Jack Hallows forgets all the transfer rumours and talks of certain players in order to analyse just where Jürgen Klopp must direct his focus in the summer.
With the level of signings brought in during the Summer transfer window likely hinging on Liverpool managing to get Champions League football or not, it’s not going to be easy to predict specific players they may target. However, regardless of where they finish, there are certain things Klopp will absolutely need to prioritise.
Left side of the back four
Nathaniel Clyne is a very good right back. I don’t care what your opinion of his crossing is, the lad can defend and that for me is all that matters. Next to him, Jöel Matip is the player that Liverpool’s defence must be built around and keeping him injury-free next season is going to be absolutely key to Liverpool making progress defensively. The left side of the defence, however, needs changing.
Lovren and Milner have been very good in patches this season but let’s be honest here: Milner is not a left back and Lovren just isn’t a top class centre back. I’d be highly surprised to see Milner remain Liverpool’s first choice left back next season – it’s far more likely he becomes a squad utility player, covering at left-back and in central midfield – while Lovren would be better served as cover for Matip.
If Klopp can add a left back and a robust centre-half with a far better injury record than both Lovren and Matip can claim, it’ll go a long way towards finding continuity at the back and hopefully developing a better understanding between whoever our centre back pairing ends up being.
This is something Liverpool should really look to pay detailed attention to when targeting players this summer. The Reds have too often been hampered by injuries to key players at key parts of recent seasons and are once again looking at the prospect of an uphill climb for the top four with Lallana, Henderson and Manè all out. Of course, luck plays a huge part in injuries but when players like Henderson, Matip, Lovren and Lallana seem to pick up injuries every couple of weeks it results in a lack of continuity in the starting XI and provides Klopp with nothing but stumbling blocks as he chops and changes personnel weekly.
Indeed when you compare Liverpool’s injury record to that of league leaders Chelsea, you can see why they’re at the top of the table. Antonio Conte has been able to call on his first choice XI consistently and the likes of N’Golo Kante, Cesar Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa have all remained injury free for much of the season with Hazard, Luiz and Costa missing just four games total between them. For reference, our similarly important trio of Coutinho, Matip and Firmino have missed 18 between them with Matip in particular unavailable far too often.
Quality in depth
This goes hand in hand with the previous point as injuries aren’t quite as damaging if you have quality players ready to step in whenever a first team player is unavailable. I admit Liverpool looked to have a good squad at the start of the season but with a long term injury to Ings, drastic losses of form affecting both Origi and Sturridge, Klavan being ridiculously hit and miss, Karius struggling to impress and Henderson struggling with a foot injury over the last few months, the lack of depth in the squad has been ruthlessly exposed. Ben Woodburn, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ovie Ejaria are all exciting prospects for the future but right now they’re not the players you want to see subbed on when chasing a spot in Champions League football.
Liverpool need to not just retain their best players this summer but provide them with the proper competition. There is a feeling at times that the likes of Clyne, Lovren, Firmino and Mignolet have suffered from a lack of proper competition for their place which allows any drop in their performance levels to face no consequence or risk of losing their place in the starting XI.
It’ll certainly cost Klopp more money in the transfer market to add quality to his squad but at this point who cares? He’s said it himself that he’s not out to break even, he’s out to turn this club into a powerhouse. Time to spend some money and spend it wisely.
A proper goalscorer
As good as Firmino can be on his day, there’s no shying away from the fact we need a goalscorer to play in the number 9 role. They’re going to have to fit the system and be able to press – this is a Klopp team, of course. But through Klopp’s Dortmund sides, we know that pressing doesn’t always have to mean sacrificing goals.
Firmino is a very intelligent and industrious footballer but personally, I’d love to see him pushed slightly further back into the number 10 role in which he excelled last season. There were times when having a fit and firing Sturridge or Origi up top and Firmino buzzing around just off him worked wonders and allowed him to focus more on the creative side of his game.
Of course, the quality of the player we end up signing to fix this problem is likely going to depend on whether we finish in the Champions League places and there aren’t huge amounts of out and out goal machines available but if that means stretching the budget then Liverpool absolutely have to do it. Sturridge is likely to fetch the club an extra 20 million pounds, while there’s talk that Ings could go after two nightmarish years of injuries. This would leave the Red with a sizeable budget with which to address the striker position and for me, they have to use every penny. Of course, it’s never as simple as just picking a player and signing him up but if Liverpool aren’t at least considering targets in football’s upper echelons then I’m going to be worried.
Pace, pace, pace
Finally, a relatively simple and straightforward one. Liverpool just don’t possess enough pace in their squad. Aside from Sadio Mané and Divock Origi, the Reds entire attack and midfield can at times look sluggish, slow and immobile. While the likes of Coutinho, Firmino, Wijnaldum and Lallana all possess quick feet and can maze their way out of crowds of defenders when necessary, none are what you’d call rapid. With the Reds big on hitting sides on the counter attack and looking to get bodies up the field quickly, Jürgen Klopp needs to be looking at injecting extra pace into his side.
Another winger to provide cover for Sadio Manè must be a huge priority – the Reds look almost pedestrian in their build up at times without him – while if Klopp does sign a new striker, pace should definitely be somewhere on their list of assets.