It appears the reigning European champions are happy with what they’ve got this summer but that decision could well have repercussions later on
It’s a summer of continuity for Liverpool rather than a summer of progress. That is a risky strategy in the Premier League, where it costs money even just to stand still.
Within the club they are happy with what they’ve got, more or less, and feel if there were players out there that could improve the squad, then they would be signed.
As things stand, the European champions are content to rely for the most part on the same group of players as last season, a campaign which took them to within a solitary win of a first league title since 1990 and to their sixth Champions League trophy. Only Sepp van den Berg – a 17-year-old defender – has been signed and he is not yet for the first team.
There have of course been outgoings, with the herd being trimmed of plenty of filler. Daniel Sturridge and Alberto Moreno lead the list of those departing, two players who were useful for the Reds – Sturridge more so than Moreno – and who nonetheless now need to be replaced.
Money has been banked on Danny Ings – who joined Southampton on a permanent deal for around £20 million ($22.3m) – while the loan army will again be sent out to improve and earn minutes.
Happily for Jurgen Klopp, the days are long gone when Liverpool would be forced to sell key players in order to keep the show on the road.
It’s not that long ago – relatively speaking – that players like Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano felt their own personal goals could not be fulfilled at Anfield. In more recent times, Luis Suarez, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho have walked out the door and onto bigger and better things.
Players are attracted by success and the kind of club Klopp and sporting director Michael Edwards are building – with the trophies that come with it – mean players can succeed without having to think about moving elsewhere. There is stability, solidity and a clarity of purpose around Anfield and that can only be a good thing.
The fact that Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino – to name just three – are tied to long-term contracts and going nowhere indicates the progress the Reds have made. In years gone by, there might well have been agents or competing clubs attempting to leverage that kind of star out of the club. No more.
Now comes an arguably bigger challenge.
Liverpool can point to big transfer market success stories in recent years – like Salah, Alisson and Virgil van Dijk – as examples of their clear-headed, data-driven recruitment policies. Andrew Robertson – at £8m ($8.9m) – was also a smart piece of business.
One by-product of their success is that Liverpool are going to find it ever harder to dig out those kind of ‘Moneyball’ signings. They are shopping in another market altogether. There are reports of interest in the Real Betis left-back Junior, for example, whose release clause is around £45m ($50m). And that would be for a substitute left-back.
Jurgen Klopp spoke to German broadcaster ZDF earlier this summer and remarked that as long as Liverpool’s rivals are spending big money, then they need to be too. If a right-back like Aaron Wan-Bissaka costs £55m ($61.3m), then he costs £55m, and there’s not much that you can do about it.
Added to that is the fact Liverpool are reluctant to sign instant, ready-made first-team players this summer. Maybe that’s for good reason but that ostensibly conservative decision is fraught with its own kind of risk.
Perhaps they really do feel that – for the most part – they have the best players available in their positions. But nothing was ever improved by staying the same.
At times last season there might for example have been a case made for another centre-back, a higher-quality shuttler in midfield and more guile behind the strikers. The Champions League victory – while not papering over those cracks – has deferred those difficult decisions.
But as Real Madrid learned last season to their detriment, using success in the Champions League as an overall health indicator is not as reliable as you might think. A more accurate gauge is the league; while Liverpool did well to hang with City for so long, there were times last season where the bounce of a ball here and there kept the Reds in the hunt.
Riyad Mahrez’s missed penalty at Anfield, Sturridge’s one-in-a-million equaliser at Stamford Bridge, Divock Origi’s crossbar-assisted winner in the derby – these are the kinds of moments seasons are made and broken upon.
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Besides, it’s not just a case of Liverpool signing better first-teamers than they’ve already got. It’s a question of expanding the squad and improving options, creating internal competition. Nobody would ever dispute the status of the front three, for example, but having someone around to keep them on their toes is no bad thing.
Plus, all three right now are still involved in international competitions and will be for some time yet. It will be well into July before they get back to their club, and that is with a minimal rest period having played for Liverpool all the way into June. At some stage those players are going to need a rest and there is a hell of a difference between Salah – Mane – Firmino and Shaqiri – Lallana – Origi.
As the Champions League semi-final first leg proved, Liverpool are one injury away from using Georginio Wijnaldum up front. That is a risk, particularly as Liverpool will be very much the hunted in every competition they play next season.
Pep Guardiola at Manchester City – following on from a record-breaking, treble-winning season, is not letting the grass grow underneath his squad. He is seeking to add full-backs – Joao Cancelo being the primary target there – as well as a new defensive midfielder in Rodri. That is the key; renew, replenish, upgrade.
There is no doubt that this Liverpool squad love working with one another and that they have all the respect in the world for their manager. But there are fine margins between finding continuity and resting on laurels. Liverpool are too level-headed to change direction at the drop of a hat.
However, there could be trouble if they are halfway through the season and those vulnerabilities – which have so far gone unaddressed – come back to haunt them.