Kieran Davies gives a mid-term assessment of a manager and club chasing the prospect of history.
The Germans have a saying, ‘wer zuletzt lacht, lacht am besten!’ Jurgen Klopp has the opportunity to ensure that never a truer word be said this season. Loosely translated it means, ‘he who laughs last, laughs longest’ or ‘minor successes or failures along the way are of no significance – the person who is ultimately triumphant is the only real winner’. The latter not having the same ring to it but definitely sounding how the Germans would translate it. We are at the halfway point in the season and this is the perfect time for the Liverpool manager to take stock of their situation, while there is a transfer window open. The worst thing he could do would be to believe the hype he hears about his own team. The first half of the season was nearly perfect in every way, but he cannot guarantee his key players or ‘wunderwaffe’ will be able to perform at that level every week or stay fit for the duration. If Klopp is able to put his strongest eleven out every week then they should win the league providing the performance levels are identical to what we have witnessed so far.
Outside of his first-choice players, some of the cover he has is simply not good enough. This has been highlighted in their last two games. Joe Gomez has had a fantastic season and has earned his starting berth alongside Van Dijk but currently is out injured. Lovren and Matip are well below par and would not get into any of the sides of the other top six teams. If Klopp wants to win this title he needs to make his back line even more impenetrable. A centre back is a must. Maybe even spending the sort of money he spent on his talisman centre back. Another option would be to trigger the £25m release clause of Toby Alderweireld. Now is not the time for sentiment and holes need to be plugged. Despite the signing of Naby Keita, central midfield lacks creativity and flair. Wijnaldum has been excellent this term, Milner in patches has rolled back the years and Fabinho is starting to find his stride in the Premier League but these are all defence minded midfielders.
Even more so with club captain Jordan Henderson. I have never seen a footballer play so many sideways and backwards passes in a football game, particularly when you think how Liverpool have bossed the majority of their games this season. Over time, Keita will hopefully blossom into the player he was showing the form of in the Bundesliga, but it may take a season or two. With Oxlade-Chamberlain still out injured, did Liverpool miss a trick not going in for the soon to be free agent, Aaron Ramsey? The one tricky thing with this transfer window is finding players good enough for your needs who haven’t already played in the Champions League this season, a much rarer gem. Ramsey ticked this box and with his contract situation, would not have commanded some of the ludicrous transfer fees we are seeing nowadays. Whether there is an alternative available who Klopp fancies in January is another thing.
Aside from Roberto Firmino, Klopp has been inclined to play Mo Salah up front as an alternative. Origi will no doubt forever have cult status after his added time winner against Everton, but a return of two goals so far this season is not good enough. As with his striking counterpart, Sturridge scored a big goal at Stamford Bridge to earn a point but has contributed little other than this. Having robbed Bournemouth of £19m for Dominic Solanke, there is a need to strengthen in that area to take some of the pressure off Firmino/Salah/Mane. The rumour mill talks of Timo Werner, whether Liverpool could prize him away from Leipzig is the hard part. In the FA Cup defeat to Wolves, Jurgen Klopp did blood a lot of youngsters which is very positive to see. However, if he thinks there is adequate talent coming through the academy to bridge that gap, he may need to think again. While I would like to see your Brewster’s, Woodburn’s and Wilson’s added to the first team squad, they don’t need the pressure of that void to fill this season.
The Liverpool squad has more depth currently than it has had in some years, even more so if it wasn’t for injuries. This is why they are actually in a genuine title challenge so far this season. To win the league, as once said by Guardiola, you need two players in every position. In each position, both players need to be good enough to win you the title, this is where Klopp’s squad falls short in some areas. This is the difference between just setting yourself the goal of attaining Champions League qualification and actually becoming champions. In previous years, fans could never have dreamed of having £50m players come off the bench, this is massive progress. Klopp has invested heavily and wisely in the squad he has built but the club needs to back him this month if they want to put their Premier League demon to bed.
Some of the views of this mid-term assessment may seem negative given Liverpool’s position in the league table. The prize is priceless to the Anfield outfit and their fans. The coveted trophy they have yet to win under its current guise. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Because of this, Klopp needs to be harsh to ensure that his armoury is fully fitted for the battles ahead. It is better to be over-blessed with talent than be left ruing players who have let you down come the end of the season. Given the foundation they have to build on in the second half of the season, a lot of pressure will be on the German manager. While his Liverpool project is starting to blossom, the facts are that he has not yet managed to get his team over that final hurdle. ‘Always the bridesmaid and never the bride’ would be a suitable mantra for his tenure thus far.