In a week where the lack of depth in Liverpool’s squad was exposed by the continued absence of both Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson along with an injury sustained by Adam Lallana on international duty, Mahmoud Dahoud joined Borussia Dortmund. Frequent transfer rumours filled the vacuum left by the suspension of club football, but questions remain about Liverpool’s ability to compete in the summer.
In three transfer windows under Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool have only been active in one. Klopp ensured that the squad will be assessed from October to May last season, and the players rewarded him with two finals. Finishing eighth couldn’t detract from the number of big victories and huge performances in cup competitions as doubters became believers. The summer arrived, but Liverpool did not embark on a gargantuan spending spree to please fans thirsty for a tasty transfer.
Sadio Mané has proved to be the definition of a marquee signing, Georginio Wijnaldum is widely considered as the midfield’s connecting fluid, and Joël Matip is a reminder of the defensive composure that Alan Hansen and Daniel Agger possessed when they featured in the heart of Liverpool’s defence. Three successful signings out of four designed to improve the first eleven is an impressive strike rate, and with Klopp set to keep faith with both Loris Karius and Simon Mignolet next season, there is time for Karius to add his name to the list.
Liverpool’s difficulty in finding an attacking signing in January as Mané was away on international duty was frustrating, especially as the team began to struggle to match the fine start made over the first 19 league games. Philippe Coutinho suffered an injury in late November, Daniel Sturridge’s injury curse even robbed him of a place an important squad player, and Liverpool became increasingly reliant on their Senegalese superstar.
Perhaps expecting to sign one from Julian Draxler, Christian Pulisic, and Julian Brandt was unrealistic, but Liverpool’s recruitment team knew that January would be a time where the festive fixtures, potential injuries, and expected departures would all test an already thin squad. These rumours of Virgil van Dijk and various Bundesliga talents during the international break have left some wondering whether Liverpool are ready to give an excellent manager a helping hand.
Liverpool enter a Merseyside derby with a chance to strike early before their top rivals play this weekend. Win to go nine points ahead of Arsenal and seven in front of Manchester United. Forget about their games in hand and focus on doing the needful against teams that Liverpool should beat. Arsenal and Manchester United have to play each other and a number of top teams to be concerned about Liverpool’s current advantage—one that could be even more worrying for them if Klopp can become the first Liverpool manager to win his first three Merseyside derbies in the Premier League era.
Liverpool may not be on the precipice of qualifying for the Champions League next season, but even with the travails against the Premier League’s lesser lights, Klopp will deserve much credit after essentially a positive net spend in his tenure as Liverpool manager. Champions League football matters, but Monchi—who has just left Sevilla—has shown that there are people in football who really know what they’re doing when it comes to transfers. Klopp is bridging the gap with his tactics, belief in improving players, unwavering faith in building sustainable sides, and charismatic personality. Despite Klopp’s qualities, he is no magician.
Many have compared the early record of Brendan Rodgers and Jürgen Klopp, but two finals and Liverpool’s finest first 19 games in the Premier League era in the space of 14 months with a studied cull of the first-team squad is mightily impressive. Everton seek to compete with the Premier League’s top six and have tried to support Ronald Koeman’s ambitions. John Stones may have funded most of their summer signings, but they would have spent more if Moussa Sissoko didn’t leave them feeling somewhat jilted. Liverpool’s local rivals have spent around £20 million net after the arrival of Morgan Schneiderlin in January, but spending money doesn't always guarantee success as Manchester United have seen in recent seasons.
Intelligent spending, though, can reap untold rewards. The Merseyside derby will always be one to look out for in the calendar, but Klopp will have been in English football for over 18 months by the end of the season. After the last international break of the campaign, Liverpool enter the run-in that will dictate how successful the season and possibly summer transfer window will be. The game against Everton is part of a larger picture with grander designs and ambitions.
Liverpool should have enjoyed an unassailable lead against Sevilla in last season’s Europa League final to secure Champions League football this season. History was written by Liverpool’s opponents that day, but after such a formidable start this season, it would feel dispiriting if Liverpool stuttered after doing much of the hard work early on. When Liverpool came out at half-time at Basel, the players knew that those 45 minutes would decide their season. This time they return after an international break knowing that the same is true with nine league games to go.
The combination of Klopp, Champions League football, an improving group of players, and a successful transfer window could be the beginning of making the next step in the Klopp era. Beating Everton is just the start.