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Liverpool have failed to tip the balance in their favour after disappointing transfer strategy

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Liverpool have failed to tip the balance in their favour after disappointing transfer strategy

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SportsCafe Desk

09/20/2021

"I was in the game for the love of football - and I wanted to bring back happiness to the people of Liverpool." ~ Bill Shankly

Jurgen Klopp delivered on his predecessor's promise as he led Liverpool to their first-ever Premier League title in the 2019/20 season with all the pieces of the puzzle carefully assembled to build on this success but somehow the Reds have shuffled their deck and came out empty. The transfer window ended on the 31st of August bringing to an end an exciting summer of drama, speculation, and some of the most high-profile moves in living memory.

While all the top clubs were meticulously closing in on securing their targets or scurrying around to find suitable players, Liverpool recorded just one arrival over the summer while they cut down their squad to size, letting players leave. The Reds finished the summer having brought in only one new face to their squad, with Ibrahim Konate joining from RB Leipzig but on the other hand, the likes of Gini Wijnaldum and Xherdan Shaqiri as well as some of the fringe players like Marko Grujic and Harry Wilson were allowed to leave.

Eyebrows were raised by supporters and pundits alike as murmurings began to ensue over whether Liverpool could mount a successful title challenge over the course of the 2021/22 season, or even further down the line, especially when their rivals spent a lot of money to make the Premier League even more competitive this time around. Klopp's men started the season off strongly with ten points from their first four games of the domestic campaign but even then, things have been far from perfect.

Their title winning 2019/20 season was an incredible affair indeed as the Reds set multiple records along the way including winning the league with seven games remaining making it the earliest any team has ever won the Premier League title. They finished the season with a club record of 99 points and secured a joint record of 32 wins in a single season while also staying unbeaten for more than half the season.

There was a feeling in the footballing world and the city of Liverpool that the Merseyside club were set to achieve bigger and better things in the following campaign but an injury crisis, as well as inconsistent displays, ensured that no such feat was achieved. Instead, the Reds hovered around just outside the top-four for the majority of the season before a late-season spark in turned their fortunes around as they finished third in the final game week of the campaign. 

Yet even then, the persistent worry with Liverpool, as it was during the beginning of last summer, is that they might be one or two players short of challenging for the title when the season progresses and the calendar becomes even tougher for clubs with games flying left, right and center. The arrival of Ibrahim Konate should, in theory, solve one of Liverpool's biggest needs as last season showcased how badly the English club needed a centre-back.

The 22-year-old is a player brimming with ability as outlined by his stint with RB Leipzig and could be developed into a pivotal member of the team but his age, injury concerns and the fact that Konate has only made 80 career appearances since his senior debut, means that this is a long-term move. Even then, the Frenchman featured alongside Virgil van Dijk and showcased just what he can offer but the return of both Joel Matip and Joe Gomez from long injury lay-offs, might see him wait for another start.

 © @ Twitter

That is since while the 22-year-old is someone who can make an immediate impact, the former Leipzig man is expected to be relegated to the bench while making an impact as a rotation option over the season. The main surprise of Liverpool's transfer strategy is that they opted to not make a midfield signing following Wijnaldum's exit and instead, according to Jurgen Klopp, the club have decided on a different approach with the onus being placed on their fringe starts.

The likes of Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are expected to step up while younger players like 18-year old Harvey Elliot and the 20-year-old Curtis Jones are also expected to do their bit when they're brought into the fold. Even then, if reports are to be believed, it wasn't a lack of effort that stopped them from signing a replacement with interest in Marcel Sabitzer and James Ward-Prowse but the club simply opted not sign a replacement.

However, the bigger, and more pertinent, questions have been asked further forward as Liverpool go into yet another season relying heavily on Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and now Diogo Jota with no proper replacements in place. Neither Takumi Minamino or Divock Origi have impressed over the years, with Origi struggling to contribute with sporadic game-time and neither have shown that they have the quality to replace the slew of superstars Liverpool have in their ranks.

And yet, even with that, losing Wijnaldum will be the biggest blow for Liverpool as the Dutchman had established his importance to the English side with over 200 appearances the five seasons. Furthermore, his versatility and quality will be sorely missed, but entrusting the responsibility of replacing him to their youth and fringe players has already taken a serious body blow. Harvey Elliot was the man slotted in with him showcasing an impressive range of talents but then crisis struck and now Liverpool are in trouble.

The 18-year-old suffered a serious ankle injury against Leeds United last weekend and now is expected to miss the majority of the season if not all of it. That means Naby Keita will be burdened with the responsibility of replacing Wijnaldum and that is a strange move as the Guinea star has never delivered on his potential. The midfielder joined Liverpool in the summer of 2018 but has only started 47 games since while, in comparison, Wijnaldum started 45 games last season alone.

Those numbers suggest that Keita is not ready to offer the void of consistency left by the Dutchman with Keita's appearances getting smaller and smaller each year since his arrival, from 33 in his first season to 27 in his second and to only 16 last season. Not only that, the Guinean also started just nine games in all competitions and his miserable time was encapsulated when he was taken off just before half time in the Champions League quarter-finals last term.

No wonder many find it baffling that Liverpool hasn't replaced the departed Dutchman with a new signing considering that Keita has rarely come close to justifying the £53 million price-tag but the hope, at least that's what many believe, is that this is his season. At least, that seems to be the strategy that Liverpool pursued this summer with them attempting to retain key players and that meant a slew of new contracts.

The Reds tied down Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Fabinho, Alisson Becker, Virgil van Dijk, and Jordan Henderson to new long-term deals while negotiations are underway with Mohamed Salah over extending his stay at Anfield. Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino are also next in line for Liverpool to negotiate with as they enter the last two years of their current deal and when it comes to that, the club have done a super job of tying down key players to ensure their long-term future.

But questions still should be asked about their short-term ambitions and future as while Liverpool have, arguably, one of the best first XIs in the Premier League and good back-ups for their defenders, the issue now is their midfield and attack. It remains to be seen whether Oxlade-Chamberlain, Keita, and Matip can remain fit for a prolonged period while last season's summer acquisitions such as Thiago and Kostas Tsimikas can show fans exactly what they couldn't offer last season and why they were signed.

It's a problem because the fact is that last summer Liverpool desperately needed a defender but they failed to address the need and paid for it dearly when their backline crumbled to not one or two, but a catalogue of injuries. An attacker and a midfielder, to replace Gini, should have been their priority this time around but again the English club has failed to capture an acquisition that would have added more quality to their attack.

And the kicker, is that they've done that in a season that will be disrupted by the Africa Cup of Nations which will no doubt be a true test of Liverpool's mettle as they lose their key players in a key part of the season. Klopp's lack of faith in Minamino and Origi's lack of form, since scoring in the Champions League final in the 2018/19 season, is cause for concern for the Liverpool supporters.

But what's done is done, the question is, have Liverpool done enough to capitalize on the momentum they have generated to stay atop of the English footballing pyramid? That is, unfortunately, something only the 2021/22 season will tell us.

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