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The 2016/17 season was, broadly speaking, a successful one. Attaining Champions League football was the bare minimum for a ‘successful season’, but under Klopp’s leadership, the team did so. In the process, Liverpool scored 78 goals in the league, at an average of just over two per game. Coutinho and Mané both scored 13 in the league, whilst Roberto Firmino contributed with 11. Whilst it is a positive that the goalscoring burden is shared across the forward line, what Liverpool cannot afford, next season, is to rely on Roberto Firmino as the primary goalscorer, in a season that may well span 60 games or more.
What we saw this season was that Firmino is an essential player within Klopp’s Liverpool side, but one that does not score as many goals as the respective strikers of Liverpool’s rivals do. Not only this, but near the end of the season, Firmino struggled with his fitness, after the demands of a tough season got to him, and he was forced to take a breather from the bench.
Admittedly, Liverpool’s signing of Mohammed Salah is expected to be finalised shortly, and his goalscoring output will be a welcome addition, which may well relieve some pressure from Firmino, but it’s likely not enough for Liverpool to push on in the league or in other competitions.
In the Premier League, there were 14 players that scored more than Liverpool’s top scorer, Sadio Mané. This list includes Kane, Lukaku, Sanchez, Costa, Agüero, Alli and Ibrahimovic, amongst others. Whilst the disparity in regards to the total league goals scored is fairly small, between Chelsea, Spurs, City, Arsenal and Liverpool: what we are not accounting for here are the demands of lengthier seasons for Spurs, City and Arsenal, all of whom were in European competitions.
Whilst Roberto Firmino has scored a respectable 11 goals this season, and 10 in the previous, this is not enough for Liverpool to compete with rivals higher up the table. And this does not even account for the depth within the striking department too.
Daniel Sturridge remains a top-class player, with undeniable quality, but his fitness record means that he cannot be relied upon to last the season, and score the same volume of goals as Costa, Agüero, Sanchez or Ibrahimovic did, this season. Sturridge’s total for the entire season was 7 goals – at a rate of one every 152 minutes played: higher than any other player in the team.
Comparatively, Liverpool’s third choice centre-forward, Divock Origi, scored 11 goals in total – one every 189 minutes. Divock Origi remains a promising young player, but at times he appeared to struggle in games as a lone striker, and also has injury issues too.
When it comes to Liverpool’s fourth choice striker, Danny Ings, it’s extremely hard to not sympathise with him. After coming back from one anterior cruciate ligament injury, that can so often ruin careers, he suffered another one. Regardless of his form once he returns, Liverpool cannot expect to rely upon a player who has had minimal action over two years to provide, or contribute towards the goals Liverpool need, week-in, week-out.
What this leaves Liverpool with is a simple option. To get a new striker. With the demands of the upcoming season likelier to be larger and physically more taxing than ever before.
We saw this season how Liverpool struggled without the pace of Sadio Mané, but one aspect that has been overlooked is how drastically different Liverpool looked over the last three games of the season with a striker, a role which Daniel Sturridge excelled in. The low-block issues that saw Liverpool stagnate against sides outside of the top six were finally addressed, and bringing a striker would not only reduce the strain on Firmino, increase the squad’s depth and quality, and the overall demands on the team to make up a goalscoring deficit in comparison to rivals; what it would also do – providing the striker had the right qualities – is provide a solution to the main tactical problem that confounded Liverpool’s 2016/17 season – and will be essential for Liverpool going forward in the season to come.
It seems a reliable, consistent and intelligent striker is required, alongside additions at left-back, centre-back and in midfield. A striking department with Daniel Sturridge and Origi as reserve players, and Firmino in a second-striker, or central role behind the striker seems an enticing prospect, and one which would see Liverpool challenge at the highest level. We can only hope the club recognises this issue, and acts upon it too.