Liverpool look to reset after Jurgen Klopp's midfield is gutted
LONDON – Jurgen Klopp finds himself in familiar territory again, having to drag Liverpool back to the Premier League’s top four after a humbling 2022-23 campaign and seeing his midfield gutted in the close season.
Liverpool missed out on the top four after a poor start last season, still reeling from the hazy hangover of an exhausting 63-game 2021-22 campaign.
After six seasons in the Champions League, where Klopp’s side reached the final three times and won the trophy in 2019, Liverpool now find themselves back in the Europa League.
Premier League clubs sacked 14 managers last season but Klopp, currently the longest-serving boss at a single club in England’s top flight, was never in danger of losing his job.
He is cherished by the Kop and is virtually untouchable as fans pointed fingers at the club’s hierarchy for their lack of transfer business.
Liverpool did not inject fresh blood into an ageing midfield while injuries in the forward line scuppered a title challenge.
This year, Saudi Arabian clubs have forced Liverpool’s hand, with the cash-rich league tearing up the Anfield club’s transition plans by luring away their two midfield stalwarts.
Liverpool have to fill a gaping hole in midfield with skipper Jordan Henderson and Fabinho moving to the Saudi Pro League while James Milner, Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain left for free with nothing more to offer.
“The influence of Saudi Arabia is massive at the moment... It’s already influential for us but we will have to learn to deal with it. Time will show,” Klopp said in pre-season.
The transfer window began well with the early captures of the dependable Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai as they got pre-season minutes under Klopp’s system.
Mac Allister’s calm presence between the lines and his counter-pressing ability will be welcome, while Szoboszlai scored as many goals as all Liverpool midfielders combined last season at RB Leipzig.
But Liverpool have since hit a speed bump and the number of arrivals have not kept pace with departures, especially with young Fabio Carvalho also going out on loan to RB Leipzig.
They have not yet agreed on a fee for Southampton’s Romeo Lavia or Fluminense’s Andre and that leaves Klopp with just the injury-prone Thiago as his most experienced midfielder alongside youngsters Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott.
When he was in Singapore for pre-season, Klopp said: “It is no secret that we are still looking for players to join us (in the No. 6 position).
“A proven No. 6 is not available at the moment. If we make an excuse of that and say ‘OK, how can we do that then?’, then we have a problem because in a season, a lot of things can happen.
“If we see it as a positive challenge, we try to find a way to be compact or find a way to deny the opponent. If you do that together, it’s always possible.”
The tactical switch of new vice-captain Trent Alexander-Arnold from right-back to midfielder makes for an intriguing prospect after it revitalised Liverpool’s season and helped them finish fifth.
A fully fit Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz will boost Klopp’s forward options, while Darwin Nunez has had a full season’s bedding-in period to evolve into a sharper striker and take the goal scoring burden off Mohamed Salah.
Cody Gakpo also showed encouraging signs in half a season since his January arrival and Klopp will need all the back up he can get as they embark on not only a top-four challenge, but also a gruelling Europa League campaign.
Returning to the Champions League will be their first priority, which is why a top-four finish – or even winning the Europa League – will be the bare minimum that is expected of Liverpool. - REUTERS