Part One: Transfers & Squad Depth
Liverpool have established themselves as one of Europe and England’s top sides under Jürgen Klopp, but the departure of Sadio Mané and the need to overhaul an aging core have seen them make significant changes over the past year. Meanwhile, their Premier League rivals have spent big in an effort to catch up.
In the first part of TLO’s season preview, our writers try to answer whether Liverpool done enough to stay ahead of the chasing pack and maybe even close the gap on Manchester City in 2022-23.
In a word, yes. Despite the significant loss of my favourite player of the modern era in Mané, the additions of Darwin Nuñez and Fabio Carvalho alongside the continued integration of Luis Díaz and development and availability of Harvey Elliott arguably gives us a stronger squad than last year’s historically phenomenal one.
Let’s also not forget that the gap between Liverpool and City, as it were, was a single goal scored with 12 minutes left in the season, and that the chasing pack were all 20 plus points behind. Heading into 2022-23, City’s squad looks thin and susceptible to injuries, Chelsea need to rebuild an entire back line and remain thin in midfield, and Manchester United have a new manager in a new league trying to knit together a toxic squad.
Pundits are going to build up Arsenal because they’d really love Arteta to succeed, but I’d argue Tottenham are the team other than the Reds that have made the most sensible moves in the transfer window and look set to become a results machine under Antonio Conte, at least for however long that relationship lasts. But yes. The answer is yes. Libpool top of the league.
I think new sporting director Julian Ward has done well, prudently and gradually padding out Liverpool’s attack as the famed Front Three’s dominance reached a natural peak and perhaps began its decline. The additions of Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez, mentored by the ageless and tireless Mo Salah, should give defences a lot to think about. And although not a new transfer, I’m hopeful Dio-goal Jota will regain his confidence from a series of recent injuries and once again be the pickpocketing goal threat he initially was.
The backline then looks comfortable with Ibrahima Konaté looking to grow into his role and learn from his senior defensive partners. There’s also the addition of young Fabio Carvalho, a very exciting prospect who is probably not being talked about enough yet—a good thing, since it’ll save the 19-year old some of the pressures of performing well instantly.
Liverpool hasn’t been stagnant in recent transfer windows. The club is cautiously balancing uplifting Academy players with looking for elite international talent. And however they end up at the club, they’re all ‘Klopp players’ mentality-wise: hard working, committed, humble, looking for team success before individual awards. We’ve made big ticket additions, while also nurturing squad solidarity, so yeah I think we’re in pole position to compete with the petro-clubs. And win.
Sadio Mane’s penchant for clutch moments aside, I’m not really worried about the attack. Between Salah, Firmino, Diaz, and Jota, there’s more than enough in the mix to let Darwin Nunez slowly find his footing. The defence has also been sorted since last season, and it picks itself on most nights.
So that just leaves the midfield. The club’s attempts to sign Aurélien Tchouameni suggest they know it’s an area that could be improved, but now they’re willing to wait a year for Jude Bellingham, which is something I’m most definitely on board with. For now, Fabinho, Thiago, and Jordan Henderson is a formidable starting unit. If Liverpool FC do as we expect, and stick to their guns by not signing anyone else, there’ll also be lots of chances for Harvey Elliott, Curtis Jones, and Fabio Carvalho to contribute. I’m expecting the coaching staff to do what they do and extract more from these three, which will in turn give more rest to the more senior midfielders
There are questions there. Can Harvey Elliot convert some of his exciting play into goals or assists? Can Curtis Jones have better decision making? Can Carvalho’s Championship form translate to the Premier League? Even cautiously, though, I think it’s a yes on at least two out of three.
So yes, I think Liverpool have definitely done enough to stay ahead of the pack, amongst whom only Spurs really stand out to me—and they’re Spurs, so we’ll see just how improved they are. Even with my red-coloured glasses on, the pathway for Liverpool is probably a wee bit more challenging than City’s. But City have some big shoes to fill in terms of departures, and will need to find chemistry in a hurry. Throw in some injuries, a mid-season World Cup, and some Pep-induced galaxy braining and anything could happen.
Absolutely. We are starting to truly see the first real vestiges of the succession planning that Liverpool have quietly undergone over the past few seasons, but even with that there is still a consistent core of players for Klopp to depend upon. It hurts to lose Sadio Mané and cult hero Divock Origi, but the Reds have brought in exciting young talent in Luis Diaz, Darwin Nunez, and Fabio Carvalho who all look primed to step into roles in a big way.
There are plenty of corners of the internet complaining about midfield depth, but there you’re looking at six legitimate players (yes, I am including Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones) plus James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (if he’s ever fit again, that is) competing for minutes at three spots. There will certainly be some players transitioning out over the next couple of years, but there seems to be plenty of quality depth for now.
Manchester City have spent big (again), but have also sold off several regular squad players and look the most thin as a squad in recent memory. Spurs look to have strengthened well but they had a lot of ground to make up. Arsenal and Chelsea seem to be throwing money all over the place to see what sticks, which often doesn’t turn out. And Manchester United are a dumpster fire, long may it continue.
Tentatively, yes, Liverpool have done enough. I think the injury-heavy (to say the least) 2020-21 made me unconsciously want a much larger squad than we would normally have. I also like our additions, though we are a bit more in flux than normal: we’re looking to see how new and relatively-new players do rather than integrating one or two to a mostly settled squad. That leaves some uncertainty, but there’s promise in everyone.
