DISCLAIMER: I’m rubbish at this sort of thing, I’m normally the guy that sits behind the twitter account spouting awful opinions that make no sense, now I’ve decided to spout those opinions in one long piece. Any negative comments direct them to @OleOleMax on Twitter, I mean he’s the moron who let this piece be published, right?
Boy things changed quickly. Liverpool went into 2017 on the back of a victory against Manchester City, and 2nd in the Premier League. Since that City game, Liverpool have been knocked out of both cup competitions and have slumped to 5th, winning just one of their seven league games, including defeats to relegation threatened Swansea and Hull.
The manner of this collapse coincided with Sadio Mane’s departure to the African Cup of Nations, something we knew about when we paid the £30m to Southampton in the summer. With Mane in the team, Liverpool’s win percentage is 61%, more worryingly, we haven’t won a Premier League match when Mane hasn’t played (D1 L2). So in the summer, it’s integral that there’s a backup – yes there’s no African Cup of Nations next season but there could be an injury. It looks very much like Julian Brandt of Bayer Leverkusen could be the person to provide that depth, but it could also provide a chance for Lazar Markovic to resurrect his Anfield career. Liverpool can’t go into the summer and gut the squad again, if we keep doing it we’ll be left in a perpetual state of transition. Players like Markovic could be important; yes they’re not going to play every week, but they provide that option off the bench or covering for an injury. They might not play 38 games, but we’ll need them to play 20 or so.
Gutting the squad, as I’ve said, is counter-productive. All you have to do is look at the bench versus Leicester. Forget how insipid the first team’s performance was; we had Ben Woodburn, Kevin Stewart and Trent Alexander-Arnold all waiting to make an impact. If you’re wanting to challenge for the top 4, that’s not even close to being good enough, and that’s just the bench. The fact we’ve had to play Lucas and Milner in defence this season means recruitment last season wasn’t close to being good enough, and we can’t make that same mistake twice. For me, there are only five or six players that will leave in the summer. For starters, Lucas is out of contract and that doesn’t look like it’ll be renewed, whilst Daniel Sturridge is looking increasingly likely to be offloaded in the summer. Mignolet could well follow, along with Mamadou Sakho and Ragnar Klavan.
The rest of the squad should be untouched. You may shout at me ‘Lovren and Moreno are sh*t, they should be nowhere near the squad.’ That’s not an opinion I agree with. I do agree that we need a new first choice centre back to partner Joel Matip, but you need two backups, we have one in Joe Gomez, where’s the other? Lovren’s fine if you want him to be there if there’s a problem with someone else, he might not like that, but that’s what I see his level being. Again, with Moreno, James Milner will not be our left back this season, it’s an area I expect Klopp will address with urgency; but I don’t see him signing two. The Milner at left back bubble has burst and it burst some time ago. I fully agree with Klopp’s assertion that training players is better than buying them, but that’s only the case when they actually play in that positon. It’s one of the criticisms I have of Klopp, playing square pegs in round holes is okay in the odd game, but when you become reliant on it, you’re only papering over cracks. When we played Crystal Palace in October, Moreno started at left back and we produced one of our most exciting and incisive attacking displays. Two Lovren errors allowed Palace in the game but in truth, we battered them. Moreno provided incredible width on the left and was always an option, assisting Emre Can for the opening goal and hitting the post. It was an incredibly disciplined display (by Moreno’s standard) but he never got the chance to do it consistently again, and Milner’s painfully one dimensional performances continued. I’ve got nothing against what Milner’s done this season, he’s a midfielder who’s been shoved at left back and he’s performed admirably, but that’s not good enough if you want to be challenging for the Premier League title.
Moving on: Goalkeeper. Fu**ing hell this has been the thorn in our side for the last 5 years. People, Simon Mignolet is not good enough. Loris Karius was dropped for making mistakes Mignolet has been making for the last four years. It’s a painful truth for some, but Karius is better than Mignolet. In all competitions, Karius has kept the same amount of clean sheets as Mignolet despite playing three fewer games. Clean sheets is a slightly primitive way of comparing keepers, so let’s go deeper. Loris Karius has conceded 11 in 10 Premier League games, conceding 1.1 goals a game on average. Compare that to Mignolet who has conceded 22 in 16 at an average of 1.38 goals per game. It doesn’t seem much of a difference, but over a 38 game season, that’s 41.8 for Karius and 52.4 for Mignolet. I’ll admit that keepers need a defence to protect them, and when our get all scared themselves it often leaves the keeper helpless, something that happened continuously under Karius, Lovren against Crystal Palace for instance. Karius has conceded more than one goal in a game where he has conceded in 40% of matches; when Mignolet concedes, he concedes 2 or more 46% of the time. They’re small differences but they are differences that stack up in Karius’ favour. Mignolet’s had his moments saves from Son Heung-min and Diego Costa in big games spring to mind, but the same can be said for Karius. If it wasn’t for him, Southampton wouldn’t have needed a second leg to reach the EFL Cup final. Whether Klopp decides to sell Mignolet and replace him is obviously up to him, but he may decide to go with a Karius/Ward goalkeeping partnership next season.
