City’s cruise to the title this year simply illustrated a well-known pre-requisite to win the league. Over the course of a gruelling 38-game, 10-month season, you need more than just a blockbuster starting eleven. You need a star-studded bench. For the games where you just can’t seem to get a breakthrough, to the times when injury strike your key players at vital times of the season.
Liverpool have had some amazing first XIs in the past decade. The current lot could beat City’s at the Etihad, but beyond that, the squad depth is worryingly thin. Unfortunately, that’s been the case for the past decade, even dating back to Rafa Benitez’s 2008/09 squad that almost won the title. Then, after the sale of Robbie Keane in January that season, the lack of an alternative striker to Fernando Torres in the second half of the season saw the Reds fell short. In 2013/14, Brendan Rodgers’ failure to bring in an additional wide forward – that could’ve been Mohamed Salah, ironically – in January saw the Reds fall at a vital game against Chelsea, which Salah started for Jose Mourinho’s side.
That was thought to be solved at the start of last season. But the issue was no more obvious than in attack, with Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge providing what seemed to be pretty decent back-up. However, neither could play out wide and when Liverpool’s two wide attackers, Philippe Coutinho and star man Sadio Mané, took turns out of the team, the Reds, and their two back-up attackers, desperately struggled.
This coming summer though, more scrutiny must be placed on squad depth. In Simon Mignolet, Joel Matip and Emre Can, the Reds do have arguably decent options compared to their City counterparts, Claudio Bravo, John Stones and a departing Yaya Toure.
A fully-fit Nathaniel Clyne would also give Danilo a run for his money. Alberto Moreno, if he stays, might not have as good a season as makeshift left-back Fabian Delph, but considering expenditure in other areas of the pitch, the Spaniard would be a decent option to keep around, just. Other than that, Liverpool look severely lacking.
The biggest gap of quality has to be up top. Whether it is Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus on bench duty, they’re miles ahead of the likes of Danny Ings or Dominic Solanke, or even the loaned out Origi. Where City have a £40m playmaker in Bernardo Silva as back-up on their wing or in midfield, the Reds will have to turn to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Solanke. Not that Chamberlain isn’t any good, but another body of his quality or better would not go amiss.
In midfield, City can call on the likes of Ilkay Gundogan. The Reds though, have the severely limited Gini Wijnaldum or James Milner. The latter could play Yaya Toure’s role of elder stateman in Liverpool’s squad next season, but Wijnaldum’s ever-contrasting performances is of great concern with regards to the consistency required to challenge for the league. Adam Lallana would likely be second choice as well next season, with the arrival of Naby Keita, but his recent proneness to injury is another cause for concern. Another midfielder that is both creative and able to play deep is most certainly required. Developing Marko Grujic pre-season into a viable second choice option is also required.
With the squad undoubtedly bolstered by a few star men, it would be wise for Jurgen Klopp to be a tad selfish and keep certain players at the club, even as back-ups to the bench. Say even as Ragnar Klavan stays as fourth choice centre-back, keeping Joe Gomez as cover across the whole backline is vital – continue developing under Klopp while providing a tangible cover during injury crises.
Same too for Ings or Origi, whoever stays. A third choice to Roberto Firmino and another forward signing, either Ings or Origi would get one full season to develop while almost certainly getting the domestic cup games. And yes, keeping both Milner and Wijnaldum even with Keita and another midfield signing’s arrival would really represent Klopp’s ambition. Having the prospect of Jordan Henderson and Can fighting to even keep up with Klopp’s new no.6 would be a mouthwatering one too.
There’s just really no choice. Liverpool need a really deep squad full of internationals, from the first XI to the last few picks of the 25-man squad.
Clyne – Gomez – Lovren – Moreno
Lallana – Wijnaldum
Wilson – Ings – Pulisic
Will this team above win the league? Probably not, but would they secure 3 points in tight games during an injury crisis? Quite likely. This is essentially Liverpool’s second-and-a-half choice team. Two years ago, 6 of that XI would likely be in the starting XI.
That’s how and what Liverpool need to progress.
This article first appeared on Football Following. Do check them out for more opinion on everything LFC!