This Liverpool team is fantastic – but what next?
“We have to change from doubters to believers.”
There won’t be many Liverpool fans who don’t remember the words Jurgen Klopp spoke when he took over from Brendan Rodgers in October 2015. Back then, it took some doing, given the numerous disappointments of the previous periods and the state of the team that welcomed the German to Anfield.
It was a team that had Simon Mignolet between the posts and Adam Bogdan as his first deputy. Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel were arguably the best centre-back partnership available, with a past-it Kolo Toure and a Dejan Lovren completely bereft of confidence waiting for either of the former two to hit a patch of poor form (which happened all too frequently), or to get injured. It was a team with Alberto Moreno on the left defensive flank, Jordon Ibe as the only recognized winger, an inconsistent Philippe Coutinho, Danny Ings and Joe Gomez with fresh ACL injuries, a Roberto Firmino whose role in the team was rather unclear, and a £32 million injury-prone striker who had no business being in the starting XI in Christian Benteke. A look at the names out on loan wasn’t encouraging either – Mario Balotelli, Lazar Markovic… The fans were having endless debates about Jordan Henderson and his captaincy, with most pointing at Emre Can as the more worthy option in the middle of the park beside James Milner. Nathaniel Clyne (remember him?) was probably the most reliable player of the lot.
The team, of course, looks completely different these days. Those who survived the revolution have improved incredibly, mostly being reinvented with different roles in a far more advanced system. Among them, only Henderson and Firmino can be called regular starters these days. There are players promoted from the Academy, there are players signed for peanuts and turned into world-beaters, there are players signed for somewhat bigger fees which became Ballon d’Or candidates, and there are those who came in for world-record fees and provided the final touches on the team that is now arguably the best in the world. So where do we go from here?
One of the hottest debates going on among Liverpool fans at the moment is who should be Klopp’s successor, once the brilliant gaffer decides to call time on his stint with this club. For himself, Klopp publicly backed the iconic Steven Gerrard to take over, but not everyone agrees with that.
We have examples of club legends taking over as managers in the Premier League unfolding right now, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in charge at Manchester United and Frank Lampard leading Chelsea from the dugout. Neither of them is doing too well at the moment, though the jury should probably still be out on Lampard given that the London Blues were unable to make any signings when he took over last summer, having just lost Eden Hazard.
But the thing is, how can anybody claim right now that Gerrard’s potential tenure would be anything like either of those two?
Klopp recently signed a new contract, keeping him at the club until the summer of 2024, and Gerrard did the same with Rangers the same day. It means Stevie will have four and a half more years to rack up managerial experience in Scotland, where he is conducting a revolution of his own as he strives to knock Celtic off their perch. If he does well, there will be no valid reason for Liverpool not to trust him to continue where Klopp leaves off. And let’s be clear, his managerial experience is already greater than either Solskjaer or Lampard boasted when they took their respective jobs.
Thankfully, there’s a long way to go yet before we come to that bridge. But what about the players?
Looking at the summer ahead
Melissa Reddy recently wrote an article for the Independent, offering plenty of insight when it comes to the way Liverpool are expected to behave when the transfer market reopens at the end of the season. Many were disappointed by what the respected journalist said, and some went as far as calling her work “bulls**t”. But it seems that with this behaviour they’re actually setting themselves up for an even bigger disappointment when the window closes and they realize she was right all along.
According to Reddy, Klopp held a meeting with sporting director Michael Edwards and FSG president Mike Gordon on the last day of January. While managers and officials at other clubs were busy chasing potential last-gasp signings, the three of them had dinner in a relaxed atmosphere and discussed the summer ahead.
They agreed that the club wouldn’t turn from the path they’ve been treading so far, which means there wouldn’t be any hugely expensive deals. They won’t be going for players such as Kylian Mbappe of Paris Saint-Germain, Jadon Sancho of Borussia Dortmund, or Kai Havertz of Bayer Leverkusen. Instead, the attention will be turned towards securing the futures of the current stars and rewarding them for the excellent work they’ve done since joining the team. At the moment, getting Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker to sign new deals is the main priority, and Reddy says that both players are keen to do so.
