In my last piece, which you can read here I discussed the potential for Liverpool to be genuine league title contenders. I still stand by that. The current squad, as it stands, is good enough.
The encouraging thing is that Jurgen Klopp has continued to defy the critics throughout his tenure at Anfield. He doesn’t always do things in a way that perceived “popular” thinking would expect. That’s natural as he is the man who sees everything on a day-to-day basis, after all.
In Klopp, we have a manager who, unlike the Mourinho’s of this world, tries not to make excuses for shortfalls in performance. Klopp has shown his ability to make a difference on the training field and find practical short-term solutions.
Take, for example, the conversion of Adam Lallana from a flimsy, wide-attacker with no end-product, to a tenacious attacking midfielder who did a job for the team in Klopp’s first season.
The arrival of the Ox has taken the Lallana midfield role to new levels. But that isn’t the point; Klopp worked with what he had available to him at the time, maximising the performance of pretty much every player.
Then take Jurgen’s first full season where he was able to manage an injury crisis, tweaking his formation along the way to land top 4. Last season he was able to keep the team in contention for top 4 and the Champions League knockout phase until he could land his man VvD.
Then a late-season midfield injury crisis left us chronically short and probably cost the team the ability to have a proper go at Madrid. But Klopp was able to mix and match and keep the team competitive until Madrid’s skullduggery struck, unpenalised by a weak referee.
These are just a few examples of our manager and his support team’s creative and out-the-box thinking. Last season, such was the standard of Man City that a league title was never realistically on.
However, there is no doubt Liverpool are getting closer.
Rather than wasting transfer funds on stop-gap players, likely to later become squad players, he instils confidence and trust in those he already has. As opposed to putting added strain on a wage bill already littered with players who are susceptible to injury, and therefore potentially harder to sell.
As the squad gets stronger, the challenge is for Liverpool to have quality backups who are happy to play a bit-part role. People may point to the fact that City, United and, to a lesser extent Chelsea, can do so. But ridiculous wages help; a luxury Liverpool can ill-afford, for now.
In a perverse and absolutely unplanned way, the fact that Klopp needs to carefully manage certain injury-prone players’ fitness helps to manage expectations. It’s kind of convenient, if not ideal. On the other hand, given Klopp’s exacting training methods, I think we have to accept the risk of more injuries than teams with a lower intensity approach.
With risk comes reward. For example, our central defence is well-stocked, on paper. Fitness permitting, it is enough to see us through the season but, given injury records, that’s the most obvious weak area in the squad right now.
Flexing Financial Muscle
It’s hard to see FSG sanctioning big wages on squad fillers when the likes of Milner, Sturridge and Mignolet (players unlikely to feature in a large proportion of games) are on pretty big money themselves.
However, Liverpool still have money to spend. Further upgrades will come as we offload players on relatively big wages and surplus to requirements. The scope is there to spend big on a few more players, likely next January and beyond. Not all business will get completed in this shorter transfer window.
But there’s no need for panic. It feels like the general fanbase is as relaxed as it’s ever been this summer. We’re in good hands and Klopp knows what he is doing. Most of us know that too.
Look at the calibre of recent players being brought in. Let’s sit back and enjoy the ride. Klopp’s tenure has shown he is not afraid to wait for his man. As the team improves the upgrades get better.
And even more excitingly, it feels like the best is still yet to come.