Liverpool have enjoyed emphatic success in both the Premier League and the Champions League with a core set of players. With the starting eleven remaining relatively untouched during the past few seasons, fears over an ageing squad have arisen.
The reliability and availability of the club’s senior players has allowed the team to pick itself, with a guaranteed front three of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Roberto Firmino leading the line since 2017. However, all three attackers are now 29 years old.
This is a worrying trend throughout the squad. Liverpool’s key players are running out of time and their days at the highest level are arguably numbered. Therefore, it is imperative that the Reds think about how they are going to rebuild the team once the current superstars leave Anfield.
In this article we look ahead at the upcoming challenges Klopp and his staff will face, whilst looking at the potential solutions:
Growing old together is a particular issue within the active playing squad. None more so that the current eulogised about attacking players in the squad.
Salah, Mané, Firmino and Xherdan Shaqiri are all 29-years-old. This is problematic for the club, who could end up having to replace them all within a short window, which isn’t practical and definitely won’t be cheap.
Diogo Jota is the first player that could be considered the first transfer in Liverpool’s so called rebuild. The Portuguese international, who is 24-years-old, was brought in to provide competition for the front-three, and proved an immediate success when standing in initially for the out-of-form Firmino.
Harvey Elliott on the other hand is set to play a part within the first-team this season. After a bright spell in the Championship with Blackburn, Klopp is keen to test the youngster with some first team reps in the Premier League. However, it is unlikely that we will see him become a regular starter during this campaign.
Takumi Minamino’s future is in doubt after returning from his successful loan spell at Southampton. The Japanese international has failed to impress so far on Merseyside and his minutes on the pitch are yet again expected to be limited.
Divock Origi could well be on his way this summer transfer window, with reports suggesting a bid in the region of £15m could be enough to acquire the Belgian. Like Minamino, Origi is struggling for minutes and with him in the latter part of his 20’s, he may want a new challenge come the end of August.
Liverpool’s front three were once a commanding force that were feared across Europe. However, this cohesive unit has not been able to replicate its dominance over the past season, with some suggesting they are starting to decline.
Firmino has suffered poor form over the last year, with his trademark playmaking style and creative flair seemingly missing from his game. Similar can be said for Mané, who did not live up to his usual clinical self; the absence of his goalscoring capabilities a huge blow for the Reds’ attacking threat. This could be an issue for the club, which could see them delve into the transfer market.
In September 2020, Liverpool signed Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich, in a deal which saw the Reds acquire its most illustrious player since the arrival of Virgil van Dijk from Southampton. However, with Thiago being 30 years old, this was unusual transfer for Fenway Sports Group (FSG), with their well-known transfer model – which involves recruiting players 24 and under – clearly in effect during transfer proceedings.
As a result, FSG were reluctant to offer Georginio Wijnaldum a new contract, which led to his departure to French giants Paris Saint-Germain. To the fans’ dismay, this could also become the case for club captain Jordan Henderson, with reports suggesting talks between the England international and the club have begun, but no real progress has been made.
With Henderson aging and bigger priorities in the squad to renew, FSG seem reluctant to pay the required amount to keep the club captain. This has alerted the market to a potential transfer, as the Reds would not like to endure a repeat of Wijnaldum’s situation, which saw the player leave for free upon the expiry of his contract.
Having experienced players in the team is essential to the development of youngsters rising through the ranks. For those such as Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones, learning from the people who have been there and one that is crucial for their development. Despite this, Liverpool cannot afford for the squad to grow old together.
For the academy’s prospects, it would be ideal if the more experienced players joined the youth coaching staff upon retirement. This is what is expected of James Milner, who is 35, when his contract expires next summer if he decides to retire from playing.
When all central defenders are fit, the starting centre-half partnership has consisted of Virgil Van Dijk and Joël Matip – who are both ageing players themselves. Van Dijk is 30, however is certain to be a pivotal player in this Reds’ side for years to come. Joël Matip’s future is less certain. Being 29-years-old with a poor injury record, it is possible that Matip may not remain at the club beyond the 2021/22 campaign. With Joe Gomez returning from injury and the talented youngster Ibrahima Konaté joining the squad, the second starting spot is an open battle. Thus, it is not clear as to who will hold the position down long-term.
