The transfer circus has left town, the first international window is out of the way and we’ve had a handful of club games to whet the appetite for the season ahead. The board is set but at Anfield, yet again, there appears to be a couple of pieces missing.
The number one target, Virgil Van Dijk, was chatted up then self-sabotaged in an embarrassing amateurish episode. We got Naby Keita’s number with a promise he’ll be ours next time and alleged late flirtations with Thomas Lemar came to nothing, leaving the club stranded on the dancefloor at the end of the night with nobody to pull, I mean sign.
There are positives to be taken though. Mohammed Salah looks a shrewd signing and has increased Klopp’s attacking options from last season. Eyebrows were raised at the departure of Divock Origi on loan but there are plentiful options for the number nine position. Firmino is clearly number one, a fit again Daniel Sturridge a strong second option and Dominic Solanke has made a promising start to his Liverpool career. Salah and Mane can both slot in as the main striker too and with eight goals in the last two fixtures v Hoffenheim and Arsenal, scoring goals doesn’t look like something we need to worry too much about. Origi had failed to kick on and seemed to struggle to fit into Klopp’s system. A season on loan playing regular football will hopefully do him the world of good.
The signing of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, although a little underwhelming, also gives Klopp extra options in midfield. Grujic is also fit again and James Milner will be back in midfield this season. Ben Woodburn is improving all the time too so there are multiple options for Liverpool in the middle of the park. The quality of those options is what worries me. Milner is a good squad player but I wouldn’t want him starting too many important games. Grujic still has to prove he is good enough. Wijnaldum has had a poor start to the season. He seems to me to lack a bit of belief. Always looking to play the easy ball and very rarely takes responsibility. He needs to improve quickly or he will lose his place. Emre Can on the other hand has started the season very well. He was another I was a little worried about but if he can maintain his early season form then a midfield of Henderson and Can with Coutinho just in front has a lot of potential. If any of those three get injured though…
Oxlade-Chamberlain chose Liverpool because he wanted to play in central midfield we are told. He has only just turned 24 but has failed to kick on to be the player many thought he might be when he was younger. Arsenal fans seem pretty happy with the deal they got. There is plenty of potential there still however. Klopp will hopefully be able to bring him on to the next level. He has all the physical attributes we need, pace, strength and power and his stats have started to pick up with seven assists for Arsenal last season in just sixteen starts. Chamberlain has had his fair share of injuries and has never started more than seventeen premier league games in a season which is obviously a little worrying. On the other hand, everyone at Arsenal seems to be plagued by injuries so maybe a fresh start with different training techniques and recovery periods might be just what he needs. We shall see. Klopp also has the options of using him in wide positions in the front three. It’s hard to argue the squad is not stronger with Chamberlain in it and the fact that Arsenal were willing to pay him £180k a week and that Chelsea wanted him too, suggests there must be something there.
The biggest worry for nearly all Liverpool fans is the defence. I’d speculate that 90 odd percent of fans think we should have added a centre back and just about every pundit out there would agree with that. Not Klopp though. Van Dijk would have been a fantastic signing, his style suits us down to the ground. When it became clear we weren’t going to be able to get him though, I just cannot understand how we could not identify a single backup target? The Matip/Lovren partnership has shown a lot of promise and if they both stay fit the entire season then who knows. But what, if like last season, they don’t stay fit? They missed seventeen games between them last season. If that happens this time out then that means that Ragnar Klavan will start at least seventeen games! Klopp might, very unconvincingly, argue that there were no better centre backs available than Matip or Lovren this summer, but you cannot tell me there wasn’t one better than Klavan out there? We are threadbare in this area. After Klavan we have just Joe Gomez, who is currently helping out cover at right back and is just 20 years old. This vulnerability at the centre of our defence will almost certainly be what prevents us from having a successful season if things turn sour. Klopp is asking us to take a big leap of faith on this one.
Another big positive is that Phillipe Coutinho is still at the club. He might well leave next summer, so be it. For now though, he is ours for another season. He could be the crucial ingredient. Coutinho supplying through balls for Mane and Salah and linking up with Firmino is enough to give any defence in the country nightmares. He has been left out of Saturday’s squad but we will see him back in action soon enough. I don’t think many fans will hold it against him. Barcelona would tempt any player on the planet. He might have handled it a little better but he didn’t burn any bridges.
It was a very strange transfer window all round and it shouldn’t be underestimated how difficult it was. For the first time that I can remember, clubs were turning around to their players and telling them they were going nowhere. It happened time and time again. Coutinho, Costa, Keita, Van Dijk, Mahrez, Sanchez. Ousmane Dembele is the only one I can think of who managed to force a move through. Neymar’s release clause was met so that’s a little different. It will be interesting to see how this pans out going forward. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more players demanding release clauses in their contracts, as Emre Can is apparently doing. Now that the Premier league has voted to close the transfer window before the season starts, release clauses could prove very problematic for clubs. With the windows of other leagues still open, a scenario will exist where a La Liga club might come in on the last day of the English window and meet a player’s release clause, giving their club no chance to replace them. It could get a bit messy in the short term.
So, whilst many reds are disappointed with the window we have had, plenty of other clubs are in the same boat. I don’t think you’ll find many Arsenal, Tottenham or Chelsea fans who are particularly happy with their business. The two Manchester clubs appear to have strengthened the most although we should all be grateful that City missed out on Sanchez as that could have been game over.
Bar a blip at Watford, we’ve had a reasonably good start to the season. I’m not going to get too carried away with the Arsenal result as although we played well, Arsenal were awful, Wenger still getting away with it, ha! Champions league football has been secured and the draw has been kind. It’s important we get off to a good start at home to Sevilla next week then away at Spartak on match day two. After that the fixtures either side of Champions League games start to get tricky. Maribor away is sandwiched in between United and Spurs. I’d sack that one off and send a weak side out there but we can only really do that if we’ve had a good start. Sevilla away is just before we play Chelsea and Spartak at home is just before the derby. Klopp is going to have to be careful how he uses his squad.
This could be a memorable season, I just hope he’s right about the defence. This was the last line I wrote for this article when I wrote it on Friday. Unfortunately, the capitulation at City has only reinforced what we have all been thinking with regards to the defence. I was amazed to see Klavan’s name on the team sheet and Lovren on the bench. The reasoning was basically that Lovren was a bit tired after the international fixtures?!? Really? Probably our toughest league fixture of the season and you choose to rest a first choice centre back? Extremely worrying from Klopp, extremely worrying reaction from the players to going down to ten men. It was a yellow rather than a red in my opinion but I can understand why the ref gave it. Mane needs to get on top of this reckless streak that surfaces from time to time, he’s been sent off four times now in his relatively short career. Hopefully yesterday was a wake up call for Klopp and we won’t see too much more of Ragnar Klavan bar emergencies. A centre back must be signed in January. Hopefully it won’t be too late.
About the author: Carl Rogan is a former football odds compiler and trader for a number of major bookmakers. As a scout he has written next opponent reports for Preston, Carlisle and other clubs in the North West. Carl lives in London and when he’s not covering games he is a regular at Anfield.
You can follow Carl on twitter at @crogan1979