Fresh off only their 2nd top 4 finish since 2009, Liverpool face a critical transfer window period faced with the necessity to build on the promise of their 2016/17 campaign. Their season produced impressive form in patches, especially in its opening half, but Jurgen Klopp’s Reds will be all too aware of the need to strengthen the squad’s capacity to produce another top 4 finish at the minimum in 2017/18.
The Merseyside club will be eager to become more familiar faces at Europe’s premier table (the UEFA Champions League) than in recent years, but the competitiveness of this challenge will no doubt intensify, particularly since none of the other sides in last season’s top 6 could be expected to stay settled with their current players. This is a race you don’t necessarily win by doing something, but you’re more likely to lose if you do nothing at all.
Areas of Concern
For much of 2016/17, Liverpool’s goalscoring efforts weren’t a larger concern. Their 78 goals were the 4th best in the division, and the contribution was shared in a healthy manner across the squad, with 8 players contributing 5 goals or more. Closer inspection reveals a few narratives to address, albeit of lesser importance than other areas tactically. A few too many wins felt reliant on the individual brilliance of Philippe Coutinho and/or Sadio Mane, and their absences through injury were certainly felt harder than most. In this respect, Liverpool have already added Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah from Roma to boost the first XI, leaving a wealth of riches to call on in the front line, regardless whether it takes shape in a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 Diamond system. Klopp would also be expected to rotate far more next season given the extra fixtures in the Champions League that the Reds are hoping to add to their schedule post the European qualifier in August.
It’s in defence and midfield that Liverpool largely face their largest concerns. Liverpool still conceded more than 40 goals for the season, which in itself is not a terrible statistic. However this undermined their ability to hold onto critical points, evidenced by dropped winning positions against Bournemouth (home and away), Sunderland (away) and Crystal Palace (home). That they scored 2 goals or more against Bournemouth (twice), Sunderland, West Ham and Swansea and failed to win any of these encounters is also hardly the right message to send to the prolific attack. Such margins could have been the difference between a slim 1 point finish over Arsenal and a more concerted challenge for 2nd place with Tottenham.
So far, Liverpool look like they’ll escape the window without losing any of their critical players, though Daniel Sturridge remains a topic of uncertainty. While the striker’s injury record remains a concern, he was available for selection far more often than many cared to notice in 2016/17, and it remains to be seen if he is happy to remain in a squad role behind first choice Roberto Firmino.
Far more certain bets for departure from Merseyside include out of favour left back Alberto Moreno, and Brazilian Lucas Leiva. Moreno was not used even when James Milner appeared spent of physical steam towards the latter part of the season, and with Liverpool seemingly keen on both midfield and centre back reinforcements, it’s hard to see where Lucas may feature in the squad outside of situations of serious injury crisis or lesser competitions. Expect moves as well for out of favour defender Mamadou Sakho, forward Lazar Markovic, and fringe players Jon Flanagan and Kevin Stewart, all of whom appear to remain far from Klopp’s list following their loan spells elsewhere.
Liverpool have already addressed some of the quality and depth concerns in the front line. With the signing of Mohamed Salah and Dominic Solanke and the return of Danny Ings, the options in attacking support are likely both varied and strong enough to offer Klopp both the quality and tactical flexibility he needs. This hasn’t prevented rumours linking Liverpool with Monaco starlet Kylian Mbappe, and Dortmund talisman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, though these appear highly unlikely.
What still seems to be on the cards is the signing of Virgil Van Dijk, who appears to be well within the transfer frame despite recent dramatic exchanges between his parent club Southampton and Liverpool. The latter recently apologised in a puzzling press release for tapping up the player, but this may have been the tip of the iceberg in a situation where Liverpool were simply hoping to avoid a bidding war. The player himself was claimed to be interested in a move, and likewise Klopp apparently still considers Van Dijk as his first choice target and may well become a record signing with a fee upwards of £40m being rumoured.
Another long standing target, Naby Keita, continues to be linked to Liverpool despite Red Bull Leipzig making it clear that they have little intention to sell any of their players, especially after the club was cleared to play in next season’s Champions League despite links with Red Bull Salzburg (typically UEFA law prevents the appearance of two clubs that share ownership). While the midfielder would certainly represent a marked improvement to the first XI, perhaps it’s little surprise that interest in him appears to have cooled alongside growing interest in Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, who may see Liverpool as an opportunity to get far more game time than at the Emirates.
Finally, given Alberto Moreno’s anticipated departure, Liverpool will be keen on support to James Milner at left back. The rumour mill has linked the Reds to several options, including most recently Napoli’s Faouzi Ghoulam, Hull’s Andrew Robertson and Celtic’s Kieran Tierney. It’s likely the actual choice will be more likely a squad option as 2nd choice to Milner, rather than an outright upgrade.