The 2020/21 Premier League campaign has concluded and for Liverpool it has been the most peculiar season. The Reds came in as favourites being the reigning champions but succumbed to a scrappy top four race, of which they achieved on the last day. A mix of unfortunate events such as injuries and personal problems has led to securing a Champions league place, being quite the achievement for Jurgen Klopp’s men. When last summer’s transfer window was concluded, the majority of Liverpool fans felt confident in retaining their league title with the signings of Diego Jota, Thiago and Kostas Tsmikas. The one area the Reds didn’t strengthen was centre back. Dejan Lovren left for Zenit Saint Petersburg and no replacement was bought. The gamble to not replace the Croatian proved to be a costly one.
What went wrong?
Liverpool started their title defence well and were four points clear on Christmas day but then their worst nightmare came true, as all senior centre backs were pronounced out for the season and the Reds campaign was crushed. Injuries to Virgil Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip resulted in a run of 6 home league defeats which finished any hopes of a back to back league title. The absence of captain Jordan Henderson and Diogo Jota in a crucial part of the season was a big blow to the Reds and threatened to end any hopes of a top four finish. There were 52 separate absences – 308 matches for which these players as a collective had been unavailable for in the 2020/21 campaign. However, a strong showing in the last 10 games, allowed Liverpool to sneak into a third placed finish. As rival fans like to point out though, injuries aren’t the sole reason for this “season from hell” and a large part of it was down to the attackers being out of form.
The Red’s reliable and ever-present front three was out of form and blunt for a large period of the campaign. A sight no one had forecasted or seen before. The 19/20 Liverpool player of the season Sadio Mane went on a barren spell and really struggled compared to his usual high standards. This is represented by the fact Sadio Mane underperformed his XG (a statistic which measures the quality of a shot based on several variables such as assist type, shot angle and distance from goal) by 3.42, scoring 11 goals but achieving 14.89. Compared to the season before where Mane scored 18 goals and had only had an XG of 14.58, which means he actually overperformed his XG by 3.42. That’s almost a swing of unperforming his Expected Goals by about 6 goals in the space of season, which is a very concerning spiral for Liverpool fans who will hope it’s just a blip and not the start of a rapid decline. Not to mention Bobby Firmino, who isn’t known for his goal contributions.
So, with all these mitigating factors and problems how do Jurgen Klopp and Michael Edwards go about building a team which is ready to challenge Manchester City? They will also have to be weary of a revitalised Chelsea, who will have their tails up from winning a Champions League under new manager Thomas Tuchel. The first point of order is to sell some of the dead wood players at Anfield and clear up some funds to strengthen the side this summer. I don’t imagine the Red’s having a large transfer budget with the ramifications of Covid 19 and that generally not being how the FSG ownership group operate. On the “chopping block” this summer should be the likes of Marko Grujic, Harry Wilson, Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri and Takumi Minamino, who are all on the fringes of Liverpool’s squad and have no real chance of breaking into the starting 11. That would give Michael Edwards the chance to buy some talent who would come in and add some much-needed quality depth to the squad and possibly push the for a place in the starting XI.
Younger players such as Rhys Williams, Neco Williams should be loaned to gain more match experience however, with the exciting Harvey Elliot there may be a case for keeping him around the first team and letting him pick up minutes occasionally as there will be a lot of fringe attackers leaving the club. The big conundrum this summer for the Reds is what to do with two midfielders at the club, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlaide Chamberlain. Both players have struggled with injures since signing in 2018 and 2017 respectively and cannot be relied upon to contribute on the pitch regularly. The question would be whether to cut ties them and possibly take a lost on their transfer fee or persist with such injury prone players. I would be inclined to sell the player who has the most interest, in order to possibly gain a midfielder with a much better injury record and someone who can be relied upon to play some of the minutes Gini Wijnaldum has vacated.
This transfer window is very crucial for Liverpool and one of the biggest in their illustrious history so far. A successful summer in terms of signings can allow the Reds to compete and possibly win a second Premier League in three seasons or a poor one will push them to the wayside whilst their rivals get stronger and overtake them. With the outgoings mentioned in this article, that can really clear up some space in the squad and boost money when it comes to incomings this summer. The Reds have made their first move of the window by signing RB Leipzig defender Ibrahim Konate for £36 million. The amount of injuries in the backline meant buying a Centre back was imperative. There are a couple priority positions which I believe Klopp and Edwards also must strengthen before the next season starts. The problems with the forward line this campaign, puts a striker top of that list for me. When the Reds went through a bad period of form this year, the lack of goals was a big problem and getting in a striker solves that.
The striker would have to fit the FSG model of buying younger players with potential and being developed into an elite player. Strikers in the mould of Donyell Malen from PSV Eindhoven, Dušan Vlahović who plays for Fiorentina and Alexander Isak of Real Sociedad. A natural number nine is something the Reds do not currently have, so these targets would offer something different to an already multi-faceted team. With the likes of Shaqiri and Origi going, Firmino and Mane also possibly on the decline, buying another wide attacker to supplement the forward line should also be a high priority. Mane and Salah are closer to 30 and the Reds should be looking at succession plans for when they eventually leave. Wide forwards in the same style that suit Liverpool are, Raphinha from Leeds United, Pedro Neto of Wolves and Jadon Sancho who plays for Dortmund. Whist Sancho may not be affordable due to his price, the other two certainly are well suited to Liverpool because of their profile and age. Whilst they are young, they both still have the ability to contribute at a high level as seen in the Premier League for their respective teams this season.
Gini Wijnaldum has officially sealed a move to PSG, the Dutch midfielder played a respectable 51 times this campaign. Replacing those minutes with the midfielders already in the side would be a big concern, so it’s vital a replacement is bought in order to fill this void. The midfielder brought in as explained in one of my previous articles would have to be reliable, press resistant, tactically adept and athletic. Yves Bissouma from Brighton and Florian Neuhaus from Borussia Mönchengladbach fit this profile and would step into Wijnaldum’s role seamlessly. Other positions which Liverpool might look to strengthen is bringing in another right back as cover for Trent Alexander Arnold, who never seems to get a rest, an attacking midfielder who can get goals and assists from midfield which the side currently lack and a backup goalkeeper to Allisson Becker.
Summer of Opportunity
Bringing in players isn’t the only way to solve problems in the side, getting creative with new formations and giving younger talents more game time such as Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliot can also benefit the Reds. Jones and Elliot have the ability to step in and add some quality if managed correctly.
An ideal transfer window in my opinion would be:
EXAMPLE A: Konate, Bissouma, Sancho and Malen.
A more realistic transfer window would be:
EXAMPLE B: Konate, Neuhaus, Raphinha and Vlahovic.
These names can be swapped out for any of the previous targets mentioned however, a window like this would really strengthen the side and add quality in depth. The signings would really set Liverpool up for the season in terms of mounting a title challenge and pushing Manchester City all the way. So, does the squad need a big rebuild or some minor tweaks you say? Forgive me but I’m going to “sit on the fence” and say it’s somewhere in between. The Reds still have a fantastic group of players and some world class talents but freshening up is needed. In order to stay at the top, you must constantly renovate and evolve. The big question is this summer for the FSG group, are they ready to build a dynasty or be a flash in the pan?