Little over a week ago, the Reds blitzed heavily touted champions-in-waiting Manchester City in a ruthless 15-minute-spell, before prevailing 4-3 despite contriving to throw the game away in the most sickening manner possible.
This led to many Liverpool fans convincing themselves that a Philippe Coutinho replacement wasn’t required until the summer, which was reflected in manager Jurgen Klopp’s comments on several occasions regarding the unlikely nature of further incomings this month.
What has transpired throughout the previous two games may force Klopp to rethink his plans, however.
Liverpool were typically brought back down to earth with a bump, after a chastening evening in South Wales which served as a dreadful advertisement to those who believe the current squad depth is enough to challenge in current competitions this term.
The main takeaway from the 1-0 defeat away at Swansea was the lack of creativity in the side. Despite fielding a fairly strong front three in Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, the midfield was utterly pedestrian throughout and struggled to create any moments of ingenuity or flair – something Coutinho regularly produced in the heart of the midfield earlier this season for Klopp’s side.
More recently, the Reds suffered another setback, this time domestically as they suffered a shock 3-2 defeat at home to strugglers West Brom. Despite fielding a very strong side. Worringly, Liverpool displayed similar malaises to that of the 1-0 defeat to the Swans five days ago – with a lack of guile in the middle of the park there for everybody to see.
Liverpool’s problem was that there was too many pedestrians in the middle of the park. The one who came away completely scathed was Georginio Wijnaldum. The Dutchman has been the perfect embodiment of a Jekyll & Hyde player in his Premier League career at the Reds.
Since signing from Newcastle in the summer of 2016 for a fee worth about £25million, the 26-year-old has been positively revered for his influential, workmanlike attitude against sides at Anfield and those higher up the table.
However, his performances against the ‘dross’ sides away from home have been rightly lambasted – for his conservative movement, and opting for the safe option rather than taking risks in possession, as well as failing to make ambitious runs in behind the defence.
And that’s another thing which Liverpool are lacking in their midfield. Risk takers. At the moment, the Merseysiders simply do not have midfielders who have the technique or confidence to play long balls over the top, or take the initiative to start an attack in their own half. If you look at the side’s current defensive midfield options, they are James Milner, Jordan Henderson and Emre Can. Henderson has received the most flak out of the trio, with the narrative being that he always attempts ‘sideways’ passes. Meanwhile, the latter’s inconsistency has been a problem all season – and Milner at 32 isn’t getting any younger.
The defeat to the Baggies on Saturday strengthened the consensus that Klopp’s side are in grave need of someone who can create something out of nothing in tight situations. The midfield trio looked completely laboured, with the side seriously bereft of a Plan B or fresh ideas. Klopp must take full responsibility for failing to recognise the need for a creative playmaker soon enough – the fact that the side was devoid of ideas was there for everybody to see.
Despite comfortably brushing away a Huddersfield side in relegation fodder on Wednesday, there cannot be any doubting that replacing Liverpool’s best player was of paramount importance.
With Liverpool contriving not to replace Coutinho this window, it would be a massive gamble. If it does not pay off and Liverpool fail to make the table’s top four come May, Klopp will deserve to bear the brunt of every single Reds fan. The notion that the board has shipped Coutinho, one of the side’s best players, off to Barcelona without a replacement being lined up in lieu, is quite frankly abysmal.
It would see Klopp’s side return to square one once more. Last season, Liverpool’s problem was cited as being a lack of cutting edge against deep-block sides. Not replacing the 25-year-old would mean that we would find ourselves at this position once more, which would lead to further points dropped in the race for a Champions League spot.
With the situation following the 4-3 win over Man City looking so promising, the departure of the ex-Inter Milan creative playmaker is beginning to tell. Only two points separate Liverpool and 5th-placed Tottenham, with Arsenal also beginning to close the gap on the top four as well. The defeat at home to Alan Pardew’s side in the FA Cup also all but ensures the Reds will go another season trophyless – which simply doesn’t suffice for a club so synonymous with glory.
One League Cup in a decade simply does not bode well for the future, nor will it aid the side in the transfer window in the long-term. Whilst the 50-year-old manager has managed to attract marquee names such as Virgil van Dijk, Sadio Mane & Mohamed Salah in the past, something his predecessor Brendan Rodgers miserably failed at, holding onto key players is something which has often left Liverpool fans concerned.
Whilst the German does deserve credit for playing arguably the strongest side available at his disposal, the fact that he is banking on the likes of Georginio Wijnaldum, Emre Can, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner to negotiate the rest of the season unscathed points to a lack of ambition towards winning silverware this season.
Some may point to the fact that most of the aforementioned crop of midfielders achieved top four with the club last season. However, for me, finishing top four every season for a club of Liverpool’s stature isn’t enough to retain marquee players. This is was shown when Coutinho handed in a transfer request in the summer, before eventually departing for Barcelona in January.
Again, you could use the example of replacing your best with other clubs. The most prevalent one was Alexis Sanchez – who moved from Arsenal to Manchester United. However, despite Sanchez’s departure quite clearly leaving a massive void in the Gunners’ side, they replaced him straightaway with Henrikh Mkhitaryan – a player who has been struggling for form but is tailor made for Arsene Wenger’s style, with Pierre Emerick Aubameyang potentially also moving to North London.
As a fan, it is very frustrating when you know your club isn’t going to replace one of your most important players – and this is no different.
And an exit from the fourth round for the third successive year won’t help Klopp’s cause if he is looking to retain key players such as Mane, Salah and Firmino at the club long-term and fight off rumours linking them to Europe’s elite. Simply put, the only way forward is silverware. The only way to win silverware is by rectifying your weaknesses. You’d have to think that, following the week that has transpired for Liverpool, that Klopp would be out of his mind not to pursue a replacement for the diminutive Brazilian playmaker.
Whilst a top four finish with the current crop of midfield players at Klopp’s disposal would divulge a marked progress from the Rodgers era, Liverpool fans simply cannot bank on top four finishes every season. For a fanbase so accustomed to success, it’s about time we saw some activity in the transfer market to lift that six-year drought for tangible silverware.
After a 18-match unbeaten run, the sale of Coutinho is starting to have a domino effect on the side – with the lack of creativity and spark in the side threatening to derail what has been a very promising season thus far. And with the January transfer window deadline now over and Liverpool not replacing the 25-year-old, possibly expect more furrowed brows at Anfield.
Writer: Stephen Lindell/@SteLindellLFC
Photo: Getty Images