The premier league kicks off its 25th season on Friday night after a long and boring summer bereft of a major tournament. The fact that a club the size of Liverpool has still not managed to win the title in this new guise is quite incredible. Each year around this time Liverpool fans pray to the football gods for this drought to end, hoping that this will be our year at last.
We go into this particular season with hope in our hearts but doubt in our minds. It has been yet another underwhelming transfer window, so far at least. Three new signings have arrived yet Huddersfield Town have spent more money. The club flirted with big money signings in Virgil van Dijk and Naby Keita but neither have arrived. Jurgen Klopp is making ominous noises in the media about being satisfied with his defence and not wanting to settle for second best in the market. There are not even five better centre backs in world football than Joel Matip and Dejan Lovren, apparently. He is playing a very dangerous game. The owners appear to be backing him. Had offers for Van Dijk and Keita been accepted, the club would have laid out nearly £200 million in transfer fees by now. If no other signings materialise and Liverpool flatter to deceive again this season, there is but one person who will be held accountable.
Realistically, I think Virgil van Dijk will be a Liverpool player by the end of this transfer window. Whether any further signings follow I am not so sure. If you were to offer most Liverpool fans the prospect of Van Dijk signing and Coutinho staying then I think the majority would be happy enough with that. I am quietly confident that both will happen.
Coutinho has intimated his desire to play for Barcelona if an agreement can be reached but seems content to stay otherwise. Klopp has put all his eggs in one basket and declared that Coutinho is not for sale. The owners appear to be on the same page and reliable sources around the club seem fairly convinced he will stay. For the club to climb down now, even for a ridiculous bid in the region of £130-140million, would be disastrous for the clubs standing and reputation.
This is not about the money. The club is making a statement. Liverpool are back in the champions league with an expanded Anfield and a sought after manager. In previous windows they have let the likes of Torres, Suarez and Sterling go and struggled to replace them. No more. This is Anfield! RB Leipzig are doing the same with Keita and fair play to them. It’s not about the money, they are making a statement that they are now a big club and not one that needs to sell their best players.
If Liverpool do acquire Van Dijk and keep Coutinho I think we have a very good chance of winning the league. I think we’d have an even better chance if we brought in another central midfielder which makes me uneasy about this policy of not settling for second best. I can understand the thinking and we’ve been burnt in the past by signing second or third choice targets, but the squad still looks to be lacking in size to me and central midfield is an area that could definitely be strengthened.
A top quality defensive midfielder would make a huge difference in my opinion. I cannot accept that there is not another midfielder out there that would not strengthen our squad. There is something very wrong with our scouting department if that is what they are saying. Lucas and Stewart have departed, two players who were clearly not good enough, whilst Henderson seems to pick up a new injury every season. Grujic is now fit again and showing a lot of promise and it seems Milner is moving back into central midfield. Liverpool still look short of quality in this area though. Can and Wijnaldum are good players on their day but both lack consistency and need to step up another level. A little bit of extra quality could make all the difference here.
The three signings Liverpool have made at the time of writing look like good additions. I was a little underwhelmed when I first heard about Mohamed Salah but on reflection I think he’ll be a good signing. He has great pace which is one ingredient we needed to add and he contributed 15 goals and 11 assists in Seria A last season. The fact that he failed to establish himself at Chelsea doesn’t particularly worry me as neither did De Bruyne or Lukaku.
The fee looked a little excessive at the start of the summer but now looks like shrewd business with goalkeepers costing £30million plus in the premier league these days. He will add goals to a team that was already fairly proficient in this area. Dominic Solanke was bought as one for the future but his performances in pre-season already have him rivalling Divock Origi for a first team place allegedly.
Andrew Robertson is perhaps the least popular signing so far and I have a bad feeling we’ve signed the wrong Scottish left back (Check out Kieran Tierney’s goal for Celtic v Kilmarnock below). Nevertheless, contacts of mine in Scotland who have watched his progress from an early age speak positively about him and he will surely offer more pace and attacking threat than Milner did. I have been away on holiday for the last two weeks so have seen very little of pre-season.
