Transfer deadline day: Premier League round-up
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Deadline day passed, and with it three Liverpool deals were done; contracts, however, not new signings. Jordan Henderson, Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams all penned long-term extensions on Tuesday. Otherwise at Anfield there were only outgoings with Williams, Sheyi Ojo, Luis Longstaff and Jake Cain all going out on loan.
The fact there were no arrivals, with Ibrahima Konate – announced May 28th – the only signing of the summer for Jurgen Klopp and co, has deflated the optimism of the club’s fanbase for this season. Particularly up against rivals with deeper squads.
Centre-back was the key issue for Liverpool this summer and it was an issue that was ideally addressed with Konate’s arrival, but there were other areas of the squad that it looks as though needed strengthening too.
The Reds’ hierarchy evidently thought differently and instead it is claimed the summer of 2022 will be the one in which serious moves are made.
One Liverpool source said before deadline day: “We won’t buy just to satisfy people’s irrational lust for a transfer. Anyone we buy in midfield needs to be good enough to get in ahead of Fabinho, Henderson, Thiago, [Naby] Keita, Ox [Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain], [James] Milner, Curtis [Jones] and now Harvey [Elliott].”
On paper eight players appears more than enough for three midfield spots. But of the 110 matches played across all competitions over the past two seasons, Transfermarkt say Keita missed 43, Henderson 26 and Oxlade-Chamberlain, Fabinho and Milner 24 apiece. Thiago, in his debut campaign, missed 21 of 51 games he could’ve played in.
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The dependability of the departed Gini Wijnaldum, now at Paris Saint-Germain, is not matched by any other midfielder at the club. Still, provided Liverpool don’t suffer multiple injuries at once, it is an area they should get by in – though any lengthy absence of Fabinho’s would be felt in the No 6 role.
Instead it is in the final third where Liverpool are most likely to suffer from a lack of suitable back-up options this season. Klopp has Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino as his main four forwards.
Salah is as ruthless as ever and Jota has been a revelation since signing a year ago. But Firmino’s productivity has steadily declined year-on-year and Mane does not appear as impactful as he was two years ago in the club’s title-winning season.
After those four, having let Xherdan Shaqiri leave without replacing him, Liverpool’s main back-ups are Elliott – though he has started the season as a central midfielder and does not offer the same characteristics as Salah, Jota and Mane out wide – Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino. Oxlade-Chamberlain is an emergency option on the flanks.
After three matches of the season, Origi has not played a single minute. He’s not made the match-day squad for the past two. Last term he amassed just 536 minutes, the equivalent of six full games. Klopp no longer appears to trust the Belgian, unless absolutely necessary.
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Minamino had a hit-and-miss six-month loan spell with Southampton last term and has been an unused substitute in all three games this term, including when Liverpool sought a winner against Chelsea at Anfield before the international break. Again, the question must be asked of whether Klopp feels he can truly rely on the Japan international.
With Mane and Salah to depart for the Africa Cup of Nations for several weeks mid-season, Liverpool are heavily dependent on having Firmino, Jota and Elliott fit to start at the same period. They then have only the unconvincing Origi, Minamino and Oxlade-Chamberlain – undoubtedly better used in midfield – as back-up options if not.
The Reds will be desperately hoping Salah and Jota in particular, the team’s two main goalscorers having scored four of their six so far this season, avoid long-term injury at any point.
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Given Liverpool’s ambitions are to win the Premier League and the Champions League, their reserve options do not feel like enough. The likes of Origi and Minamino would not even make it into the 25-man squads of title rivals Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United.
Liverpool could have done with another Jota-level addition in attack. They surely had the money to sign one, too. They are thought to have ended the window having broke even, although they undoubtedly bumped up their wage bill with new contracts for Henderson, Phillips, Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk, Fabinho and Caoimhin Kelleher.
Yet it feels dangerously like Liverpool are risking a repeat scenario of when they opted against directly replacing Dejan Lovren in 2020. The spate of centre-half injuries that followed were of course unprecedented; Van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip all suffering season-ending injuries and defensive deputies Henderson and Fabinho enduring problems too.
But there were clear warning signs there with Liverpool entering the season with only Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip as recognised senior centre-halves. Fabinho played well at the back but the Reds were then significantly weakened by not having a world-class holding midfielder in midfield.
Not adding a new forward, particularly a wide player, is a similar type of risk from the club’s hierarchy.
Should Liverpool need to use Origi, Minamino, Elliott or Oxlade-Chamberlain for long periods wide left or right, will they win either of the two biggest available trophies? Very likely not. It would be some achievement if they did.
Liverpool did not need to sign a forward who is an upgrade on Salah, Mane or Jota, they merely needed a better back-up than Origi or Minamino. They essentially needed another Jota, a long-term signing capable of short-term impact.
And without it, Liverpool are relying on luck. They will pray for no major injuries and must avoid loss of form, which both Mane and Firmino suffered for much of last season. They didn’t get that fortune last term.
Whether they get it this year will surely determine whether or not they lift more major silverware in the next eight months. If they do not, it will feel like a year wasted, just as last season did given Liverpool have shown themselves capable of winning the biggest honours. The Reds will only have themselves to blame.
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