Part Two: Transfers & Squad Depth
Much to the dismay of many fans, Liverpool have signed no clear first team outfield players this summer. Yet it would have always been a tough task, to try to improve on a squad as good as this—a squad that, starter for starter, is arguably a match for any other in Europe. So we wanted to know how the staff of The Liverpool Offside felt about it—and about that lack of signings.
I sympathize with the anxiety many fans have around transfers this summer, and I think most of my own anxiety comes from seeing Liverpool come so close so many times—and then there’s an inevitable falling away. Players leave, the manager leaves, the house built on sand crumbles. It’s the Liverpool way.
Having said that, I really think this team is the exception to that typical Liverpool narrative. No one of consequence has left. Important players are returning from injuries. Youth players are coming through the ranks to invigorate the squad. I think they could definitely use a left sided attacker and a left back, but those are by no means necessities for the squad to push on and challenge on all fronts.
We have plenty of spaces to add depth to. Fullback, wingers, strikers. All could use proven quality players to shore up the proven and talented players we have. Putting the pressure on the kids that we have in those positions to come good if—or when—someone gets injured and taken out for a spell is a lot to ask of tiny babies. We got lucky with Trent Alexander-Arnold, how lucky are we hoping to be to get lucky a second or even third time?
But I will say that everyone involved certainly seems to believe we have a strong squad, and a strong enough squad that we don’t need to add to, are that they’re all more involved with the team and paid way more than I am, so what do I know, honestly? It comes down to how much trust we are willing to put into Klopp & Co at this point in the venture.
We’re thin in attack and at fullback. That’s not really debatable. It may or may not come back to bite us, but if it does, the responsibility will fall on the manager and recruitment team, not on the Club World Cup or the FA for fixture congestion or whatever. We know those games are coming—it’s up to us to be prepared for them.
I get the argument that it’s difficult to improve the squad, to which I argue that while it’s tough to improve the starting XI, adding players to a depth chart with open slots in it is not actually that tricky. Management clearly disagrees, but in my opinion, there are enough options out there that you don’t need to rely on 2019 James Milner as your first fullback option, but we’ll find out by next summer how the gamble turns out.
I honestly go back and forth on this one. Liverpool just won the Champions League and got 97 points in the league. They’re as desirable a destination as they’ve been in three decades, and surely now is the time to capitalise on it and bring in a few big signings—to strike while the iron is hot and all that.
And yet, on paper, you look at the current squad and it’s not clear where Jürgen Klopp and Mike Edwards are realistically meant to be improving it—at least in a real life, not-playing-FIFA sort of way. You can’t improve the front three, and how do you convince a world class star to sit on the bench behind them? Then, if you buy into the Brewster hype—and based on pre-season I think I’m willing to—you’ve already got three viable depth options. Midfield’s much the same, with at least two viable starters at every position, and Liverpool probably have the best centre half depth in Europe. Outside of a fullback who can play both sides, then, what is there to buy?
I get that fans always want more—more depth, more signings, more excitement. I mean, hell, I want more. But when you actually break it down, draw it out, I’m not sure Liverpool really need more. Outside of that fullback, at least.
The only thing that frightens me a bit is the possibility of two of our front three injured at the same time. I think that without a bit of cover in attack, the cracks might start to show as the season wears on—especially as Mane, Firmino, and Salah all had very intense summers with their respective national teams. Divock Origi and Rhian Brewster will be waiting in the wings for their opportunities, but Brewster isn’t exactly known for his fitness, and Origi may have proved himself to be a big game player but week after week he’s still hit or miss.
Still, with Klopp’s copious midfield options, maybe the manager is happy with the idea of a few creative solutions for that lack of forward depth, with the likes of Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Adam Lallana available to be pressed into service if it comes to that.
Klopp has shown a penchant for building a cohesive core squad, as well as infusing talent from the youth ranks. He’s shown confidence in the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez and it has paid off in a big way. Rhian Brewster looks like the next one on the list to take a big jump and take over Sturridge’s role off the bench. Ki-Jana Hoever might also be considered for a reserve role at right back. Midfield and centre back are stacked with Ox coming back from a year off and Keita and Fabinho settled from the start of this season.
Still, I worry about the depth up top and at fullback. If Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, or Roberto Firmino are out for any real time, I’m not confident we have someone who steps right in and has the same attacking verve. A back up left back would help ease some heart palpitations as well.
There’s still a bit of time left on the clock to add some quality depth. So I’m not completely convinced that Liverpool won’t make a last minute move for a fullback. But I can see the case for letting the attacking setup ride. Divock Origi has continued to look effective in pre-season on the left side and can spell Roberto Firmino in the middle as well. Rhian Brewster could happen in a big way this season. And Klopp has a slew of attacking midfielders who can fill in on the wings when needed.
I’d be pleased as punch if an exciting new player was paraded around the Melwood kitchen. I’m content with reality, though. The owners, the recruitment team, and the manager have all proven to be a group committed to Liverpool’s success, and sharp and clever enough to build a winning team. There’s an actual plan and, after a decade of amorphous ideas, that’s really doing it for me, new signings or no new signings.
No big signings now just means we’re getting #Mbappe2020, obviously. (Half) joking aside, the transfers in and out under Klopp have been impeccable. Almost every player has been a hit, and the “misses” (i.e. Loris Karius, Ragnar Klavan), were A) inexpensive, and B) served a role on the squad until a better (or much better) player could be brought in.
Recently, we’ve seen Klopp, Edwards, & Co. move from the bargain bin to signing out-and-out belters. If they say there are no Big Name Players™ that fit their needs and are available this window, I believe them. Frankly, it’d be hard to improve this squad, and even harder to improve the starting XI. Those in charge of transfers surely remember how difficult it was to bring this club to this point, and in order to have sustained success, they’ll need to continue operating in the same manner that got them here.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is like a new signing now that he’s fit, right? But seriously, while I continue to have concerns about what we’d do if half the squad got injured (especially any key members of the back four and the front three), I don’t think those concerns ever really go away, no matter how many players you sign or options you have.
What has gone away, at least for me, is the lack of trust in Liverpool’s transfer business. I was pretty ambivalent towards any new signings this summer, especially given the general strength of the squad, but I found the speed with which Mignolet was replaced heartening. The Powers That Be know what they’re doing—and for once, I actually agree with what they’re doing. That said, I wouldn’t sneeze at a new fullback.
I’m rather chill on the transfer front. Would it be fun to flex our standing as Kings of Europe by rolling out some cash on a splashy signing? Sure! But it also wouldn’t really be Liverpool or Klopp’s way. And given how Klopp didn’t have the full complement of players at his disposal last year (big injuries to Ox and The Admiral meant we never saw all of what Klopp designed), I can definitely feel relaxed at the official line being that the priority was keeping the current squad together and happy.
This past year saw extensions to nearly all of our core players—and that’s huge! Committing to the Liverpool project may seem like an afterthought, but it isn’t when you consider how many players we’ve had trouble retaining in past years. So I’ll take the tradeoff of keeping our players over a big signing this summer.