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Liverpool may have the perfect starting XI, but are their back-up options good enough to sustain challenges on multiple fronts?

Liverpool v SSC Napoli - Pre-Season Friendly
Liverpool v SSC Napoli - Pre-Season Friendly
Nnanna Mba
ANALYST
Modified 30 Jul 2019, 17:30 IST
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Discussing Liverpool’s poor foray in this current transfer market with the press in America, Jurgen Klopp had this to say:

“We have to see if we find maybe one position, if we find something for it, but there’s no real pressure because it’s not about signing a player… Do we have exactly the solution that everybody from outside would be 100 per cent happy? I don’t think so because people want to have world-class here… and the guy on the bench has to be world-class as well…”

Looking at the Liverpool squad that won the UEFA Champions League and trailed by one point in the Premier League, one can understand Jurgen Klopp’s viewpoint.

The 52-year-old came to Anfield in October 2015 and began to slowly but surely build a squad capable of reaching the heights of European football. Since then, he has spent well over €350 million in achieving those goals. Last year alone, he spent over €150 million bringing in Alisson, Naby Keita, and Fabinho. The year before, he purchased Virgil van Dijk and Mohamed Salah for more than €120 million.

These players have been the backbone of Liverpool’s recent successes and any player to join the club - as 17-year-old Sepp van den Berg has done - will be second fiddle and cannot expect to get any minutes in important games. This will certainly be a deal-breaker for most high profile players, a target market the Reds should be looking at.

A move for players like Phillipe Coutinho to Anfield has never looked more unlikely. While reports and rumour mills keep twirling, there would barely be any allotted game-time for the former Liverpool playmaker. Nabil Fekir, who has been linked to a move towards Anfield, decided on Spain instead.

Currently, Klopp’s midfield has the most squad depth. 33-year-old James Milner remains ever-present in the midfield, alongside Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum, and Fabinho. Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had serious injuries last season and will look to compete for a spot in the midfield trio. Liverpool will be partaking in seven competitions this season, so each player could get an opportunity to shine.

Klopp is also lucky when it comes to his front three. 

While striker Daniel Sturridge left the club on a free transfer, Divock Origi has signed a new contract with the club. This means that Klopp has at least one backup player that can naturally play as a centre-forward. Origi showed his capabilities in Liverpool’s most important matches of last season, and he is one of the best backup players in the squad.

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Mohamed Salah’s position on the right-wing is, for all intents and purposes, untouchable. The Egyptian is indispensable to Klopp and Liverpool. However, the pacey Xherdan Shaqiri and hot prospect Harry Wilson are backups for Salah’s position. Shaqiri is, due to his experience, capable of maintaining the momentum when called upon. Harry Wilson might be looking to exit Anfield due to lack of game time, with Newcastle and Aston Villa reportedly vying for his signature.

Sadio Mane, on the left-wing, is just as irreplaceable as Salah. Some solid cover is also available for his position in the form of 31-year-old Adam Lallana and 19-year-old Ben Woodburn. Lallana, like Shaqiri, is experienced and will have no issues filling a good part of the hole that Mane's absence on the pitch would bring. Woodburn is already headed on loan to Oxford United, leaving Lallana in charge of the available bench slot.

The wing-back positions, however, have a little problem. 

On the right-wing, Nathaniel Clyne lost his place in the starting XI to Trent Alexander-Arnold. By the second half of last season, Clyne had to move out on loan to Bournemouth. Having only returned, Clyne has picked up a major injury that will keep him on the sidelines for six months.

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This means Alexander-Arnold would be the only natural right-back available for some time. While Joe Gomez and James Milner are capable of playing there, they will be needed in other positions if and when the number of injured players in the squad increase.

On the left-wing, Andrew Robertson is very assured of his position. However, Alberto Moreno, the only backup player for that role, left for Villareal on a free transfer at the end of this season. And can you blame him? He barely played 200 minutes throughout the entire year.

The only other backup players for the left-back position are Milner and Gomez, which goes to show how much squad depth is needed at wing-back.

Klopp will need to sign backup wing-backs who are capable of churning in good performances when called upon. They need to be defensively adept, while able to maraud down the flank during attacking moves. Liverpool will face stiff competition, especially in the Premier League, so whoever is brought in must be good enough to ensure that the team doesn’t lack on the flanks.

Therefore, in the event that either 19-year-old Alexander-Arnold or Andrew Robertson get a major injury, the gaping hole on the wings won't be so obvious.

There's only one downside: Whoever Klopp signs in either position would also have to accept that they might not get any minutes during important games, unless there is an injury.

Klopp needs to ensure that the much-needed squad depth on the wings - which is a huge part of Liverpool’s play - is built on. Injury crisis will come calling, sooner or later, and the Reds will not go very far in any major cups if they do not solve that potential problem before the summer runs out.

Published 30 Jul 2019, 17:30 IST
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