By Heath Harshman
The summer 2017 transfer window is closed, and Liverpool Football Club are in better shape than they were when it opened. Adding high quality depth in attack, and fending off a certain spanish club, makes up for the lack of a new top-tier central defender being brought to Anfield. Whether the moves are enough for Liverpool to capture the Premier League, or Champions League, title is yet to be determined. But damn, this squad is good.
To quickly summarize the club’s transfer dealings this summer, here’s a small breakdown. The numbers included are estimates in British Pounds via Sky Sports.
Players in: Dom Solanke (free), Mohamed Salah (34m), Andy Robertson (10m), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (40m), Naby Keita (2018, 48m)
Players out: Andre Wisdom, Kevin Stewart, Lucas Leiva, Mamadou Sakho (26m), Divock Origi (Loan/6m)
By several measures: amount spent, overall talent, name recognition, and more, the dealings by the club improved the squad in a few areas. But, one notable name did not become a Liverpool player at the end of the window: Virgil van Dijk. The Dutch central defender did his best to force a move from Southampton to LFC, a road well-trodden path in recent years. Despite the mutual interest, and Liverpool’s willingness to spend on van Dijk, Southampton held on to their defensive talisman. For now.
The top-target for many LFC supporters, this writer included, VVD would’ve shored up what is easily the biggest concern for the squad as we head into the season. The options in center of defense currently include Joel Matip, Dejan Lovren, and Ragnar Klavan. A talented trio, to be sure. But they lack another reliable, proven, consistent performer that’s needed for the grind of multiple matches each week in a couple of challenging competitions.
The biggest question is, after the van Dijk debacle, why didn’t the club/Klopp target another central defender? Being willing to spend 70m on a defender we all really like is one thing. But there wasn’t another, semi-suitable option for something like 40m? How about 30m?
Whatever the answer to that question is, Klopp will have to deal with the results of the lack of a central defender being brought in this summer. Whether it’s with different formations, plans for purchasing players in January, or hoping we score a few goals each game, Liverpool’s lack of a new central defender will be scrutinized with each allowed goal this season.
Despite that seemingly glaring hole in the summer’s transfer business, the most recent window was one of the best for Liverpool in recent memory. Maybe it’s the afterglow from the club’s fantastic start to the season, or that relatively friendly Champions League draw, but the summer’s dealings are already looking like solid purchases. In a short period of time, Solanke, Robertson, and Salah have all impressed in high-profile moments early in the season.
While we celebrate those quality starts to Liverpool careers, we still have more to look forward to. The Premier League proven Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain provides a versatility and depth in midfield and attack that the club needs, especially with Adam Lallana on the shelf for a few months. It’ll be a little longer until we get to enjoy Naby Keita in a red kit, but bringing in a talent like him, even if we have to wait, can’t be understated.
Neither can keeping Philippe Coutinho. However the situation with Coutinho shakes out, the ability to hold on to top players at times like this is something the club needs to do on a regular basis. Losing the likes of Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, and more in the past have proven to be tough to rebound from.
While this club is in better shape than most in Liverpool’s recent past, losing Coutinho now would’ve been absolutely devastating. Maybe not on the pitch, where LFC showed they can survive without their midfield magician the last couple of weeks. But in mentality, losing the club’s best player right before what could be the season, would’ve been a kick to the gut that we may not have recovered from.
We’re back in the Champions League, and we need to stay there. The signings brought in by Klopp make the club more suited to do just that, and keeping Coutinho should be included in the reasons why. We may not have brought in the defender we wanted, or any central defender at all. But, we managed to improve and become a better squad, and holding on to key players is an important aspect of that growth.
Last year, it was problems with depth in attack that eventually slowed Liverpool’s progress toward the Premier League title. Missing Coutinho, Mane, Sturridge, and more for lengthy periods of time all derailed a high-flying first half of the campaign. Should those troubles arise this year, Klopp and Co. are more than prepared for the gauntlet of matches headed the club’s way each month.
This year, injuries and issues in midfield have already tested the squad, and they’ve responded well. The triumvirate of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Emre Can did their part, and reinforcements are on the way. For the first time in years, Liverpool have Premier League quality depth in attack and midfield, and are prepared for the battles each club faces when it comes to squad depth each season.
All that said, it’s okay to be disappointed, or even confused, by the lack of a central defender being brought in. We’d all have been over the moon with VVD wearing red on transfer deadline day, or anyone helping to cure our worries over Lovren and Klavan’s ability to consistently perform alongside Matip this year. Even with those legitimate concerns, it’s impossible to ignore just how much the club improved this summer.
We have big dreams for Liverpool this season, and the summer’s dealings have put us in a better position to make those dreams become reality. Could it have been better? Of course. But this summer was a damn good one for LFC, and the moves made could very well be the reason this season is a success, rather than a disappointment.