And as for potential incoming transfers, there should be a few, but only to replace the players who leave. Liverpool Echo reported a few days ago that Adam Lallana would be one of those. The 31-year-old is out of contract at the end of the season and Klopp respects his wish for regular game-time. Though he wasn’t allowed to leave in January due to the boss being sharply against thinning his squad with the Premier League title in sight, no talks are in progress about a new deal for the former Southampton man, and there won’t be any.
Xherdan Shaqiri is another who might consider a move away from the club in the summer, for the same reason as Lallana. Injuries haven’t been the Swiss international’s friend this term, and with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain finally fit and firing, his game-time is likely to stay very limited.
The same goes for Lovren who was keen to leave in search of a starting spot last summer. AS Roma came in with a loan proposal, but there wasn’t much sense in Liverpool sanctioning a temporary deal, quite apart from Klopp telling the Croatian his services would still be needed here.
The Athletic journalist David Ornstein recently revealed that there is a slight possibility of Georginio Wijnaldum leaving, though he admitted it was a very long shot. The Dutch midfielder will enter the final 12 months of his contract, but the club will be working on a new one for him too. Apparently, him putting pen to paper again is the likeliest outcome of the situation, and even if it doesn’t happen, Liverpool would rather lose him for free in 2021 than sell him this year. The only way they would consider letting him leave after this season would be if he himself asks them to – which he doesn’t want to do. So, even though Wijnaldum leaving would be a more serious matter than Lallana or Shaqiri hitting the road, it seems there’s nothing to worry about just yet. Quite apart from that, James Pearce says he’s been told that talks of a new contract are ongoing at the moment and he is confident of a positive outcome, despite everybody involved being ‘tight-lipped’ about it.
Meanwhile, Liverpool aren’t likely to forget the players currently out on loan. Harry Wilson is doing relatively well at Bournemouth, as is Marko Grujic with Hertha Berlin. The two midfielders are equipped with the right kind of ability to step into the breach created by the departures of Lallana and Shaqiri. Of course, they will have to keep up the good work for the rest of the term, avoid serious injury, and put in a lot of effort in pre-season for Klopp to decide to keep them around for 2020/21.
Takumi Minamino is another name to be kept in mind. The Japanese newcomer will be expected to adapt to the new surroundings and the perks of playing in England completely by the start of next season.
Pearce agrees with Reddy about Liverpool not paying the prices quoted for the likes of Sancho and Havertz (not to mention Mbappe), but he does bring the possibility of Timo Werner back into the light. Pointing to the fact that the African Cup of Nations is again being played mid-season, which means the Reds would be without Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Naby Keita for quite a while, the journalist believes that whether the club splash out on the RB Leipzig forward or not will mostly depend on whether Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott are judged ready to fill in the gap or not.
The former Liverpool Echo man also argues that the cover for the fullback positions needs looking into, and while he is of the opinion that Neco Williams could perhaps play in the Premier League this season, providing the title is wrapped up early and Klopp decides to rest Trent Alexander-Arnold for a Champions League fixture, he believes that signing a left-back capable of deputizing for Andy Robertson should be a priority.
But one thing should be clear: at this point, everything is speculation, including the bits and pieces journalists get directly from their sources at clubs. Plans change. It’s as simple as that.
Past the summer
Social media and the presence of clubs, players and journalists there has made following relevant news easier than ever for fans, but it could be argued that as a consequence of that, in combination with playing games like FIFA and Football Manager, many of them have come to consider transfer windows as a point of interest in themselves, practically unrelated to the results their team achieves throughout the rest of the season. They’re expecting expensive signings to be made just for the sake of it, and if none happen, they vent their anger via social media. In the chaos of such a distorted perspective, they often forget that signings actually serve a purpose and only players judged to potentially have a role to play, who aren’t ridiculously overpriced, would be looked at.
The only thing that will truly define the success of the transfer window will be the season that follows. Rivals will do their best to strengthen and not allow Liverpool to get away again like they have this term, but as long as Liverpool remain constantly in with a shot of the Premier League title and not drop from there, every transfer window is a success.