Can No Business Be Bad Business?
The summers of 2018 and 2019 were vastly different for Liverpool Football Club. One was coming off the heels of a devastating loss in a Champions League final when they signed one of the world’s best keepers and defensive midfielders, also a player in Naby Keita, who has the potential to be among Europe’s elite, and a shrewd piece of business in Xherdan Shaqiri. That summer of 2018 set the tone for the 2019 transfer window. Liverpool are the holders of the Champions League and are coming off a league campaign where they finished with 97 points and loss just a single game, yet they decided to stand pat and sign zero first-team players. That is not to say they weren’t linked or interested in anyone, Winger Nicolas Pepe was a target as well as Midfielder Bruno Fernandes and a little fella named Phillipe Coutinho. The inactivity led to unease among some fans due to the fact that Liverpool’s best option off the bench was… well, club legend Divock Origi? Ya, not so inspiring. So I have decided to write about why Liverpool MAY regret not deciding to splash the cash. (Full disclosure, I am a Liverpool fan so there may be a little bias. Keep in mind.)
History, oh what a lovely word. History and Liverpool are used a lot in the same sentence due to the fact that the club has quite a bit of it. Now, I am not going to talk about the trophies won in the years when the Vietnam War was going on, but instead, the years when a trophy wasn’t won but maybe should have been. Liverpool has came extremely close to the Premier League on three separate occasions. On two of those occasions, the main reason for them not winning the title was, no not a curse, but the lack of depth. Those seasons were the 2008/2009 and 2013/2014 campaigns (hard to call the reason for not winning the league with 97 points anything but hard luck).
In 2008/2009 a team led by a midfield of Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso and a prime Fernando Torres finished four points off champion Manchester United. This team lost just two games all season but had an atrocious ELEVEN draws. Usually, when a team vying for the title is tied in a game late they bring on their secret weapon, think Javier Hernandez or Dimitar Berbatov or Florent Malouda or in the case of City, Riyad freaking Mahrez. Well, Liverpool did not have a player like that in 2009, their best option off the bench was.. well David N’gog or how about Nabil El Zhar or what about even Andriy Voronin. Let’s just say they didn’t exactly have game-breakers to bring off the bench.
This 2019 iteration of Liverpool could have similar issues if they are tied 1-1 away at Goodison Park in a shitty late February match. They look to the bench and see Divock Origi, a 17-year-old Rihan Brewster who hasn’t played a minute of PL football to this point and Xherdan Shaqiri who seems to have been exiled out by Jurgen Klopp. A versatile forward such as Pepe or PSV forward Steven Bergjwin would have been very useful in situations like this. Both players are fast and direct with the ability to get in behind the defence and draw a penalty. Late in games when teams are wearing down, attributes like those are key.
In the case of the 2013/2014 season, that team had many, many flaws. One example is the fact that a wayyyyyy past his prime Kolo Toure played TWENTY… twenty premier league games. Yet going into the last three games of the season Liverpool still controlled their own destiny thanks to an incredible attacking season from Luis Suarez and Co and a memorable home win against Manchester City in late April, their main rival for the title. What some people tend to forget about that match is Jordan Henderson got sent off late on. Henderson was a key player for Liverpool that year due to his late runs from midfield, energy and ability to create and find space, something that Liverpool lacked. This meant he missed the Chelsea game and although people attribute the reason they lost to well “Slippy G” haha great banter, a major reason Liverpool lost was due to the lack of Henderson and flexibility in the way they played without him. It was incredibly difficult for Liverpool to open Chelsea up for good opportunities due to the lack of replacement for Henderson. This is an issue with the current iteration of Liverpool’s squad. Klopp loves a workhorse midfield but they lack somebody who can break open a game with his creativity from that position. A player like Nabil Fekir from now Betis or the previously mentioned Bruno Fernandes would have been very helpful as they have knack for creating space for their teammates either with their movement or with a pinpoint pass. Liverpool struggle less than they used to with breaking teams down, but when things do go stale they could be in trouble. As Mark Twain once said History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes and that is bad news for Liverpool’s title hopes.
