With six weeks to go in the transfer window, Liverpool have gotten most of their work done. Sadio Mané has arrived to strengthen the attack, Joël Matip gives Jürgen Klopp three starting-calibre centre halves to choose from, and Loris Karius is the new starting goalkeeper. We asked the staff of The Liverpool Offside what the biggest need left for the club was in the transfer market.
A lot of fans will want a bright shiny and new left back, but all signs point to Jürgen Klopp believing in the promise of Alberto Moreno and only looking to target youth and potential at the position. Others will look to the centre of midfield. Really, though, without Europe, the biggest need may be to clear out a few players not likely to be on the teamsheet most weeks. Players who, if stuck in the reserves all year, would at best see their value deteriorate and at worst could become negative influences on the squad.
Take striker, where neither Christian Benteke nor Mario Balotelli are going to see the pitch behind three strikers and two utility attackers—not when Liverpool are set to play a one-striker system. In midfield, if Joe Allen were to reject the advances of Stoke City he would be fourth choice behind Emre Can, Jordan Henderson, and James Milner. He could end up behind Marko Grujić, too, as Klopp will see Grujić as a player for the future while Allen—with a year to go on his current deal—would be a player for the present or not at all. Then there’s Simon Mignolet, already all but relegated to cup duty.
There isn’t a need to clear everyone out, mind—what’s the point trying to gain depth if the second you have some you turn around and sell it? But minutes will be limited, and those who won’t be happy with spot duty might best be moved on before the window shuts.
Noel is right that clearing a few players out is a priority in the time left in the summer transfer market, but Liverpool seem to be doing a fine job of that already. Jordon Ibe, Martin Škrtel, Sergi Canos, Jerome Sinclair, Jordan Rossiter, and João Carlos Teixeira have all departed to nearly cover the cost of one Sadio Mané. If a deal can be agreed with Crystal Palace for Christian Benteke, Liverpool will cover the remainder of Mané’s fee along with Loris Karius, Joël Matip, and Marko Grujić with ease including any signing-on fees. With lots of interest in Joe Allen and Luis Alberto, there should be some more decent sales ahead. Mario Balotelli, however, may prove difficult to shift.
Yes, a left back isn’t the priority that many fans think. A player will come in to compete with Alberto Moreno, and based on the recommendation from someone who understands Klopp’s demands intimately, I hope that an agreement is found for Ben Chilwell. The most pressing need is to find a composed, crafty, technically-gifted, and tempo-setting partner for Emre Can in midfield. Joe Allen seems to be on his way out, leaving Jordan Henderson, James Milner, and Marko Grujić as potential partners for Can. He may only be 22, but Can is probably the club’s most important midfielder and has grown immensely in Klopp’s time at the club. Liverpool seem to lack that guile and subtlety on the ball that no other midfielder apart from Allen possesses.
The strong links to Mahmoud Dahoud, Piotr Zieliński, and now Georginio Wijnaldum indicate that Klopp realises his team urgently requires something different from a midfield that can be far too pedestrian. Liverpool should be confident in selling virtually all the players that need to be sold and will almost certainly add a young left back to improve squad depth. However, will a quality central midfielder—one who can really shape the play—join the club before the summer transfer window closes? That’s the real need.
I think we’ve been really, really lucky this transfer window. I went into it feeling pretty stable, with everything a want more than a need. I wanted more strength in the defense, I wanted to get rid of some dead weight. I wanted our current players to get better and feel more comfortable and creative in their positions. Everything else was just the icing on the cupcake. Especially with no Europe this year. Let UEFA and the Champions League clubs so let them have their fun and we’d focus on the league.
Now that a new Liverpool Injury Crisis is rearing it’s ugly head, though, some those wants are turning into needs. We need just a little more depth. Maybe one or two other players. And I get it, it’ll be hard because some of those players will be riding pine for a bit, and no one wants to do that. Especially not highly paid professional athletes. Especially without Europe. Still, there’s a weak spot, and it’s the defense. It’s always been our weakest link. Always. I mean, I love Mamadou Sakho as much as the next fan, but he gets injured a fair amount. I’m always going to be Team Moreno, too, especially under Klopp, so I’m not likely to ask for him to be replaced, but depth is needed.
I’m pretty heartened by the news that we’re still pursuing Chilwell, that we’ve gotten Ragnar Klavan. I don’t know a lot about either, but I know that Klopp is a craftsman and knows how to work with players and get the best out of them. If we can strengthen our defense further, I think we’ll continue to turn doubters into believers. I swear to god, though, if we get one more attacking midfielder my head is going to explode.
I’m very much on board with the idea that we need to subtract dead weight from the squad more than we need to add to it, and the club is well on its way to doing just that. After a very solid summer of business—addressing concerns at centre-back and goalkeeper while adding speed and penetration up front—the glaring hole remains a creative presence in central midfield. I remain unconvinced by Emre Can’s abilities further up the pitch and believe Klopp is grooming him for a defensive role, which leaves us with Jordan Henderson as the creator. Links to creative types—particularly Mahmoud Dahoud—indicate that Klopp might not think the captain is up to that task in the long run. Zielinski and Wijnaldum are less obvious choices for the role, given their lack of experience in the double pivot, but one would have to assume the manager sees something he likes in them.
All that said, I am less bullish on Alberto Moreno at this point than many others on the staff, and I would rather see us splurge on a superstar left back than sign a young understudy for the Spaniard. I will keep banging my Ricardo Rodríguez drum until I get what I want, damnit.
