The minds of everyone at Liverpool Football Club and all supporters will be thinking almost exclusively about Brighton & Hove Albion’s visit to Anfield this weekend. Admittedly more than a few people will have our trip to Kiev hovering around their brain somewhere, but right now the biggest game of the season involves the visit of Chris Hughton’s side on Sunday. Win it and we guarantee ourselves Champions League football yet again. Do anything other than pick up three points and we put our hands into the lap of the gods in terms of how Chelsea get on at St. James’s Park against Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle. It’s a disappointment that we haven’t been able to get our place in Europe’s elite competition sewn up already, but we can still do it in the final game of the campaign.
Pretty soon after that Jürgen Klopp will have to start thinking about the state of his squad. The drop off towards the end of the season will have caused the German some alarm, especially when he’s turned to look at his substitute’s bench and seen that it entirely lacked any particularly exciting options. Those in charge of transfers at the club, who took such pelters during the Brendan Rodgers era, have proven their worth in recent times. Whether they can continue to prove themselves remains to be seen, but perhaps the biggest question they’ll be faced with are the areas that we need to strengthen. This is something that everyone has their own opinion on, of course. It’s all massively debatable, but here’s how I see the state of play heading towards the season’s climax.
Anyone who’s ever read one of my pieces in which there’s been a need to talk about Simon Mignolet will know exactly how I feel about him. I have never thought that he’s been good enough for the club and have been advocating the need for a replacement for several seasons. Since pretty much midway through this campaign Loris Karius has taken over the number one jersey. Though some people remain unconvinced by the German, he has at least put to bed the notion that his Belgian counterpart is even remotely decent.
You have to feel as though his time at Anfield is now over. The question is, is Karius good enough to carry on as our first-choice shot-stopper? If he is then what we need is a ‘keeper who can come in as his backup, only playing in cup games or if he gets injured or suspended. If he’s not then will he be content to drop back down to the bench or will we need to buy two new goalies in the summer? My inclination is that the manager has looked at the amount of money he’ll need to spend in order to get a genuine upgrade on Karius in the summer and decided that it’s money that will be better spent elsewhere.
It’s far more likely, in my opinion, that Klopp will allow his compatriot to keep his place between the sticks and will look to buy either a young-gun who will be happy to learn his trade or else a more experienced pair of gloves who can perform when needed and offer some advice when he’s not. It’s why I think the links to the likes of Iker Casillas and Pepe Reina are so intriguing. You have to imagine that both of them Will be happy enough to warm the bench in return for another year or two’s pay and some games in the League and FA Cups. If that’s the case then you won’t hear me complaining. I believe that he’s got all of the attributes to become a top-class goalkeeper and hope we don’t regret not letting him do so at Anfield.
There’s an argument that this is the part of the squad that needs the biggest upgrade. Unlike most, I think that Dejan Lovren is a very good defender. I think that the biggest problem with him is that we watch him week-in, week-out. We see every mistake that he makes, but only see the highlights reels of other defenders around the world and consequently assume that all of them are miles better than him. In reality, there are very few defenders that are significantly better than him and consistent with it. Yet his fitness record is not one to be admired, seemingly consistently missing matches when we need him the most. That’s my only concern with him, but I would imagine that the manager won’t mind that if he can bring someone in who gets on the pitch with significantly more regularity.
Obviously Virgil van Dijk’s place in the team is assured, with the world’s most expensive defender proving already just how much he brings to the side. His game isn’t perfect, with a few little personality quirks that I’m hoping the manager irons out in the coming weeks and months. His willingness to stop and almost demand a foul when he feels the slightest touch, as e videnced during the Champions League match against Manchester City, is one such idiosyncrasy. No defender is perfect, though, so I don’t think we need to look too closely at his performances. Ragnar Klavan and Joel Matip both fit into the Lovren mould for me; players that are just as good as most of the ones that play every week in the Premier League, but ones that we’ll want to upgrade on it the opportunity presents itself.
Another brilliant centre-back such as Toby Alderweireld would be top of my wishlist, though how realistic his signing is likely to be is an entirely different matter. The area I’m most concerned about is fullback. Andy Robertson has taken Anfield by storm, earning himself a reputation as not only a top-class left-back but also a thoroughly decent bloke. Alberto Moreno’s not a good enough backup for him, however, and I hope that the Spaniard moves on in the summer. Rumours of the manager considering offering him a new contract are concerning, but perhaps it’s just bluffing to get a good price for him. Over on the right flank things are even more complicated. How sure are we that Nathaniel Clyne is going to return as the solid player we knew before his injury? That might be the biggest question on the manager’s mind this summer.Trent Alexander-Arnold has performed brilliantly at times this season, but he’s still young and learning his trade. We’ve seen recently what happens when he plays too many games in a row and his performances have dropped off when he’s been looking tired. Joe Gomez is another young lad and the manager’s desire to move him to centre-back might well depend on on whether he’s got what it takes to learn from his mistakes. I’m not sure he’s good enough, being honest, and I definitely don’t want to see us persist with him at right-back. News of his recent injury explains poor performances of late, but maybe not enough to convince me that he can hack life as a fullback. For me, then, we need a new one on either side this summer. I think the manager might just persist with what he’s got, however.