Jurgen Klopp has recently confirmed that Daniel Sturridge’s future will be discussed at the end of the season, with many expecting him to leave the club. Whilst his magical first 18 months will never be forgotten, the rest of his Liverpool career will ultimately define him. It’s clear Klopp prefers Firmino upfront when both are fit due to the Brazilian’s superior work-rate. They’re different types of strikers, Firmino relies on bringing others into play and he’s generally more creative, whilst Sturridge relies on his pace and awareness to get behind defenders.
As you can see, Firmino is more defensively involved, intercepting and tackling more. Sturridge is clearly lacking in these departments, and is worse on the ball, attempting and completing less passes. He attempts more shots per 90 minutes than Firmino but has the same output in terms of goals. However, 0.3 goals per 90 minutes (1 goal in 3 games) is not enough for either of them. Liverpool need a striker that’s going to hit 25 goals. Chelsea have Costa, Spurs have Kane, City have Aguero and United have Ibrahimovic. Liverpool don’t have that outlet. Sadio Mane is the current top scorer with 11, ideally the front three need to all have a consistent scoring level. If Liverpool do sell Sturridge as expected, then I can see a switch back to the 4-2-3-1 that worked well towards the end of last season; with Mane, Firmino and Coutinho in behind a new striker. Again, I’m not going to speculate on who that new striker might be because I have no idea, but I wouldn’t mind seeing someone like Andrea Belotti from Torino come, he’s hit 19 in 23 Serie A games and fits the mould of striker that Klopp’s looking for.
If there were to be a switch to a 4-2-3-1 system, the question is who sits as the midfield two? Jordan Henderson, Gini Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana have had good seasons – but I don’t see Lallana being in the first team next season. This is his only good season since he’s joined and he’s tailed off recently. Wijnaldum will definitely at least offer depth next season, I think he could work in a two but he’d need a really solid partner next to him, as a number 10 he could definitely do a job. Emre Can has had a poor season by his standards but in recent weeks he’s looked sharper, as he has seemingly recovered from a niggling injury that’s hampered him this season. It would be foolish to sell a player who only 12 months ago was dominating the midfield week in week out – I do think him and Henderson could work as a two in midfield, but I’d still want one more brought in, with Naby Keita’s name being bandied around. The switch to a 4-2-3-1 immediately brings about more depth in the squad, something that is absolutely vital.
Now we come to the most important position that needs filling: centre back. Joel Matip was doing well until his injury and AFCON fiasco. Since coming back he’s been rusty, but decidedly much better than Dejan Lovren. The long term option seems obvious with Joe Gomez returning to first team action in the New Year, but I think it would still be too soon for him to start in the Premier League consistently this season. I think we need to bring in a defender who is incredibly experienced and of a top level, someone who can help Gomez on the pitch and develop. However, Klopp in recent years has tended to trust youngsters, with Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic both playing before they were 20. Liverpool just need a calming influence in the squad, very few of the players have won trophies and that knowhow is required, and a strong defence would allow Karius to pick up some much-needed clean sheets. In the past three seasons, Liverpool have conceded 50, 48 and 50 in the Premier League respectively, that’s laughable. To win the Premier League you arguably need to concede less than a goal a game (38), in fact, only in 3 of the past 24 seasons has a team won the league whilst conceding on average more than a goal a game, whilst Chelsea are on course to only concede around 27 goals this season. It’s all well and good trying to score as many as possible, but this team needs balance and it needs it quickly, If we were able to blend our excellent attacking play with a more stable defence, we could be unstoppable. Our open play defence is often very good, we limit teams to on average 8 shots per match, but we’ve conceded 33 goals, we just have an incredible amount of defensive lapses that lead to goals, and it’s something we’ve got to work on, hence an addition or two in defence.
The one word that keeps cropping up is depth. That’s the key for Liverpool in the summer. Don’t have a complete clearout, create a SQUAD of players, rather than a good 11 that covers the massive holes in the team. You may say why didn’t that happen last summer, well I think Klopp wanted to give everyone a chance after they’d had a pre-season with him, then he’d know their true capabilities. You’ve got to remember this is a piece of a very big jigsaw puzzle, maybe we needed a season of horrific inconsistency to determine who’s good enough and who isn’t. It’s a long term project that’s going to be heartbreaking, frustrating, amazing, depressing and bloody fantastic, I for one am going to enjoy the journey, and you never know, we might just do alright. Luckily, we’ve got one of the world’s best managers to oversee the process. Forza Jurgen’s Reds.