In part due to the cull that he initiated when he first took charge at Borussia Dortmund, Klopp seems to have a reputation for being unsentimental when it comes to decisions about outbound transfers. A lack of sentimentality would certainly be welcome during the time left in this transfer window. As others have noted, Liverpool need to find ways to improve their starting XI while working towards a leaner squad in anticipation of a domestic-only campaign. To do that, Klopp and the other decision-makers need to reduce the universe of potential "wrong options" while making sure that they don’t inadvertently sacrifice qualities that are otherwise absent in the squad or adequate depth in the event something hits the fan on the injury front—as it inevitably will. It sounds like a daunting task, but it’s a necessary one and I don’t envy them.
My wish list going into window consisted of a Mignolet alternative, pace and strength in wide positions, and competition at left back. The first two elements appear to have been addressed. In an ideal world, we’d get the chance to see how far Brad Smith could push Alberto Moreno this season, but that may be a luxury the club can’t afford during a critical year. Beyond that, I tend to agree that we need a certain je ne sais quois in central midfield, and not necessarily someone with an attack-first mentality.
Looking back to Klopp’s Dortmund years, I’m struck by Sebastian Kehl’s run as captain, and I can’t help thinking that above all else, he brought stability and consistency without being the squad’s best player. More than anywhere else, the midfield looks to be in flux this summer, whether it’s because of Allen’s chickens seeming set to be shipped to Stoke—to be eaten by Chrlie Adam—or Lucas and Kevin Stewart carrying knocks. When the dust settles, could one or both of Wijnaldum or Medel represent the missing pieces Klopp is looking for? Could Marko Grujic be a secret weapon?
There is so much uncertainty in central midfield that I have a tough time even figuring out the right question to articulate. What’s clear is that the next phase of the club’s preseason will see the squad matched up against more familiar, sterner opposition, and perhaps the questions and answers will crystallize at that point. I guess what I’m saying is that we need to sign Nicklas Bendtner.
At the risk of plagiarizing Chuck and Noel harder than Melania Trump did Michelle Obama, I completely agree: concerns at LB are overblown, and creative playmaking in midfield is essential. While his crossing could certainly improve, Alberto Moreno, all told, is a pretty decent full back. He made big strides last season in his defensive positioning and decision-making on when and when not to bomb forward; a full summer under Klopp should only improve on his progress.
Injuries aside, we’ve plugged the holes in CB and GK, while—depending on who you ask—addressing concerns in attack with quantity even if not of the Gotze or Reus-flavored quality so many were hoping for. A long-term solution to the Hendo problem is really the only item left on the agenda. While opinion on the skipper has been fairly split here at TLO, we can all agree that unless Hendo can exceed his 2014-15 best, the search must continue for a Gundogan-like playmaker from midfield to partner Can.
One can only assume this is the rationale behind Klopp’s pursuit of a versatile attacker such as Georginio Wijnaldum, who, despite playing in a more advanced role in his one season at Newcastle, has actually also displayed aptitude in the center of the park in times past. If the plan is to shackle Can to a strictly defensive role in the 4-2-3-1 and allow Wijnaldum to roam forward with his excellent ball retention, late arrivals into the box, and goal-scoring nous, you can just about seeing it working.
If the Dutch international is the plan for midfield then, A) we should all get used to spelling his name without having to resort to Google and, B) we shouldn’t balk at the price. In a £15m Jordan Ibe world, we’re still virtually guaranteed a net profit for the window if the clearout continues. It may not be the solution many of us would have had in mind, but it would be wise to give the Normal One the benefit of the doubt in his first season running the transfer committee.
Left back? CB? Yeah, I think we might need another of each. Although, it seems like we're short on third-choice goalkeepers with Bogdan gone and Danny Ward and Ryan Fulton both out on loan. More than that, though, I wouldn't mind a straight up destroyer brought in. A Lucas type, but one who still has legs. A Matuidi, perhaps? But I gather if we're getting Wijnaldum, that's likely to be the end of the midfield business.
As for strikers, Benteke and Balotelli will go, somewhere. And we're stacked with attack-minded players. So, it's all about defensive cover for me. Because I'm nervous about injuries in the back. And when I get nervous I get sweaty. And when I get sweaty I’m uncomfortable. And, if anything, I deserve comfort; it’s kind of one of my top five things.
But at the end of the day, the biggest remaining need, the most important job at hand, for me, is finding homes for players whose time is up and finding those homes before deadline day descends on us like a great, swirling vortex, blocking out the sun, scattering our fragile emotions and just generally being a real bother.
Will I continue to beat the dead "we need a central midfielder" horse? Yes. Yes I will. Obviously there’s a reason for such uniformity in the arguments made so far. Over the past several seasons we’ve seen our midfield go missing repeatedly. While the pundits like to blame a certain rambunctious leftback (fair), an especially flappy goalkeeper (doubly fair), and a central defender who runs with the style and grace of an octopus falling out of a tree (unfair on the defending bit, totally fair on the looking awkward whilst doing it), the problems usually start in the midfield.
In a perfect world—or even one where everything isn’t the worst—a midfield pairing of Emre Can and Jordan Henderson is a solid foundation going forward. Can really came into his own last season, and Henderson can press and run with the best of them when fully fit. Sadly, there are still huge question marks over the long-term viability of Hendo. Will the scourge of plantar fasciitis get the best of the previously indestructible Honey Badger? That’s a big question mark for such a vital position on the pitch. From Hendo, we move to the bench and Wee Joe Allen. I love Wee Joe. You love Wee Joe. The chickens love Wee Joe. Jürgen Klopp’s preferred 4-2-3-1 does not love Wee Joe. Hopefully Stoke City will love Wee Joe.
We need another central midfielder, hence the constant rumour mongering. Dahoud would have been my go-to in this window, as unlikely as that transfer seems at the moment. Otherwise, and I’ll keep saying this for the foreseeable future, in Klopp we trust! Whoever Klopp brings in, I fully expect him to get the most of the player.