This was supposed to be the summer Liverpool really kicked on and spent big to consolidate a top four finish after last season.
With reports that a spending spree would take place in the region of £200 million and with the potential of Champions League football on offer (pending qualification in the play-off), hopes were raised at the prospect of big names arriving to bolster Liverpool’s squad this summer.
With less than a week to go until the opening Premier League game against Watford, Liverpool have signed just three players.
Only one of those- Mohamed Salah – represents a major upgrade to last season’s starting XI, while Dominic Solanke and Andy Robertson are solid additions to the squad with plenty of potential for the future.
Granted, Salah has been outstanding in pre-season and already looks like a superb piece of business for an initial £36.9 million, while Solanke has surpassed expectations and will be a very useful addition.
Robertson looks a good fit as well and has plenty of natural talent for Jurgen Klopp to work with. For an initial £8 million, he’s also a shrewd signing.
Nonetheless, this alone isn’t enough. Not nearly enough. Prior to the transfer window opening, ideally, we’d have been looking at four or five major first team additions this summer. So far, we have just one.
📰 CONFIRMED: Liverpool confirm that Lucas Leiva has completed his move to Lazio for a rumoured fee of around £5m.https://t.co/lUUbbbRSm7
— Anfield HQ (@AnfieldHQ) July 18, 2017
Meanwhile, Lucas Leiva and Kevin Stewart have both left without being replaced. While both sales made sense, it still means two fewer options for Klopp with the added European fixtures to contend with this season.
The absolute main priority for this transfer window was signing a top class centre back in order to address a defence which has constantly undermined Liverpool’s attempts at winning silverware ever since Rafa Benitez left the club.
At present, we’re in a situation where we have exactly the same centre back options as we had last season, minus Lucas.
While the partnership of Dejan Lovren and Joel Matip showed promise last season, losing just once together in the league, both are unreliable in terms of fitness and there are still question marks over their individual quality, particularly with Lovren, who, despite making significant improvements, is still prone to a costly lapse in concentration.
The drop-off in quality beyond the first choice pairing to Ragnar Klavan and a still-developing Joe Gomez is far too big and the current situation means just one injury to either first choice player means Klavan and Gomez become automatic starters.
If Liverpool aspire to compete for the league title and in Europe this season, that’s not going to be good enough.
In midfield, Adam Lallana’s recent injury highlighted how quickly the options start to look thin in that department, especially when you factor in the added fixtures. Jordan Henderson is still far from certain to be fit all season, given his heel problems over the past two years.
Again, rotation will be necessary and a couple of injuries to key players suddenly heaps pressure on the likes of Marko Grujic and Ben Woodburn to step up and deliver.
Liverpool have spent all summer so far chasing two prime targets to address those critical positions in need of strengthening, with the pursuits of Naby Keita and Virgil Van Dijk.
The Keita saga appears to be dead in the water after Leipzig simply refused to sell – although there is a debate to be had as to whether £66 million is really ambitious enough for a player of his quality in the current hyper-inflated market.
The prospect of securing him next summer when his £48 million release clause seems far-fetched, to say the least.
Regarding Van Dijk, the situation has hardly changed all summer since the initial fiasco around the apology letter and Southampton’s furious reaction to the player deciding his future lies at Liverpool.
He still wants the move and he’s still refusing to play or train with Southampton, while the club simply will not budge and sanction a sale- especially not to Liverpool.
Whether that situation changes in the coming days or weeks remains to be seen, but all the noises coming from reliable journalists suggest that there will be no alternatives to Keita or Van Dijk, because Klopp only wants those particular players and will not settle for second best.
If you take the manager’s comments after the Athletic Bilbao game at face value (which isn’t always a good idea), the suggestion that Alberto Moreno might hang around and compete with Robertson at left back, effectively freeing up James Milner to move back into midfield, may well suggest that Klopp will be creative with what he already has, rather than pursuing alternatives if he cannot land his top targets.
While Liverpool should by no means spend money for the sake of it, there is an element of pragmatism which surely has to come in here. Van Dijk and Keita are not the only players out there who would significantly improve Liverpool’s squad this season.
To pin all hopes on signing them, without any contingency plan, is a risk we cannot afford to take- particularly with the centre back position, where upgrading is a necessity.
With a little over three weeks until the window closes, some tough decisions must surely be made soon. If there is no progress on Van Dijk, there has to come a point when the club move on to alternative targets- whether that be Kalidou Koulibaly, Stefan de Vrij or another name we haven’t seen linked so far.
Of course, among all this, Klopp knows far more about his squad than any fans and by no means should he abandon his principles just to appease supporters by signing players.
However, perhaps the one criticism which could be leveled his way is being too stubborn at times, and unwilling to compromise when he can’t find the perfect signing.
Take a look at the business of Liverpool’s rivals this summer and there are plenty of instances where clubs haven’t been able to land their top targets, only to swiftly move on to alternatives. Pep Guardiola failed in a bid to sign Dani Alves before paying up for Kyle Walker.
Man United had their sights set on Antoine Griezmann before moving quickly on to Romelu Lukaku when they realised Atletico Madrid would not sell their star man. Meanwhile, Chelsea had earmarked Lukaku as their priority striker target, but then settled for Alvaro Morata once the Belgian was snapped up by United.
Liverpool cannot afford to go without further signings after spending all summer pursuing two players without any backup options. At present, the squad is blessed with plenty of attacking quality and will produce plenty of attractive football this season with goals aplenty.
However, the midfield and defence are understocked, both in terms of quality and depth, in order to cope with the added demands of midweek European fixtures.
We are entering a crucial few weeks which will go a long way to defining whether Liverpool face an almighty scrap for another top four finish, or whether they can kick on to another level and mount a serious challenge, both domestically and in Europe.
If the top targets cannot be attained, a contingency plan must be put into action. Further additions are absolutely essential.