With the transfer window bringing inevitable talk of new signings at Liverpool, and all quiet at Anfield so far, Andy Campbell assesses the Reds’ squad depth and title hopes.
Soak it up, savour it. Breathe it in.
Every last intoxicating trail of smoke from the celebratory fireworks. Each and every angle of Klopp’s dazzling dance moves. Every precious, tantrum-induced, salty tear stain from rival supporters.
For the first time in 30 years, Liverpool took to the field as league champions as the season kicked off. The trophy lift will feature in every opening segment of Match of the Day, the infamous shuffle in all its HD glory for the entirety of 2020/21.
Martin Tyler can no longer drone on about the long wait, whether it’s on Sky Sports or infuriatingly every single game of FIFA featuring the Reds. Alan Smith will still ramble on about ’89 at Anfield mind!
For a significant section of the fanbase, this is uncharted terrain. And that’s putting aside the post-apocalyptic young-adult fiction vibe COVID-19 brings.
Previously, the standard summer cycle typically involved varying degrees of squad overhaul, new management and squabbles over who would be this year’s final piece of the jigsaw.
That those arguments are now largely played out across social-media platforms with strangers of unspecified age, knowledge and motive reflects the insanity of modern dialogue on…well, everything really.
Is it really worth arguing over Liverpool’s fiscal position and consequent transfer options with an eight-year-old on their lunch break in Valparaiso, Chile, who it turns out was a Porotos Granados-munching Everton fan on the windup all along? Le faltan palos para el Puente!!
A supremely talented squad, that has already delivered success, is still in its peak years in terms of age profile and has no glaring long-term injury issues surely only needs tweaking.
Instead, Twitter user @LFCDavidSilvaSuperFanNudes, who may or may not be a bot, explained the glaring holes in the team and why they’ll be lucky to finish above Norwich.
To suggest a schism in the fanbase is probably a step too far but there’s certainly differing opinions on what’s needed in this season’s squad.
Mind the Gap
The current Reds team have an outstanding and well-established starting XI. There’s strength in depth, exemplified by players coming off the bench to impact games across the 2019/20 title win.
So where are the gaps? Are there areas that can be improved?
Alisson is, perhaps, the best goalkeeper in world football. The undisputed No. 1 at Liverpool. He’s a majestically handsome bastard to boot!
Yes, he cost Liverpool with expensive errors in the Champions League against Atletico Madrid and yes, he cost me personally.
That exclusive Karl Thyer mug was irreplaceable frankly, let alone the cost of replacing my TV that evidently isn’t shatterproof. So much for the lavender-scented zen calming candles.
Yet overall, Adrian’s contribution was positive.
On a more practical level, it’s simply not feasible to go out and waste a restricted transfer budget on someone who’s unlikely to match Adrian’s 11 appearances of last season.
VERDICT: All good here, but time for Karius to move on.
This is a first-choice pairing even peak Mourinho would have looked at with snide, envious glances. Respect.
Gomez’s 43 appearances last term suggest a young player overcoming earlier serious injury concerns, but beyond the first-choice pairing, problems are evident.
Matip is a first-rate performer and when fully fit would compete fiercely with Gomez for a starting slot. Unfortunately, he’s injury prone and has been throughout his career.
Lovren is gone, no need to debate his merits anymore.
All told, the Reds are short in this department. That’s not to say there aren’t options. Fabinho is excellent when required to step back into defence but he’s a big loss from the middle of the park.
The youngsters Koumetio, Van den Berg and Hoever all represent promising and varying degrees of unknown talent, and it would be a significant gamble, and show of trust, asking any of the kids to step in as fourth-choice centre-back.
VERDICT: I’d like to see game time afforded to the young players, so have no issue with any of them (likely Koumetio) filling the fourth-choice slot.
The problem is the sadly excellent but rarely fit Joel Matip. For that reason, another centre-back is an essential purchase.
Complementing the best centre-back pairing in European football are two of the finest full-backs around.
Trent’s solid defensive abilities continue to improve, while his creative output puts him up there with the best playmakers…and no he doesn’t need to move into midfield!
On the other side, Robertson is almost as prolific. Albeit in a more traditional fashion.
These two are critical to Liverpool. Not simply for their play down the flanks but crucially for their ability to quickly and accurately switch play, exposing opposition vulnerabilities.
Kostas Tsimikas offers welcome cover at left-back, affording Robertson much-needed relief from his previous workload.
Whether Neco Williams is comparable with Alexander-Arnold is, to an extent, irrelevant at this stage. He falls into the ‘raw but promising’ category and will get game time to develop.
VERDICT: Two elite full-backs and two adequate backups. Gomez and Milner able to cover in an absolute worst-case scenario. The Reds have got this covered.
