Liverpool need to rid the deadwood and build a more accomplished squad this summer - starting with quality attacking reinforcements
It was always going to be an impossible task, maintaining a flawless level of performance, week after week. Liverpool had set their own bar incredibly high - last term they were unfortunate to miss out on winning their first ever Premier League title thanks to the nature in which Pep Guardiola’s dominant Manchester City continued to decimate everything in their path.
Any other season, obtaining 97 points throughout a single campaign would be more than enough to clinch you a league title, but last season was unique and something we will probably not see again for a long, long time.
Liverpool have been exceptional for some time now. Last season they lost just once in the Premier League and scored 67 goals, conceding 22. The Reds made the Champions League final in 2018 but ultimately fell to seasoned European triumphants Real Madrid at the final hurdle. A year on though, in 2019, they completed the job, beating Tottenham 2-0 in the Spanish capital to lift their sixth European Cup.
Liverpool’s dominance has been going on for much longer than this season - the difference is, this time around they will have domestic silverware to show for their efforts. An astonishing 22-point cushion at the top of the English top-flight in early-March is insanely impressive. Jurgen Klopp’s side could realistically win the title by April 5th - should they win their next four games against Bournemouth, Everton, Crystal Palace and Manchester City - but at the moment, it is difficult to envisage them doing so.
After such a lengthy period of continually winning football matches, Liverpool are now, naturally, showing signs of faltering. A narrow 1-0 victory over rock-bottom Norwich at the start of last month left question marks over whether or not the Reds were starting to feel the pressure, and if fatigue was indeed beginning to creep into their play.
That point was solidified when Liverpool lost 1-0 to Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash a fortnight ago, conceding after a lapse of concentration in the opening four minutes at the Wanda Metropolitano. Then, just under a week later the Reds struggled to beat another relegation-threatened team in the Premier League, only just edging past West Ham 3-2 at Anfield. If alarm bells were not ringing prior to those two results, they certainly were after them.
This is a side who had kept ten clean sheets since the beginning of December before their defeat to Atletico and suddenly they had conceded three goals in the space of just six days. A visit to another of the top-flight’s struggling sides, Watford, was next on the agenda and offered an opportunity for Liverpool to bounce back to winning ways last weekend. They were completely rocked by the Hornets, however, convincingly beaten 3-0 at Vicarage Road, leaving their aspirations of remaining unbeaten throughout the whole season in complete tatters.
More misery ensued for Jurgen Klop in midweek, when his Liverpool side were beaten 2-0 by Chelsea in the fifth round of the FA Cup, ending their journey in the competition. Suddenly, the bubble at Anfield has well and truly burst, to a certain degree. Of course, Liverpool’s season has and will continue to be a success - they are going to win the Premier League for the first time in their 127-year history and, though they have a job on their hands against Atletico, still have a great chance of making it through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League once more.
You cannot deny that these past three weeks have tainted Liverpool’s campaign somewhat, though, leaving an unwelcome splodge in the history book. The league defeat is disappointing, but it was always going to happen - teams, regardless of their quality, simply cannot just keep winning matches, it’s impossible, especially in the world’s strongest league and against opponents who always up their game in an attempt to spoil the party.
However, you can’t help but think that if Liverpool did have a little more squad depth, just like Manchester City had last season and Premier League title-winners of old, they would have perhaps gone the full distance. The Reds’ line-up against Watford was almost at full strength, bar Joe Gomez or Joel Matip featuring alongside Virgil van Dijk in the heart of defence. Instead, Dejan Lovren played and was bullied by Troy Deeney for 90 minutes. Liverpool’s defence looked significantly weaker with just one missing cog, and ultimately it cost them dearly.
The three substitutes brought on at Vicarage Road - Divock Origi, Takumi Minamino and Adam Lallana - were largely ineffective, but for the latter striking the woodwork with a darish long-range effort in the second-half. All three of those players started at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night as Klopp rested Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Georginio Wijnaldum; again, all three did little to nothing to stake a claim for regular selection, with new signing Minamino looking significantly off the pace. The Japan international missed a gilt-edged chance in the first-half and, during 90 minutes of action, failed to register a single shot on goal (on or off target) or a key pass.
Minamino is still adapting to English football and needs more time to do so but at a club like Liverpool, who need ready-made stars to come in and do a job for them almost immediately, he will have to step-up pretty quickly if he’s to carve out a successful career in Merseyside. It is now clear that Adam Lallana’s dwindling time at the club will come to an end when his contract expires in the summer and Divock Origi is, well, Divock Origi. The Belgian has popped up with some important goals for Liverpool but he will never be anything more than a substitute at Anfield used sporadically in cup competitions or during an injury crisis.
The same can be said for Xherdan Shaqiri and goalkeeper Adrian, while Naby Keita’s career at Anfield hasn’t ever really got going, and James Milner - a terrific servant to the club throughout the previous five years - is now well into his 30s and is starting to suffer with injuries. Players like 16-year-old Harvey Elliott, Curtis Jones and Neco Williams are all fantastic talents who each look to have huge futures ahead of them, but they are still some way off being considered as first-team regulars and impactful enough to emerge off the substitutes bench in the Premier and Champions League.
Liverpool are an unbelievable football team led by arguably the world’s best coach, but they are one-dimensional and, at the moment, seem to lack a back-up plan. Manchester City have the luxury of seemingly unlimited funds, which means that they can field two completely separate sides and there will be little to no difference in terms of quality. Liverpool do not have such luxuries and because of this, have less quality waiting in the wings, meaning they must be shrewder in forthcoming transfer windows.
What the Reds have achieved in recent seasons is formidable. They have progressed so much under the guidance of Jurgen Klopp and their starting line-up is as strong as anyone’s in European football - if not stronger. But, as we saw last Saturday at Watford when they replaced just one of those all-important regular starters with a reserve - and then in midweek against Chelsea where they made wholesale changes - when there is not a full-strength line-up on show, Liverpool massively struggle.
The solution is clear - acquiring top-quality personnel and getting rid of the current deadwood stagnating in their squad. As previously stated, Lallana will leave in the summer and so will the completely discarded Nathaniel Clyne, freeing up some valuable funds to be made available in the form of weekly wages. RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner has been linked with a switch to Anfield for over a year now, but this summer it does look likely that he will finally fulfil that move. The German is exactly the calibre of player Liverpool require in their squad and should the Reds capture his signature for the mentioned price tag of £51m ahead of next season, it would be viewed as fantastic business.
Overall, Liverpool can be extremely happy with how things are going right now. They are going to claim their first top-flight title in 30 years in the upcoming months and have a decent chance of progressing into the quarter-finals of the Champions League. The Reds’ starting-eleven continues to flourish and get stronger, and Jurgen Klopp looks genuinely content in Merseyside and appears to be in it for the long-term.
Indeed, to ensure they don’t burn out next season and are able to maintain this elite level of performance - campaign after campaign - now is the time for them to wise up when considering their wider squad. At the moment, it is not good enough and they lack a Plan B, it’s just lucky that Plan A is so good.