How can Liverpool improve on a near faultless season? - 5 key areas which Klopp should look to strengthen with reinforcements
- An insight into how Liverpool Football Club could improve their squad ahead of the 2020/21 season.
- A thorough analysis of how the transfer market may be used to elevate their already incredible team.
Liverpool sit 25 points clear at the top of the table with 9 games left to play and are the reigning European and World champions, as well as UEFA Super Cup champions. They were on the cusp of winning the league before the coronavirus pandemic brought things to a standstill. The mood on the red half of Merseyside could not be much better right now.
Their form in the last few matches, however, has dampened the mood slightly and has shed light on where the Reds could possibly strengthen their greatest ever Premier League side.
Liverpool has been near faultless over the past two seasons and has given their fans plenty to cheer about. But what could the Reds add this summer to keep this success rolling on into the next season? Let's take a closer look.
#1. New back-up 'keeper
In the immediate aftermath of the frustrating 4-2 aggregate loss to Atletico Madrid, the question on the tip of every Liverpool fan's tongue, was 'what if?' What if Alisson had been fit? What if Adrian could have kept his composure when it really mattered? This on its own suggests that there is a problem in the goalkeeping department.
Granted, Liverpool fans were probably also left wondering what might have been had their side put away their chances, but ultimately Adrian's blunder changed the momentum of the tie in Atletico Madrid's favour in the early period of extra time in the second leg at Anfield. A hurried clearance from the Liverpool goalkeeper landed right on the feet of an Atletico man and, seconds later, the ball was in the back of the Liverpool net. Such small errors can have large consequences.
Arguably, from a goalkeeping point of view, each of Atletico's three goals on the night were soft. None were particularly in the corner or seemed unstoppable. This begs the question, would Alisson have stopped these shots? Widely regarded as the best shot stopper on the planet right now, many would have expected Alisson to keep a clean sheet in this match, and would certainly be expected not to make such a significant error on the big stage.
Although Adrian is only supposed to be second choice, such a drop off in quality is not acceptable if Liverpool are to compete in the competitions they are now expected to win. Such drop-offs would not be taken so lightly in any outfield position, so why is the goalkeeping position any different?
This is not to say that Adrian should be sold by any means. At this stage of his career, Adrian does not possess that many options and would no doubt be keen on the prospect of finishing his career at the reigning European champions. Adrian would be a fantastic third choice keeper for the domestic cups no doubt, especially given that the Super Cup hero has also made some spectacular saves this season, including one incredible save at Napoli. But an addition who can become the new immediate back-up can be seen as a requirement by Klopp.
Reliable Liverpool journalist David Maddock himself stated on Sky Sports Sunday Supplement that he expects Liverpool to be in the market for a new back-up goalkeeper in the aftermath of Adrian's performance in the Champions League Round of 16 match.
Liverpool have long been linked with a move for Trabzonspor's Ugurcan Cakir, who, as a young player, would benefit from training with Alisson Becker every day and has the potential to grow into a superstar goalkeeper. Given his age and the league he plays in, a relatively low fee of around £15 million to £20 million would represent good business for Klopp and his side.
#2. Full-back cover
Both full-back positions represent that lightest areas of Jurgen Klopp's squad in terms of natural cover. Liverpool have no natural senior back-up options for either position. James Milner has had stints in both positions, but is primarily a central midfielder and, given he is 34 years of age, is no longer suited to playing as a modern full-back, a feature Klopp is eager to possess in his team.
Youngsters such as Yasser Larouci, Adam Lewis, Ki-Jana Hoever and Neco Williams have all been used in these positions in low-key domestic cup games and have largely had a positive influence on the team. However, a long term injury to either Trent Alexander-Arnold or Andy Robertson would provide Klopp with a major headache. These youngsters are promising talents but are not ready to step into the first team picture just yet. This is especially true if Liverpool are aiming to compete in all fronts.
The reality is, Liverpool's greatest creative threat comes from their full-backs. Over the last two seasons, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson have contributed 28 and 20 assists respectively and have been viewed as key outlets for Jurgen Klopp's side. This is a truly remarkable return for a pair of defenders, especially as the season has not even come to a close yet. Their crossing ability is second to none and their defensive rigidity is improving all the time.
As a result, it could be argued that the full-backs are the most important part of Klopp's system at Liverpool, meaning, acquiring dependable back-up options for the pair must be seen as a must this summer for the Reds.
Liverpool have been linked with a host of left-backs, including Norwich's Jamal Lewis and Augsburg's Philipp Max. Sky Sports this week also confirmed that Liverpool have been monitoring Eintracht Frankfurt's 20-year-old Evan Ndicka, who can play both centre-back and left-back. Ndicka, though would most likely be a direct replacement for Dejan Lovren, who has been linked with a move away this summer.
Liverpool have not been linked with many right-backs, though. This would indicate that Klopp may be looking at signing a left-back to cover Andy Robertson who, if necessary, can fill in at right-back too. This is plausible given how Klopp favours players with versatility, as opposed to a positional specialist.
Plus, given the quality of the starting full-backs and their impeccable injury records, it is unlikely they will be usurped in the short-term or get a serious long-term injury. Therefore, it may be in everyone's best interest that only one back-up full back is signed this summer who can play in both roles in the side. Given that James Milner has played on both sides, this is by no means an unthinkable option for Klopp.
#3. Specialist defensive midfielder.
