The narrative that has surrounded much of this season has actually been a negative one – despite the fact we’re still in four competitions come February for the first time since 1982/83.
Online, supporters have bemoaned a lack of activity in previous transfer windows that has left us apparently unable to compete with Manchester City.
In reality, the only reason we’re six points behind (should we win our game in hand) is because of the points dropped during December’s COVID-crisis, in which Tyler Morton started a game away to Spurs, and our own inability at maintaining winning positions. Draws against Brentford, Brighton and Chelsea stick out, but we were also beating City themselves with ten minutes to play at Anfield.
These errors were little to do with depth, but more concentration and occasional individual mistakes.
Obviously an argument could be made that Liverpool wouldn’t have had to field weaker teams had we strengthened previously, but at points around Christmas we had nine or ten players absent. As Jurgen Klopp often intimates, you can’t plan for that. The section of the season where we perhaps could’ve protected ourselves via the transfer market was January when Sadio Mane, Mo Salah and Naby Keita were away at the AFCON, but in that period, we won all our PL matches and progressed in both domestic cup competitions.
And now it seems like everything is falling into place for a very, very exciting second half of the season.
Between the sticks, we’ve got the best goalkeeper in the top flight and maybe the best understudy to boot in Alisson and Caoimhin Kelleher.
A central defensive unit that has Joe Gomez as fourth choice must be a pretty good one, while left-back is incredibly strong too – with the ever-improving Kostas Tsimikas fighting Andy Robertson for minutes.
We took a slight risk by allowing Neco Williams to depart on loan to Fulham at right-back, but James Milner and Gomez can support Trent Alexander-Arnold, who will play every game in the big competitions if fit anyway. He’s on 15 assists this season and is on course to break Steve McManaman’s all-time record of 20.
Midfield is the area we need to bolster in the summer, but it’s hardly a weakness. Fabinho, a fit-again Thiago and Jordan Henderson probably make up Klopp’s preferred three if the Champions League Final was tomorrow, but so exciting was Harvey Elliott’s return in the FA Cup v Cardiff, he could well force his way in. The manner in which the teenager linked up with Trent at right-back was brilliant, and he’s a far more creative force than Hendo and could therefore be handy when we’re facing low-blocks.
On top of those four, Klopp has Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Curtis Jones and Milner to play with. That is a lot of options with different traits; definitely enough to compete on multiple fronts.
Up top, it actually gets even more exciting. The £50m Luis Diaz signing adds world-class competition to a frontline that already features the world’s best player and country’s top goalscorer, the recently named AFCON Player of the Tournament, the country’s second highest goalscorer and… Roberto Firmino! That’s before mentioning Taki Minamino, who has the same amount of club goals as Lionel Messi this season (7), Divock Origi and Kaide Gordon. Chamberlain and Elliott provide options for the front three themselves, with the former scoring twice in Salah’s AFCON absence.
It’s funny. It only took players to return from injury and one big signing and Liverpool’s squad all of a sudden looks piled high and stacked with immense quality.
Of course, the caveat for this is we cannot assume Klopp’s options will remain so healthy until the summer. Injury-prone players get injured, and there’s still a batch of them who haven’t tested positive for COVID yet and cold potentially miss a week as a result.
But the volume of talent at the boss’s disposal hopefully suggests whatever bad luck comes our way, we’ll have enough to keep on winning.
Liverpool rarely field what on paper could be described as a ‘strongest lineup’ for multiple situational reasons – but Klopp could now theoretically pick the following side in February:
Alisson; Trent, Robertson, Matip, Van Dijk; Fabinho, Thiago, Elliott; Mane, Salah, Jota.
A fully rotated XI, perhaps against Norwich in the FA Cup 5th Round, could look like this:
Kelleher; Milner, Gomez, Konate, Tsimikas; Henderson, Keita, Jones; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Diaz, Firmino.
That’s without picking Minamino and Origi either.
The games now come thick and fast and the Reds effectively need to keep winning in the PL and hope City slip up. If that proves impossible, and it’s no shame if it does, the prospect of fighting for three cups is still something to relish.
One of the best Liverpool seasons in living memory was 2000/01, when we won the League Cup, FA Cup and Europa League… What if went one better and did the League Cup, FA Cup and Champions League, instead?!