Liverpool are facing another season of summer overhaul, with the Reds constantly linked with new players and Michael Mongie is here to discuss how Jürgen Klopp’s side could look in a couple months.
The final day of the 2016/17 season saw Liverpool clinch a fourth place finish with a dominant 3-0 win over Middlesbrough. Georginio Wijnaldum, Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana scored to fire the Reds into next season’s Champions League (pending playoff success).
With Liverpool set to return to European football, be it in the Europa League or the far more attractive Champions League, Klopp needs to bolster his side and the summer transfer window arrives at an opportune time.
As is the case for most big clubs in England, the summer transfer window is a time to rebuild or strengthen and for Liverpool, it’s a bit of both. The injury woes of January and February proved that reinforcements are needed but there are still vital cogs of the machine that are missing which need adding first.
Liverpool finished fourth in the Premier League for the 2016/17 season with a total of 76 points, just two behind third-place Manchester City. This, in spite of the fact that a midfielder was at left back and that Klopp had to contend with a ridiculous number of injuries to key players.
Through its frequent use in recent years the saying has become clichéd but had you offered Liverpool fans a Champions League spot in August 2016, many would have bitten your hand off.
A lot has been made of the fact that Klopp’s rivals have won trophies and Klopp only secured a top four finish, but in the grand scheme of things, a place in the Champions League next season would do a whole lot more for Liverpool’s progress than another FA Cup trophy in the cabinet.
With the ability to offer European football next season, Klopp can reshape his side and truly challenge for top honours next season without fading away during January and February.
First up on my personal shopping list has to be left back. There’s no chance that Liverpool can enter the Champions League with James Milner (or God forbid Alberto Moreno) at left back and not expect to get turned over.
While it was understandable that Klopp wanted to experiment with Milner, the consummate professional, and it worked for a few months but fatigue and the ability to predict what he would do ultimately means that the experiment failed.
Moving into next season, Milner needs to be a midfield option. What this means is that Liverpool need to sign a starting left back, in addition to bringing Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon on board. Signing Ryan Bertrand or someone in his mould could assist the Reds in becoming a more robust defensive unit.
The last thing Liverpool can hope for is for Milner to come into his own at fullback. The Englishman has admitted he prefers playing in midfield and his disillusionment with playing at the back is a perfect example of why it hasn’t worked out, despite the former Manchester City winger’s best intentions.
Arguably the top target for this summer, Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk is an absolute must for Liverpool.
Many supporters have commented on the reported £50 million fee that the Dutchman would command and while it is expensive, I don’t think Liverpool can afford not to pay it. What’s the alternative? Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly has been linked, but realistically, Liverpool would sign someone far less talented and then Klopp wouldn’t really be left with anyone more capable than Dejan Lovren.
Van Dijk has recently returned to training after suffering a serious ankle against Leicester City at St. Mary’s back in January. By the time the new Premier League season starts in August, it will have been seven months since he took part in a competitive match. There are a few concerns about Liverpool paying so much money for a player returning from a serious injury and I admit that there is some weight to this.
That being said, it’s a gamble that I think is worth the risk. Not in the way Brendan Rodgers thought Mario Balotelli would come right but in that Van Dijk is a hard-working professional and will grind to get back to his former physical state for whichever club he plays for.
I’ll say it again: Van Dijk is a must for Liverpool.
Next up on my list is another player who, according to reports, will cost Liverpool over £50 million. RB Leipzig’s Naby Keita has been linked with the Reds for several months now and although Klopp insisted that he would like to get his transfer business done by the beginning of pre-season, this looks likely to drag out.
Whether or not there is truth to any reports regarding Keita is unclear, but he is a player that would reinvent Liverpool’s midfield. Comparisons with Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante are not unfounded although the Guinean dynamo has more attacking intent to his game. He is equally capable of playing as an attacking midfielder as he is a holding midfielder which would do wonders for Klopp’s options in the middle of the park.
With Philippe Coutinho set to drop deeper next season into a creative midfield role, Klopp could have Keita, Coutinho, Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, James Milner, Adam Lallana, Marko Grujic, Emre Can and potentially Lucas Leiva as his midfield options. More depth for more football means Klopp will be able to cope with the added fixtures in Europe next season.
Up front, however, Klopp’s plans for the future are unclear. Roberto Firmino struggled to find consistency in terms of goalscoring as Liverpool’s false nine and Divock Origi is still raw to the point of unbearable frustration. Daniel Sturridge is also unreliable as his injuries rule him out as a regular option even if his quality puts him at the top of the Premier League.
Where does this leave Klopp? He has a couple of options, in my book. As seems likely, he could drop Coutinho deeper into a no.8 role and sign a new winger capable of scoring goals, with the likes of Mohamed Salah linked, and continue with Firmino up front as a creative and high-pressing force. Firmino created the most clear-cut chances for Liverpool last season with 76 in the Premier League alone.
Alternatively, Klopp could sign a top centre-forward capable of scoring 20+ goals a season and play Coutinho on the left wing. Based on the evidence we’ve been provided with, this seems unlikely.
When all is said and done, Liverpool needs to have brought quality in quantity. With FSG’s full backing there’s every chance for Klopp to go out and sign the players necessary to compete with the big boys.