Fabinho has had a massive impact on the side since arriving on Merseyside from Monaco for £40 million in the summer of 2018. Fabinho was signed following the Champions League final defeat at the hands of Real Madrid, and Liverpool have not looked back since.
His snappy challenges in the middle of the park and his ease on the ball have seen him described as the team's lighthouse, becoming a key midfield component. Fabinho is key to regaining possession and then maintaining it once they have it. His ability to pass forward has opened up opportunities for Liverpool's front three and has provided them with more time on the ball than before. Liverpool, fans had been crying out for a specialist in his position ever since the departure of Javier Mascherano in 2010 to Barcelona.
Given the sheer number of games Liverpool are required to play each year, Fabinho will no doubt need to be rested frequently throughout the season in order to play to the best of his abilities regularly. Given that there is no other specialist defensive midfielder in the squad, acquiring one in the summer may not be out of Klopp's plans, especially if he can play in a number of midfield positions.
Chirivella and Marko Grujic are currently on the books at Liverpool and can potentially fill in these roles, but neither can be seen as being of the required level to compete at the top. As a result, Klopp may delve into the transfer market to boost his midfield options.
This week, Liverpool have been linked with Denis Zakaria from Borussia Mönchengladbach, although they face competition for his signature from Premier League rivals Manchester United. Zakaria may be seen as an ideal option, given he is only 23 years old and can play right across the midfield line.
#4. Creative midfielder
Recent matches against Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano and Watford at Vicarage Road were the clearest signs yet that Liverpool could do with a midfielder in their ranks whose main purpose is to create chances. In those two matches combined, Liverpool recorded a total of only one shot on target and failed to create many clear-cut chances as their defensive-minded counterparts frustrated them.
Liverpool have not had a real specialist in this position since Philippe Coutinho departed to Barcelona in January 2018 for £142 million. Liverpool have notoriously struggled at times to break down deep-lying defences that deploy two banks of four. This tactic is being deployed more often given Liverpool's quality as opposition defences accept Liverpool will have the majority of the ball and will have to strike them on the counter attack.
As a result, Klopp may be in the market this summer for a new creative midfielder. Takumi Minamino was viewed as a potential signing for this very position, but it looks as though he may be seen as a back-up option for the front three. He has often been deployed on the wings or as a false nine in the same way that first choice striker Roberto Firmino has.
Coutinho has been linked with a return, although these rumours seem a little far-fetched and could cause unnecessary friction in the changing room given how he exited the club.
Liverpool have also been linked with Bundesliga prospect Kai Havertz and have been rumoured to be interested in a £100 million deal. Havertz possesses the flair, power, creativity and eye for a goal and a pass that would be required of a player looking to fill this role in the Liverpool side. Havertz represents possibly the best option in the market currently for this position.
#5. World-class back-up to the front three
Liverpool arguably boast the greatest front line in world football right now. Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mo Salah have been ripping defences to shreds all over Europe together for the past three seasons and have provided bags of goals and assists between them in that time. Their quality is undeniable and they are instrumental to Liverpool's success on the field. Each player plays a very specific role and understands their position and what Klopp requires of them; their threat is more potent than possibly any other combination in contemporary world football.
However, take one of these players out of the team for whatever reason and a huge gaping hole is left in the attack. Whether it be Divock Origi, Minamino or Xherdan Shaqiri coming in as a replacement, there is a large drop off in quality there and the fluidity of attacks in generally lower when these players are introduced from the start of games.
As a result, a world-class back-up option for the front three is a must for Liverpool this summer. Losing these players for a prolonged period of time could seriously impact Liverpool's season. Salah and Mane are due to play at the African Cup of Nations in January 2021. This will leave Liverpool light of options in attack and is therefore of paramount importance that Liverpool find alternatives to these players.
Timo Werner is the obvious candidate and has been heavily linked with a move to Liverpool for months.
The German marksman, who is in top form, has said "Liverpool is the best team in the world at the moment and when you're linked with that team it makes me very proud but in case of that it's a pleasure".
Werner does go on to say though that he must improve to be on the same level as the current front three, staying “It’s a pleasure but I know in Liverpool plays a lot of good players and I have to improve myself to learn many more things to get on that level, to play there.” This kind of desire and hunger represents the kind of player that Klopp is looking for.
It is reported that a clause in his contract, that must be activated by the end of April, would mean that Liverpool could sign Werner on a cut-price deal. Werner has recorded 27 goals and 9 assists already this season and represents another quality option for Jurgen Klopp in attack.
Given that Xherdan Shaqiri, Harry Wilson and Divock Origi have all been linked with moves away from Liverpool this summer, the signing of Werner would represent a vital piece of business by Michael Edwards and the Liverpool board.
Liverpool have had two wonderful seasons and have won three trophies in six months. The big trophy all Liverpool fans crave most is almost in their grasp. Jurgen Klopp has really brought the feel-good factor back to Anfield, turning Reds fans everywhere 'from doubters to believers'.
However, for success to be sustainable, small tweaks have to be made from time to time to keep things ticking along and to eliminate the threat of complacency. Increased competition and cover is the priority for the Reds this year in the summer transfer market where they have made relatively few moves over the last 18 months.
Liverpool's squad is currently the best they have had in the Premier League era. With a few new additions this summer to really put the finishing touches on the squad, Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool side potentially look at dominating the English game for years to come. Klopp looks on the verge of building a dynasty not too dissimilar from Sir Alex Ferguson's at Manchester United and putting Liverpool back on their perch.
Published 25 Mar 2020, 01:07 IST