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Rated and slated: the pros and cons of Liverpool’s summer business

Mo Salah, Liverpool 4-0 Arsenal

There were four new arrivals for Liverpool – plus one for next season in Naby Keita – and four first-team players were sold. Ten left on loan, six youth players were released... and Alex Manninger retired. Admit it, though: you’d forgotten he even existed.

Ahead of the summer, Jurgen Klopp had identified four players he wanted to improve key areas of his team: Virgil van Dijk at centre-back, Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon at left-back, Naby Keita in central midfield, and Mohamed Salah as a wide forward.

Only one of the four arrived this summer, with Salah intensifying an already electric attack – as Arsenal discovered last time out. Andrew Robertson satisfied the hunger for Sessegnon, which perhaps works out better in the short term at least. Add to that duo Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Dominic Solanke, and the Reds have certainly improved.

Keita has been secured for next summer after a drawn-out chase for his services, but Van Dijk remains a Southampton player despite having met with Jurgen Klopp to talk tactics and more in Blackpool earlier in the summer.

So as we reflect on a strange summer of tapping up, rejected transfer requests and Klopp’s claim that James Milner returning to midfield is “like a new signing”, here are the good and bad bits of Liverpool’s summer transfer business.

Pro: Squad depth improved

Last season, 19 players made 10 or more appearances (all competitions, including as substitute) for Liverpool. This season, with Champions League football returning for the first time in three seasons, Reds fans will see that number increase.

Depth has certainly been improved – not only though Klopp’s four new arrivals, but also the development and improvements of players like Joe Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alberto Moreno

Lucas Leiva, sold to Lazio, reduces that total to 18, but expect new signings Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Robertson and Solanke to make 10 or more appearances. Joe Gomez – sidelined for much of last season having returned from an ACL injury – has played in every Premier League game so far this season, while 17-year-old Ben Woodburn should feature sporadically off the bench and start cup games. Marko Grujic only made eight appearances last term and will likely get more this time, bringing the total to 25 players who’ll be expected to hit the 10-appearance mark at a minimum.

So squad depth has certainly been improved – not only though Klopp’s four new arrivals, but also the development and improvements of players like Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alberto Moreno.

There are plenty of options in midfield especially, with Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, Georginio Wijnaldum, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Grujic and Milner all competing for three places.

Con: Centre-back situation still the same

It’s hard to dissect Liverpool’s summer without noting the failure to sign Van Dijk – or any other centre-back for that matter.

Some might say that this failure is negligent, especially given the continual issues in Liverpool’s defence and the fitness of regular pairing Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip last season.

Klopp clearly had his heart set on Van Dijk, but it has to be questioned why another centre-back wasn’t targeted

Klopp clearly had his heart set on Van Dijk, but it has to be questioned why another centre-back wasn’t targeted once it became clear that Southampton wouldn’t sell the Dutchman.

With Ragnar Klavan and Gomez as the only other centre-back options following Lucas’s departure, Klopp will desperately be hoping that Matip and Lovren don’t pick up as many injuries as they did last season (Matip suffered five; Lovren, incredibly, eight).

It’s probably fair to say that Liverpool’s centre-back situation will make or break their season.

Pro: Notable improvements in attack

While the defence remains a huge concern, the attack has been further improved with the addition of Salah.

The Egyptian’s pace, alongside Sadio Mane, means the pair are effective even when not receiving the ball. The threat of their speed alone makes defenders think differently, creating pockets of space for others.

Arsenal won’t be the last team to concede four at Anfield this season, that’s for sure

With Roberto Firmino expertly playing the No.9 role and often dropping deep to receive, therefore inverting Liverpool’s front three with Mane and Salah pushing high on each side, centre-backs don’t know whether to drop with the Brazilian or leave him in space to take care of the terrifying duo running in behind.

Arsenal won’t be the last team to concede four at Anfield this season, that’s for sure.

Con: Injury concerns still high

While the squad depth is improved, it will be tested to its limit this season. Liverpool have already lost Nathaniel Clyne and Adam Lallana to long-term injuries, with Clyne’s keeping him out for two months and very little news of what exactly it is.

An injury to Firmino would leave Liverpool relying on Daniel Sturridge and new signing Solanke, who has never started a Premier League game.

Similar concerns, as discussed above, exist at centre-back too. Luck with injuries will play a massive part in the success of Liverpool’s season.

Pro: Philippe Coutinho is still at Anfield

Coutinho’s rather laughable and embarrassing (for him, at least) pursuit of a move to Barcelona has again highlighted that entitled footballers think they’re bigger than the clubs they are employed by.

The manner of the Brazilian’s alleged back injury and timing of his transfer request – less than 24 hours before the opening game of the season – means he has some serious grovelling to do to win back fans at Anfield.

Thankfully for Coutinho, football is a fickle game and if he starts producing on the pitch then the fanbase will soon forget his misdemeanours

Thankfully for him, football is a fickle game and if he starts producing on the pitch, they will soon forget his misdemeanours. An attacking quartet of Coutinho, Salah, Mane and Firmino is mouthwatering – and could be one of the Premier League’s all-time best.

Summary

As ever, there are two ways of looking at things, depending if your glass is half full or half empty.

You could argue that not signing the two main targets, Van Dijk and Keita, means this summer was an unmitigated failure for Liverpool. But Keita has been secured for next summer, which is an excellent bit of business by the club.

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You could also argue that keeping Coutinho, adding Salah and a fitter Sturridge means that, while defensive concerns remain, it won’t matter for much when Klopp’s side are hitting three or four goals every week.

But that would ignore the fact that Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle and Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool were ultimately let down by their backlines. Only twice has a team conceded more than 40 goals in a Premier League season and won the title – and the Reds haven’t conceded fewer than 40 since 2010 in Rafa Benitez’s last season in charge.

Overall, Liverpool’s squad is certainly stronger, but there will be a nagging feeling that it hasn’t been improved as much as it could have been.

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