I hear that Alberto Morneo has performed very well though and seems to have salvaged his Liverpool career. I am quite surprised by this as Klopp seemed to have completely written him off barely using him last season. He has been a liability defensively but maybe Klopp has worked with him on the training ground and managed to improve him. We shall see.
If Liverpool do not make any further signings I cannot see how this squad wins the league. A top defensive signing is crucial to remedy a weakness obvious from the start of last season. Slow progress has been made under Klopp. Clean sheets were kept in five of the last six fixtures at the end of last season. Matip partnered Lovren in each of these games and they look a promising partnership. Both regularly picked up injuries last season though and Van Dijk would be an improvement on both. Klavan is not good enough.
Not signing a new keeper is another gamble. I am not a fan of Mignolet. To be fair to him, he was solid the second half of last season and didn’t do a lot wrong. We have yet to see him maintain this sort of form over a whole season however. Most fans seem to be of the opinion that he has earned a second chance. In my opinion, these fans are being generous. There are definitely a number of better goalkeepers out there. I think Klopp wants to give Karius another chance at some point so this has possibly influenced this decision. I am still hopeful that Karius can kick on to the next level now he has had a year to acclimatise.
In the last article I wrote on Liverpool towards the end of last season, I highlighted pace, experience and aggression as three attributes the squad was lacking. The three summer signings and bringing Moreno back in from the cold will go a long way in addressing the pace problem. Experience and aggression still look to be lacking however. With Lucas departing and Manninger retiring, Milner and Klavan are the only players over 30 and they will hopefully be reduced to squad players this season. Yes, everyone is now a year older which will obviously help. There is some experience there in 29 year old Mignolet and Lallana, 28 year old Lovren and 27 year old Henderson, but a little more wouldn’t hurt. A Gary McAllister or Jari Litmanen type signing wouldn’t be a bad idea if one can be found. Aggression again looks like something we are going to be lacking.
Liverpool fans are being asked to put a lot of faith in Klopp and his ability to bring players on to the next level. Every club would love to be able to sign younger cheaper players and develop them but this is easier said than done. Arsene Wenger is a prime example of this not working as a sole strategy. Unfortunately, money talks in football and reds fans would be a lot more comfortable if Klopp started spending some of what is clearly a sizeable budget. He said himself last season that we needed a bigger squad now that we have champions league football to look forward to. The likes of Sakho, Markovic, Flanagan and Ings are all likely to depart before the end of the window either permanently or on loan. This will further swell the transfer kitty and it’s hard to envisage one or two more additions not coming in.
There are too many question marks hanging over Liverpool at the moment. Will the goalkeepers be good enough? Has the left back problem been fixed? Do we need another centre back? How much can the very promising crop of youngsters (Trent Arnold, Gomez, Grujic, Woodburn, Kent, Solanke) contribute this season? Can we keep Coutinho? Can Sturridge stay fit? Has Klopp developed a plan B over the summer? Positive outcomes to these questions could see Liverpool go very close to ending the title drought. New signings could remove a number of these questions altogether and give us that little extra we appear to need.
The Premier league has long claimed to be the best league in the world. For a long time, I didn’t agree with that but I don’t think there is any doubt any-more. There are five or six top sides who could potentially win the league this year. Everton have strengthened considerably and I expect West Ham to be a lot stronger this season too. Man City are clear favourites for me. They have a great manager and have invested heavily again. Finishing above them will be difficult. Man United will also be much improved this season although I am still confident of finishing above them. Chelsea will again also be strong but defending Premier league titles is a very difficult art to master. I expect Tottenham to finish outside the top four this season with the move to Wembley sure to cause them problems and there has been a lack of any new signings to date. I can’t take Arsenal seriously whilst they persist with Wenger.
If Liverpool fail to make any further additions Klopp is going to heap a lot of early pressure on himself. Failure to challenge will have fans screaming on the phone ins about another failed transfer window and one man alone will be accountable. If we sign a player for big money and he doesn’t turn out to be good enough, well at least we tried. I have been around long enough now to realise that changing managers is not the answer, especially when you have one as good as Klopp. As fans, we have to trust him and back him. I am hopeful the new signings will arrive and that we will have a good season. This is Anfield!
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.