A lot of Liverpool supporters were calling for manager Jurgen Klopp to make further signings this month after letting Philippe Coutinho head to Barcelona in a deal worth £145m. The logic was that the player many viewed as our best had left and we had plenty of cash to bring in a much-needed replacement.
The 4-3 win over Manchester City at Anfield last week somewhat cooled the calls for a new playmaker to be signed, thanks to the combination of ending Pep Guardiola’s unbeaten run dating back to last season and the performance of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. But the 1-0 loss against rock bottom Swansea City on Monday night quickly saw many fans make very loud calls for Klopp to use the funds he has at his disposal as soon as possible.
Recently appointed Swansea boss Carlos Carvalhal made a good analogy after the game whereby he compared the number of players around the Welsh side’s box with London traffic: “They are like a Formula One car. But at 4pm in London it will be difficult to speed, they would be a car like any other.” he said. And he was absolutely right. Klopp’s side have struggled to break down stubbornly determined sides this season and the 1-0 loss on Monday night was no different. And this is where fans have big concerns over a failure to replace Coutinho this month.
It was only the third defeat in the league so far this season and just the fourth in all competitions for Klopp and his team in 2017/18. But it was probably the hardest for him and the supporters to take. A 5-0 hammering at the hands of runaway leaders City could be chalked up to their quality and the first-half red card for Sadio Mane. Liverpool were 1-0 down at that point, but had been in the ascendancy and looked very capable of coming back into the match. The 4-1 hiding dished out by Spurs at Wembley in October was one that nobody could make any excuses or reason for. The defending was woeful and the team looked very flat that day. But the defeat against a Harry Kane inspired side was the catalyst for Klopp and his players to go on a run of almost twenty games unbeaten, so there is more than enough potential for this defeat to be a blip rather than the start of a poor run.
Despite the addition of £75m centre-back Virgil Van Dijk, Liverpool were again exposed at a set-piece at Swansea defender Alfie Mawson slotted home a loose ball to claim the points for the his side. Liverpool need to be better organised defensively and two starts for the Dutchman, who is clearly a vocal leader, isn’t going to be enough to eliminate such issues. He showed his aerial power with a headed winner against Everton in the cup a few weeks ago as well as with a chance nodded just wide against Swansea. The former Southampton man will be a big help to a defence which has had its problems, despite losing just twice previously.
Most of the issues came at the other end of the pitch against Swansea. Liverpool struggled, and ultimately failed, to make a breakthrough thanks to a lack of spark and guile. There were a few chances to snatch a point, but Roberto Firmino’s late header hit the post before Adam Lallana failed to convert from close range. Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane also had decent chances prior to that, but neither managed to show sufficient composure to hit the back of the net. It was a bitter pill to swallow and will hopefully reinvigorate a previously dangerous attack as they prepare to face West Brom in the FA Cup. Alan Pardew’s side visited Anfield last month and went away with a draw thanks to defending in a similar vein to Swansea’s on Monday evening. They frustrated and stifled the Reds in equal measure and restricted Klopp’s side to a goal ruled out for handball against Dominic Solanke. Their visit in the cup this weekend is likely to see them adopt the same approach – and why wouldn’t they?
After months where supporters were crying out for Klopp to make reinforcements to his defensive ranks, it’s a strange juxtaposition to see concerns growing over his options at the other end of the pitch. The impending departure of striker Daniel Sturridge, which looks likely to be a loan deal, has seen supporters calling for a new forward to be brought in to replace him. If Klopp does allow the England international to make an exit before the end of the month, he will be left with Solanke and Danny Ings as his backup for Brazil international Firmino. An injury to the former Hoffenheim man would leave the German very short on options, with neither Solanke or Ings having registered a goal so far this season. But Sturridge hasn’t shown much evidence to suggest that he would be sufficient cover either. The former Chelsea and Manchester City man has barely managed to maintain fitness long enough to show that he can be a reliable understudy for Firmino and when he has played, he’s not been particularly impressive. He has managed to score three goals so far this season and hasn’t featured since the 7-0 victory over Spartak Moscow in early December. Only one of his goals has been a game changer so far, with his opener against Huddersfield Town breaking down a stubborn resistance. His strikes against Arsenal and Maribor were just icing on the cake goals and didn’t ultimately count for much. Replacing Sturridge is not a massive priority if he does go thanks to his lack of fitness and declining input since Klopp arrived. But there are concerns to be had if Firmino does get injured, as Ings and Solanke do not look capable of covering that loss.
Bringing in a new playmaker to replace Coutinho is almost certainly going to be viewed as more pressing for most fans. The return to fitness of Adam Lallana is clearly a bonus, but the twenty-nine year old cannot be expected to cover the loss of his former team-mate – and Klopp has said so himself. The former Southampton man does not provide enough assists or goals to be considered a realistic replacement, albeit temporarily, for Coutinho. Same goes for Oxlade-Chamberlain, despite his improving form. The duo do not possess the vision, flair or talent to step in for the Brazil international. And I very much doubt Klopp expects that to happen. Tactical tweaks and the sharing of the burden is likely to be the plan if Klopp decides not to pursue a new signing this month. Nobody should doubt that the German would be lining up an offer if he believed a suitable player were available – but he will keep his powder dry if he does not see the right player available for the right price. His patience in waiting to bring Van Dijk to the club should be enough to prove that to any who are unsure.
Players like Coutinho are not ten a penny. That’s why Barcelona pushed and pushed to get him to Spain – and for a hefty £145m fee. Getting someone in to cover his loss may have to wait until the Summer and Klopp will have put together a shortlist, which is likely to be limited to three players, back in August when he asked to leave. Klopp will not have been oblivious to the likelihood that he would need to replace Coutinho and won’t be making any rash signings to do so. The likes of Manuel Lanzini and Riyad Mahrez are not going to be considered because they don’t fit the profile of what Klopp wants. Otherwise he would have made approaches to sign either of them already. Interest in Monaco man Thomas Lemar may be resurrected, but the fee is likely to be high enough to spark doubts in Klopp’s mind over the Frenchman. Klopp is said to be unsure of Lemar’s commitment to the idea of moving to Anfield after he flirted with a move to Arsenal last Summer and is another who wants the Camp Nou to be his long-term destination. Klopp wants players who want to play for him and the club – players like Naby Keita.
Plan A is clearly going to be bringing forward a move for the Guinea international. The issue with that is RB Leipzig refusing to do business in January. They dug their heels in last Summer when Liverpool came knocking for the player, who was desperate to make the move, and only relented when it became clear he would be heading for Anfield next Summer regardless of what they said. The German club will earn themselves a premium on top of his impending release fee and are not looking to jeopardise the second half of this season by making a little more money from the African. Klopp would clearly love to get him into the squad early and I believe he will still be looking to persuade Leipzig to allow that move to happen sooner.
If he can’t manage it, then he will wait for the Summer to sign the right man and will put his trust in his squad to get a top four spot and qualification for next season’s Champions League. And we should too. This is now a better side than the one which finished fourth last season. Chelsea and Spurs aren’t as good as they were last year, Arsenal have lost their best player and Manchester United aren’t too far ahead to be caught.
Klopp believes in this group of players and will put his trust in them if he can’t the right signings this month. We should follow suit and back both him and the players to succeed.
And that’s all without mentioning the goalkeeping position.