With the season wrapping up I thought I’d take an early look at the three best ways to improve the current 20 teams in England’s premier football decision. I will break it down into 20 separate articles as a series of sorts in order to keep it shorter and more manageable to read so keep an eye out!
Sign a left back – James Milner was a safe signing for Liverpool when they acquired him from Man City. He’s versatile, hard working and you know what you’re getting from him; a Ji-Sung Park of sorts. He shouldn’t be a key man but for a team looking to become successful he’s an ideal squad player.
However, that being said, he is not a left back which shows you how poor Alberto Moreno is regarded at the club that he’s been permanently ousted at the position. It also begs the question as to what has happened to the promising Joe Gomez signed from Charlton a few years ago. He suffered a serious knee injury back in 2015 and it makes sense to nurse a player back in but I’m surprised that Klopp hasn’t given him any game time. Depending on what he considers Gomez’s best position and the leap in development he takes moving into next season really decides what stance Liverpool take regarding the position.
If he is deemed a centre back or is not considered ready to start regularly then Liverpool need to invest in support at the position. Too many times have they suffered slip ups due to weakness at the back which has lowered their ceiling.
A fullback that is efficient on both ends of the pitch and with a high work rate in-sync with Klopp’s ideology would help both sure up a weakness defensively whilst also giving a great wide outlet in a system that rarely deploys natural wingers.
In terms of targets someone familiar to Klopp such as Marcel Schmelzer would be an interesting option as he provides experience, he knows how to play in a Jurgen Klopp team and his age means he’d be around long enough to enable Gomez to mature and succeed him in the position.
For more long term prospects, if they aren’t keen to place faith in Joe Gomez, there is the option of Lucas Digne who wont want to stay seated behind Jordi Alba. A different option for them is Benjamin Mendy at Monaco who could become the next Patrice Evra or finally if they want to risk being lucky at the second attempt with a Valencia player then Jose Gaya is a hot quantity on the market for teams in the hunt for left backs.
Sign a centre back – Joël Matip is a solid centre half. A lot of people pointed out the obvious that Sadio Mane was missed dramatically whilst away at the African Cup of Nations tournement, but they forget that due to eligibility issues Matip was held out from playing a fair few games; including against Manchester United. It should be mentioned that January was the month Liverpool found themselves removed from all competitions and their worst form of the season.
In fact, once you look past Joël Matip on their squad, their remaining listed centre halves are Dejan Lovren [who has proven marginally better than fellow Southampton signing Rickie Lambert], Mamadou Sakho [loaned out and likely to be sold], Ragnar Klavan [a poor man’s Skrtel] and Joe Gomez who as mentioned above we aren’t entirely clear on his favoured/natural postion.
For a team looking to finally make the step to returning to England’s elite clubs constantly in and amongst the trophies and competing deep into Europe the level of defensive players they have is unacceptable. As mentioned in my ‘Klopp v Pochettino’ post, Klopp was brought in to both build upon the attacking success Brendan Rodgers had forged whilst slowly creating a defensive fortress but so far they seem to be getting worse. At 42 goals conceded with a few games remaining they aren’t faring much better than their previous seasons which in order they totaled 50 [15/16], 48 [14/15] etc.
They have been linked with former United academy graduate Michael Keane though I have to agree with Gary Neville. Whilst he put a good show on during his England debut, for the most part he plays in a supported/compact and defensive Burnley side where he is rarely exposed or left to defend difficult situations. Clearly that wont be the case in an attack-first Liverpool side and so £25m could be better spent elsewhere for a team that has wasted large sums on average players in recent history.
If Liverpool do secure European football and it’s looking increasingly likely then the allure of both their eccentric manager and illustrious club history should allow them to draw in bigger names and thus improve their quality. Rather than consistently raid Southampton – though a move for Virgil Van Dijk would not be a bad option – they should look for those elite talents across Europe such as Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli, Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Klopp’s previous stomping ground or the highly regarded Kostas Manolas. Any of those names partnered with Matip and book-ended with steady fullbacks would instantly reduce the pressure on those going forward to score 2-3 goals per game in order to win and improve their chances against the top 6.
Finally sign a 1st choice keeper – This was a difficult choice as I very nearly decided upon a true striker. Roberto Firmino for me is more of a false 9 whilst Daniel Sturridge has proven you can’t put any trust in his ability to stay healthy.
However, for the time being the attacking trio of Mane/Coutinho/Firmino playing the football synonymous with Jurgen Klopp teams have proven they are capable of supplying the goals required to compete. They also have Divock Origi who I think has so far been both underrated and under utilized who I think is poised to have a breakout year at some point.
Currently they have two distinctly average players in goal. When Klopp signed Lorius Karius, it was very much with the intention of replacing the mistake prone Simon Mignolet. The Belgian is an adequate shot stopper who flaps at crosses and will cost the team at least one goal every few games. Unfortunately for Liverpool, the German appeared to be a more expensive version of Mignolet and soon found himself benched.
Neither of them look to be the steady keeper Liverpool have cried out for since they let Pepe Reina leave all those years ago. Many fans leapt to Karius’ defence comparing his start to the rough beginning of De Gea’s career at Manchester United. The Spaniard however came to England as a teenager who’d yet to fill out and from a league where crossing is deemed as blasphemy thus nowhere near accustomed to the physicality of the English league. Karius joined as a 23 year old man from the German league and so his situation was a lot different; he just simply isn’t good enough.
I think Liverpool will take a long look at Joe Hart this summer whether Klopp admits it or not if Guardiola is truly so stubborn that he stands by his bizarre ostracising of the England number 1 because he’s a readily available instant and proven upgrade on their current goalkeepers. Another solid option with a potentially high ceiling in the future is Jordan Pickford who alongside Jermain Defore are the players in the Sunderland team who can hold their heads high after a miserable season. The good news for the Reds though is their relegation should lessen the price required to prise the talented young stopper away. Finally, Bernd Leno of Leverkusen would be the German stopper they initially signed 12 months ago. He’d be an expensive addition but if they keep him on Merseyside for the prime years of his career that price tag will seem minute over time, especially if he becomes an integral part of a successful side.