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What has happened to Liverpool’s great summer rebuild?

With Liverpool just days away from the start of the Premier League, are fans right to have expected more than two arrivals to this point given the work that was required?

It all started so swimmingly. Liverpool sealed a cut-price deal for World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister just 11 days after the 2022/23 campaign drew to a close, kicking off a what was expected to be a big summer and beginning the process of righting the wrongs of last season.

Dominik Szoboszlai followed from almost out of nowhere the following month and all of a sudden the next era of the midfield engine was taking shape.

The renovation in the middle was in part prompted by a sudden but expected exodus of the old guard.

Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner all departed upon the expiry of their respective contracts, but their combined contribution equated to just 1,517 minutes of Premier League football last season.

What followed was something that seems to have caught Jurgen Klopp off guard, with both Fabinho and Jordan Henderson finding new homes in Saudi Arabia and in doing so plunging the reboot into further uncertainty.

And yet, further progress has, at least from the outside looking in, stalled.

Can Liverpool afford to keep refusing to show their hand and are there any excuses that could wash with supporters if they persist?

 

False assurances

KARLSRUHER, GERMANY - Wednesday, July 19, 2023: Liverpool's substitute Alexis Mac Allister during a pre-season friendly match between Karlsruher SC and Liverpool FC at the Wildparkstadion. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The signing of the Mac Allister was billed as the start of something big at Anfield this summer, rather than just the main attraction.

Club sources had repeatedly indicated that the Reds will be active in the market as they look to rectify the shortcomings that saw the side fall out of the Champions League places for the first time since 2016.

The familiar ‘war chest’ claims began to surface and while the £200 million figure that circulated earlier in the year was never reliably reported, there were claims from reputable journalists that Liverpool’s owner, John W. Henry, was prepared to back Klopp this summer.

The Times‘ Paul Joyce reported in June that the relatively cheap fee for the Argentine afforded Liverpool “further flexibility in the market to bring in more midfielders.”

Going further back to the end of the Jude Bellingham pursuit in April, Joyce reported that Klopp had held “positive” recruitment talks with the club’s ownership and that FSG were “providing significant funds” for the task in hand.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Tuesday, March 7, 2023: Borussia Dortmund's Jude Bellingham during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 2nd Leg game between Chelsea FC and Borussia Dortmund at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea won 2-0, 2-1 on aggregate. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

James Pearce also wrote for The Athletic that Mason Mount, Ryan Gravenberch and Moises Caicedo were among the considered alternatives as the manager plotted out his overhaul, along with Mac Allister himself.

Two months on, only one other new name has followed the World Cup winner through the door.

Pearce also added after the signing of Szoboszlai that the Reds had “turned their attention” to Lavia, but that the £50 million price tag was seen as “far too high” for the youngster.

Since Szoboszlai’s arrival, Liverpool have travelled to Germany and Singapore for pre-season tours and Southampton have kicked off their Championship campaign with Lavia sitting on the bench against Sheffield Wednesday.

For all of the talk of a midfield rebuild, the Reds have quietly found themselves requiring reinforcement at the back too.

All of the noise was that this was set to be a busy summer for Liverpool and that noise was fed into the public domain by the club.

Information is never passed on to journalists without good reason, which suggests that the decision-makers either underestimated the scale of the job or have plainly failed to live up to expectations so far.

 

Bumps in the road

The perceived threat from Saudi Arabia has been a live one for a little while now, whether we’re willing to accept it or not.

There can perhaps be a degree of sympathy for the surprise element that came with the Middle East approaches for Fabinho and Henderson, as well as the natural implications that will have for the business still to be done.

A rebuttal, though, could be that Lavia was on the radar long before those two players said their farewells and that the pursuit of a defensive midfielder was in the works regardless of further departures.

2R0M429 Southampton's Romeo Lavia during the Premier League match at City Ground, Nottingham. Picture date: Monday May 8, 2023.

There was certainly a sense that the three who said their goodbyes in front of the Kop in May were unlikely to be the only midfield outgoings this summer, with Thiago also attracting some interest before the double Saudi swoop.

Put simply, if Liverpool weren’t accounting for five midfield exits they were putting themselves at risk of learning another costly lesson.

The Lavia negotiations are still dragging on – in the words of the Southampton manager, with the prospect of him having a Klopp pre-season now long gone.

He was a priority while Henderson and Fabinho were at the club and it would seem that remains the case, which begs the question: why is it still not done?

 

When risk outweighs reward

SINGAPORE - Sunday, July 30, 2023: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp during a pre-season friendly match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City FC at the Singapore National Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The manager has always stressed the importance of pre-season. You get the feeling he has really resented the way in which his recent summers with the squad have been curtailed by the pandemic and the World Cup.

Mac Allister and Szoboszlai were at Kirkby on the very first day of pre-season, their deals done with the minimum of fuss thanks in part to their respective release clauses.

Even if Liverpool were to make a defensive midfield signing in the coming hours, there is almost no chance of that player being involved from the start at Stamford Bridge.

The word “promise” should have no place in football, it evokes a sense of entitlement and completely ignores the volatile nature of the market clubs now operate in.

DONESCHINGEN, GERMANY - Friday, July 21, 2023: Liverpool's sporting director Jorg Schmadtke walks back to the team hotel after a morning training session during a pre-season training camp in Germany. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

But from a summer in which so much was expected, with the club communicating such to local journalists despite zero obligation, we face the borderline inevitable prospect of starting 2023/24 without a recognised defensive midfielder.

A No. 6 signing was the bare minimum. Some fans argued the case for two new midfielders and a defender in this window before offers had even surfaced for Fabinho and Henderson.

The deadline is still weeks away and it is often worth remembering that before writing off possibilities, but in a world where 92 points no longer guarantee you the league title, leaving yourselves short from minute one can have devastating consequences.