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The Liverpool Offside 2016-17 Season Review, Part 2: Transfer Business

In part two of our season review, we look at how the new signings did and ask if the club’s transfer policy was a success.

Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Liverpool’s transfer business in the summer of 2015 got mixed reviews, with the staff of The Liverpool Offside generally positive about the signings but worried there was a lack of depth at key positions. In retrospect, how do you feel about how things played out? Did those key signings—Joël Matip, Sadio Mané, Loris Karius, and Gini Wijnaldum—pan out as expected? Were there problems with last summer’s transfer class that you didn’t foresee at the time? And what of the lack of movement in January?

Last summer’s transfer window was a huge success. So huge, in fact, that the biggest shortcoming (#buyafullback) was papered over by the conversion of lifelong midfielder and tea aficionado James Milner into a serviceable left back. Mané had one of the best debut seasons of any incoming player over the last several years at the club, providing a much-needed ability to stretch play with his pace. Matip and Wijnaldum also became instrumental in their own unique ways; the latter was especially a surprise after seeing him with relegated Newcastle the season before.

That brings us to Karius, who I’m not fully prepared to write off just yet. Time may still prove him to be a good fit at Liverpool, and if nothing else, he helped push Mignolet to a legitimately solid season. Last summer’s signings—made without Champions League football, no less!—should give us optimism ahead of this summer’s window.

I think that last summer the club did a great job strengthening the starting XI. And that was awesome, that really needed to happen, and we could clearly see the benefits of that this season. Mané was a steal at the price we paid, and his pace and ingenuity on the wing has been invaluable to the team. Matip has significantly improved our back line, despite Dejan Lovren beside him. Wijnaldum was the only thing that made Henderson’s long absence in midfield bearable, and he stepped up when the team needed him to. Even Karius, though not the instant success many hoped he’d be, provided much-needed competition for Mignolet in goal.

Considering it was Klopp’s first summer transfer window with the team, I say that’s a pretty good outcome. Now the hope is that this summer they can splash some cash and use the lure of the Champions League to strengthen the squad and improve on our lack of depth, which again became glaringly obvious as players were ravaged by injuries through the back half of the season.

I wouldn’t go quite as far as to call last summer a huge success, but I do think the hit rate for the club’s four major signings—their three big outfield hits and a goalkeeper whose mark so far has to go down as incomplete—is noteworthy. It’s better than most sides manage with their big signings, and Mané in particular turned out to be just the kind of marquee signing fans are always crying out for, even if a few of those same fans are still trying to reconcile how good Mané turned out to be with how certain they were he was nothing but overpriced and average and why can’t we sign Lionel Messi instead of another dude from Southampton? What seemed like a problem at the time, though, that lack of depth? Yeah, it turned out to totally be a problem.

Mané, oh how I miss you. The key signings were fantastic, and most of them have made a solid mark so far. I’m personally the most pleased about Liverpool still being in solid consideration for (if not winning) best hair and best smiles in the Premier League, and I’m ready for fisticuffs at dawn if anyone wants to fight me on this.

What I didn’t expect was that Joël Matip would look so good in the new 17/18 kit. But as a player he absolutely met my expectations. Solid, calm, effective, as advertised, would recommend. But he was in and out of the team far too often to excel. Super signing, though. And free, exclamation point. Mané was everything. He did everything and danced with everyone along the way. A real hoot of a dude. Big smile. Second only to fellow summer of ‘16 transfer, Gini Wijnaldum, in the pearly whites showcase. Wijnaldum went about his happy way this season, enjoying solid runs in the side, impressing both in Liverpool’s attack and midfield. He won the ball back from everyone on every team. That’s true. I’m sure the stats back that up. Everyone. In. The. League.

Aside from being Mignolet’s muse, Karius is still a bit of a mystery. We’ll see what he does next season, though, when he has more time to strut. Klavan exceeded any expectations simply because expectations were very low. We knew very little of his work. But he got the team through some rough patches. Solid backup. Solid crew all around, I’d say.

Matip, Mané, and Wijnaldum all did at least what was expected of them—and Sadio probably outperformed expectations. As Zach noted, Mignolet was a totally different keeper in the second half of the season. Tough to say for certain that Karius’ presence was the key, but let’s give the new boy the credit and the benefit of the doubt. He still looks like he could be a valuable addition, and at the very least the LFC online store has got a model on standby for all occasions. I was surprised that there wasn’t an attempt to add more warm bodies over the summer and certainly in January. It was a calculated gamble, I think, and one that just about paid off.

Mané and Wijnaldum have been wonderful additions to the squad and we secured Champions League football next season in large part thanks to them. Matip has been solid enough. Karius, I’m a bit cooler on. I was hoping for at least a noticeable upgrade on Mignolet and it’s clear he’s not that. I don’t know what the club can do about it that doesn’t piss off one or both of their current keepers while admitting they made some mistakes in recruitment.

Beyond that, I’m not particularly bothered by the lack of January activity. I’m generally of the opinion if you’re looking to buy in January it’s because you’re in trouble; either you’ve been really hit by injuries, or you’re fighting to avoid relegation. As such, anyone buying ends up overpaying for stop-gap solutions and players who just aren’t that good (yes, I know we bought Suárez in a January window, my point still stands, don’t @ me). But this summer we really need to get serious about the back line; we held up fairly well this season, but defending was still a real problem, and if we send this back four out against Barcelona or Bayern Munich we’re going to get torn apart.

Matip’s struggle to stay fit is really the only thing that downgrades my original impression of last summer’s signings, and that’s not a knock on his quality as a player. Mané and Wijnaldum contributed 33 goals and assists between them, as well as contributing blazing speed and gleaming smiles, respectively, while Karius was always supposed to be a project that’d challenge Mignolet for minutes rather than an immediate, automatic upgrade and replacement. The players we didn’t sign was a bigger problem than the ones we did.

Sadio Mané, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Joël Matip successfully improved the first eleven. Composure, productivity, physicality, quality, and verticality. Mané was one of the stars of the season and every inch a marquee signing, while Matip and Wijnaldum are Champions League quality. Loris Karius has helped to foster an environment where being Liverpool’s starting goalkeeper has to be earned, and Simon Mignolet has risen to that challenge. As Audun points out, Karius is a long-term project.

Marko Grujić is a talent with the necessary velvet touch and physicality to thrive, Ragnar Klavan provided defensive depth despite wildly mixed performances, and Alex Manninger cannot be judged as third-choice goalkeeper. A small collection of signings, but Liverpool were able to improve because of them and the positional switches Klopp made. This summer, however, should herald a real show of intent and ambition in the transfer market. We found a way over the line with a small squad short on quality, but that will not be possible next season.

Monday — Part 1: A Question of Success
Wednesday — Part 3: Underperformers and Overachievers
Thursday — Part 4: Klopp Concerns
Friday — Part 5: What Comes Next?

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