Tom Burchill looks at Liverpool’s weaknesses following the 2016/17 season and assesses which roles need to be prioritised in the transfer window.
Last season was another 38 weeks of highs and lows for Liverpool FC. While we achieved what we set out to at the start of the campaign you can’t help but feel that we could have done more.
The football we played was exciting to watch but when push came to shove it was obvious that there were gaping holes in our squad. Perhaps it was silly for us to expect so much.
A few signings in the summer wasn’t enough to develop the squad that was dominated by Sevilla in the second half of the Europa League final. The fact that we lost that game did not help.
With no Champions League football last season, we did have an eased fixture list but we could not attract the kind of players that we really wanted. You only have to look at who we were linked with last season and this summer already to see the difference it makes.
Last season it was Mahmoud Dahoud, Piotr Zielinski and Ben Chilwell. This season it’s Virgil Van Dijk and Kylian Mbappe. While I think some rumours might have to be taken with a pinch of salt such as Mbappe and Aubameyang it’s nice to see us linked with the big boys.
It’d be even nicer if we actually signed them.
Before we start blowing our imaginary billions though, I think it’s important to think about what we go shopping for in the first place. After all, we have a few problematic positions.
This time last year I am sure I am not the only Liverpool fan who was buzzing to see us in the market for a new keeper. Mignolet had been shocking all season and his backup Bogdan was even worse. At the end of the season, Mignolet managed 11 clean sheets in 34 appearances.
We all know what happened next. We signed a promising young German ‘keeper from Mainz and when Mignolet started, as we expected, he was given his chance. It’s safe to say he blew it, achieving only 3 clean sheets in 10 which resulted in Mignolet’s promotion back to number 1.
After Karius proved he was unable to deal with the tempo of the Premier League, Mignolet was fantastic. While he only barely improved his clean sheet ratio by finishing 28 games with 9 clean sheets Squawka gave him a season performance score of 365 in comparison to the lowly 115 of the previous season.
Despite the stats, I’ve been impressed with Mignolet for the last few months of the season. That has not stopped goalkeeper links, though, with Joe Hart and Iker Casillas being rumoured as potential options.
At this current moment, I believe a goalkeeper should be low priority but it only takes Mignolet’s form to waver for it to shoot up the shopping list.
I think Iker Casillas could benefit Mignolet and Karius in their development whereas Joe Hart’s recent England form has left me unconvinced he is the answer.
I would not rule out a move for a keeper this summer but if it doesn’t happen I am willing to invest my confidence in Mignolet. Let’s just hope that doesn’t come back to bite me.
After Alberto Moreno’s troublesome 2015/16 campaign it’s a surprise that we didn’t prioritise a left back last summer. Instead of investing money in a new player, Klopp decided to invest trust into an existing one and asked the versatile James Milner to fill the void.
Milner, who has openly said he is not keen on the role, had a good season in the position but again I think a pinch of salt is required. Was he good as a left back or was he good for a midfielder playing at left back?
By the end of the season, everyone we played knew he was going to cut back onto his right foot and even when he pulled it off, it rarely resulted in a cross entering the box. I cannot slate him for his performances last season but I have to question his longevity in defence.
Our original target 17-year-old Ryan Sessegnon has expressed interest to remain in the capital and it looks likely he will move to Spurs. But can we really afford not to sign anyone?
Especially when Alberto Moreno appears to be inching closer to the exit door with interest from Swansea City and a variety of other clubs, with Liverpool apparently interested in raising £12m from his sale.
It’s no secret that James Milner is getting old and I think it would be silly not to reinforce this position at all. I trust Klopp’s judgement but he cannot rely on Milner forever. He’s 31 now and at times last season, he looked exhausted on the pitch.
Fortunately, we’re seeing links to the likes of Mendy and Ghoulam and so reinforcements may be on their way. While these two targets have been ruled out already, I think this is one of our highest priority positions, if not the highest, and I don’t want to start the 17/18 campaign without addressing it.
We seem to have found our strongest partnership in Dejan Lovren and free agent Joel Matip. The two have been class together at the back but the only issue is they’ve rarely been fit at the same time.
