Jose Enrique – The Column #4: Rafa Benitez has made a mistake, Liverpool need a new striker & Euro 2020 shows why we love football

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  • Rafa Benitez joining Everton is a mistake…
  • Liverpool should sign a player like Alexander Isak this summer…
  • Bringing in a new No.8 won’t be a priority…
  • A potential Anfield return for Philippe Coutinho…
  • England will be in the Euro 2020 final…

This is the fourth in a series of columns Jose Enrique, Liverpool’s former left-back, is writing for Empire of the Kop.

In it, Jose writes about his thoughts on Rafael Benitez joining Everton, the importance of signing a new No.9, a potential Anfield return for Philippe Coutinho and why England will be Euro 2020 finalists…

Rafael Benitez has made a mistake

I’m going to look at this from the perspective of a Liverpool fan and from the perspective of Rafael Benitez. I’ll start with Rafa’s, because it’s more positive – Everton have new owners and, realistically, this would not have happened with the last owners. These new owners are putting a lot of money into the club because they want to be successful and as project, for a manager, I believe it can be attractive, so I understand Rafa’s point of view.

He’s still living in the city, he loves the place, the fans love him and he’s still a big Liverpool supporter. But, listen… it doesn’t matter how much money Everton would have thrown at me, I wouldn’t have gone there, I think Rafa has made a mistake.

If he doesn’t start well, the Everton fans are going to go against him quickly, especially because of his past. I don’t think he needed to take the job, he’s been a very successful manager, he could go to any club in Europe but not to Everton or Manchester United.

You get opportunities in football that sometimes you should pass on, and I believe Rafa should have passed on this. It’s a similar situation to when Fernando Torres signed for Chelsea, but even worse because you’re going to Everton!

Signing a new No.9 should be a priority

I know Alexander Isak very well from watching him with Real Sociedad, and before the pandemic I was able to watch him live and in person. For me, he is a top player and I would be very happy if Liverpool signed him. He’s quick, strong – he has everything. While he didn’t score for Sweden at Euro 2020, he scored 17 goals in La Liga last season while still being very, very young. He did just sign a new contract with Real Sociedad, though, so his price will increase, but I think we can still get him.

Realistically speaking, I don’t believe we will sign a player like Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe this summer. I wish we could, but Isak would be a very, very good signing. He’s very fast and technically gifted – he’d be able to play on the wings for Liverpool, maybe more so the left wing, as well as playing centrally because he can cut inside.

Donyell Malen is another reported target, I’ve taken a look at his numbers and he has surprised me. Arsenal sold him to PSV for £600,000, which now looks like a big mistake. He scored 27 goals last season, which is an incredible number for a 22-year-old

I know more about Isak, signing him would be a no-brainer, but from what I’ve seen from Malen, bringing him to Anfield would also be an easy decision. Malen is also very strong and technically gifted, especially for a player of his age, so he fits the type of what Liverpool should be looking at this summer to compete with Sadio Mane, Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Diogo Jota.

But, out of the two, I’d go for Isak – obviously the Holland league is not as good as the Spanish Liga, but Malen is another great talent.

The search for a new No.8

Brighton and Hove Albion paid £17 million for Yves Bissouma, who Liverpool reportedly want, so they’ll be wanting at least £45 million if – maybe closer to £50 million.

I still don’t understand why the club let Gini Wijnaldum leave because we’re not going to spend that kind of money on a new No.8, but the past is the past and we need to think about the future. Bissouma is more of a box-to-box player, but is accomplished when it comes to possession recovery so he can also fill in for Fabinho, but Premier League clubs demand so much money for their players.

I also see Youri Tielemans in the news a lot, but I don’t think he’s an affordable option for us. If Bissouma is worth around £45 million, Tielemans will go for about £70 million, that’s the reality.

I don’t think Liverpool are going to spend that much on a new No.8, especially when I think the preference should be to sign a new No.9.

But back to midfielders, Renato Sanches – I love him, and he could actually be an affordable option.

It’s very difficult moving to a new country at a young age – I did it myself. I believe his head wasn’t right earlier in his career and he put everyone else’s expectations on himself, but he’s settled now. He’s a top-quality player that would improve under Jurgen Klopp, Renato would be a great signing for us, but it depends on how much the club are willing to spend this summer.

Out of the three players mentioned, I’d most like to see Liverpool go for Tielemans because of the experience he already has at a top club in the Premier League.

An Anfield return for Philippe Coutinho?

If Liverpool can’t go all-in for a striker this summer, we could bring Philippe Coutinho back. Barcelona are struggling with money and Coutinho is on a big salary there.

If Bissouma, Tielemans and Sanches are too expensive, why not? Maybe we don’t have to spend a penny, Barcelona still owe Liverpool money for his transfer years ago. He loves the city, he loves the club – I’m sure that if you ask him now if he’d have rather stayed at Liverpool, he’d say ‘yes’ – 100% – it’s not gone very well for him since he left.

