Throughout his managerial career, Jürgen Klopp has made no secret of the fact that he prefers to operate with a smaller squad than others might be comfortable with.
“The solution cannot be to have a much bigger squad for the specific moment and then realise you cannot use all the players,” said the German, in the aftermath of guiding Liverpool to their first league title in three decades.
He used just 24 players across all fixtures in the Premier League and Champions League in that 2019/20 campaign. A far greater number than that appeared for the first team in some way, with an unprecedented number of academy players used in both domestic cups, but of those only Neco Williams, Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott saw action in priority competitions.
That emphatic romp to the Premier League title came after a summer in which the Reds were extraordinarily quiet. Goalkeeper Adrián was the only senior addition, and he was only brought in to replace Simon Mignolet, who had chosen to call time on his Anfield career.
Many people doubted the squad’s capability to keep pace with Manchester City after that summer of inaction, but of course they went on to blow Pep Guardiola’s side away with ease over the course of the league season.
Takumi Minamino was added part way through the season, but he wasn’t signed out of necessity. The Japanese had impressed Klopp and his staff in his displays against them for FC Salzburg in European competition and, upon identifying his £7.75m release clause, moved swiftly to secure a competent squad player who added depth, had low expectations of playing time and who would likely fetch a good resale value in the future.
By the time the transfer market next reopened after an extended 2019/20 campaign, a few more first teamers had left. Nathaniel Clyne was released, although he wasn’t being used anyway. Adam Lallana’s contract also expired, while Dejan Lovren made the move to Zenit St. Petersburg, no longer content with a bit-part role at Anfield.
The spaces vacated by those three departing senior players were filled by the arriving trio of Kostas Tsimikas, Diogo Jota and Thiago. But this did not provide a status quo within the first-team setup – after the promotion of several young players, tasked with more active roles in the senior side, the squad had grown to a size which made Klopp uncomfortable.
“In this moment, the squad would be too big, that’s true,” he told reporters a week or so before the transfer deadline in October. And he meant it.
But with one eye on a fixture schedule even more tightly-packed than usual in this truncated 2020/21 season, the German was reluctant to sanction the departures of too many for the time being. Marko Grujić, Loris Karius and Harry Wilson were sent back out on loan, but some of those who were tipped to leave, like Xherdan Shaqiri and Divock Origi, remained at Anfield.
That is highly unlikely to remain the case for too much longer. Liverpool’s Belgian forward looks set to leave, possible as early as next month, with plenty of potential destinations being cited by news outlets both in the UK and on the continent. The most trustworthy tip is a potential move to Wolves, with The Athletic’s James Pearce and Tim Spiers confirming Nuno Espírito Santo’s interest and Liverpool’s willingness to listen to offers.
And he won’t be the only one allowed to leave either in the New Year or at the end of the current campaign. Shaqiri likely remains on that list, with Jota pushing him further down the pecking order and yet another campaign where he has, so far, failed to maintain his fitness.Embed from Getty Images
There is, of course, a huge question mark over Gini Wijnaldum’s future. Liverpool would no doubt like to keep him around, but if the player opts for a fresh challenge then the club is powerless to prevent his departure upon the expire of his contract next summer. James Milner, who turns 35 next month, is another who could decide to leave for pastures new – the feeling is he may wish to return to boyhood club Leeds United before hanging up his boots.
And rumours persist that one of Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino or Mohamed Salah could be tempted to start a new chapter in their careers elsewhere. Whether or not you want to give too much stock to this idea is your call, but it’s not absolutely inconceivable that the club may choose to cash in on a 28-year-old whose stock is as high as can be should an astronomical, Coutinho-esque offer come in.
Add to all this the seemingly inevitable sales and releases of the likes of Wilson, Grujić, Karius and Adrián at the end of the season, and suddenly the playing squad looks a lot leaner once again. This idea would make many squirm, but a small, tightly-knit crop of players is what Klopp prefers to operate with.
Of course, we don’t yet know what additions – if any – are on the horizon. After long-term injuries to Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, and the poor injury records of both the latter and Joël Matip, it seems reasonable that the club would be keeping an eye out for an opportunity to bring in a new central defender.
Ben White and Ozan Kabak are two of the most commonly cited names, but neither seems to be the style of player that Klopp would prefer to have as an option in the system he prefers. Sven Botman, also recently named as a person of interest, is a far more suitable candidate, per our analysis of centre-backs across Europe to find people with traits preferred by the German.
Fan-driven rumours of a mega-money marquee signing such as Kylian Mbappé or Jadon Sancho also persist, but this only seems feasible if one of Liverpool’s long-standing front three is the subject of a similarly huge bid from the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona or Juventus.
Whatever business the club decides to do in the next two transfer windows in terms of new signings, the likelihood remains that more people will be making their final Axa Training Centre exit than those coming through the door for their first time.
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