January had always been somewhat of a bogey month in the Premier League era for Liverpool but this season it spelled their worst ever. One win against League Two Plymouth in a FA Cup third round replay was their only victory over NINE games which saw them embarrasingly exit the oldest ever cup competition (Emirates FA Cup) at home to Championship side Wolves, miss out on a trip to Wembley with a 2-0 aggregate defeat to Southampton in the EFL Cup and fall ten points behind league leaders Chelsea. After early February, we still have no promising signs of improvement as Liverpool have fallen 12 points behind the Premier league leaders.
This dismal run has even caused some fans to cast doubt on whether Jurgen Klopp is the right man for the job, which is obviously a ludicrous claim to make considering the progress the club has made since the German’s appointment. While Liverpool look set to end another season trophyless, I will be taking a look at what Klopp needs to do in the summer transfer window to ensure that Liverpool are able to fight on all fronts next season.
It’s been no secret that since the days of Carragher, Hyypia, Agger, Riise and Finnan that Liverpool have lacked a solid defensive spine and when Jurgen Klopp came in, that would have been one of the things that Liverpool fans hoped he could resolve. However, any such hopes have been quickly diminished as countless defensive mistakes have once again cost the Reds.
Joel Matip has been a breath of fresh air having joined from Bundesliga side Schalke on a free transfer. The Cameroon defender adjusted well to English football and initially formed a moderately successful partnership with Dejan Lovren, before a series of set-backs and international debates with his national side reduced his play time. Despite his less than impressive form since returning, there can be no doubt that Matip will be a mainstay in this Liverpool team for years to come such is his qualities as a ball-playing centre half and the biggest problem actually lies within who partners him.
Lovren showed signs at the back end of last season of cutting out the erratic errors that Liverpool fans had become use to far too often in his early years at the club. Alongside Matip, Lovren has looked more assured at the back but during the last month those mistakes are starting to creep back into his play and he is looking much more like the 2014/15 Lovren in recent weeks. While Lovren is potentially a decent squad player, his inconsistency and unpredictability is not something that teams who have ambitions of being champions need starting week in week out.
Ragnar Klavan was another new signing at the back and he was the man partnered with the Croatian throughout Matip’s various problems. The two showed resilience in their performances as a pair, most notably against Everton and Manchester City, but at the age of 31 Klavan isn’t the suitable long-term partner to Matip as recent displays have shown.
Mamadou Sakho is another option that Klopp had at his disposal but he was soon exiled from the first team squad after turning up late to a training session, as Klopp sought to make an example out of the Frenchman. Sakho has not made a single appearance for the first team this season and was loaned out to fellow Premier League side Crystal Palace on deadline day. The general consensus around fans of Liverpool is that Sakho deserves a second chance but whether he will under Klopp remains to be seen.
In an ideal world the option that most people would want is Virgil Van Dijk of Southampton. Another Saints player may seem ridiculous but if the Dutchman can solve Liverpool’s defensive problems then I don’t think anybody would be complaining. Van Dijk has emerged as one of the best centre-backs in the league this season and has been a key figure in Southampton reaching their first cup final since 2003. However, the fee in question could become a tricky obstacle as it is likely the Saints would demand a fee upwards of £40 million as Everton had a bid rejected in the January transfer window of that figure. Klopp would likely be relunctant to spend such a lump sum of money on a defender.
Jonathan Tah is another option that Liverpool could seek if the hunt of Van Dijk comes to an abrupt end. At just 20 years of age, Tah is younger than Van Dijk and someone that Klopp could nurture into a top class centre back to partner Matip for years to come. The German already starts for one of the Bundesliga bigger clubs in Bayer Leverkusen so he would have no problem fitting straight into Liverpool’s first team.
Wherever James Milner has gone he truly has been ‘Mr Reliable’ and one of the very top professionals of the game. Normally operating in the middle of the park, Milner has been deployed in the rather unfamiliar left-back role ever since the second game of the season. After Alberto Moreno’s dreadful display in the Europa League final back in May, fans have been crying out for a left-back to be signed and those cries only intensified after the Spaniard’s horrific showing against Arsenal on the opening weekend of the season. Much to Liverpool fans bemusement, Klopp decided against dipping into the transfer market and instead trusted Milner with that responsiblity.
