After a domestic double, a narrow and slightly unlucky defeat in the Champions League final, and an extremely close title race that went down to the final 15 minutes or so of the final day of the season, it’s hard to argue that Liverpool need to make sweeping changes rather than simply enjoy a little more luck on their side to go a step further in the new campaign.
And yet, there’s one glaring weakness in Jurgen Klopp’s squad that has remained unaddressed for years now, with little sign that the Reds are about to pull something big out of the bag late on in this summer’s transfer window.
In fairness, there are few clubs who could easily replace the legendary Steven Gerrard, but it’s starting to feel like a very long time now since Liverpool had anyone who offered anything even close to the consistent double figure goal tallies the former LFC captain brought to the team. And just imagine the potential of Klopp’s team if they had that extra dimension.
Last season’s stats show quite how big the gap is between Liverpool’s goal-scorers up front, and, well, everyone else in the squad. See below for the numbers, courtesy of Wikipedia…
“I think the way Jurgen Klopp sets his teams up, it’s not really the job of the central midfield to break forward, get in the box and score goals. They rely heavily on that front three,” former Manchester United midfielder Luke Chadwick tells CaughtOffside.
“I can’t imagine that Liverpool will change their style a huge amount. The central midfield do a fantastic job for them, they may not be headline-grabbers in terms of being goal-scoring midfielders in the mold of Steven Gerrard, but it’s a style that’s worked well for them. The midfield will be expected to chip in with a goal here and there, but I’m not sure he’ll be concerned about signing someone who can get 10-15 goals from that position.
“That’s Klopp’s style – the front three score the goals, and they’ve done that with tremendous numbers in the last few years.”
Which is fine, except Sadio Mane has just left for Bayern Munich, and even Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi contributed 16 goals in all competitions between them last season, and have also moved on. There will undoubtedly be an expectation that Luis Diaz and Darwin Nunez can make up for that, but would it be such a bad idea to have another secret weapon to call upon if it doesn’t work out for the South American duo?
Farrell Keeling of Liverpool FC blog Empire of the Kop is not worried, however. “There’s a feeling amongst the majority of fans that it’s been a successful first transfer window for Julian Ward,” he says.
And why would fans think any differently? This kind of approach has worked well for Klopp so far, and, as ever, Farrell expects one or two slightly unexpected gems could yet step up for Liverpool, perhaps even giving them that new dimension in midfield.
“The one signing Liverpool arguably had to make beyond a replacement for Sadio Mane was an addition in midfield,” he says. “There’s a bit of debate around whether or not the club succeeded in that area. Fabio Carvalho’s long-term future is deemed to lie within the middle of the park, though it’s been reported that he’ll be supporting the forward line this term.
“Still, I could see a player like Carvalho or Harvey Elliott chipping in with a few more efforts than is the norm for Liverpool midfielder, especially if Klopp tinkers with including a number ten in his team.”
We know, however, that Liverpool tried to sign a midfielder earlier this summer. Aurelien Tchouameni was a target for the Merseyside giants while he was at Monaco, and they’ve also touched base with Jude Bellingham, even if that deal is one that will most likely have to wait until 2023.
Clubs, and indeed their loyal fans, will always try to spin things to suit their agenda – if Liverpool had been able to land Tchouameni or Bellingham, you can bet we’d be hearing all about the quality they’d add to Klopp’s midfield, but with the club missing out on these targets, the official line is that a midfielder is not needed.
Of course, if Liverpool hit the ground running in the new season, it will once again mean that Klopp called it right – Nunez and Diaz will revitalize an already excellent attack, and a lack of goals from midfield won’t be an issue. And yet, there’s the lingering feeling that this could finally be the year Liverpool get found out.
The best clubs never rest on their laurels, and must be open to new ideas. Sir Alex Ferguson brought in various different assistant managers over the years to keep things fresh. By contrast, Arsene Wenger ruined his Arsenal legacy by being too stubborn and never replicating the early success he enjoyed at Highbury.
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If Klopp is to go down as one of the greats, he needs to look at what went wrong last season – even if it was only a few small details right at the end that prevented what was so nearly an historic quadruple.
With Arsenal and Tottenham strengthening so much, and Manchester United looking like being at the start of a promising new era under Erik ten Hag, things might not be as easy for Liverpool as they were last season. Of course, Manchester City have improved as well, but they’re now far from the only team to worry about.
As much as they tell themselves otherwise, Liverpool fans should be hoping to see a bit more ambition from their club in the next few weeks.