By Shaun Wylde – @ShaunWylde
Under Jurgen Klopp, January has been a notoriously quiet month for Liverpool in terms of transfers.
In the 2015/16 season, Liverpool attempted to sign Alex Teixeira from Shakhtar Donetsk, both the player and the club seemed keen but before a deal could be agreed a Chinese club, Jiansu Suning swooped in and secured him for £38 million. The only other player Liverpool signed during that window was Steven Caulker on loan.
In the 16/17 season Liverpool made no moves in January and arguably paid for it as the season nearly fell apart when Sadio Mane went to the Africa Cup of Nations. Liverpool didn’t win a single game during this January and went from title hopefuls to top four challengers in a very short amount of time.
This brings us to the only eventful January window during Klopp’s reign – last seasons one. Virgil van Dijk was announced a few days before the window opened after a summer long, perhaps illegal, pursuit from Liverpool and Philippe Coutinho left for Barcelona a few days later after a summer long, perhaps illegal, pursuit from the Catalans.
Many Liverpool fans, including myself, were desperate for the Reds to get in a Coutinho replacement in the same month but the club didn’t, much to everyone’s dismay, and the season rolled on. The lack of a replacement for the Brazilian was quickly forgotten as Liverpool went on a storming Champions League run that took us all the way to the final, which, as we all know, ended in heartbreak.
What lessons can be learned by these previous windows?
When looking at the current window, there are a few things that stick out to me. For starters, it feels to me that these two windows were defining moments in the clubs seasons. Liverpool’s decision not to strengthen in January came back to bite us big time in the 2016/17 season and could have been a disaster in all honesty.
Last seasons window is a mixed bag in my eyes. Virgil van Dijk was an obvious game changer and is a signing that has taken Liverpool to the next level. Furthermore, if Coutinho was going to negatively effect the morale of the team then it was understandable to allow him to move on but the decision to not replace him was still something that arguably ended up hurting us.
Klopp obviously saw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as a better fit in midfield for this Liverpool side and that was vindicated as Ox was exceptional in the second half of last season. The Englishman provided a perfect link from midfield to attack and when he got injured our squad looked quite thin in that area.
In the Champions League our lack of squad depth was brought to light as we had suffered a number of injuries earlier in the season and our bench looked quite weak in the final with us losing Chamberlain and then Salah in the final itself. In addition, during the Champions League knockout rounds our league form became quite patchy in between these European ties as we had to field players like Danny Ings who had been out of action for some time just to give some of our star players a rest.
How does this relate to this window? Well Liverpool’s squad depth is nothing like last seasons, we’re strong in pretty much every area with quite a few players fighting over each position. We have the front three, with Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi as backups. As well as this we have Xherdan Shaqiri who can play in the front three as well as in a 4-2-3-1 set up where Roberto Firmino can drop deeper.
We have six midfielders vying for three spots, more recently two spots in the 4-2-3-1 formation. Once Joe Gomez and Joel Matip come back this month we’ll be back to four first team level centre backs and we have a couple options at full back as well. This is a far cry from last seasons situation, so barring a ridiculous injury crisis we look to be in a good position.
Even knowing all this I still feel that Liverpool should sign one first team quality attacker in January. Why? Because of a few reasons. First of all, the front three play pretty much every game. Firmino, Mane and Salah are excellent but one thing we could have done with in the second half of last season was the rotation options we had in the first half.
This would have undoubtedly helped our league form and if we want to have another decent run in the Champions league then we need to make sure we’re in a position where our league form doesn’t suffer because of what we stand to lose if it does.
Secondly, the perfect thing about Klopp’s tactical flexibility this season is that it doesn’t matter too much whether the player is an attacking midfielder, a winger or a striker – the way Klopp has set up the team means we can adapt and change game to game so a player in any of those positions could be useful.
Earlier in the season, we struggled with linking the midfield and attack but Klopp’s tactical changes mean that this is no longer a problem regardless of the formation. Lastly, a strong, almost marquee, signing at this point of the season could be the boost that would help carry us over the line with the title and perhaps other competitions as well.
