League and defend their European Cup—along with vying for the Community Shield, UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup, FA Cup and League Cup—depth and quality are needed.

And with the source of 69 of last season’s 115 goals facing an unsettled start to the campaign, the Reds’ need for a new forward has become an even bigger priority.