The midfield revamp that will happen this summer will set the tone for Liverpool’s chances of success in the remainder of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool tenure.
Get it right and we could be competing with Manchester City at the very top again. Get it wrong, and fourth place will be considered a good season.
We already know the players who are leaving. Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and James Milner will also exit on the expiration of their contracts. While Milner has been a brilliant servant and someone whose professionalism and energy has encapsulated what Klopp desires from a player, Keita and Ox have been plagued by injuries but more importantly never fully gained Klopp’s trust.
Ox had a wonderful full first season but has never found those heights in the five full ones which have followed. Keita is a good midfielder when fit, but not a great one. He has never had the mental capacity to dominate and far too often went missing when it mattered. He still should’ve started the Champions League Final over a semi-fit Thiago last season, but that’s one for another day.
With these players leaving, along with Arthur Melo, Liverpool’s midfield next term will likely consist of three different parts, the old, the young and the new.
Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Thiago make up this section. Henderson, the club captain, will remain integral to the squad but his minutes surely need to be managed. If anything, he should become the Milner. The player who comes on when a game is won to shore it up and make sure everybody keeps their heads. He’ll still get starts, but no more than 20 in the Premier League.
Fabinho might get more. After all, he’s only 29-years-old and he’s definitely improved since his horrendous opening six months of the campaign. Still, his legs are clearly on the way out. The man doesn’t or cannot sprint, or if he tries to it looks like he’s running in cement – especially compared to the younger, nippier attacking midfielders he has to compete against. One of our main issues this season has been an inability to track midfield runners. If Fab wants his role at the base of midfield for next season, he needs to provide a far more solid base and offer more protection for his defence.
Thiago is the wildcard. Sadly, we have to consider him a luxury player given his fitness record. It’s abysmal. He currently has a serious injury which will hopefully not ruin his pre-season. He won’t be given a new contract after next season, but he can still be a massive asset. Technically, our more skilled player and someone who can still ooze class and guile, even without any pace.
Klopp will keep all three given the players exiting. Perhaps none will start, but all will play their part.
Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott and Stefan Bajcetic. Three huge talents, but will they all make it at Anfield? Until the past six weeks, Jones endured two nothing seasons and was looking like he could be shown the door. But he’s stepped up. Six starts on the bounce. Six Premier League wins. He suits the new formation that sees two midfielders more advanced of Fabinho and Trent Alexander-Arnold in the double-pivot. At 22, Jones is now playing the best football of his career. He’ll have a massive fight on his hands for minutes with the likely new signings, but he looks like he’s up for the battle. Like other players on this list of course, the big issue is his fitness. Klopp likes him.
Elliott is an enigma. Amazing feet and great in small spaces. But no real physical attributes and a potential defensive weakness when deployed in midfield. Maybe the now formation can benefit him, but so far he’s not been given many opportunities in it. For Elliott to succeed, he needs to develop a bite to him. Bernardo Silva at City is small and technical, but he’s feisty and doesn’t get bullied. Elliott can grow into this kind of player. After all, he’s only 20-years-old.
The youngster burst onto the scene this term, starting against Real Madrid in the Champions League. He’s incredibly composed, confident and a clever passer. He’d be a great long-term option for one of our holding positions, although it’s vital he gets fit and doesn’t miss pre-season, when Klopp and his coaches really prime the players for the intense, physical football required. It might be that by January, Bajcetic is sent on loan – perhaps in a similar deal that saw Tyler Morton develop this season at Blackburn, although that’s likely underselling Bajcetic a little.
Alexis Mac Allister? Ryan Gravenberch? Manuel Ugarte? Mason Mount? Declan Rice? Conor Gallagher? Kalvin Philipps? Nico Barella? Manu Kone?
The links are endless. There are players not on this list we’re likely keeping tabs on and we could pull a rabbit out of a hat and sign someone nobody was expecting, as we have a habit of doing.
It does look like Mac Allister is the big target. The Argentine World Cup winner would then likely have to be followed by a more defensive stalwart: step forward Ugarte, the Sporting Lisbon battler. Would two new additions, bringing us to eight midfielders plus the Trent wildcard be enough? On paper, yes. But given the fitness records of those in this list, three new additions would be safer.
Personally, I love the look of a Mac Allister, Ugarte and Gravenberch three. But there are no guarantees and much will depend on the asking prices of the selling clubs.
We also need a new right-back, a new centre-back and a backup goalkeeper, given it would be smart to cash in on Caoimhin Kelleher. Wherever we finish in the table, it’s going to be as frantic summer in the market.
Do not forget Tyler Morton in the young ones. I think he still has plenty to offer.
“given it would be smart to cash in on Caoimhin Kelleher”
The figures being spoken about are 10-15m tops. It would literally be insane to sell a goalkeeper who has a good chance of making Allison look mediocre in the future. I’d be doing everything I could to persuade him to stay on the books and to load him out at most if he wants more experience. Frankly I’d play him interchangeably with Allison now if it meant we could secure him long term.