In terms of which part of the Liverpool squad needs the most upgrading, the midfield gives the defence a solid run for its money. As with Simon Mignolet, those of you who read my pieces regularly will know exactly which way my bread is buttered when it comes to talking about Jordan Henderson. Unlike with the Belgian, however, I’m actually a massive fan of the club captain. Those that consistently disparage him and suggest that we could ‘easily’ get someone better are perhaps not taking into account what it is that the manager asks of his deepest lying midfielder. Ngolo Kanté won the Player Of The Year Award last year, but I’d argue that it’s significantly easier to do what Antonio Conte has asked of him than it is to fulfil Jürgen Klopp’s desires.
Kanté is exceptional at breaking up the play, but even the briefest watching of his YouTube highlights will reveal that he’s usually having to chase down a ball that he’s given away himself. Henderson has to have the positional awareness to break up attacks without giving away free-kicks, then he needs to turn the ball over quicker and more reliably than Kanté can even dream of. It’s not that I don’t think we can do better than the captain, I’m sure that we can. I just think it’s going to be an awful lot more difficult than people realise. Klopp doesn’t just want a destroyer, he wants a player that can be Alonso and Hamman at the same time. We might buy a number six this summer, but anyone wanting to see Henderson’s departure is likely to be disappointed.
The same is unlikely to be said about Emre Can. This ‘will he, won’t he’ nonsense over the German’s contract has bored me to tears, to be quite honest with you. I think he’s a wonderful player when he’s at his best, but I also think no one can quite stink the place out like Can can when he’s not on his game. I think he’s shown during his time at Liverpool that he’s essentially useless against a low-block team thanks to his desire to constantly chew the ball, taking four touches when one would do. Yet he’s also been instrumental in matches against the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea at times. Regardless, I think he’s off this summer to a league where he’ll find things much easier because the game’s more at his tempo, like Italy. The arrival of Naby Keita will soften that blow, of course, though I don’t think that the Guinean is the sort of player most people are expecting.
Klopp’s use of Trent in the middle in recent matches has been interesting, if for no other reason than it’s shown that the youngster isn’t yet developed enough to step up to the plate in that regard. I like Georginio Wijnaldum, but the fact that I got right to the end of the midfield section without realising I hadn’t written about him probably tells its own story. He’s a good squad player, but we need to improve the first-team if we’re really going to compete next season. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has been a revelation since his arrival from Arsenal, so we’ll all be keeping our fingers tightly crossed that he comes back from his injury just as strong. The fact that Can is almost certainly out of the door and James Milner is another year older, to say nothing of Adam Lallana’s continued injury problems, makes me believe that we’ll want to buy another two men for the middle when the window opens in a couple of weeks.
If there’s debate surrounding just how much improvement needs to be carried out at the back and in the middle of the team then the only question surrounding the forwards involves wondering who we can buy to challenge them. Forty-three goals and thirteen assists for Mo Salah. Twenty-seven goals and sixteen assists for Roberto Firmino. Nineteen goals and eight assists for Sadio Mané. This is a Liverpool strike force that knows how to find the back of the net. The problem, of course, is the drop-off in quality when we need to turn to our squad players. Personally I actually believe that Dominic Solanke has the qualities to become a genuine force, I just think that he’d benefit from a season on loan to find his feet with fans that might be more patient. I’d certainly rather he was on the bench than Divock Origi come August, put it that way.
Dom Solanke vs Patrik Schick, Marcus Rashford and Timo Werner. #LFC better be convinced he can’t add goals to his impressive analytics before sending him anywhere.
(via https://t.co/ALtPGzhvEe) pic.twitter.com/gdyTksfLpE
— Adam Petruccione (@AdamPetruccione) 8 May 2018
Danny Ings is another one that I have some sympathy for. The former Burnley man came back from not one but two career-threatening injuries and has shown immense courage of personality to do so. That’s not enough when you need goals, however, and he’s not provided often enough to do that. That said, the only time that he’s been played in his favoured central position was against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns and he scored and should’ve won a penalty. I’m not sure what more the man can do in that situation. Regardless, it’s clear that the manager needs genuine options in order to give any one of his favoured front three a rest and still pose a threat, which is why I’m not surprised to see the noises surrounding our likely attempt Christian Pulisic and Nail Fekir. The former will be a project that will be able to make a real difference as he grows, whilst the latter can change games in the here and now.
The summer is certain to be an exciting one and I don’t think this is the last time I’ll be writing about the state of our squad.