By Shaun Wylde – @ShaunWylde
Last summer was unlike any transfer window we Liverpool supporters had ever experienced before.
The amount of times in past years I had heard fellow supporters talk about the need for key positions to be fixed, only to be disappointed when that didn’t happen, was impossible to count. Last summer, however, was different from day one.
While it’s possible that Liverpool were perhaps still one attacking option short in their recruitment, the summer window was a roaring success in general. This wasn’t just because Liverpool spent big money on problem positions but was also because they targeted the perfect player for each key position and all of these players have already been a success story.
This includes Naby Keita, who after a difficult start has really started to demonstrate his abilities more in the last few games. Let’s take a look at the players signed and see just how much they have improved Liverpool.
Our very first summer signing was Fabinho of AS Monaco. This signing in some ways set the tone for the summer, ruthless business that was wrapped up as soon as there was a breakthrough.
The Brazilian was first linked with Liverpool by credible sources a mere 48 hours after the Champions league final and – later that very same day – he was on the Liverpool website wearing our red shirt.
Liverpool had lacked a top quality defensive midfielder since Javier Mascherano joined Barcelona almost a decade ago. When looking at the players linked with us in that position over the last year, you struggle to think of a better option than Fabinho.
For instance Jorginho was earmarked as our number one target in that position around April time last year, but he would never have made anywhere near the same impact that Fab has. Not only has Fabinho revolutionised our midfield in a defensive aspect, he was also proved himself to be an extremely progressive midfielder on the ball and is much more than a No.6 that sits in front of the defence.
His passing range is excellent and his forward thinking mind-set coupled with his defensive solidity has been a game changer for our midfield. His overall game has evolved massively and he is one of the first names on the team sheet now after initially needing some time to acclimatise to Klopps demands.
He has been a piece of the midfield jigsaw we have been missing for a long time and, as if that wasn’t enough, he can also deputise in central defence incredibly well when required. It’s exciting to think of how much further Fabinho can improve for us.
Another signing we made in the summer that felt like a piece of the jigsaw was our new goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
No Liverpool fan needs to be told about our goalkeeping troubles – Karius’ blunders in Kiev, while extremely painful, were just the latest in a catalogue of calamitous errors by Liverpool goalkeepers over the last six years.
Now, Alisson isn’t without his heart-in-mouth moments at all but the difference in quality between him and our previous two keepers is night and day. Last season Liverpool were very good at limiting our opponents to very few shots on target but we would still find ourselves conceding sloppy goals and dropping points.
While this wasn’t always necessarily Karius and Mignolet’s fault, it was evident that we didn’t have what a lot of top teams have, which is a goalkeeper to bail us out of situations. In Alisson we now have this.
His world-class one-on-one ability has saved us a point against Chelsea among others and his expert positioning is the reason we are still in the Champions League when he made his late stop against Napoli at Anfield.
In addition to this, he has provided us with world-class distribution that has already helped us bag winning goals against Fulham, Burnley and Crystal Palace. His ability to release the ball quickly and precisely has provided a new dimension to our style of football and has been crucial in winning us tough games at points throughout the season.
We have also been fortunate that his only mistakes this season, against Leicester, Man United and – to a lesser extent – Crystal Palace, have cost us a grand total of zero points so even the inevitable mistakes that all goalies will endure have largely been irrelevant where Alisson is concerned.
As mentioned before, this doesn’t mean it has all been smooth sailing, Alisson still personally gives me a heart attack every now and again when on the ball (most recently against Bayern Munich) but that coolness when in possession and under pressure seems to be a part of his style and he never looks affected mentally by shaky moments.
Either way, these sorts of drawbacks regarding Alisson’s style are a small price to pay for the complete revelation he has been in goal for us.
Signing Xherdan Shaqiri from Stoke City seemed like sensible business all round at the time. It was widely reported that he had a relegation clause in his contract and was available for a very modest £13million.
After the World Cup had finished in Russia, Liverpool activated it and he hasn’t looked out of place since. Originally brought in as an impact sub, he actually pushed for a starting place earlier in the season when Liverpool were struggling to link the midfield and attack.
He has scored important goals to assist our title push – none more vital than his brace against Manchester United – and has already developed an understanding with Salah that is a little reminiscent of Oxlade-Chamberlain’s relationship with the Egyptian last season.
Moreover, something that can’t be underestimated with Shaqiri is the fact that he has won titles with Bayern Munich; this sort of experience isn’t something we have in abundance at Liverpool so the importance of his personality in the dressing room cannot be understated.
Recently his form has wavered a little bit and he has found himself back on the bench but I’m sure he will rediscover his form soon to help us push for the title. He has already undoubtedly played a massive part.
This brings me to our first summer signing and probably the most controversial to call a complete success. Naby Keita has had to deal with a lot of hype around his name before he joined us, probably the most a young player would ever have to endure as Liverpool fans had to wait a full 12 months before seeing him in action.
As a result of this there was a huge amount of expectation laid at the young mans feet, which didn’t help with him receiving Steven Gerrard’s old No.8. He started off with an extremely smooth debut against West Ham and then struggled for a long time as Liverpools system changed and expectancy seemed a little too much for him.
He showed glimpses of the player that we signed and just when you thought he was taking a step forward he would take a step back. What became clear was that he was a confidence player and his confidence was at an all time low.
Over the last few weeks however, we have started to see the player we thought we signed, he’s still not the same guy we saw at RBL but he is getting there bit by bit. We have started to see him drive at opponents in midfield more, he has tried to be more positive on the ball and he has been proactive in influencing the game for his side.
It’s also important to note that fine margins are what separates him from standing out in the last week more obviously. In the game against Leicester at Anfield he should have been awarded a penalty, which could have been a match-winning goal.
In addition, the end of the game against West Ham at the London Stadium, he was the only one who looked like he could get us a game winning moment and actually found Origi late on with a precise pass that was wasted. Granted, Origi was offside but the officials didn’t seem to notice and if that had gone in then the outlook on Keita would be very different.
Even with these games going the way they did he was exceptional against Bournemouth, his pass to Firmino for the third goal being the highlight of his performance and while he was disappointing against Bayern in the second half, he was unplayable in the first.
Naby is getting better and is becoming the player we thought we had signed a year and a half ago, while its true he’s not there yet he is already providing enough of an option to be influential and he offers something we don’t have in any other player which is vital. It will also be interesting to see how he does when Ox is in midfield alongside him.
That’s why for me it isn’t difficult to call him a successful signing, he isn’t at his best but he’s still offering enough useful qualities that he’s helping us and he is steadily getting there. Not to mention we all know he is going to be absolute quality when he does hit his best.
While Liverpool fans can feel a little aggrieved that we never signed an attacking midfield player like Fekir, our summer has been a success without a shadow of a doubt and it’s a testament to our recruitment that their track record is so good since Klopp has been our manager. Long may it continue.