I believe we would be able to sign him, he’d be cheap in terms of transfer fee, I believe that Barcelona will more or less give him to us for free and then money can be used for other signings.

If Coutinho doesn’t re-sign for Liverpool – but we should consider it, he’d be a great option for us – then I believe Leicester City would be a good choice for him because Brendan Rodgers knows him very well. Leicester have James Maddison, who is also very good in the same role, but Brendan would definitely have him.

Arsenal could be another option, but the problem is with Barcelona – they have him on a massive salary and they’re pretty much going to have to pay him to go. I’m not sure if Martin Odegaard is going to stay with Real Madrid or go to Arsenal, but if he stays with Madrid, Coutinho could be an option for Arsenal because of the way Mikel Arteta plays. They’re not doing well at the moment, but Arsenal are a big club and it would be a good move for Philippe.

My dream XI for Liverpool in 2021/22

For me, if Liverpool sign a No.8 and a top-quality No.9, we can go for every trophy next season.

If we have a normal season with a normal number of injuries, and with the fans back in the stadium, we can beat anyone. We don’t have to be jealous of Manchester City spending £150 million on a player this summer – if we sign a Isak, Tielemans, Coutinho – some players like this – we can fight for everything.

With that being said, here is my dream starting XI for next season…

Alisson, Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho (or Thiago), Mo Salah, Sadio Mane & Alexander Isak (or Diogo Jota).

Caoimhin Kelleher & Adrian

You can’t have two Alissons, it’s impossible, because if one does not play he’ll want to leave, but this happens at every club. There is a No.1, the second goalkeeper is usually very good, and the third choice often comes from the youth team.

I am very happy with the extensions of Adrian and Caoimhin Kelleher’s contracts and I believe Kelleher is going to be the No.2 going forward. I think he’s done really well when stepping up, and while Adrian made mistakes – he actually gave Kelleher an opportunity and he did so well. They’re both very good goalkeepers.

I don’t know Adrian personally, but I think he’s a great addition to the squad. He’s always positive and tries to help. It’s a good thing for Kelleher as well, to have such an experienced goalkeeper working with him.

Kelleher stepping up the way he did last season, at such a young age, in a team that was struggling – it tells you something about his personality. I always say when a team is playing well, you can take out one player and put another one in and the team will keep rolling. But when the team is struggling, you see the players that are top-class and Kelleher did really well.

Right-back back-up – should Neco Williams leave?

I’d sign Max Aarons, of Norwich City, to compete with Trent Alexander-Arnold next season. He’s already very good and would improve under Jurgen Klopp, but I don’t think that’s realistic as we have priorities in other areas of the squad.

Neco Williams always puts everything into his game, and it’s always going to be a drop-off from the best right-back in the world, but I believe the difference is too much between the two. Not to be negative, but you always have to think about injuries. Imagine if Trent was out for two months – is Neco going to play for that long without us feeling Trent’s absence? No, I believe we’d feel it a lot.

I think the best thing for the club and Neco, especially after playing for Wales at Euro 2020, is to move him on and get as much money as we can, which would also help us buy players for other positions. In that position – and I know it’s not the best thing – James Milner can play there, so can Joe Gomez and Fabinho has been used at right-back before. You wouldn’t have as an offensive full-back as you do with Trent, but Andy Robertson would still be going up and down the other wing.

I think that’s more realistic than signing someone like Aarons – but if it was my decision, I’d bring in another right-back to fight with Trent. We spent money on Kostas Tsimikas and I’d do the same on the right-hand side.

Euro 2020: Switzerland, France, England & Italy

Switzerland’s amazing win over France is why we love football.

Look, France thought they’d won it. They relaxed and that will happen will you’re playing against someone you believe doesn’t have a chance… but then they actually beat you. It’s beautiful to see.

I was 90% sure France were going to win Euro 2020. I know in England they think the cup is going to “come home” – but realistically, at the start of the competition, it was going to be France or Belgium, that’s the reality.

When it went to penalties I thought France had already lost. Switzerland knew their fans would still love them if they lost the shoot-out because they drew with such a good team, whereas France needed to win. The pressure was completely different.

I’m not a betting man, I don’t believe in it, but if you ask me to put £5 on who I think will win Euro 2020, I could not tell you who. But that’s why football is the best sport in the world, it’s so unpredictable and I love it.

I think England will make the final because the reality is that they now have the easiest path. Football is very unpredictable, as I said, but they’ve already got rid of the most difficult team in their way, Germany.

I would love Spain to join them in the final, but I believe it’s going to be between Italy and Belgium – but which one? That’s difficult, but I think Italy will make it. Tactically, Italy are incredible defensively – they’ve gone many games without conceding a goal and if you don’t concede, you don’t lose – but you get the chance to score at the other end.

England have a lot of talent in the squad, but they’re not playing well. Anything can happen, they didn’t play well against Germany and still won. I would love to see Jordan Henderson with the European Championship trophy this summer, he deserves it. Personally, I love England, I played in the country for nine years and the people treated me well.

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