Jurgen Klopp is still waiting for his first trophy since becoming Liverpool manager, but the style of football that he has brought to Anfield has supporters eagerly awaiting every Liverpool fixture. The German has already created numerous memories whilst he has been in charge, without the need for silverware because of the exhilarating and entertaining football on offer. Such football has resulted in so many memorable matches in his near three year spell at the club.
Most importantly, the Reds are back competing for the biggest honours again, shown by their run to the Champions League final, with their attractive brand of football.
Eventually Liverpool will need to win trophies if they want to completely restore their reputation as one of the world’s biggest clubs, but most Liverpool fans would prefer the club to be in their current position than that of their fierce rivals Manchester United, who have won two major trophies in the last two years but with a comparatively unflattering and functional style, whilst still being nowhere near winning the Premier League or Champions League.
Winning is still the most important factor, but increasingly for the biggest clubs in the modern era the expectation is to win with style and entertain the fans, who have to pay through the roof to follow their team or even to watch on television.
In order for Klopp’s Liverpool to improve their Premier League prospects, whilst maintaining a European challenge and, crucially, continuing to play such slick, fast-paced football, then the squad has to be deepened.
There are key areas of the first team that need improving, with Klopp having already made significant moves in the transfer market with the captures of Naby Keita and Fabinho from RB Leipzig and AS Monaco respectively to help improve the quality from midfield. Lyon’s Nabil Fekir should also join imminently to complete a fresh midfield trio for the upcoming campaign.
Jordan Henderson, James Milner, Georginio Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all did little wrong this season and will offer fantastic options in the squad to rotate, which all of the biggest clubs now have to cover the increasingly physical demands of the game and the tactical flexibility within games.
For instance, Liverpool had precious little to call upon from the substitutes’ bench against Real Madrid in the Champions League final, with Adam Lallana and Emre Can not fully match-fit and the likes of Dominic Solanke utterly inexperienced for such an occasion.
Liverpool are strengthening the spine of their side, with numerous reports linking the Reds to central defenders and particularly goalkeepers, but one area they cannot forget to improve is the attack.
Admittedly, Klopp will find it almost impossible to improve upon his current front three of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah, but Liverpool have no alternatives at all to Mane and Salah.
Lallana, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Firmino, youngster Ben Woodburn and previously Philippe Coutinho all have experienced stints on either side of the front three, but each of them lacked the dynamism and directness of Mane and Salah.
When Salah went off injured in Kiev, Liverpool desperately missed a like-for-like alternative who could make runs in behind the Real Madrid defence and ensure they remained pushed back. Lallana, as wonderful a player as he is, can now only realistically operate in Klopp’s midfield three.
Liverpool’s system has evolved from 2016 from using numerous number tens in attack like Lallana and Coutinho to raw pace and skill, which Salah and Mane have added alongside brilliant finishing and consistency, transcending Liverpool’s attack this season.
However, they cannot be expected to just continue at the same elevated level for game after game next season, let alone before thinking that they may pick up injuries next time around.
Few clubs are able to have players on the bench who could play at the level of their best players for an entire season – Gareth Bale at Real Madrid would be one example. What Liverpool need are figures who can step in for short periods of time to play as near as possible to the level of Mane and Salah but in the same fashion as Liverpool’s dynamic duo, so that nothing tactically is lost.
Klopp requires pacey inside forwards who can both cut inside and make runs beyond the omnipresent Firmino so that’s the Brazilian’s special awareness and link up play are not being wasted. Firmino is far less effective when he does not have those players working around him in Liverpool’s current setup, as the unfortunate Lallana demonstrated in Kiev.
Few can expect these players to match the exact standard Mane and Salah bring, but Liverpool need to rotate more in attack next season so Mane, Firmino and Salah remain fresh for the most important occasions.
Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele would be a dream signing who would be the exception rather than the rule, as he could match the level of Liverpool’s current front three and become the club’s own version of Bale.
Yet even names such as Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri and Gent’s Moses Simon (Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic appears a long-term target) are the type of players Liverpool need to attract who can substitute for the front three and are happy to accept such a status in the squad whilst developing themselves.
Certainly the likes of Dembele and Simon could take over long-term from the current front three when they age, and that vision could be sold by Liverpool in order to bring these players to Anfield.
One thing is for certain – reinforcements are needed, and the best always look to strengthen their strengths, not just their weaknesses. Liverpool must do the same, as Mane and Salah will need help next season.