Liverpool have a host of players returning from loan spells this summer who will need to either move on or be ready for a big fight to claim a first-team place in Jurgen Klopp‘s side.
It’s one thing leaving the club to gain experience and game time elsewhere—it’s quite another returning to find your team-mates have become European and Premier League champions in your absence.
That’s the prospect awaiting Marko Grujic and Loris Karius this year, both of whom departed for loan spells in the summer of 2018 and have spent two years away: the goalkeeper in Turkey for an ill-fated stay at Besiktas, the midfielder for a rather happier pair of season-long loans with Hertha Berlin.
Both will return to Liverpool in the summer, however—and despite many reports suggesting both will be sold, the duo appear happy to fight for their places.
Others set for returns include Harry Wilson from Bournemouth, Nat Phillips, Rhian Brewster and Kamil Grabara. The future appears more clear for some than others—time and talent appears on the side of the latter two—but Wilson has mostly been grouped into the ‘will be sold’ category, as the Reds look to raise funds for a summer addition or two.
Market conditions might not make it as easy as expected to generate the sums spoken of a year ago, though, when Besiktas still held a £7m option on Karius, Grujic was linked with Atletico Madrid for £30-40m and Wilson was a £20m target for some clubs.
Then there’s the players’ own ambitions to consider.
Grujic has been consistent and clear with his message for the last two years: he’s in Germany, learning his trade but watching the Reds, with an eye on improving enough to earn a place in Klopp’s side.
Hertha’s sporting director Michael Preetz says that the Reds will receive a far better player back than the one they initially sent out.
“It has been agreed by both clubs that he will return to Liverpool,” he told Goal.
“The conclusion of this loan agreement over the past two years is very positive and it has had positive effects on everyone who has been involved.
“Liverpool will get back a player who is definitely more experienced than he has been before, because he earned very important game practice.
“And we also had profit out of this past two years with Marko. Marko is a player who is present in both penalty boxes. Just in his first year he played extraordinary. Now after the restart he is getting back into his good shape.”
For his part, Grujic spoke earlier in the year that his only goal was to make the grade at Anfield, noting that he had been working on his deficiencies because Liverpool “work like hell” defensively and was inspired by the “underrated” jobs that the likes of Gini Wijnaldum, Fabinho, James Milner and Jordan Henderson did in the centre of the park.
The Serbian, who turned 24 recently, is clear: he wants to add his name to Klopp’s central options next term.
It’s a lot of bodies to keep giving game time to, but then, the Reds have a lot of games to fit in and Grujic offers certain traits that are lacking in Klopp’s other options, particularly aerial prowess and huge strength which can come in handy against certain opponents.
Karius, more surprisingly, says the same: he intends to stay. If it seems a little more of an unlikely outcome, that’s because it is: he says even a “second[-choice] goalkeeper in England, you know your get your chances.”
Thing is, Karius would be third at best right now, with Adrian having performed admirably most of the time when given the chance.
The German stopper told Transfermarkt he can still progress in training at the “best club in the world” and benefit from the facilities and highest-level team-mates.
But he wouldn’t be a consideration for game time, simple as that. There’s no point in playing a soon-to-be-27-year-old for the odd game to leave him with one year on his contract.
The game time has to go to the younger option—Caoimhin Kelleher if he’s not on loan along with Grabara, perhaps Vitezslav Jaros as next in line—and Karius will need to be moved on for a worthwhile amount this summer.
He has been linked with Grujic’s own loan club, Hertha, with the Berlin club rebuilding and spending on talented younger players. That’s exactly what Karius needs: a place he can be first-choice, a team which is aiming high but not yet quite as high-profile.
Both he and Grujic are aiming to return to Liverpool and fight for a place, but the odds are stacked firmly in favour of one of them actually achieving it.