Flexibility and Workload
Liverpool’s front three does many things extremely well, including getting into arguments on the field and then making up on twitter. They also have played an insane amount of footy in the last 24 months. All three played in the world cup two summers ago and all three featured in an international tournament no more than 12 weeks ago. Firmino himself played 3400 minutes last season, Mane and Salah both clocked in at around 4300 minutes. They rarely ever get rest because, well firstly, they are really fucking good, but secondly, their replacements are 3-4 levels below them. They are three special players and together they form the scariest attack in the world, but they are also so heavily relied upon by Liverpool to not only score but also create their own chances due to the lack of creativity and attacking threat from midfield. Point being here is that with the amount of football they have played with little break, the odds of them getting injured are increased and if one of them goes down the other two suffer immensely because of the understanding that they have built with each other. Liverpool’s main rivals Manchester City recently lost their best centre back Ayermic Laporte for the foreseeable future and the effect of his absence has already been felt as they lost their first match without him to newly-promoted Norwich and conceded 3 times in the process. A blow to one of Sadio Mane, Mo Salah or Roberto Firmino would have a similar effect on Liverpool’s chances at the title. Liverpool scored 112 goals in all competitions last year, the front three had a total of 95 goal contributions and scored just over 60 percent of the team’s goals. The reason Liverpool would be in big trouble if they lost one of the 3 is that they do not have an adequate replacement because they decided against spending money this summer.
Injuries do happen in football and if one of the front three does suffer a major blow, it will be Liverpool’s fault they didn’t find a backup. I mentioned him previously but a player such as Steven Bergjwin would have been very useful due to the way he plays, his ability to play each position in the front 3 and he is a young player who would be willing to take a lesser role and learn from a top manager. Bergjwin played 23 times for PSV Eindhoven last year at Left Wing and 17 times at right-wing scoring 15 goals and 13 assists in all competitions as a 21-year-old. He has also played through the middle to start the new season and is doing well in the role.
Another argument for why Liverpool probably should have dipped their toes in the market is that they are not a very tactically flexible team with the personnel they have at the moment. Last year Liverpool used two formations, the 4-2-3-1 with a double pivot of sort and their classic 4-3-3 with a deep-lying 6, usually Fabinho. They were quite successful at times in the 4-3-2-1 but for most of the biggest games last year they reverted to the 4-3-3. Part of this was due to the fact that to implement the 4-2-3-1 they had to shuttle players like Naby Keita and Adam Lallana out wide; two natural central midfielders. Klopp did it on occasion because of the defensive stability it gave Liverpool and because it got Firmino and Salah more touches on the ball. If Liverpool had signed a wide player who is adept at playing both wings then the 4-2-3-1 could have been used much more naturally this season giving Klopp the option to switch between the two formations when he sees fit. Flexibility is important, Spurs and Manchester City both have the players to play two, three, even four different formations and with the squad Klopp has at the moment, he can’t. Had they signed a classic number 10 such as Hakim Ziyech from Ajax, a player that through his smart movement and high passing ability creates chances for fun, the 4-2-3-1 would have been a perfect formation to use for that type of player, if Klopp didn’t trust him in a midfield three.
Why it might just not matter
Other than a slight slip up in the champions league, Liverpool has started the season as well as they could have. With fifteen points from fifteen in the league, they are top of the table with a five-point lead over main rivals City, which at this stage in the season, shouldn’t go unnoticed. The front 3 looks re-energized, a fully fit Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and hopefully soon a fully fit Naby Keita, adds a different dimension to their midfield. With Manchester City in an injury crisis, now is Liverpool’s time to take advantage. They have another big game at the weekend against Chelsea to further establish themselves as the top dogs this season. Klopp is a big believer in continuity and has huge faith in his players, he likes the workhorse midfield that he employs because it does the job he wants. Another potential reason why Liverpool didn’t sign anyone major this summer is that they may be eyeing up a potential giant transfer for next summer with the likes of Jadon Sancho and Kylian Mbappe being linked to the club. Whatever happens this year, at least Liverpool cannot be accused of “Buying the title”