Part Two: Transfer Business
Liverpool have spent big to bring in a holding midfielder, they’ve added to their attacking depth, they’ve seen Naby Keïta arrive on his deferred deal, and they’ve capped it off with a new record fee paid for a goalkeeper. Still, not everything has gone perfectly to plan in the summer transfer window. Are you happy with where Liverpool are, or worried something is still missing?
I was on record as being skeptical that the club was interested in bringing in a new goalkeeper, so the fact that they actually shelled out the cash to pick up Alisson was shocking to me in the best possible way. I really wish that the Fekir signing had worked out, and I’m still crossing my fingers that we get another attacking midfielder in. I also don’t have much faith in the continued fitness of Joël Matip and Joe Gomez, and so wish we would have gotten another reliable center-back in the team as well. But overall I’m happy. There aren’t any gaping holes left the way there were at the end of last summer, and you can see how the players brought in will strengthen the team in their positions.
I’m as happy as one can be within the context of this window. As of writing this, Liverpool are far and away the winners of the transfer window. Our rivals have not strengthened from their previous season, and we’ve filled 4 out of 5 of our biggest weaknesses. It’s that 5th one that would keep me from giving this window a perfect score. But, that’s not for a lack of trying from a Liverpool standpoint. It is not Liverpool’s fault that Nabil Fekir’s ACL was repaired with string cheese. Hell, they even had him taking pictures in a Liverpool kit before the deal was called off.
I’m not sure Liverpool will be able to get a Fekir-adjacent like player this summer, given the time constraints of the window closing early. I think that’s the only thing truly missing from this team. Would I like to see another top level CB come in? Yes. Are there many of those out there? No, there are not. Oh, and someone probably needs to be the new number two to Alisson.
A part of me still wants A Fekir Type in before deadline day, but then I look at what every other Premier League side has done and think, you know, what have we got to complain about sat here with the strongest, deepest, most talented squad we’ve probably ever had? What’s an extra versatile attacker when we were as good as City over the second half of last season and made it to a Champions League final and this summer everyone else has mostly been treading water while we’ve brought in Alisson and Fabinho and Xherdan Shaqiri and Naby Keïta? Even without that A Fekir Type, this might be the best summer for incomings we’ve ever had.
And we’ve managed it without losing anyone who played a key role last season. If you’re in any doubt about whether or not this summer’s been a success maybe say that over a few times to yourself. Because this summer has been good. Like, really good. Anything more would be rich, delicious gravy.
It would probably accurate to say most Liverpool fans would list a no. 10 and a CB to take over the potentially permacrocked Joël Matip as 2nd/3rd CB as the two remaining items on the wish list. But let’s be clear: there aren’t many teams who have ever had as prolific and surgical a transfer window as Michael Edwards and the transfer committee have executed to this point.
This is a team that, as it was for the majority of the latter half of the past season (plus Virgil Van Dijk, minus Philippe Coutinho and a healthy Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain), came within a Sergio Ramos MMA performance from lifting the Champions League trophy while keeping pace with the Premier League champions on form. And now we’ve added Naby Freaking Keïta. And the best goalkeeper available. And a real defensive midfielder. And goal-scoring depth for the front three.
The argument can be made that the loss of Emre Can and Oxlade-Chamberlain could leave the squad without the midfield depth to challenge on multiple fronts deep into April. And this is true given a now-healthy but subdued Adam Lallana probably can’t be counted on to regain his scintillating 2016-17 form. Meanwhile, one knock to a key cog in the engine room—touch all of the wood—puts us right back in the position we found ourselves following Ox’s injury at the business end of the season. But on the other hand, it’s hard to look at at a midfield cast of Keïta, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Gini Wijnaldum and Lallana and ask for too much more.
One of the final evolutions of last season’s squad also excelled without a pure Fekir Type, with Firmino dropping deeper than usual and Ox using his directness and playmaking to provide enough creativity to keep things ticking over. Mané taking the #10 jersey and Shaqiri’s experience playing through middle for Switzerland also provide hints into how Klopp’s plans to adjust to the failure to secure Fekir. We have enough to win the things we want.
My initial thought is “yeah, we’re a little thin if a few players get injured,” but compare this for a second to last year. Last year, we entered the season with questions over goalkeeper, both fullbacks, and midfield (not to mention the whole Coutinho fiasco). These questions were not over depth but over quality in the starting XI. Through smart transfers (e.g. Andy Roberson), fantastic youth development (e.g. Trent Alexander-Arnold), and a fair few blockbuster deals (you know the names), we’re now as close to a finished product as I’ve ever seen at Liverpool.
Of course a few injuries could really (sorry not sorry) hamstring us during the season. But that’s true of all teams. To win big things you need a bit of luck along the way. Hopefully our luck on the injury front will be better than it has been in recent years.
It’s weird to look at a window that lists Keita, Fabinho, and Alisson as headlining transfers and be anything but thrilled, but I do have a bit of worry in midfield. Specifically, I’m anxious about that most advanced CM spot without Ox, and I might have been a bit anxious even if he’d been healthy headed into this season. It puts a lot of pressure on Lallana and Shaqiri, and as things stand I’m admittedly skeptical on them.
Still, if anyone’s earned the benefit of the doubt, it’s Edwards and Klopp, so I’m willing to hold off on judgement until the results from the first two months of the season are in the bank. I’m also obviously very hopeful on Daniel Sturridge providing some cover at the 9, so it’s not all dour. Besides, again, Keita, Fabinho (out of nowhere!), and Alisson are now all in Red. That’s an outstanding window regardless of my personal disappointment in not seeing the Fekir transfer come through.
To nobody’s surprise, I was a very sad boy when the Fekir deal fell through, having lobbied hard for the Frenchman since January, and had he ended up at Anfield, I would have been extremely bullish on our Premier League credentials. As it stands, consolation price Shaqiri is adorable in his peculiarly thicc way, but I maintain that we’re light in creative midfielders and attacking depth—and also that Dejan Lovren can probably never fully convince me he should be a nailed-on starter for PL and CL challenger.
Nonetheless, we are going to be very, very good this year, and with just a little bit of luck in the injury department, could have a hell of a season.
Likewise, it’s hard not to feel frustrated about the collapse of the Fekir deal. There’s a clear hole in the squad for a playmaking number ten since a certain Brazilian left the club. As good as the team is at creating goalscoring opportunities on the counter and from pressing situations, it still feels like a great passer in the final third would help break down a lot of lesser sides. The only person of that mould in the squad is Adam Lallana, who I still really like, but who knows how well his body has recovered.
Otherwise, everything looks positive. Fabinho should slide into the Emre Can role without too much fuss, Alisson should finally offer the aggressive goalkeeper comfortable on the ball that Klopp’s system craves, Shaqiri is a solid backup and Keita basically does it all. We got nearly everything we want and I’m not going to complain too much about that.