There was a real sense of promise about the summer transfer window despite the obvious and inevitable consequences the pandemic would impart upon clubs like Liverpool.
Clubs, I should say, that don’t have the kind of financial backing typically reserved for smaller states.
Ibrahima Konate, former defensive partner of Bayern Munich star Dayot Upamecano, arrived in Merseyside to much fanfare (quite literally so, if you’ve had the chance to catch the flare-heavy clip of his Liverpool shirt reveal in front of his childhood friends).
It felt particularly momentous given that we already possess one of the best world-class centre-back pairings in Europe. And then we added the Frenchman to our defensive options.
Yet, as we edge ever closer to the midway point of August, the well of transfer links is gradually drying up.
Raphinha, Christoph Baumgartner, Saul Niguez, Dusan Vlahovic, Renato Sanches, Donyell Malen, Franck Kessie, Adama Traore, (my goodness, quite a few!), and so on and so forth have been named and, sometimes in our case, wished for without avail.
In fairness to the club, they’ve got two reasonable explanations for the lack of activity, despite the pressing need for us to replace reliable central midfielder Gini Wijnaldum.
It comes down to the non-homegrown quota and, as ever, general finances, with the pandemic forcing us to rely to a significant extent on player exits.
As things stand, in light of homegrown rules, such exits are doubly necessary if we want to arrange any further incomings without having to dip into the market for potentially overpriced English talent.
With over £30m in player sales taken in, however, we’ve still failed to clear a spot in the non-homegrown quota and reach our reported £60m target, which is somewhat worrying given the timeframe available.
Despite the somewhat bleak picture we’ve painted, it has to be said that hope still springs eternal, at least as far as we’re concerned here at Empire of the Kop.
The reality of the situation is that two signings remain the ideal target for the recruitment team this summer, the even harsher reality, however, is that only one is absolutely critical.
We are of course referring to the gaping chasm left behind in the wake of Wijnaldum’s summer departure. If that sounds like hyperbole, then you’ve clearly not been paying attention to the appearance stats of late.
A statistic we’re quite fond of over here revolves entirely around our former Dutch No.5’s availability – Wijnaldum missed less than 6% of Liverpool’s total league fixtures since making the switch from St. James’ Park to Anfield in 2016.
To put that into context, just last season alone, here are the percentages of missed games for our other first-choice midfield starters:
Jordan Henderson – 21 league appearances = missed 55% of games
Fabinho – 30 league appearances = missed 21% of games
Thiago Alcantara – 24 league appearances = missed 37% of games
That’s without even getting started on our rather injury-prone backup options.
Less than 6%! We’re talking about a difference of 15% to the nearest reliable midfielder in Fabinho – that’s pretty remarkable.
Regardless of some fans’ reservations regarding the now PSG star’s ability, the fact of the matter is that Wijnaldum was the one man in midfield Jurgen Klopp could absolutely rely upon. And all this during an injury crisis that ripped through our entire squad like a sledgehammer through a paper mâché house.
We need a new forward but the reality is that, if our front-three are firing on all cylinders this term (a genuine likelihood in a full-strength Liverpool side), it can wait for now.
When it comes to the midfield, however, last season was as clear a warning as we’ll ever get with regard to the importance of replacing Wijnaldum.
Durability, beyond tactical nous, is an absolute must.
As promising as the likes of Naby Keita and Harvey Elliott have looked in the middle of the park, we can’t afford to be lulled into a false sense of security.
The Guinean is a firm resident of last chance saloon this coming campaign (even his most ardent supporters will admit as much) but it’s likely we’re going to see some injuries in the midfield from certain players.
Keita is certainly a prime candidate for a spell on the sidelines, as is our skipper judging on last season’s appearance stats alone, with one of Thiago or Fabinho a potential to follow.
The question we must then ask ourselves is this: are our backup options strong enough to carry us through the season?
The same argument could be made about the front-three, however, not a single member of our prestigious, first-choice frontline made less than 35 appearances in the English top-flight last term.
Thus, we come straight back to the midfield and the more or less obvious decision Klopp and the recruitment team have to make if we’re forced into a corner when it comes to further transfers.
If we have to choose, the evidence points to one clear option – choose a new midfielder.
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— Empire of the Kop (@empireofthekop) July 30, 2021