Signing a top-attacking player to help boost an already strong squad would provide a mental boost for the team and the fans that could help us carry our momentum into the business end of the season.
So who are the options? Nabil Fekir is the obvious one. Earmarked as Klopp’s chosen Coutinho replacement the attacking midfielder would in my mind be the perfect January signing. He would have been a Liverpool player already if not for a problematic medical and he provides a fantastic rotation option in midfield and attack.
He could fill in for any of the front three as well as play alongside them and would give Liverpool another threat from set pieces and from distance. I’m sure he still wants to play for us but whether we’ll go back in for him remains to be seen. Christian Pulisic would have been a good option before his move to Chelsea and in a similar way, Wilfried Zaha wouldn’t be a bad alternative as he would provide competition on the right wing for Mane.
The stumbling block would be the price as Crystal Palace would want a huge amount for him and as he wouldn’t necessarily definitely be in the starting eleven its hard to see Liverpool spending a crazy amount on him, this was more likely with Pulisic because of his marketability in America.
There is also Kai Havertz of Bayer Leverkusen, a young attacking midfielder with bags of potential but it would be hard to prise him off the German’s at this point in the season. An interesting possibility is Timo Werner of Red Bull Leipzig, the striker has reportedly been given an ultimatum over signing a new contract and it appears that there’s a possibility that he could be signed for a cut price of around £36 million according to Bild.
If this ends up being true then perhaps Liverpool will pounce as he would be able to play across the front line and would boost our striking options significantly. Another cheaper possibility would be recalling Harry Wilson from his loan at Derby, I understand a lot of fans would rather he saw out his loan where he’s getting a lot of game time and is performing excellently but I would argue that he could see significant game time as the games start to come thick and fast for Liverpool during the business end of the season.
The FA Cup and certain league games would give Wilson plenty of minutes to push for a starting role in my mind and as we are short on wingers I could see him coming in for Mane or Salah more than someone like Divock Origi. I do, however, feel he has shown he’s better than the Championship and deserves his shot in the team, Klopp may decide now is his chance in that regard.
Additionally, there has been a lot of traction recently over reports of Liverpool looking to sign Turkish attacking midfielder Abdulkadir Omur from Trabzonspor. The player himself has spoken in interviews like an offer has been made for him and he would be eager to join the Reds and the club president and coach have both talked of an offer for him from a Premier League club.
He appears to be a similar style player as Coutinho and Fekir, able play on the right or left of a front three as well as in an attacking midfield role where he supports a striker. From the little I’ve seen of him he looks like a player who looks to break the lines and run at the opposition.
He is only 19 and has a long way to go in his development but he looks like he has the raw ingredients that Klopp can work with, good on the ball, progressive, willing to take shots from distance. From what I have gathered from Trabzonspor fans on twitter, his biggest problem is the timing of his passes, sometimes he holds onto the ball too long or tries to force a move that isn’t there but those are things that can be worked on in the training ground.
Overall I would be happy with this purchase as it would give us the support and depth in attack that I feel we need going into the latter part of the season. He is obviously quite young so I doubt we would be relying on him this season but Omur would get game time for us and could still play an important role.
I would be pleased to see this transfer go through and this is probably one to keep an eye on as well as it seems more likely than the other options right now.
Whatever Klopp and Liverpool decide to do they will have my backing, this season has been incredible so far and the idea of glory in May is too tantalising to do more than mentally linger on momentarily. I don’t think that not signing an attacker is a disaster like I have in previous seasons, our squad is strong and although we look a little short in central defence right now, by the end of the month that won’t be the case.
Additionally I can understand not wanting to clog the squad up when Rhian Brewster will be back from injury very soon and will be looking at breaking into the first team and it was recently revealed that Oxlade-Chamberlain may be back as early as February.
I just feel that getting in a quality attacker this month would really make our squad keep rolling on in an almost unstoppable fashion, I would also hate to look back at this month and wonder what could have happened if we had pushed for someone at this point.
Hopefully it doesn’t come down to that though and I’m optimistic the Reds will keep rolling on with or without a new addition this month.