Suffice to say, Liverpool’s January transfer window was mixed at best.
The Reds secured Jurgen Klopp’s top defensive target in Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk for a club record £75m, also a world record for a defender.
However, Liverpool also lost one of their ‘Fab Four’ in Philippe Coutinho, their Brazilian magician who left for Barcelona in a deal worth over £140m, making Coutinho the most expensive player in world football, outside of Paris.
Coutinho’s dream was always to play for Barcelona, and the Spanish giants wanted Liverpool’s lynchpin to slowly replace their own in Andres Iniesta, but most Liverpool fans have been surprised at the timing of the deal, and disappointed with Coutinho’s conduct in forcing the move to Spain.
Nevertheless, there was time this month for Klopp and Fenway Sports Group to sign more players, but they held back, keeping their powder dry for the summer despite the hefty finances available to Liverpool. Players were only available for crazy fees, and Klopp feels confident that the squad he has – effectively swapping Coutinho for van Dijk – is good enough to secure one of those precious Champions League spots in the Premier League’s top four.
Manchester City will definitely take one of those places – and the title too. Second, third and fourth however are up for grabs between Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and possibly Arsenal, who have fearsome firepower in new club record signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but will likely be held back by their reckless defence.
Bar van Dijk, the rest of Klopp’s reported top targets were not available this month, unless Liverpool submitted astronomical bids. Liverpool’s reluctance to invest in January could also be a sign that Klopp is still contemplating who his number one targets are for the summer.
For instance, both Monaco’s Thomas Lemar and Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic are unlikely to move to Anfield this summer, and Klopp needs to decide who he wants most – either of these two, or perhaps someone else? After all, Mohamed Salah was a relatively surprising signing last summer in that he had not been linked with the Reds for long, compared to the likes of Bayer Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt.
Moreover, Klopp prefers to integrate players in the summer, where they can have a full pre-season and prepare properly for the new season.
In 2018, such planning will be compromised to an extent, given this summer will feature a World Cup, while the summer transfer window in the Premier League is set to close in early August for the foreseeable future (despite foreign transfer windows remaining the same). Nevertheless, signing players in the summer is favoured to rushing in January and increasing the chances of a bad deal.
Liverpool and Klopp’s thinking is prudent but risky, as not replacing someone of Coutinho’s quality will weaken the side going forward – whether to the detriment of missing out on the top four remains to be seen.
Everyone connected with Liverpool hopes this will not be the case – in which case the plan will have paid off and Liverpool will have a war chest and plenty of time to choose the right players for Klopp to push the club onto a potential title challenge next season.
For this season, Liverpool’s focus is on qualifying for the Champions League again, and progressing in this year’s edition after successfully navigating the group stage.
The Reds face Portuguese ever-presents FC Porto in the last 16, providing both sides with a great chance of going further in this year’s competition.
Liverpool have not reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League since 2009. Reaching that stage again would provide further evidence that the Reds are returning to Europe’s elite under Klopp.
The immediate task for Liverpool however is this weekend, and a meeting with Tottenham Hotspur, arguably their biggest rivals for the top four.
Despite not playing on Wednesday night, Liverpool actually moved up a place to third following Chelsea’s shock 3-0 defeat at home to Bournemouth, which followed Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat at Swansea City on Tuesday night.
The midweek results left Liverpool only three points behind second-placed Manchester United, and eight points clear of the Gunners, who languish in sixth. Yet Tottenham are only two points behind the Reds in fifth, following their impressive 2-0 victory against José Mourinho’s side at Wembley.
Mauricio Pochettino now takes his side up to Anfield on Sunday afternoon, in what could be one of the most important, and exciting, matches of the season.
If Liverpool win, they will go five points clear of Tottenham, while probably remaining in third, as Chelsea are away to Watford and Arsenal take on Everton at the Emirates.
However, should Tottenham leave with the three points and a league double over the Reds, then they will leapfrog at least Liverpool and move into the top four.
In addition, Tottenham would be putting a serious dent in Liverpool as Klopp and his players attempt to prove last week’s defeats to Swansea and West Bromwich Albion (the latter in the FA Cup) were only a blip, and the momentum and form would be with Pochettino’s men instead of Klopp’s. Liverpool fans would again question the lack of activity in the January transfer market, and whilst the club’s league situation would be far from catastrophic, belief in the club’s progress will be badly damaged.
In reality, Sunday represents a great opportunity to inflict even greater damage on Tottenham, who need to avoid defeat more than Liverpool, yet their record at Anfield is not great and the famous old stadium will be rocking for this heavyweight encounter.
Both teams play exciting football, are generally in good form and will come out to play – Tottenham have the better defence, but Liverpool are at home. It really could go either way.
No matter what any Liverpool fan thinks about Liverpool’s January transfer window and the risks that have been taken, the market is closed now and all the fans can do is get behind the team on Sunday and take the first, and very big, step to paying that risk off.
Who knows, Klopp and Liverpool may prove that their inaction was not a risk after all, should they fly up the table and in the Champions League – but it all starts with Spurs on Sunday.