Liverpool supporters spent of much of January complaining about a lack of transfer activity and that reached a crescendo on Wednesday when deadline day came and went with no replacement for Philippe Coutinho signed. The Brazil international got his way and was sold to Barcelona for a hefty £145m fee and many supporters thought that meant that some of that cash would be splashed on a shiny new midfielder playmaker to cover his departure. But what these impatient fans seem to have overlooked is that some of that cash is already earmarked for our new midfield star.
Jurgen Klopp’s plan was to bring forward the transfer of Naby Keita from RB Leipzig. He and the club tried, and ultimately failed, to get the Guinea international to Anfield six months earlier than planned. The intention was to bring forward the exit of Coutinho and get his replacement in now rather than in the Summer when the season has ended. But the Bundesliga club refused to play ball and stood firm over the immediate future of their star player. He will become a part of Klopp’s squad, but it won’t be until the planned date of 1st July and he will not be heading to Anfield a day sooner. Leipzig are well within their rights to refuse to sanction his departure early and Liverpool were never going to offer a substantial enough fee to persuade them otherwise.
The German club are desperate not to see their participation in the Champions League limited to one season and are determined to get the most out of Keita before he joins Liverpool. Letting him leave now would leave them in the same predicament as Klopp – no replacement for the star man for the second half of the season. Klopp clearly believed that they could be convinced with an extra premium payment of around £15m, but that was not going to be enough to cover the potential loss of both Champions League money and stature. And they’ve been quick to remind everyone that they weren’t going to allow Keita to leave early…
— RB Leipzig English (@RBLeipzig_EN) February 1, 2018
There are some parallels between the two clubs. Leipzig want to establish themselves as regulars in the competition, just like Liverpool, and are not prepared to jeopardise their bid for qualification this season. Klopp clearly has been willing to take the risk of letting one of his very best players walk out the door. He obviously thought he could do the deal to get Keita in right away, but he must have been aware that Leipzig were not going to roll over – as they steadfastly refused to do back in the Summer. He also has the belief in his players to see out the rest of the campaign without Coutinho’s prowess in the role which linked midfield and attack so well. At times. Some fans need to remember, or realise, that we were not a markedly better side with Coutinho playing, on paper at least. Our results haven’t generally suffered for his absence and have actually been improved in some aspects. So him leaving without a like for like replacement coming in won’t necessarily be the disaster many are fearing and claiming. The doom and gloom merchants need to have more faith in Klopp to tweak things in order to extract the best out of the players who are here and want to play for him and the club.
Had Klopp gone out and splashed out on a new midfield playmaker to replace Coutinho last month, it would have likely meant he would have to adapt his plans for when Keita is at his disposal. He will have been all too aware that the Brazilian would not change his mind after having his transfer request turned down last Summer. So he will have been working on tactical tweaks – which will no doubt revolve around getting the best out of Keita, with the African as his midfield centre piece. Bringing in someone else now would throw those longer terms plans off and he would have to go back to the drawing board in order to accommodate a player he hadn’t been planning to build around. We will likely see an adaptation of our midfield system next season and few will argue that it needs improvement. Keita is likely to become that player who connects midfield with attack and his energy and bursts forward will become a key component to the way we play. And if it all goes to plan, which we all hope it does, then this month will become a distant memory.
Something else that appears to have become a distant memory for a lot of fans is the signing of Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton. The Holland international cost a record £75m and is a player both Klopp and many supporters were desperate to see at the club. He has come in off the back of a long-term injury and a struggle for fitness and form at St Mary’s. His debut winner against Everton perhaps raised the expectations placed on him to unrealistic heights and the defeats against Swansea City and West Brom will have seen plenty of fans crash back down to earth. Klopp dropping him to the bench for the victory at Huddersfield Town looks a good decision with the benefit of hindsight. It allowed Van Dijk to take a breather ahead of a tough game against Spurs this weekend and moved him out of the spotlight. It’s early days for the Dutchman and anyone writing him off because of a couple of surprise defeats is going to be made foolish once he’s back to full fitness and up to speed with what Klopp expects of him. He’s clearly one of the best defenders in the Premier League and the price paid for him reflects that. Patience is going to be needed while he recaptures his peak physical condition, followed by the form that saw just about every top club in the country make offers for him.
The £75m outlay on Van Dijk meant that Liverpool were the biggest spenders in the January transfer window. Not that you would not know it from the reaction of the fans. The net spend police have been out in full force this week to remind us all that we made a profit in this transfer window thanks to the sale of Coutinho. And plenty of fans have also been vocal about other clubs making more signings than us and how that risks our challenge for the top four. While it is true that Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang is a fine striker and a very good signing for Arsenal, they have already seen their best player leave for a rival this year. Alexis Sanchez has made a slow start to life as a Manchester United player, but he was the star player in Arsene Wenger’s side. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the player Wenger got in exchange for Sanchez, has struggled for form at Old Trafford previously and there are no guarantees that he will find it again at The Emirates. So Arsenal aren’t necessarily that much better for their January business. Chelsea look like a club preparing for the big financial outlay of a new stadium having spent relatively little on Ross Barkley, Emerson Palmieri and Olivier Giroud. The France international looks like the best bit of business they’ve done and he could be a very good fit in their side. But does that make them that much better? I wouldn’t say that they look much more of a threat now than at Christmas. They look tired and have a manager heading for the exit. They look in more danger of missing out than we do, in my opinion. Spurs are looking more of a threat than Arsenal from the two teams currently outside the top four. They have added the pace of Lucas Moura from PSG in a relatively modest £25m deal, but they are in a similar position to us in having no genuine backup to their star player. They rely a lot more on Harry Kane than we do on any one player and an injury to him would see them turn to Fernando Llorente. Is he going to replace the goals Kane scores? I wouldn’t bet on him to do so.
I realise it’s a lot to ask a fanbase who have had to show a lot of patience over the last thirty odd years to provide a little more, but we really have got the best manager we could possibly ask for. His ethos fits the club both on and off the pitch and he is the man most likely to get the most out of the requisites laid down by the owners. So please stop complaining and get behind the team for the rest of the season.
The future is bright. Believe.