Instead, we’ve had to depend on Ragnar Klavan and at times Lucas Leiva to plug the gaps. This has proven costly to Liverpool on more than one occasion and if we’re to progress then it cannot be the case next season.
In order to win trophies, I think we need a centre back to replace Dejan Lovren in the starting 11 and for him to become our first substitute and rotation player. I think he is good but he’s not great and that’s what I want Liverpool to be.
We know that a new CB is high up on Klopp’s priority list but in recent weeks the breakdown in the pursuit of Virgil van Dijk has left many fans worried.
Rumours suggest they’re looking at Serie A. It is reported that Liverpool have had a £36 million pound bid rejected for Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaby.
I think it’s safe to say that a new CB is on his way to Anfield, it’s just a question of who.
While my heart is telling me that Virgil van Dijk would be ideal I do wonder if £70m is worth it and if we couldn’t find a player of equal calibre in a different league.
After all, van Dijk has only been at Southampton for a season and he’s been injured for half of it. Can we justify paying that much for a defender?
Central defensive midfielder
At Liverpool, there is no shortage of midfielders but a position that is always cropping up in conversation is CDM. With Jordan Henderson almost always injured Emre Can and Lucas Leiva are our two most defensive midfielders.
Many are speculating that Lucas’ 10 years on Merseyside are drawing to a close with links of a reunion with Rafa Benitez at Newcastle having surfaced recently. A return to Brazil has also been touted but the likes of former club Gremio will struggle to meet Lucas’ wage demands.
Should he move away from the club this summer then Liverpool are left vulnerable in this position.
Emre Can shined as the season drew to a close but our lack of depth meant he had to play through injuries for a big chunk of the season. Additionally, his desire to strive forwards would be better supported with another CDM covering the back 4.
When Lallana and Wijnaldum are his midfield neighbours this is an exposed area which sees teams counter effectively. This is largely due to that missing anchor who can slow the play down while everyone else gets back.
Keita has been a fan favourite rumour this summer although RB Leipzig insist they want to keep hold of their squad. Referred to as the “African Deco,” I would definitely welcome him on board. If what Leipzig are saying is true then it could be time to look elsewhere.
The fact Keita is African is my only reservation. When the AFCON comes knocking in 2 seasons we need to make sure we aren’t going to have the foundations of our squad ripped away. We need to avoid a repeat of January 2017.
I would love for Captain Jordan Henderson to be fit all the time but it just doesn’t look like it’s written in the stars. This position has to be addressed and it has to be addressed now. Let’s stop messing around and let’s get pen to paper.
Attacking players rumours are the bane of my life. It’s not just Liverpool who gets linked with Europe’s best forwards either. Chelsea are reportedly pursuing Lewandowski, United failed to dislodge Griezmann, City are after Sanchez and Ronaldo wants a move.
Odds of any of it materialising? Slim to none.
Liverpool last season were fluid in midfield with goals coming from everywhere. In our 4-3-3 we’ve seen many players grace the top of the tree. Firmino, Lallana, Sturridge and Origi have all had their chance at leading the line.
The pursuit of an all-star striker such as Aubameyang or Lacazette may impact this dynamic and I’m not sure I want to see that happen. For now, I am perfectly happy with the rotation and think that the money spent on these two is better spent elsewhere.
That is not me saying that I wouldn’t like to see Salah, Aubamayeng and Mane charging down opposition defences but we have not exactly struggled to score this season.
While I do think at times we could’ve been more clinical (Lallana against Man City) the threat our midfield has carried this season has been second to none. Even Guardiola has said it’s something he wants to replicate next season.
Overall, we’re likely to see a 6 or 7 new faces enter the fray. With Solanke on his way from Chelsea once the window opens we need to make sure we’re getting the right players. It’s all well and nice buying flashy forwards but we need a well-balanced side in order to achieve success.
I am excited about the transfer window and like all Liverpool fans, I am hoping for most of our business to come quickly. We need a left back, we need a centre back and we need a CDM. Anything more is just a bonus.
We also should not forget the likes of Joe Gomez, Jon Flanagan, Marko Grujic and Danny Ings will be at our disposal next season. Their performances pre-season may completely change our buying strategy this summer or alternatively highlight that they are surplus to requirements.