Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp might well have put together the most deep and versatile squad the club has ever had. The German has built a team over the course of his three years in charge that looks well equipped to make a challenge to champions Manchester City for the Premier League title.
When the former Borussia Dortmund boss took charge at Anfield back in October 2015, he inherited a misfiring squad from predecessor Brendan Rodgers that was struggling. There was an imbalance in the side and there wasn’t a great deal of depth in the squad. The bench was often made up of players who couldn’t seriously expect to have a future at the club along with youngsters being selected out of necessity. Klopp gave the players a chance to show him what they could do and they responded by reaching two cup finals, both of which were unfortunately lost, in early 2016 and he was getting a better idea of which areas he needed to improve upon.
Roll forward to today and the players still at the club from the day he walked through the door are: Jordan Henderson, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne, Roberto Firmino, Alberto Moreno, Simon Mignolet, Joe Gomez, Adam Lallana, Daniel Sturridge, James Milner, Divock Origi and Lazar Markovic. So he hasn’t overseen wholesale change by bringing in a squad of his own signings. Klopp has been patient in the transfer market and has generally waited to bring in the players he deems to be right for the club and there are very few of them which have failed to work out so far.
One signing which many will quickly point at as a failure is goalkeeper Loris Karius. The German was brought in on the cheap from Mainz following a fine season in Die Bundesliga in which only Germany number one Manuel Neuer was rated above him. But he struggled early on in the 2016 and lost his place to Simon Mignolet after some costly errors. Karius did manage to reclaim the gloves from the Belgian halfway through last season, but his improved form was quickly forgotten thanks to his two glaring errors in the Champions League final. It undid his improved form over the second half of last season and he has since sought a fresh start with a two year loan move to Turkish side Besiktas. You’d have to think his days at Anfield are well and truly over now.
The form of Brazil international Alisson Becker, who arrived at the club in a world record move from Roma in the Summer, will be one of the factors which further deem Karius surplus to requirements. The twenty-six year old is a genuinely world-class goalkeeper and he could well cement himself as Liverpool’s number one for the best part of the next decade. He is the player the club have needed since Pepe Reina moved on after his superb form tailed off in his final season at Anfield. Klopp identified the position as an area for improvement and has gone out and got himself a fantastic goalkeeper and kept on a former number one as backup. The club has not had that kind of depth in a long time, if ever, and it’s a big improvement on seeing the likes of Brad Jones and Adam Bogdan on the bench.
Klopp has also set about adding quality and depth to the defensive ranks. Virgil Van Dijk was a player just about every Premier League club would have loved to have signed after the impact he made during his spell with Southampton. The German somehow convinced Van Dijk to spurn a guaranteed Premier League winners medal at Manchester City to move to Anfield last year. He has proved to be well worth the £75m outlay and is being talked about as one of, if not the, best in his position in the world today. His personal output is not where his impact has ended, with his team-mates profiting from his leadership and composure. He quickly took control of organising the backline and is a key player for the club. His presence has seen the much-maligned Dejan Lovren look much more composed and less prone to the errors which were becoming his trademark. The Croatian has seen his place in the side come under threat from young England international Joe Gomez, who has spoken regularly about how much he is learning from “big brother” Van Dijk. Former Schalke man Joel Matip, who arrived on a free transfer in the Summer of 2016, has been downgraded to fourth choice after a spell out injured. That further highlights the strength of depth available in the centre of defence after the Cameroon international was heralded as the answer to our defensive issues before joining the club.
The wide defensive positions have also been strengthend since Klopp took over. Nathaniel Clyne was first-choice right-back when he arrived, but Klopp now prefers Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez in the role and that highlights just how much competition for one spot in the side there is. Scotland captain Andrew Robertson made a relatively slow start to his Anfield career after arriving from relegated Hull City last year, but he has made the left-back spot his own despite Alberto Moreno’s rejuvenation in the opening few months of the 2017/18 campaign. The Spaniard looked to be fighting for his future at the club after spending the previous season watching right-footed midfielder James Milner play at left-back and is now at least playing second fiddle to someone familiar with the role.
Midfield is an area which Klopp set about making changes to this Summer. He lost the creativity and goal threat of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona earlier this year after seeing the Brazil international sign a new contract. It was a big blow, but Klopp didn’t let it get in the way of progress and has spent a fraction of the money on three new faces. The deal to sign Naby Keita was agreed before last season kicked off and the Guinea international finally arrived at the club this Summer. He was followed in to Anfield by Brazil international Fabinho, who was snapped up from Monaco after the Champions League final. Manchester United fans had believed he was destined to join them, but they got his compatriot Fred instead. Experienced Switzerland international Xherdan Shaqiri followed in a deal that is likely to go down as an absolute bargain from relegated Stoke City. Liverpool paid a reported £13m for the twenty-seven year old and he has started showing what he’s capable of in recent games. He can operate in wide positions as well as in behind the forwards, so he brings versatility along with creativity. When you add these three new faces to a squad which already contained Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana you can see plenty of depth as well as versatility – both positionally and tactically. Former Arsenal man Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is also in the squad, but continues his rehabilitation from the injury suffered against Roma in the Champions League semi-finals. Promising youngster Curtis Jones is also knocking on the first-team door following some impressive preseason outings. The number of senior players available to Klopp meant that he could afford to send Marko Grujic out on loan once again and that means the Serbian can gain plenty of experience playing regularly in Germany for Hertha Berlin this season.
The attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino pick themselves up top, but they have got more backing this season than last year. The return to form and fitness of Daniel Sturridge has been very timely, not least because his contract expires next Summer, and the England international has notched some important goals so far this season. Klopp’s ability to call the twenty-nine year old off the bench will ease the pressure on his first choice trio for goals. It also means that he isn’t having to rely on youngster Dominic Solanke or the since departed Danny Ings if he is missing one of his key forwards. Belgium international Divock Origi has returned following a quiet loan spell in Germany with VfL Wolfsburg and can’t get on the pitch. He was being given plenty of game time before he departed in 2016 and still looks likely to move on despite Klopp praising his attitude. Teenage sensation Rhian Brewster will give his manager another exciting option upfront once he returns to fitness after a long spell on the sidelines. Klopp persuaded the England youth star to sign a professional contract with the club by promising him opportunities in the team this season, so we can expect to see him in action once he’s ready. His fellow youngsters Harry Wilson, Ben Woodburn, Ryan Kent, Sheyi Ojo and Taiwo Awoniyi have been afforded opportunities to go and play regularly elsewhere due to the level of competition for places in the squad. They may well have been kept around and limited to occasional cup outings and under-23 football in previous seasons.
Klopp has gone about his recruitment in a purposeful and calculated fashion and is making the club one of the strongest around again.