There is a little bit of a problem with Liverpool’s attacking options. After successfully switching Adam Lallana to central midfield in a 4-3-3, Liverpool only had Philippe Coutinho and Sadio Mané as options for the left and right of the attack. Both have been wonderful for Liverpool this season as Jürgen Klopp continues to improve the club’s fortunes. The real issue, though, is the lack of depth behind them.
Liverpool’s gegenpressing system under Klopp has led to goals, lots of them. 48 goals in 20 Premier League games doesn't quite underline how dangerous this team can be at its best. The extraordinary diligence of Roberto Firmino as the multipurpose central forward can't quite be replicated by Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi, but all three possess the capability to excel up front.
Adam Lallana is a revelation in midfield and should stay there. Not only does the 28-year-old provide the requisite composure for a team that sometimes lacks the ability control games, he is a worker. Like Firmino, Lallana will keep working until the referee blows for full time or he expends his entire essence in trying to fulfil Klopp’s tactical masterplan. Firmino filling in for Coutinho on the left has not been a success even though an earlier appearance from the left against Leicester City provided hope that this spell would be a productive one.
The way Sadio Mané has thrived at Liverpool to date underlines the importance of quality and suitability. Mané’s spells at Red Bull Salzburg and Southampton suggested that he’d provide goals, athleticism, hard work, and tactical understanding in a Liverpool shirt. Not every signing will be a success, but three of Liverpool’s four signings for the first-team appear to be perfect for Klopp. There is still time, of course, for Loris Karius to prove he can bring stability in goal. That Liverpool still have a chance to reach a second successive EFL Cup final after a disastrous showing against Southampton in the first leg, illustrates just how well Karius performed in midweek.
Last January, talk centred on what Klopp was going to do in his first transfer window. Steven Caulker was the sole arrival on loan, and Liverpool were not going to stretch their budget for Shakhtar Donetsk star Alex Teixeira. That was that, but Liverpool still reached two major finals with the players Klopp inherited. This season, without European football, the squad is tighter and resembles more of what Klopp wants. Most of the squad is populated by players who helped Liverpool reach the EFL Cup and Europa League finals last season.
Liverpool need another player in attack. Not just to fill in for Mané during his time away at the Africa Cup of Nations, but to give Klopp three players for two positions. Could there also be a preference for a player younger than Coutinho or Mané with room to develop? Just as 21-year-old Divock Origi can be counted on in attack from the start or the bench while developing his game, Christian Pulisic at 18 and Julian Brandt at 20 could do the same.
The problem, though, is that both are unavailable right now. If Liverpool remain in a strong position by the time Mané returns next month, the fixture schedule and run-in wouldn't be anywhere as punishing as December or January. What these two months have shown is that this squad needs more quality players for progress to continue next season. If that cannot be addressed now, Liverpool would, in theory, only need to find solutions for about a month before looking at bringing in the right players in the summer.
“If you tell us that the right player is now available for us, we would do it of course,” said Klopp. “But I’m 100 per cent convinced that the things you do in the winter, you should only do when you would do it in the summer too. Everything else only solves the problem for a second, and a few days later you have another problem.
“We cannot get any player – this team is too strong, this squad is too strong. We need players to make us better. Of course, sometimes in a season you have harder moments. We have not been that lucky with injuries, important players in the wrong moment. That didn’t help.
“But we have to go through, and I’m sure if we would have had more players from the beginning of the season, we [wouldn’t] have had the success until now – because it’s all about the group and this group is really good together.
“Of course, there are different ways you can plan a season; we had no [European] football this season and we couldn’t ignore this fact. But, for sure, a lot of things will happen in the summer to strengthen our squad. But in this moment, if there’s the right player and we can get him, we will do it. If not, it makes no sense.”
Chelsea seem to be having a little bit of a problem with Diego Costa, but Antonio Conte doesn't trust a player signed for £33 million to start a single Premier League game. Michu Batshuayi is 23 with over 200 career appearances, hardly an inexperienced pup. Liverpool aren't always going to get it right in the transfer window, but stepping in for Coutinho and Mané is no easy task.