Ok. Ok. What’s Next?

The international break was perfectly timed for many, given the sense that we’d all just watched too much football. The contracted nature of this season in combination with Liverpool’s poor form meant that watching matches felt more like a chore than a joy. The Winter weather extending well into Spring didn’t help that feeling and everything just seemed to be quite miserable. A couple of weeks without the Reds has now made me eager to watch them again and I’m interested to know what the manager has been working on with the players that haven’t gone away on international duty. Is there a chance that we could see the mythical Ben Davies at some point, for example? Will James Milner start against Arsenal on Saturday after spending three weeks reminding the manager of his various qualities? Those are the sort of short-term questions I want answers to.

There are also a number of long-term questions that I’ve been thinking about and I’m quite sure that Jürgen Klopp, Michael Edwards and the entire team have been pondering them too. Certainly the links to Ibrahima Konaté that have emerged today suggest that the Liverpool backroom team have been thinking about where we go from here. Lessons have to be learned from how quickly our Premier League campaign disintegrated on the back of injuries to key players, so I imagine that everyone at the club wants to avoid such a situation happening again in the future. Add to that the fact that Financial Fair Play is basically dead and buried and it’s not hard to envisage a world in which Liverpool go relatively big in the summer. That doesn’t mean that the manager has to throw the baby out with the bath water, but it’s interesting to ponder where we go from here.

FSG Loosening The Purse Strings

I am unashamedly pro-Fenway Sports Group. If one or two things had gone slightly differently on the field during their time as owners of the club, we’d have already won three Premier League titles, two Champions Leagues, a Europa League, an FA Cup and two League Cups, which is to say nothing of the development of Anfield and the new training ground that they’ve financed. They’ve made mistakes, but they’ve been quick to rectify them when they have and the good very much outweighs the bad. I’m not even as critical of their moves in the transfer market as some are, believing that balancing the books it exactly the right way for a club to be run. That being said, their approach to running Liverpool has been predicated on UEFA stopping the likes of Manchester City running riot thanks to the Financial Fair Play rules, but they are now dead in the water.

With that in mind, there is little excuse for the owners not to back the manager this summer, especially if we end up missing out on the Champions League. I’m not necessarily saying that we won’t sell any of our current stock, but I do have faith in Michael Edwards to ensure that the players we let go are leaving at the right time ahead of a possible downwards curve in their career. I would not be shocked to see the likes of Erling Haaland arrive at Anfield and Roberto Firmino leave the club, for example. If we do the deal for Ozan Kabak and also bring in Ibrahima Konaté as well as a Gini Wijnaldum replacement then I think we’ll be very well positioned to go again next year. It would shift Joel Matip down to mean that it’s a bonus when he’s fit rather than a necessity, as well as allow the manager to rotate the defence far more than he has been doing.

The Manager Mixing Things Up

It’s impossible to overstate the difficulties that Jürgen Klopp has gone through this season, with losing his mother at a time when he couldn’t get home and be with his family being near the top of the list. I think he’s performed admirably in such circumstances, especially given that we know that he’s the sort of person who feeds off the energy of the crowd. If I were to put forward a criticism of him even with all of that borne in mind, it would be that he has been far too reluctant to change the way his team plays even when he hasn’t had the right players at his disposal. The best managers know how to be pragmatic, but the German appears to have stuck to his 4-3-3 formation regardless of who has been available and in form. It’s a formation that works brilliantly when Roberto Firmino is in good form, but he hasn’t been that player for some time and yet we’ve persisted with it.

You can only play the way that the manager has wanted to play if you’ve got a Roberto Firmino at your disposal and there are very few, if any, players that can do what the Brazilian does. It’s why, if you gave me the choice right now, I’d opt for Erling Haaland over Kylian Mbappe, changing the way that we play completely. I do think that the key part of our development from here will involve the manager considering what other options are open to him in order to mix things up. Manchester City looked like they’d fallen off a cliff last season and into the start of this one, but they’ve recovered because of Pep Guardiola’s willingness to consider a different way of playing. I genuinely believe that Jürgen Klopp is a better manager than the Spaniard, so I’m keen to see him demonstrate as much when it comes to the way he sets his team up to play next season.

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