This was tipped to be a vitally important summer for Liverpool. The appointment of Jurgen Klopp last October led to widespread optimism on Merseyside, but the German manager was able to get away with an eighth place league finish and defeat in the finals of the Europa League and Capital One Cup thanks to the acknowledgement that he was managing a team he had not assembled himself.
Now though, there can be no hiding for the German manager. With a full summer transfer window and seven new faces in the team, this is now his team, and the success and failure of it comes completely down to him.
The team was already good, sometimes brilliant, as a 4-1 win over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium and the stunning 4-3 win over Borussia Dortmund showed the potential that the squad possessed. Nevertheless, it was equally inconsistent, as a 3-0 defeat to Watford demonstrated, and big changes were needed in order to turn Liverpool into Champions League contenders, let alone title challengers as some of the more dreamy fans were expecting.
One of the main positions which needed to be improved was in goal. Simon Mignolet is a brilliant shot-stopper on his day, but those days don’t come around often enough, and the Belgian was often held responsible for quite a few of the points dropped by his side thanks to simple errors being made.
Klopp addressed this area early in the window by signing Mainz goalkeeper Loris Karius for a mere £4.7 million. This was about half of what Mignolet cost, and the 22-year-old could prove to be one of the best signings of the window.
Last season, Karius helped his unfashionable Mainz side to sixth in the Bundesliga, and was widely considered to be the second best goalkeeper in the division, only behind Manuel Neuer. A broken hand has stopped Liverpool fans from seeing him in competitive action thus far, but once he returns to fitness, expect him to provide a real upgrade on Mignolet.
Klopp also brought in 39-year-old Alex Manninger as a third choice goalkeeper. He is unlikely to play, but as an experienced head, there is nothing wrong with this transfer.
The defence was another area of concern, and Mamadou Sakho’s doping ban left Liverpool looking very short at the back at the end of the season, but Klopp had already come up with a solution in January by securing a pre-contract agreement for Schalke centre back Joel Matip.
Again, Matip was a stand out performer in the Bundesliga, with Champions League experience, and his calm presence on the ball is exactly what the Reds need in central defence. At just 25 as well, he could prove to be a rock at the heart of their defence for many years to come.
Thanks to the decline of Martin Skrtel, who was thankfully sold, Klopp had to bring in another back-up defender, and plumped for Estonian captain Ragnar Klavan from Augsburg. Klavan looks solid enough, without being spectacular, but clearly is not as comfortable as Matip or Lovren on the ball. Still, as third choice centre-back, he doesn’t look as if he will let the side down in the way Skrtel did at the end of his Liverpool career.
Moving further forward, Klopp secured his best signing of the window in electric Southampton winger Sadio Mane. A few eyebrows were raised when Liverpool splashed around £34 million on his services, especially considering he was quite inconsistent at St. Mary’s, but his early performances for the Reds already seem to have justified that fee.
Alongside Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho in a front three, who are both excellent technicians but lack searing pace, Mane has provided the Reds with a real fear factor on the counter attack. Consequently, defenders have to drop deeper to cover for his pace, allowing the array of ball-playing midfielders space to roam between midfield and defence.
Mane was brilliant against Arsenal and Spurs, and sorely missed against Burnley. He could be a brilliant signing.
The only other name to come in for an eight figure sum was Newcastle midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum, who arrived for around £25 million. Many eyebrows were raised amongst Liverpool fans, but this could also actually prove to be an excellent deal.
Energetic, with brilliant finishing abilities, Wijnaldum scored 11 goals for relegated Newcastle in his debut season in English football. One criticism that was laid at his door was that he didn’t try hard enough for the struggling Magpies, but if Jurgen Klopp manages his temperament correctly, Wijnaldum will provide plenty of goals from a midfield three, as well as contributing to the counter pressing that makes the Reds so dangerous.
A bit pricey he may be, but he was a bargain for Newcastle at £14 million last summer, and Liverpool would struggle to find a better available midfielder for the same price. The jury’s still out, but another good deal in my opinion.
The final signing was also made in January, a £5.5 million deal for 20-year-old Serbian midfielder Marko Grujic. He has yet to be seen in the Premier League for any length of time, but the youngster impressed in pre-season, and has plenty of time to get better as a player. He is one for the future, but initial impressions show he may have an impact this campaign as well.
There can be very few complaints then with the personnel that Liverpool have brought in. Without Champions League football, they have attracted some real talent, if not big names, that have certainly improved the side.
There can also be no complaints in the sales that the Reds made. In fact, they actually ended the summer window in profit, which is remarkable considering that they only sold players that were surplus to requirements.
Christian Benteke left for Crystal Palace for an initial £27 million. Still a good target man, it never worked out for Benteke under Klopp, and for the Reds to recoup virtually all of the money they paid Aston Villa for his services after nine paltry Premier League goals represented a very good deal.
They were also finally able to dump Mario Balotelli as well, even if it was on a free transfer to Nice. Martin Skrtel was another underperforming player that was shipped out, moving to Fenerbahce.
The Reds also made some phenomenal money from Bournemouth who spent £15 million on Jordon Ibe and then a further £6 million on Brad Smith. This was a remarkable double deal for the Reds, who lost two potentially good players – but also two who were not really in the first team plans of Klopp – for very good money.
Losing Joe Allen; who had been so impressive for Wales in the Euros, was perhaps the biggest disappointment, but to receive £13 million for a player out of contract in one year was not a massive failure on the part of the club, and the £4 million they received in compensation for the loss of 19-year-old Jerome Sinclair was a welcome boost to the coffers. This seems to be even better value when you consider that Watford were seemingly making attempts to ship him out on loan on deadline day.
Flops such as Luis Alberto departed the club, and Lazar Markovic was loaned out in order to prove his worth to Klopp. Jon Flanagan and Andre Wisdom were also sent out on loan, and all were unlikely to feature much this season.
Out of everyone who left the club, probably only Allen and Ibe would have had much of a say on the first eleven, so there can be no real complaints with the outgoings from Anfield this summer.
The main downside of what has been a mostly positive summer window for the Reds was the failure to deal with the main problem of the summer: left-back.
Alberto Moreno was crying out to be replaced, but this was essentially the one area of the squad which Klopp left untouched. James Milner has come in there as the first choice option, but he is far from in his comfort zone there, and it could be an area of real weakness there.
Furthermore, the Reds also could have done with another defensive midfielder. Jordan Henderson has played there in the opening three games of the season, and was woefully exposed against Burnley. Emre Can and Lucas are the only real options there at the moment, and signing someone like Leandro Paredes or Gary Medel; whilst not glamorous, would have filled a hole in the team.
In short, it is hard to criticise the business Liverpool did do, as most of it was very astute, but the problem lies in the signings they failed to make. Mane, Karius and Matip could all prove to be really great signings, and could transform the team’s fortunes, but a failure to sign a left-back could leave them short of where they want to be at the end of the campaign.
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