Has there ever been a sensible Liverpool transfer window?
No. Well, there’s that sorted, do remember to follow me on Twitter, and stay tuned to any further luminary bits.
But that’s not enough, is it? Why, for example, if Liverpool have just won a Champions League final, and have already reported back to pre-season for a day or two, aren’t they already three signings into an emboldened, balls-to-the-wall transfer window?
Well, possibly because to catch their only direct competitors, they would need Pep Guardiola to get up and leave. In the unlikely scenario, Liverpool are able to reach 97 points again – they would need City to slip up significantly, and it simply doesn’t look like happening while Guardiola is at the helm.
It is an unsettling truth, yet it is the truth. City are a machine executing their purpose. It’s the reason they were able to go and buy Rodri to replace the ageing Fernandinho, and it’s the reason they might well be spending over £25 million on a full-back for the fourth time in three years. Liverpool aren’t silly enough to spend another £200 million on catching the uncatchable.
Which leaves us with the current state of affairs: Liverpool will likely strengthen, but not copiously. Players will return from injury, others will get injured, leaving Klopp and co. with the task of picking the right signing to make.
So, if Liverpool are to make a calculated dip into the market (for someone who is of the legal drinking age), where should they turn? More pressingly, if Liverpool were to prioritise one position, where should they invest?
The Number 10
Somewhat bemusing to neutrals, given Klopp has never used an out-and-out number ten during his time at Liverpool (perhaps an exaggeration, but still it was a rarity), the thing fans seem to clamour for most is the addition of a fourth attacker, in the shape of someone at the tip of the midfield, or the rear of the front line, depending on your perspective.
Nabil Fekir was the perfect component, mostly because he was anything but an out-and-out #10. He could play wide, up front, and most importantly, had been used in Lyon’s midfield three for most of the season prior to Klopp’s interest. Alas, it was during that same season that issues with Lyon’s allegedly botched knee reconstruction arose, and Fekir never got his move to the Reds. Painful, given it was so close, but it has certainly given rise to the idea that Liverpool should find someone of the Frenchman’s ilk.
The issue is, there really aren’t many like Fekir. The fact is, he is entirely unique; he is an attacking midfielder than presses back to the defensive midfield positions, yet contributes in both goals and assists. The contenders to fill his void are limited by their, well, limitations.
Take James Rodriguez, for example. A big name, but he doesn’t contribute enough goals. And he drifts wide too often, essentially picking up the ball in the same space as either of Liverpool’s wingers.
Bruno Fernandes, then? Well, he technically fits Fekir’s positional mould. Except a lot of his goals came from playing as a false nine for Sporting, positionally he does drop deep but prefers to carry the ball forward rather than utilise the quickness of a counter-attack, and though he did get to 20 goals in Portugal, seven of them were penalties, giving him a record akin to James Maddison’s for Norwich. Who cost about fifty million less. Bruno would be an excellent signing, but the fact is, he’s nowhere near the sure thing he’s made out to be.
So who then? Kai Havertz is both too young and too expensive, despite being utterly brilliant. Isco spends too much time on the ball, Ziyech is too slight, Brandt’s gone to Dortmund and while Dybala would be lovely, he’s at a club big enough to resist Liverpool’s charms.
Buying a #10 would also hamper the progress of 58 million-pound Naby Keita.
So, how about a good old-fashioned number 9?
Well, Liverpool sort of have a brilliant new-fashioned number 9, except he plays on the right. Mohamed Salah has been winning golden boots for fun lately and relishes the ability to shift defenders off balance, cut onto his stronger left foot, and curl the ball into the corner. It’s become something of a trademark, except that he’s also capable scoring in myriad other ways. Keeping that going is of the utmost importance.
Which means compromising the space he moves into with someone in the fashion of Robert Lewandowski would be a foolish thing to do.
Ideally, instead, you would seek someone that moves into the space that Salah vacates, someone that does what Roberto Firmino does, someone like Timo Werner. Except there’s doubt over just how much of a goal threat the young German is: he’s not been able to outperform his expected goals (a measure of good finishing) since his breakout season at Leipzig.
A Backup Wide Forward
So, how is it possible to get the best out of Mohamed Salah without compromising his space, as well as ensuring the merits of Bobby Firmino aren’t lost on the squad?
Well, how about another wide forward?
Firstly, anyone expecting Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah to go through a season without injuries again, especially after both will have essentially played non-stop football following their international exploits, is kidding themselves. That, too, goes for the manager of Liverpool. Though Klopp’s faith in a small squad has its benefits, it would be foolhardy to think the current attacking stocks – with the departure of Daniel Sturridge too – are enough to substantiate another title challenge.
With news too that Xherdan Shaqiri has already sustained a calf injury, it should be more prescient than ever that another wide attacker is imperative.
Someone who can ideally play in two positions across the front three – whether that comes in the form of Nicolas Pepe playing on the right and upfront, or someone like Cristian Pavon, who is adept at both wide positions – would not only alleviate the potential injury stresses, but also allow for flexibility in the way Liverpool play.
With a slight tweak in Firmino and Salah’s position, 4-3-3 can become 4-2-3-1, or even 4-2-2-2, like Klopp showed at West Ham two seasons ago. It would give Liverpool a better threat off the bench when their mesmerising front three don’t quite get their magic tricks right, and would also unsettle any manager, wondering whether the Reds might mix things up.
There are plenty of options, too. Florian Thauvin is a goalscoring machine, Ousmane Dembele is a mega-talent, Memphis Depay is unpredictably clever if a tad inconsistent, and David Neres is the right mix of devastating on the counterattack and creative with the ball at his feet.
So it’s settled then. Except, there’ll be those who disagree, and that’s alright.
After all, Liverpool are still European Champions. So remind yourself of that a few times and relax.