Saturday 21 April 2018

Liverpool won't challenge until Klopp buys the players he wants

German is playing waiting game as he works with squad he inherited

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp Picture: PA
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp Picture: PA

Chris Bascombe

They are good. . . just not good enough. When Fenway Sports group bought Liverpool in 2010, if you had said the Merseyside club would reach six semi-finals, three cup finals and finish runners-up in the Premier League over the next seven years, there might have been a cautiously enthusiastic response.

Many would have considered it a solid foundation on which to build - particularly if the promise of a new main stand was realised. Others would want much more, arguing this is a moderate return, since nearly winning will never be enough for a club of Liverpool's stature.

Liverpool find themselves in the grip of this debate now, the latest semi-final setback further evidence of a side capable of getting so far but still lacking the quality to be winners.

Liverpool, like the rest of the top six, are judged to a higher standard and any season that passes without a trophy is a disappointment.

It means every opportunity that passes will provoke a state-of-the-nation review similar to the past 24 hours. Until New Year's Day, Liverpool were enjoying their best Premier League season, so it is slightly absurd that we have not reached February without suggestions all has been derailed.

It has not. They still have the FA Cup to play for and if Liverpool beat Chelsea next week, the 'Where has it all gone wrong?' features will be substituted by investigations into what manager Jürgen Klopp has done to revive his side.

How will Klopp respond to this setback? Stick to his plan of gradual development. He is thinking of the next six years, not six months. Klopp will not be influenced by the mania that follows successive defeats.

He added quality to the Liverpool squad last summer, and the impact of players of the calibre of Joël Matip and Sadio Mané was evident. He could have signed more, but was determined to develop players he inherited because he is sure they have the talent to secure Champions League qualification.

He has tried to sign more players, and despite his public pronouncements about being relaxed about new faces in January, would act if the right player were available. He sees a relationship with a team as an annual commitment - to give players a full season to prove themselves - before deciding who will move forward next year.

It is likely Klopp will add another five players at least in the summer, but with Liverpool starting this season in just three competitions, he never needed the squad size required should the club be in Europe.

Liverpool have struggled most recently because they do not have like-for-like replacements when their best players, such as Philippe Coutinho and Mané, are absent.

In fairness, not too many clubs do, a point Klopp made before Christmas when asking how Chelsea would have fared without Diego Costa and Eden Hazard for a month.

Who has most to prove?

Inevitably, most of the focus is on Daniel Sturridge. When everyone is available, the England striker will not start. He has had several chances since the turn of the year but has looked a shadow of the player he used to be.

Many will argue that he has not had the service, but Sturridge used to be adept at finding space and his turn of pace was such he was unstoppable during his first 18 months at the club. His goal ratio was as good as the some of the legendary Liverpool strikers.

Now that pace has not been visible, he drops deeper and he is tentative when needing to sprint. It will be a surprise if he is not sold in the summer. Emre Can has also lost form at the wrong time as his representatives continue contract negotiations. Can ended last season in excellent form, forcing his way in the Germany squad at the European Championship, but since suffering an ankle injury he has struggled.

Klopp needs to find a pacy wide man

He knew that was the biggest issue, which is why he bid for Borussia Dortmund's Christian Pulisic last summer and registered interest in Julian Draxler before the German international chose Paris St-Germain.

Bayer Leverkusen's Julian Brandt is one of those Klopp was referencing when stating recently his club would not sell. If Klopp wants the owners to spend big, they will. He is fundamental to the transfer decisions, not peripheral.

Can Liverpool get their early-season form back?

They will be counting down the days until Mané's return in order to make that happen.

We should not forget how well Liverpool played earlier in the season, which is why Klopp remains so confident that form can be rediscovered. The last few weeks have demonstrated the strength in depth is not there.

It is worth remembering that of the side that started against Southampton on Wednesday, only Loris Karius and Matip are Klopp signings. Klopp has been at the club for only 15 months and is yet to oversee a full season in charge. He has not invested as much as he can - by his own choice - such is his belief in gradual development.

At the start of this season - and on occasions during the last one - Liverpool were so thrilling because even though they were not Klopp's players, they resembled a Klopp team.

If there is one lesson he and everyone else will surely learn since the turn of the year, it is this: Liverpool will not become a consistently good Klopp team until they have signed more Klopp players. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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