Core players to rebuild around – the spine of the team
Reliability in the first line of defence is essential for Liverpool to rebuild their squad upon. Alisson Becker has provided stability in goal for the Reds since his arrival from Roma in 2018. The Brazilian’s shot-stopping ability has demonstrated that he is one of the world’s best goalkeepers and Liverpool will continue to utilise him for years to come after he recently signed a new long-term contract with the club.
Virgil van Dijk recently made his Liverpool return, coming on as a substitute in a 4-3 defeat to Hertha Berlin – his first appearance since undergoing knee surgery nine months ago. Van Dijk finished runner-up in the 2019 Ballon d’Or – second only to Lionel Messi. The Dutch centre-back is the heart of Liverpool’s defence, and he will continue to be a brilliant mentor for the future partnership of Gomez and Konaté.
Andy Robertson is a fan favourite at Anfield. With his incredible work-ethic and blistering left foot, Robertson has locked down the left-back position and continues to prove himself to be one of the greatest left-backs in world football.
On the opposite flank, Trent Alexander-Arnold will be the key player to this rebuild. Being 22 years old, Trent has achieved so much in such a short period of time. Having played for the first-team for four years, the English right-back has another decade to further secure his status as a Liverpool legend. Trent is seen to be a future captain, so a potential career-lasting stay at Anfield will provide the infrastructure for the rebuild.
Fabinho has recently signed a new contract with the club, extending his stay with the Reds until 2026. Since his arrival from AS Monaco, Fabinho has provided that defensive cover in the midfield area that was most definitely needed, leading to his nickname of the lighthouse. The Brazilian will provide the spine that the rest of the midfield can be built upon.
Mohamed Salah has been one of Liverpool’s greatest ever attackers. Scoring 44 goals in his debut campaign in 2017/18, Salah’s emphatic strike rate has made Anfield a daunting place to come. Although the winger is 29-years-old, he is showing no signs of slowing down and is still considered one of the most valuable players in world football.
Liverpool desperately needs to add fresh attacking talent to the squad. A long-term replacement for Firmino is vital. The Reds should seek to bring in an out-and-out centre forward. Depending on a formation change, a number nine could be useful to utilise different midfield possibilities, with a striker topping the line. This could be the most important incoming of all, as the current attacking options are ageing as a unit, and recent form has suggested this could be a more prominent issue than first expected.
A backup winger, with the potential to secure a starting spot in the team, should also be a priority. A similar incoming to the transfer of Jota would make perfect for Klopp, with Shaqiri’s likely departure a potent reason to do so. In an ideal scenario, the incoming attacker would be versatile, having the ability to play anywhere across the front line.
It is critical that Liverpool bolster their midfield options. Due to ages of Thiago and Henderson – in addition to Wijnaldum’s recent departure – the Reds could be short in the midfield department. A direct replacement for Wijnaldum is necessary as the reliability and the lack of an injury record that the Dutchman provided will be sorely missed. Therefore, a player with an engine, with the ability to read and play precise passes, would be a fantastic addition to the squad.
Finally, a more creative player would add another dimension to the midfield. A midfielder reminiscent of Phillipe Coutinho, with the finesse and technical ability of an attacker. This would allow tactical changes to be made when seeking that final product in front of goal. With Fabinho’s defensive strength and Thiago playing passes through the lines, a more attacking midfielder would flourish when given the freedom to roam in the final third.
When will it happen?
With both Manchester rivals having bolstered their squads this summer, fans are worried that Liverpool are going to be left behind. It is imperative that the Reds bring in players to provide depth within the squad – something that has been most needed since Jürgen Klopp joined the club.
It is not expected that Liverpool will begin a full rebuild this year. If certain players do leave the club, they will be replaced. However, it seems that any significant transfer activity will be conducted next summer when the club’s finances are a little bit clearer.
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