5 areas where Liverpool can improve this summer – and get to the next level
It’s a tough question, and one that Jurgen Klopp and his backroom team will be thinking long and hard about as the dust settles on what was an incredible campaign for the Merseysiders.
Klopp delivered a trophy in his third full season in charge at Anfield, lifting the Champions League trophy in Madrid to end his run of defeats in his previous six finals as manager at Liverpool and previously Borussia Dortmund.
It was a deserved end to the season for Klopp and his players, who showed a new side to their game during a campaign where they ensured the Premier League didn’t become a one-horse race, ala the French Ligue 1. To even keep pace with Manchester City was commendable in itself, but to also beat Bayern Munich and Barcelona enroute to winning ‘Number Six’ was even more impressive.
And all that achieved while using just 26 players (four fewer than Manchester City). This is one of the crucial areas that needs to strengthened this summer: squad depth.
Klopp has always preferred to work with a small squad, but his team will be competing for seven trophies in 2019/20, including the Community Shield (and we have to include it, given that City used it as part of their ‘quadruples’ marketing). Indeed, a trip to Qatar in the middle of December for the Club World Cup could be extremely challenging given the already intense festive fixtures around that time, and a time of year that Klopp has struggled to juggle in the past.
So, with all this in mind, we look at five signings who could aid Liverpool’s progress this summer and ensure they not only remain where they are, but raise their level again.
Full back cover (x2)
With Alberto Moreno leaving on the expiry of his contract, a replacement is required for the Spaniard who had been an increasingly peripheral figure in the last two seasons.
While Moreno was a left-back, cover at each full-back is certainly required as Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold will need their minutes carefully managing next season to ensure they can maintain their extremely high standards.
Klopp used James Milner in both positions last season, with the veteran ahead of Moreno in his thinking on the left, and tasked with filling in when Joe Gomez, who was both backup to Alexander-Arnold and a regular at centre-back, suffered a long-term injury.
Quite simply, a full-back who isn’t considered worse than Milner in the role is needed. That would already improve Liverpool’s squad.
Having two left-backs – Robertson, plus another – and two right-backs - Alexander-Arnold plus another - and four centre-backs – Gomez, Virgil van Dijk, Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren – would give Klopp the perfect balance in defence.
An attacker more than Sturridge
Meanwhile, Daniel Sturridge also departs with his contract up. The former England international started just eight games last season, contributing four goals. A new attacker, whether it be a backup centre-forward to Roberto Firmino or a versatile attacker who can rotate with the rest of the Reds’ fearsome trio, is an absolute must this summer.
Though, Klopp is expected to hand a new deal to Divock Origi and a big chance arises for Rhian Brewster in pre-season - when Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah will all be returning late due to international commitments.
Xherdan Shaqiri saw his game time significantly reduced in the second half of last season, so it will be interesting to see how the Swiss attacker develops at Anfield. Could Klopp coach the player to be a more central, No.10, player and give options there?
One player linked with a move to Anfield this summer has been 31-year-old German Max Kruse. And while it might not exactly be a signing that will get fans excited, it would perhaps be a more like-for-like replacement for Sturridge in terms of squad status. Really though, what’s needed is a player who can play a bigger role than Sturridge has of late, who can contribute more goals and who Klopp is comfortable rotating in for Firmino when the fixtures get busy.
A more high-profile and exciting signing here would be Lille's Ivorian winger Nicolas Pepe, who would certainly fit the mould and offer plenty of options, including a return to the 4-2-3-1 formation with Salah as the No. 9.
A midfield upgrade
Adam Lallana’s last goal for Liverpool was in May 2017. Since then he’s started just nine times for the club. The midfielder has already said he plans on remaining at the club this summer, but the 31-year-old is a player Liverpool need to significantly upgrade upon if they are to continue to progress.
Klopp will have Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain back in 2019/20, while Naby Keita will hopefully show more in his second season in England, but Milner will be turning 34 in January and with the engine room of Klopp’s side being of the highest importance in a long campaign, more is needed.
Last summer’s pursuit of Nabil Fekir more than hinted at a change in formation to 4-2-3-1, which Liverpool still used at times – more so in the early stages of last season – and it could be that such a signing this year sees the fruition of that plan.
Portuguese attacking midfielder Bruno Fernandes is a player who has been, so far, linked only in foreign media, but perhaps given Liverpool’s recent success in keeping British hacks away from their transfer stories since the Van Dijk ‘tapping up’ case, this shouldn’t indicate no interest.
Fernandes would fit the Klopp mould perfectly; capable of playing in any of the positions in midfield; a goalscorer – incredibly, 32 of them last season; an assister - 18 of them last season; at an age, 24, where he can develop further; and seemingly of the right character, which has become an increasingly important factor in Liverpool’s recruitment under Klopp and sporting director Michael Edwards.
Such a signing would give Klopp room to rotate out players in the dark winter games without any concern about the level of performance dropping. That is absolutely crucial and one thing that City have had ahead of Liverpool until now.
A like-for-like for Mignolet
Klopp made a somewhat backhanded compliment to Simon Mignolet in naming him the best backup goalkeeper in the world last season, but it was perhaps a statement that had some weight behind it. More so possibly due to Mignolet’s character.
The Belgian will depart this summer having played just twice last season - once in each domestic cup competition - but despite wanting to leave for first-team football a year ago, never did he complain. Instead, he was the perfect professional and understood his role as backup to the incoming Alisson. Team harmony such as this has been vital to Liverpool’s success.
Finding a player who is similarly a strong member of the squad off the pitch, but also capable if/when called upon, could be easier said than done. West Ham’s out of contract Adrian and Cardiff City’s impressive Neil Etheridge are two linked so far. They would fit the bill in terms of retaining high quality and having Premier League experience. It could come down to their attitude and acceptance of their role that’s key.
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