It has been a strange and very difficult season for Liverpool, who are still officially Premier League title holders following the postponement of their clash with Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday. If this game had been played and second place United could not win, Manchester City would have been mathematically confirmed as the new champions. As it is, City will have to beat Chelsea on Saturday to be sure of the trophy that belongs to them.
With this in mind, the postponement of the United clash is seen as a potential blessing in disguise for Liverpool, who need City at their best to beat the Londoners – Chelsea are a direct rival in the top-four race, whose result is likely to affect the transfer budgets of all the clubs involved for the coming summer.
Given everything that has happened this season, the most obvious part of the team that needs a quality reinforcement is the heart of the defense. Last year, manager Jurgen Klopp rejected proposals Liverpool were particularly thin in this area with only three senior players nominated for the role, pointing out that midfielder Fabinho was more than capable of stepping in as a fourth option should the need arise. .
The season, however, showed him terribly wrong, though it should be said that no one could have predicted the severity of the crisis that was unfolding.
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It started with Virgil van Dijk, arguably the best center-back in the world and the Ballon d’Or runner-up in 2019, and was ruthlessly tackled by Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford in mid-October, and his season ended that day. A few weeks later, Joe Gomez, who along with Van Dijk Klopp’s preferred center-back partnership, collapsed in training with England, who grabbed him by the knee and joined the Dutchman on the sidelines for the rest of the campaign. Joel Matip, the next in line and the final designated option, plagued by minor niggles from the start, was ruled out until the end of the December season with ankle ligament injuries.
On top of that, Fabinho also missed part of the season, as did midfielder Thiago Alcantara, who was viciously beaten by Richarlison in the same match when Van Dijk was injured and sat out the following three months. The Reds are now also without captain Jordan Henderson, and he was another who sometimes took a place as a center-back.
With all this, the usual names in the press associated with a move to Liverpool – Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano, and some tabloid even mentioned the Real Madrid duo – Raphael Varane, and least credible of all Sergio Ramos.
However, these rumors were shot down one by one, and well after it became known that Upamecano had sealed his switch to Bayern Munich, Liverpool reportedly had to agree on personal terms with his team-mate Ibrahima Konate.
Ibrahima Konaté to Liverpool, here we go soon! The deal is set to be completed, personal terms agreed on a five-year contract.
Liverpool will pay the release clause to RB Leipzig in the next few days [around €35m] to complete the signing of Konaté. 🔴 #LFC https://t.co/N4OWqqXiGu
– Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) April 23, 2021
In a desperate battle to bridge the gap between January and summer, Liverpool signed two center-backs on the final day of the winter window. Ozan Kabak arrived from Schalke on loan for the rest of the season with an option to buy for 18 million. £, while Ben Davies arrived at a firm deal from Preston North End for £ 1.5m. £. While Davies has yet to wear a Liverpool shirt in a competitive match, Kabak has delivered very decent performances, and in the absence of the three opponents, the 21-year-old Turkish international has established himself as a regular feature at start XI, for mostly with 24-year-old Nathaniel Phillips.
Most believe that Kabak has done enough to justify a permanent move in the summer, and with the prospect of Konate also arriving, not to mention Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip all back in the fold, Liverpool’s center-back should have depth more than satisfactorily comes the start of 2021-22.
Most of the transfer stories involving Liverpool’s middle section are about Georginio Wijnaldum. The Dutchman has been the most consistent player under Klopp’s command for five years now, and his contribution to everything the Merseysiders have achieved has been immeasurable. However, his contract is about to expire and there has been no progress over a new one for a long time now.
It is understandable (up to a point) that the Dutch international reportedly wants a new contract that will reflect his previous heroics in terms of salary. On the other hand, Liverpool are very reluctant, especially in light of the ongoing pandemic and its financial consequences, to hand out a long, lucrative contract to a player who turns 31 in November. Therefore, Wijnaldum’s future with the club is in serious doubt, as Barcelona’s head coach Ronald Koeman is very keen to reunite with the player he used to work with at international level.
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There have been a few reports suggesting that Liverpool were considering this player and filling the gap, though nothing too concrete; not to mention reliable. But most likely Klopp will turn to 20-year-old Curtis Jones to step up, having so far started 12 Premier League games this season and played another nine up from the bench. Most importantly, his performances have been very good – he never looked out of place surrounded by far more experienced, proven teammates. If that proves to be the case, Liverpool will likely seek to promote or sign a new youth, not to replace Wijnaldum, but to replace Jones, you could say, as a team player.
Lately, there has also been a lot of talk about Naby Keita. The Guinean arrived from Leipzig in 2017 for € 60m, but injuries have had a major impact on his time at Anfield so far and he has not been able to justify such an award. However, Klopp recently moved to openly remove all notions of his departure, making it very clear that the 26-year-old still has a place in the team of the future.
Liverpool scored 85 goals as they streaked to the Premier League title in 2019-20. This expression, despite the addition of Diogo Jota, who has proved very valuable, they have so far managed 55 with five games left. The drop is obvious and there have been a number of occasions – such as against Leeds and Newcastle in the last two games, as they lost points due to conceded late equalizers after wasting a sack full of chances to settle the result in their favor.
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Some believe Liverpool’s defensive crisis and lack of goals at the other end are related. Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, for example, explained his perception that the constant tinker Klopp has been forced to do, especially by moving midfielders into the back line, has sent ripples through the team. It ruined the midfield balance and forced forward to fall much deeper than usual to get involved, which in turn made them far less dangerous.
The trio Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah have been the undisputed first choice for Klopp for years, but Jota’s arrival and immediate efficiency have pushed the situation up a bit.
Salah is the only one who has managed to keep his numbers up, with his 20 league goals having him second in the course of the Golden Boot at the moment. Mane and Firmino, on the other hand, have both been heavily criticized for the apparent decline in form.
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But Liverpool’s biggest attacking problem during this period has been the obvious lack of contributions from those whose role is to step up when the regular starters cannot. Divock Origi, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Xherdan Shaqiri have scored two goals between them in all competitions this season, less than Takumi Minamino (four), who has been on loan at Southampton since January, and the future of the club of all three looks to be in great doubt at the moment. However, Minamino is likely to return to the club for another chance next season.
It should not be forgotten that 18-year-old Harvey Elliott, who has just been named the Youngest Player of the Year for his performances on loan at Blackburn Rovers, is also expected to return this summer. However, another loan spell is the most likely path for the kid from there, probably to a top team here this time.
Of course, there could be signatures in the attacking section, but the connections with people like Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland are extremely unrealistic, unless a sale of over 100 million. £ of either Salah or Mane goes through. In the current economic climate, it is hard to imagine.