This is proving the most contentious department for obvious reasons. Across much of Klopp’s tenure, there’s been an almost wilful ignorance demonstrated about how the unit functions.
I’ve touched on it before but a first-choice trio of Fabinho, Henderson and Wijnaldum is the fulcrum of the side.
They offer a perfect balance of tactical awareness, selfless defensive instincts and the ability to chip in with a few key goals or assists. It’s not their primary purpose but don’t mistake that for an inability to deliver.
That said, Jurgen Klopp and Pep Lijnders are more aware than anyone that teams are trying to solve the puzzle of closing down the full-backs without exposing a soft underbelly to Liverpool’s lethal front three.
Allowing for the slight post-lockdown dip, it doesn’t really appear anyone is close to solving the conundrum.
Arsenal have certainly posed questions in the last two meetings, yet for all Arteta’s obvious tactical acumen it’s largely been based on an ultra-defensive approach that even Roy Hodgson might’ve blushed at, along with uncharacteristic defensive errors and pre-season fatigue.
Klopp has hinted at a tactical shift over the summer to combat such scenarios.
It’s not really about the myth of Liverpool struggling to break the low block. Rather it’s when they encounter games against higher quality opposition using stifling tactics. Again, think Arsenal, Spurs or even Man United.
A fully fit Naby Keita has been a frustratingly, flitting illusion in his time at the club but he remains an enticing prospect. A very different profile from the rest of the midfield, there’s a sense he could yet offer increased creativity without sacrificing defensive solidity.
Oxlade-Chamberlain’s problems with injury are a worry but he continues to be a more-than-useful line-breaking option.
Curtis Jones is the wildcard here. Only 19 years old but already established as a first-team squad option. Eye-catching technique, confidence and he’s starting to find an end product.
He’s nowhere near his physical peak at this point, which could drastically alter the kind of player he’ll become. His development will be fascinating over the next couple of seasons.
There’s been more than enough impressive insights written on This is Anfield around his merits already, so there’s little to add there.
He will offer the additional tactical flexibility that Jurgen desires and arguably needs. Indeed, his press resistance could well have afforded Liverpool increased control over the game against Leeds last weekend.
My only caveat being I wouldn’t want to lose Gini or hinder Curtis Jones’ exciting development by bringing him in.
Regardless, he’s a ‘here and now’ signing. A genuinely thrilling addition, who you suspect will delight fans with his ability and leave opposition players fearful of yet another attacking threat in the Reds’ armoury.
This will be a bigger question in the next couple of years. Not this season, though. Salah, Firmino and Mane are peerless as a front three and still in their peak years.
Support from the bench is a bigger question. Minamino looks a clever and promising alternative, as does Brewster.
I sometimes wonder if Origi’s complete unpredictability is what makes him an asset to Klopp. Even Divock seems uncertain of what he wants to do at times, let alone the opposition. The problem is he doesn’t frequently enough impact games.
Shaqiri? The quiff alone is worth keeping him as an option, if he’s content grabbing minutes from the bench.
VERDICT: As much as I adore him, it’s time to seek a more reliable option than Origi.
Brewster might not be far from usurping him as the go-to option from the bench anyways and if Edwards can pull off his usual magic-man routine, then the funds from Origi’s sale would be welcome—funds that should also be boosted by the sale of Harry Wilson.
Can this team win it TWICE?!!
Cover at full back has been secured, which was vital. Thiago looks to have been sealed, so there’s now a surplus of options in midfield.
Perhaps in this intense, compacted season that will prove a sensible approach giving Klopp an array of fresh options and legs rather than prompting sales. They now need to find a centre-back as a priority.
Funds remain tight, a sentiment only heightened by the collapse of the Premier League’s deal with Chinese streaming service PPTV.
However, a replacement for Origi or Brewster could provide further freshness and, ideally, a different threat from the bench, one that puts pressure on our fabled forwards as well as the opposition.
This will only happen if a buyer is found for the cult Belgian, I suspect.
Chelsea and Man United look better placed with the business done so far but it shouldn’t be understated how abysmal their respective points tallies were last season and bedding in new players isn’t always a straight line to success.
Improvement should be a given, but it’ll have to be considerable to mount a challenge.
This Liverpool squad has the right age profile, know-how and, more importantly, talent to deliver back-to-back titles for the Reds’ faithful.
Desire and consistency could be their biggest obstacles rather than City.
After two seasons of outstanding achievement, going again is a big ask and an understandable dip will be difficult to avoid.
But Klopp, Edwards and dare I say FSG have surely earned our trust to deliver a 20th title back to Anfield.