The difficulty of the schedule this season suggests to me that we might not target a deep run in either domestic cup this season, which is frankly fine as we did just win both of them. That, of course, depends a lot on the draw; I expect a weakened side for those games, though, particularly since we let go of players who love a domestic cup goal.
More than our moves (and those of the London sides, mentioned elsewhere, that seem promising), what’s happening at City is really interesting. I’m not sure what, exactly, they’re up to (in that they’re not really up to anything). Erling Håland is a big addition, and he is probably vying with Mohamed Salah as a golden boot favourite despite coming into a new league. He’s a striker who brings in a high volume of really high-quality shots, and that’s nothing to scoff at. It feels, though, like their squad is shrinking in terms of established players. They never needed a striker because goals came from everywhere, but with the departures of Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus, they have a lot less to pull off the bench.
Not replacing the departing Zinchenko also feels a bit of a gamble, leaving them thin on that side of the pitch, and over-reliant on Cancelo (though he did play the most minutes for them last season, so this is not a massively new reliance). That they’ve been negotiating with Brighton for Cucurella suggests they know this could be a problem.
They might buy loads of players before the window shuts in a month, and I do think they need to at present—and even more so if Bernardo Silva goes to Barcelona. My confidence in Liverpool’s strength of business, though, is very directly tied to the level of movement in Manchester.
While I do think that Arsenal and Tottenham in particular and at least on paper have done an exceptional job of strengthening, it’s worth remembering—as has been pointed out—just how far behind Liverpool and Man City they and the rest of the chasing pack were if you look at points haul not just last season but over the past four years. I also think that even taking the aging midfield core into account at Liverpool, the club look a lot stronger than at the start of the last season and have done great work to refresh both defence and attack and set themselves up for the next few years, leaving us with fewer glaring weak spots on the depth chart than even Manchester’s sportswashers.
About the only position with a question mark is defensive midfielder, where the Reds have one of the game’s best in Fabinho but nobody especially suited to cover long-term should that be needed. Everywhere else, it’s not hyperbole or red-tinted glasses to suggest this is a squad filled with depth options who could start for almost any other club in Europe. There’s Joe Gomez who just re-upped to fight for minutes at centre half; Kostas Tsimikas behind Andy Robertson at left back; poacher extraordinaire Diogo Jota; outstanding young talent like Harvey Elliott and Fabio Carvalho. I could go on. Whatever happens next, we’re heading into the season with the best and deepest squad Jürgen Klopp has had at Liverpool, which probably makes it the best and deepest squad in the history of Liverpool Football Club.
The margins are so thin between football’s top two clubs in Liverpool and Manchester City that it is difficult for me to assess the success of a transfer window of one without seeing how it compares to the other, especially when you’re looking through the lens of the Premier League.
Swapping Sadio Mane, Takumi Minamino, and Divock Origi for Darwin Nunez and Fabio Carvalho along with the January signing of Diaz feels like a net positive in that reducing squad average age and adding stylistic variation in attack compensates for losing a talismanic game changer and club legend. Like a New Signing™ Harvey Elliott has a full preseason under his belt and hopefully a healthy campaign to add to an aging midfield, while much needed rotation for Trent Alexander-Arnold has come in the form of Calvin Ramsay. All of which means that outside of the aforementioned changes in attack, there have been no other significant departures in a squad that took four competitions down to the final games last season.
However, taking a peek down the M62 to see how Liverpool’s rivals for domestic and European supremacy have done in the transfer window also offers insights. Gaining the world’s most coveted forward in Erling Haaland is obviously a massive win while Julian Alvarez looks to be a proper player. Kalvin Phillips as a replacement for aging Fernandinho as a rotational option with Rodri is also a solid upgrade. City’s pursuit of Brighton’s Marc Cucurella would provide sorely needed depth at full back.
However, the question remains if Pep Guardiola’s title-winning side have come out of the window ahead on balance. City will need their two new attackers to replace 30 goals City lost with the transfers of Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus. The #8 roles in midfield also look light even before taking into account Kevin de Bruyne’s injury record and Barcelona’s fiscally questionable pursuit of Bernardo Silva. Furthermore, difficult debut seasons of some of Pep biggest recent signings such as Jack Grealish, Rodri, and John Stones as well as the Spaniard’s infamously rocky relationships with traditional nines could suggest that Haaland might not hit the ground running like many might expect.
Marked improvement from Spurs, who took six points from fixtures with City and drew twice with the Reds, should reduce but not eliminate the 20+ point gap. Arsenal could be slightly more of a nuisance, too, while Chelsea look set for an up-and-down season. All of which implies that Liverpool could see this campaign as a chance to break the 90-point mark once again and potentially catch City in the league.
I think everyone has pretty much covered my thoughts regarding the comings and goings in the rest of the league. Based on what we’ve done and what the other members of the top six have done, we’re as well positioned as we could be to get number 20. I was confident in our depth last season despite a couple of question marks, and I feel even better about the squad heading into this season. We’re gonna win the league.
It’s all been said. Liverpool are boss. City are, too, unfortunately. The rest will be fighting for scraps and those last two Champions League spots.