In arguably one of the shocks of the season so far, the former England international had become a revelation at left-back in the early months of the campaign. His impressive form even led to him being ranked the second best full-back in Europe with his manager even stating that his success on the left “had been no surprise to us.”
Much like Liverpool’s recent drop in form, Milner’s performances have seriously detoriated and while he may do an adequate job for the rest of the season the simple truth is that to win a league title you can’t have a midfielder playing as a full-back.
Jonas Hector was the man strongly linked with the Reds in the summer but no deal was ever agreed, leaving fans hugely frustrated. Regarded as a regular starter for his country, Hector would seem an ideal option to fill the void. Ricardo Rodriguez is another viable option and at only 24 he will have time to develop under one of the world’s best developers of talent. Reliable at the back and a great attacking threat, most notably from dead-ball situations, the Swiss full-back seems like another top option. Similarly to Van Dijk though his price-tag could be a problem and with European giants like Arsenal, Chelsea and PSG swarming around his signature the chances of a deal seem slim. A final cheaper option could come in the shape of Sead Kolasinac of Schalke. His contract is set to expire at the end of the season meaning he would be free to leave on the Bosman ruling to another club, something Chelsea tried to exploit on deadline day. The signing of one of those three options could come down to whether Liverpool manage to finish in the top four in the Premier League and can offer the proposition of jaw-dropping Champions League nights at Anfield. Klopp needs to swallow his pride and act fast because the simple truth is: you can’t win a Premier League title with a midfielder at left-back.
Central Midfield Targets on The Agenda Too
More central midfield options are also a key area to focus on next summer. Gini Wijnaldum was a decent addition but is yet to show the goalscoring touch he had at Newcastle and Jordan Henderson has developed superbly to his more deeper role. Adam Lallana is another player who has benefitted from a position change as his move to the centre of midfield has seen him add more end product to his name and become one of Liverpool’s most valuable players. However, Emre Can is a player that has regressed in recent months and is struggling to regain form badly. It seems he has no exact role in the team and having him and Henderson in the team at the same time just does not seem to work. Mahmoud Dahoud, another young talent of the Bundesliga, is the player that I think Klopp needs to be targetting in the summer for that centre-midfield role. The club reportedly has scouts watching the Under-21 international who currently plays his club football for Borussia Monchedgladbach and Klopp is a long-term admirer of the player. His deep-lying playmaking qualities would be a welcome addition to the team, with Liverpool’s current midfield struggling for ideas.
The Need for Attacking Reinforcements
Sadio Mane’s absence from club duty for most of January was definitely one of the reasons why Liverpool struggled so heavily in January and early February. His explosive speed and movement, a key convention of a Jurgen Klopp team, is something that nobody else at the club really offers. The loss of this crucial dynamic cost Liverpool hugely last month but fans were left wondering why Klopp did not sign anybody to replace Mane when we knew this would come?
The fear for Reds fans is that should Mane be out for longer at some point later in the season what will Liverpool do, because another month like January could wave goodbye to their Champions League qualification hopes. Coutinho and Mane are arguably Liverpool’s two most important players on both wings and there is simply no back-up for either as Firmino looks nothing like his usual self on the wing and Sturridge and Origi are misfiring. Talk of Quincy Promes and Julian Draxler joining were high throughout the transfer window but once again fans were let down as Klopp was unwilling to splash out on both players wages. Julian Brandt is another player highly linked with Liverpool at the moment and someone who his fellow compatriot rates very highly. At just 20 years of age, Brandt’s rather large price tag of £40 million has done nothing to deter Klopp, who has made the youngster his main target for the summer. Klopp is renowned for turning young players into world class talents and it seems Brandt is the next person in line.
A new striker may also be a course of concern for the transfer window. This all hinges on whether Daniel Sturridge either wants to leave the club or if Jurgen Klopp decides to move him on himself. The English striker has struggled to fit in to Klopp’s system and that has seen his game time dramatically decrease. West Ham were reportedly interested in the transfer window just gone by.
If Liverpool do want to mount a serious challenge for the Premier League title then Klopp needs to add quality with quantity because this season has shown how threadbare the clubs current squad is.