Neil Humphreys: Liverpool need open wallet surgery
Liverpool's squad not good enough to compete in next season's Champions League
Liverpool are in the Champions League qualifiers, but their work really begins now.
Here's what they must do in the coming weeks if they are to do well in Europe next season.
1) KEEP KLOPP HAPPY
Juergen Klopp's fine achievement can be summarised in a single sentence.
At times, Liverpool's spine has consisted of Dejan Lovren, Lucas Leiva, Emre Can and no natural striker.
Every other side in the top six - including Arsenal - boasted a stronger, central core from back to front. And yet, somehow, Liverpool endured.
Before Christmas, it was down to Klopp's gegenpressing. By the time Easter came around, it was sheer force of germanic will.
In desperation, Klopp turned James Milner into a left back, threw Can into a holding role and convinced the fragile Simon Mignolet that he was worthy of the gloves.
Klopp was a front-line medic running from one crisis to another with only a handful of Band-Aids and plenty of motivational speaking.
He reached the top four without Jordan Henderson (since February) and Sadio Mane (since the beginning of April).
So Liverpool's overriding objective - their only objective - is to indulge the German.
Pander to his every whim. Go and buy his shopping list. And to do that, the knives must come out.
2) TAKE A CHAINSAW TO THE SQUAD
Lucas, Ragnar Klavan, James Milner, Alberto Moreno and perhaps even Divock Origi and Mignolet should either be offloaded or shifted to more suitable positions.
Question marks also remain over Roberto Firmino and Georginio Wijnaldum's consistency.
“We have already pretty much done (the work on transfers)... Now we have to make decisions. Negotiations need to be done.”Juergen Klopp outlining his transfer strategy, which will be key to improving their champions League record of just three wins in 14 games since the 2008-09 quarter-finals
Or, to put it another way, Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana, Henderson, Mane and Daniel Sturridge (see right) are the only Reds with the kind of established pedigree to really trouble Europe's elite.
The rest are interchangeable and therefore expendable.
Chelsea and Tottenham need a nip and tuck in places. Liverpool need open-wallet surgery.
It'll hurt, but it's their only realistic chance of surviving in the Champions League.
3) GET RIGHT PLAYERS FOR RIGHT SYSTEM
Klopp's gegenpressing model, allowing others to dominate possession in benign areas before unleashing his speedsters, bodes well in Europe.
But the right system needs the right players.
A new left-sided wingback is the obvious place to start, allowing Milner to rage against the dying light as a utility man.
In central defence, Joel Matip's career can really flourish alongside a more dependable partner.
Lovren almost conceded a clumsy penalty against Middlesbrough and is prone to lapses in judgment.
“I have a long contract with LFC. Speculation is for journalists only.”Liverpool midfielder Philippe coutinho, who has been linked with Barcelona
Alternatively, Klopp could retain both centre backs and sign a third, allowing his wingbacks to push up and reduce running distances.
But Klopp's counter-attacking depends upon a reliable middle man to babysit the back four (or three) at the base of the diamond.
The jury is still out on Can. His versatility occasionally works against him.
He isn't quite N'Golo Kante, Paul Pogba, Bastian Schweinsteiger or Philipp Lahm, despite boasting qualities of all four.
He's a composite character with no distinct role of his own.
If Klopp isn't convinced that Can is a natural holding midfielder, he'll sign someone who is. Liverpool can't head to Europe without one.
4) DON'T KICK OUT STURRIDGE - YET
Klopp's task is simple. Find a replacement for Sturridge, i.e. a striker with similar finishing abilities and spatial awareness and a natural leader of the line.
In England, there is Harry Kane and then there is... well, Sturridge. Of course, such a comparison comes with a caveat longer than Sturridge's list of injuries.
Calf, knee and hip injuries restricted Liverpool's brittle-boned centre forward to 20 league appearances.
His pitiful return of three goals was a key reason Liverpool's race for fourth went to the wire. But, when he's fit, nobody finishes better, certainly not in a Liverpool jersey.
Klopp will shop around for a striker - he needs another one in any case - but should not hurry Sturridge through the exit, unless he's obligated to for financial reasons.
The 27-year-old still delivers, as he did with consummate ease against West Ham.
He deserves pre-season training at least to prove himself.
If he can get away from doctors, he can get away from defenders in the Champions League.
5) PRAY MAN UNITED LOSE IN EUROPA LEAGUE FINAL
To throw the Scouse cat among Mancunian pigeons, there is a legitimate reason for Liverpool followers to back Ajax in the Europa League final on Thursday morning (Singapore time).
A Manchester United victory presents Anfield's bean counters with a bit of a problem.
Three clubs in the north-west of England will all dangle the carrot of Champions League football to transfer targets. But the two halves of Manchester have bigger carrots.
With their financial obligations at home and the building of a new stadium in Liverpool, the club's American owners have tightened the purse strings.
They simply do not have access to the kind of funds available to United's Glazers and City's oligarchy. In a straight bidding war, the Reds cannot win.
However, they may have one other straw to clutch. For potential transfer targets, Champions League football plus Klopp may appeal more than Champions League plus Jose Mourinho.
The United manager's incessant criticism of his own players has undoubtedly tarnished his brand, whereas the allure of Klopp remains intact.
He was the main reason Liverpool reached the Champions League.
He's also their best hope of staying there.