Monday 19 March 2018

Three things Liverpool need to fix to challenge for the Premier League title

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp

Mark Critchley

The transfer sagas roll on but there are also squad depth issues for Liverpool that need addressing.

Van Dijk is needed

Liverpool supporters would like to see the protracted pursuit of Virgil van Dijk come to a successful end more than anything else. After a long summer of hopes being renewed and then dashed again, to get the signing of the Southampton centre-back over the line would provide welcome relief.

In fairness though, as we outlined earlier this week, there is little that Liverpool can do to force the issue if Southampton are adamant that either a) Van Dijk will not be sold or b) he will not be sold to Liverpool specifically. Even if they relent on the first, they could still refuse to listen to offers from Anfield after the ‘tapping up’ controversy earlier this summer.

Virgil van Dijk may be about to finally seal his dream move to Liverpool (Martin Rickett/PA)

Liverpool therefore have not just one but two obstacles to clear before they can be confident of completing a deal for Van Dijk. As it stands, Southampton are adamant he is staying and this saga is likely to run right down to the deadline.

Central midfield is still light

It is not just in central defence that Klopp could do with an extra body. The midfield is light too, particularly after a thigh injury ruled Adam Lallana out for a ‘considerable period of time’, thought to be around two months.

The consequences of failing to bring in RB Leipzig’s Naby Keita are suddenly clear, with Klopp only another injury and suspension away from having the as-yet-untested Marko Grujic starting in the middle of the park. Philippe Coutinho has, of course, appeared in the position recently too and his availability come September is a whole other story.

There has been little indication that Liverpool are considering an alternative to Keita, with the club expected to go back in for the midfielder next summer. Klopp is not the type to bring in a short-term option, after all, but more bad luck with injuries and that could cause a problem.

Where is the depth?

Ultimately, the overarching issue is depth and it even stretches to parts of the squad that look well-stocked at first glance. Nathaniel Clyne’s current absence is a case in point. Ahead of this weekend’s opener at Watford, Klopp noted that one of three options could fill in: Joe Gomez, Jon Flanagan or Trent Alexander-Arnold.

A natural centre-back recovering from a minor muscle injury and a liked but limited full-back who struggled for minutes at Burnley are not exactly stellar options. It is, instead, likely to be the highly-rated Alexander-Arnold, who is still 18 years-old and a novice at the top level. Even when the cover is there, it is a little thin.

Ben Woodburn is another promising academy youngster whose rise through the ranks has come on merit, but also because of the unavailability of senior players. Liverpool start the season with five games in 15 days, including a hugely important two-legged Champions League play-off. That they may be forced to call on teenagers in the tie is something of a concern.

Independent News Service

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