By Heath Harshman
The defensive and midfield depth currently available to Jurgen Klopp is not enough for the team to achieve the what we, or the club, ultimately hope to achieve this season. Already faced with the issues that come with packed calendars featuring midweek matches from domestic and European cups, the current stable of options doesn’t look like a group capable of sustained success in multiple campaigns.
That’s not to say the current squad isn’t good; they’re great. Arguably one of the best in Europe. The difference in the top-tier of European football, and Liverpool FC, is depth. Not just having it in places or at times, but having it everywhere, all of the time.
An untimely injury, an unexpected transfer request, and trouble bringing in preferred players has put the club in a tough spot with a couple of weeks remaining in the summer transfer window. The squad’s depth at the back, and now in midfield, are going to be tested as the club begins their Premier League and Champions League campaigns.
Last year, it was up-front where the lack of options became problematic. With extended absences from the likes of Sadio Mane, Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge, and Danny Ings, Klopp and Co. were able to nimbly navigate the final months of the season, and tallied 78 Premier League goals after all was said and done. They’ve since strengthened the attacking options available, bringing in Dominic Solanke and Mohamed Salah, while holding on to Ings, Sturridge, and the rest of the forwards from last year’s squad. Early results have shown the signings to be good ones, and goal scoring is the least of the club’s issues.
Now, the issues at the back, which aren’t exactly new, have returned. Despite ending last season with four consecutive clean sheets, obvious holes at left-back and center-back remained heading into the offseason. Allowing three goals, two of which from set-pieces, to Watford in the Premier League opener highlighted issues the club, and fans, are well aware of. Having a midweek road-match in the Champions League isn’t the most welcome sight after such a performance, but it should be one the team gets used to (hopefully).
Of course, we’d all feel a lot better about the situation if Virgil van Dijk were wearing Red, and there’s still time for that to happen. It remains to be seen what kind of impact Andy Bob will make at full-back, but getting a left-back in at all is a step in the right direction. As is Alberto Moreno’s sudden improvement.
But, without another center-back, the team has the potential to drop points like they did against Watford last weekend, each and every week. Even if the van Dijk situation doesn’t work in Liverpool’s favor, there’s surely someone available for cheaper, that can complement the likes of Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren, Ragnar Klavan, and Joe Gomez. Playing two matches each week, and wanting to succeed in multiple cups, requires a high quantity and quality of depth in every phase of the game. At the moment, that’s a box that Liverpool’s defense doesn’t check.
Without Adam Lallana and Coutinho in midfield, that may leave two “open boxes” for the squad. Injuries are to be expected, but that doesn’t make them any easier to deal with. Especially when the club’s best player submits a transfer request shortly thereafter. With those two, Liverpool’s midfield looked just fine heading into a packed fixture list to close-out 2017. Naby Keita would’ve be a fine addition, but ultimately the group looked prime for another great season.
Now, we need help. Whether Coutinho heads to Spain or not, Lallana’s extended absence, and a less-than-focused Brazilian, means more is needed in the center of the park. It was evident in the team’s Premier League opener, where the midfield trio of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Emre Can often struggled to link-up with their pacey attackers while dealing with pressure from Watford. That could change, especially with the potential return of Coutinho, but leaning on James Milner, Marko Grujic and Ben Woodburn for midfield depth isn’t the way Liverpool should be heading into their first Champions League run since 2014-15.
So, what should they do about it? Not panic and purchase players for the sake of it, which no supporter should be worried about. That’s not Klopp’s style, even if it seems like it’s been the club’s in years past. But we have the cash, and there hasn’t been much splash this transfer window. Up until a couple of weeks ago, that was fine. With a couple of weeks left for the club to bring players in, it’s hard to imagine anyone in the front office feels confident in the current squad depth at the back and in midfield.
Qualifying for the Champions League was supposed to ease these kinds of issues. We’ve got the manager, the budget, and the squad; all prime for a historic run of highly entertaining football. All we needed was a couple of top-tier talents to shore-up some holes, and we were on our way to another title-challenging season. Instead, we head into this season with obvious holes, uncertain about our best player, and questioning our initial expectations for the club.
How FSG, Klopp, and the current squad react to these issues remains to be seen, but it’s clear that the squad needs added depth before the window is shut.