Liverpool’s big transfer priority as Jurgen Klopp faces relying on the unreliable

With Gini Wijnaldum gone and doubts over Naby Keita ongoing, Liverpool risk relying on the unreliable as they build their midfield ranks for the campaign ahead.

Now that other nonsense is over and done with it’s time for the resumption of real football. Club football.

Seven weeks after securing Champions League qualification in front of 10,000 fans, a sizeable Liverpool squad is currently being put through its paces in the Austrian Alps.

The question on every Kopite’s lips, however, is whether that number will be added to.

Depending on your outlook, or media of choice, the Reds are either done with transfers forever or on the brink of signing Mbappe.

Oh, the rumour mill. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Amid the background noise and nonsense was an interesting titbit from the ever-reliable James Pearce this week. Speaking to the 1892 Podcast, the Athletic journalist claimed Naby Keita was here to stay.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, March 7, 2021: Liverpool's Naby Keita during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Fulham FC at Anfield. Fulham won 1-0 extending Liverpool's run to six consecutive home defeats. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Pearce said: “From the people I’ve spoken to, they’re adamant there’s still faith he can come good and make a telling contribution.”

That’s surely wishful thinking for someone who has started 47 games in three years as a Liverpool player.

An average of 17.7 league appearances a season since is anything but a ‘contribution’. Neither does it point to one incoming.


Injury records

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, November 22, 2020: Liverpool’s Naby Keita goes off with an injury past manager Jürgen Klopp during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City FC at Anfield. The game was played behind closed doors due to the UK government’s social distancing laws during the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool’s commitment to Keita would surely be tested if anything like a meaningful bid arrived for the Guinea international this summer.

While talented, he remains a rare blot on Michael Edwards‘ copybook. Regrettably, his is a Liverpool career blighted by fitness issues.

Since first donning the red, Keita has suffered 10 separate injuries, in addition to four bouts of illness – including a suspected bout of COVID-19 last October.

Combined this has led to him missing a staggering 54 games. For context, Virgil van Dijk – on the comeback trail from an ACL injury – has only been absent for 45 to date.

Liverpool’s stance on Keita could well be brinkmanship, of course.

For all we know there are interested parties, and the club are seeking to drive up the price for a player they parted £52.75 million with to land themselves.

If, however, they truly do intend to stick by the midfielder, it raises serious concerns about the engine room – and moreover the means of improving it.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, April 14, 2021: Liverpool's Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looks dejected after the UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg game between Liverpool FC and Real Madird CF at Anfield. The game ended in a goal-less draw, Real Madrid won 3-1 on aggregate. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

With the seemingly indestructible Gini Wijnaldum allowed to leave on a free, Liverpool’s midfield options suddenly appear fragile, to put it nicely.

Keita’s injury woes are well-documented but he’s hardly alone in that respect. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is no stranger to the treatment room, while James Milner, at the age of 35, is beginning to pick up knocks with greater regularity.

In Jordan Henderson, Liverpool have an influential captain but one with his own chequered injury past. This is unlikely to improve as the skipper enters the twilight of his career.

As for Thiago, his long-term absence at the beginning of last season may well have been down to a reckless challenge-turned-assault at the hand of Everton’s preening pigeon.

Nevertheless, it contributed to a total of 38 games missed in the previous three campaigns.

This leaves the youthful Curtis Jones, whose role will surely increase this term but who should not be over-extended.


Sell to buy?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, May 23, 2021: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the final FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Crystal Palace FC at Anfield. Liverpool won 2-0 and finished 3rd in the table. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The fragility of our midfield is something Jurgen Klopp and his coaching team will be all too aware of.

On the back of a season undercut by injuries in one area, they will surely seek to guard against a repeat heading into 2021/22.

But what if they themselves are hamstrung? Pun very much intended.

The Keita soundbites may be setting or rather lowering expectations. With money tight, links to the likes of Florian Neuhaus, Saul Niguez and Nicolo Barella appear tenuous.

We’re continually told we have to sell to buy; a scandal in itself though one for another day.

Regardless, it’s a clear strategy and an approach that will leave Edwards working overtime to offload the likes of Harry Wilson, Marko Grujic and Xherdan Shaqiri in a bid to raise funds.

But remember Fenway Sports Group’s frugality extends to sales too. None of the above will be sold for what they consider a knockdown price.

Which begs the question: where does that leave the manager? In all likelihood, planning for a quiet window and nothing in the way of midfield reinforcements.


Carrow Road

Indeed, heading into Norwich, Klopp will almost certainly be reliant on the unreliable.

It’s easy to forget Euro achievers Henderson and Thiago, along with Copa America finalist Fabinho, will only resume training in a fortnight, casting doubt over their own availability for that first game.

While that’s a worrying scenario for the club, it could present a last-chance saloon for Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain in particular.

This is without doubt the most important pre-season of their lives. From day one their primary focus will have been securing a starting place for the trip to Carrow Road. Well, that and avoiding the treatment room.

An immediate impact, combined with Klopp’s penchant for meritocracy, could see one or both force their way back into the reckoning this term.

If either fails to earn a start, or succumbs to injury beforehand, a bit-part role awaits.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, April 14, 2021: "You'll Never Walk Alone" Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during the pre-match warm-up before the UEFA Champions League Quarter-Final 2nd Leg game between Liverpool FC and Real Madird CF at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The 2020/21 campaign was a car crash in many respects but lessons could still be pulled from the wreckage. The most obvious was a lack of squad depth.

With that in mind, we can all hope for a Keita ‘contribution’, but it would be irresponsible to plan for one.

Whatever the complexities, Liverpool simply have to bolster their midfield ranks between now and the end of August. The twin demands of the fixture list and our preferred style of play require a level of durability currently lacking.

Scrimping on transfer fees now will leave us paying the price later on.