Since Jürgen Klopp’s arrival, Liverpool’s transfer policy of not budging in their demands, of prioritizing patience over panic, and of bringing in only well-scouted players had yielded them great dividends. In a short term, the club had touched levels that seemed too far-fetched to even think of under Klopp’s predecessors.
Then the year 2020 happened. The material and financial predicaments caused by the pandemic meant that the club had to ditch their well-tested transfer policy. This was evident in the way Timo Werner’s scenario played out.
At the same time, credit must be given to the club’s management and the sporting director, Michael Edwards, for finding an innovative way to pay for Diogo Jota and strengthening the bench by bringing in Konstantinos Tsimikas from Olympiacos
Also, in signing Thiago Alcântara from Bayern Munich, the Reds departed from their conventional approach as they bought a player who was at the peak of his powers instead of acquiring an unfinished product with huge potential to grow.
While the quality of the arrivals was immensely encouraging – and hindsight can tell us that both Jota and Thiago were good choices – yet Liverpool didn’t tick all the boxes with their incomings.
The club took a big risk by going into the season with only three established centre-backs and not filling the gap created by the departure of Dejan Lovren. They had to pay a hefty price for it since all three first-team defenders, one by one, suffered long-term injuries and thus miss out on a sizeable portion of the season.
The club’s decision to yet again loan out Marko Grujic to FC Porto, even though he put in promising performances at the heart of the midfield in the EFL Cup, was not very intelligent. With Fabinho and lately Jordan Henderson covering up as make-shift centre-backs, Grujic – who is an expert central-defensive midfielder – could have functioned as a quite useful squad player in this injury-hit season.
In the winter transfer window, the club went on to make similar lapses. Although quick-witted, shrewd deadline day activity that culminated in signings of two centre-backs – Ben Davies from Preston and Ozan Kabak from FC Schalke 04 – should aid and stabilise Liverpool’s suffering backline they still made certain transfer choices that can come back to bite the club.
Firstly, the fact that Liverpool decided to take action only after all of their first-team centre-backs were ruled out for a large chunk and/or entirety for the remainder of the season is extremely concerning.
After Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez’s injury, the Reds’ primary target was to adapt and stay alive in the various competitions till January. The team stepped up to the task and performed admirably considering the circumstance.
The Reds were sitting high and pretty at the top of the table until Christmas. However, they expected a little too much from their adapted playing XIs, and the crash that was always bound to come hit them in January.
While Liverpool refrained from reinforcing their defence, things deteriorated as we entered the new year. They faced their worst goal drought since May 2000; dropped down to fourth position in the standings; saw their fortress, Anfield, get breached after an unbeaten run of 68 games in the league; and crashed out of the FA Cup within a month from Christmas.
Liverpool’s dip in form can not be single-handedly explained due to one cause or the other but the machine-like system Klopp has built depends heavily on coherence, hence defence, midfield, and attack can not be viewed in isolation.
They are interconnected, and instability in one department often becomes harmful for the entire structure. Thus, having 12 different centre-back pairings throughout the season certainly can’t have helped Liverpool’s cause.
Secondly, the decision to loan out Takumi Minamino combined with the absence of Jota has further weakened Liverpool’s thin bench strength. Klopp justified Origi’s inclusion in the squad over Minamino’s by stating the greater physical presence and strength of the former – two attributes which are essential in dealing with set-pieces.
However, the arrival of Davies and Kabak will solve the issues of lack of height that the defence has been lately facing. As an attacker, Minamino has more nuanced skills than the Belgian. Moreover, the Japanese also has the potential to play a Firmino-esque role which is extremely vital for the front three to function proficiently.
It would be safe to say that for the past two transfer windows Liverpool’s management and hierarchy have taken reactive rather than proactive decisions – an approach that looks to remedy rather than build upon.
While it is true that many of these decisions were purely circumstantial, but if the club continues to tread on a similar path then it can be damaging in the long run, especially considering the improvement of Man United, the imperious form of Man City, and the raw materials available to Klopp’s countryman Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea.