With the Premier League title race all but over and everyone having to put themselves through the ignominious wait of the inevitable confirmation of this season’s champions,
Jurgen Klopp’s side currently lie 3rd in the league, level on points with arch-rivals Manchester United. It is looking like a second successive season in Europe for the Reds, with fans also having a Champions League quarter-final against champions-in-waiting Manchester City to look forward to in just less than a week.
For all of the progress that has been made in the league though, it is looking like another campaign without a trophy for Liverpool – with it being six years since the club last tasted any success. This is an unacceptable wait for a club synonymous with glory, therefore it is imperative that Klopp’s men do mount a serious challenge for some silverware next season if they are to hold onto their key players as well as attract new ones.
So, in this piece I will be looking at the three things that the manager must do this summer if the 29-year-wait for a league title will end next May.
Find a centre-back partner for Virgil van Dijk
For all of Liverpool’s notable improvements and upgrade going forward, very little has been made of their very much-maligned defence which has improved of late following the signing of Virgil van Dijk from Southampton for a club-record fee.
Although the Reds have leaked 34 goals this campaign, the Dutchman has added an air of composure and authority in central defence – an area which Liverpool had been notoriously revered for lacking in for many years since the retirements of club stalwarts Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher respectively.
But even if van Dijk has made his presence felt in the side, Klopp’s side are still in need of another defender who can partner the former to fully bind Liverpool’s defence at last. The likes of Stefan de Vrij & Kalidou Koulibaly have been names that have been reportedly monitored by the Reds, and they would befit the German’s profile for the ideal centre-back partner in his side.
Sufficient Back-Up Going Forward
This seems quite short-sighted to cite Liverpool’s attacking calvary as an area in which they could strengthen in the summer – especially with the magnificent trio of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino & Sadio Mane at their disposal.
However, if you look beyond the aforementioned options, the Reds’ options are quite thin. The likes of Dominic Solanke & Danny Ings have regularly been touted as contingency options for Firmino – but if Liverpool are to sustain a title challenge next term, they will require more reliable and proven options in this position.
Fast forward back to the 2008/09 season, during which the Reds achieved their highest points tally in the history of the Premier League – finishing just a meagre four points behind eventual champions Manchester United. Then managed by Rafa Benitez, Liverpool also had a world-class striker, one of the best in Europe at his prime, Fernando Torres with Steven Gerrard often playing off the Spaniard.
Unfortunately for Benitez’s side, Torres spent most of the campaign on the sidelines even though Gerrard took centre stage during the 24-year-old’s lengthy absence. Therefore, the Merseysiders found themselves reliant on 19-year-old David N’Gog, who was still a very raw talent, for subsets of the campaign. This led to them dropping costly points against the likes of Tottenham, West Ham United & Hull City which would prove to be the difference at the end of the campaign.
And a strikingly similar pattern has unfolded on occasions this season. Although the dazzling Brazilian is yet to fortunately obtain any kind of injuries this term, it is important for Klopp to remain proactive this summer and brings in a suitable replacement if any injuries to Salah, Firmino or Mane occur.
Timo Werner has been forecasted for this position, although it is unlikely the German will favour a place on the substitutes bench for most games – therefore Liverpool may need to switch to a 4-2-3-1 with the 26-year-old up top. Werner’s style seems tailored for the ex-Dortmund boss, although it is not certain if he will be willing to switch an attacking system which has flourished on so many occasions this term.
A Naby Keita Partner
Liverpool are also lacking a natural, out-and-out defensive midfielder. Since club icon Steven Gerrard left the club just under three years ago, they seem to be lacking a midfielder who can control a game, provide screening for the back four as well as go forward.
Many Reds fans have already reached their tether with club captain Jordan Henderson, with the consensus being that he is simply a sideways passer who does not add anything to the side. The Englishman has had a mediocre campaign so far for Liverpool, and whilst he is nowhere near as awful as some imply, the 27-year-old probably isn’t suited this role moving forward.
Emre Can is the other player in the side capable of playing in the No. 6 role, but he’s received plenty of critique himself as well for some inconsistent performances which have coincided with Juventus’ reported interest in the player. With the German’s contract expiring this summer, he could be out of the Melwood revolving door. Even if he does stay, his consistency issues this term make it somewhat difficult to envisage him being a part of a title-winning side next season.
So what Klopp must find is a suitable defensive midfielder who can dovetail Naby Keita, who has already signed a pre-contract agreement which will make him a Liverpool player on July 1st.
His options aren’t limited. Wilfried N’Didi and Abdoulaye Doucoure have been regularly linked with this role – just to name a few. The latter is looking increasingly likely; on several occasions, the Frenchman has reiterated his desire to play for Klopp’s side. A bid of £40million should suffice – and he would be the ideal fit in Liverpool’s midfield to complement Jorginho as well as offering protection for the back four.
It won’t be all plain sailing though for Liverpool, even if they do strengthen in the aforementioned areas. The likes of City, who effectively already have the title wrapped up as well as Man United & Chelsea are expected to strengthen in the window which will make it even harder for the men from Merseyside. Whilst Liverpool are arguably the closest they’ve been to the title than they have been in a few seasons, there is still no room for complacency and supporters must remember that rivals will definitely be shifting in the summer.
Therefore, the Reds cannot afford to stagnate in the summer window and must be proactive with their business. Although it’s not difficult to envisage Klopp waiting for his transfer targets to salvage them at an ideal price (e.g van Dijk), it is vitally important that the owners and the manager do not miss out on the areas in which they need to strengthen. If incomings are swift at Melwood, expect a very exciting season ahead.
Writer: Ste Lindell
Photo: Getty Images