Change is inevitable and nothing embodies this phrase more than modern football. This summer has seen a wind of change blowing over Anfield. For a minute, forget that Liverpool released or sold six senior first-team players.
The Reds have found themselves in uncharted territory for the first time since Jurgen Klopp rocked up at Anfield with a big smile plastered on his face. After being touted as having one of the best transfer mechanisms in the league, arguably in the world of football, that was feared and revered in equal measure for its robustness, efficiency, and military-like precision, Liverpool have seemingly slipped up.
For the first time in a long time, Liverpool have been embroiled in a bidding war, not once but twice, and with disappointing results both times. The Reds have struggled to find a perfect replacement for Fabinho. Although Liverpool have since signed Wataru Endo from VfB Stuttgart, his profile suggests he’s most likely a stop-gap solution before a more long-term signing is done in the coming transfer windows.
The signing of the 30-year-old Japan international departs from the club’s long-held strategy of recruiting relatively younger players with big potential. Previously, Klopp combined excellently with the recruitment team headed by former sporting director Michael Edwards to silently pursue targets away from the media limelight and get the deal for their man over the line without much fuss. So, what changed? How then did Liverpool find themselves in such a tricky position that they had to depart from their tried and tested transfer strategy? To be fair, the club’s recruitment department is in a transitional period.
Liverpool are wading through the treacherous waters of the transfer season without the valuable input of the highly-regarded ‘laptop guru’ after Edwards stepped down as Liverpool’s sporting director at the end of the 2021/22 season. His replacement, Julian Ward, also stepped down barely a year into the role. The Reds have since appointed Jorg Schmadtke as the new sporting director.
Back to the departures. Six players left Anfield this summer, including James Milner, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Roberto Firmino, Fabinho, and skipper Jordan Henderson. Of the six, one particularly stood out – Fabinho. While some were released due to age, others due to reliability and fitness issues, Fabinho’s was a curious case. The Brazilian had been a lynchpin of Klopp’s all-conquering midfield since his arrival from Monaco. However, last season saw his form drastically dip and, unsurprisingly, the team’s form followed suit. It wasn’t lost on keen observers that the Reds were willing to risk sanctioning his move to the Saudi league, especially without a direct replacement lined up.
What has followed has been an almost panicked attempt to try and find cover for the defensive midfield position. As highlighted in the pre-season games and during the season opener against Chelsea, Liverpool are suffering from some shaky moments at the back and a reliable central defensive midfield would go some way in helping screen the backline.
Liverpool remain among the favourites to finish in the top four and potentially challenge for the title, according to Premier League odds. After a dismal performance last season that saw the Anfield side miss out on Champions League football, returning to the top four will be a step in the right direction. To do so, Jurgen Klopp will need to sort out his leaky defence and part of that solution entails finding an answer to his current defensive midfield conundrum. A strong and technically gifted No.6 who can drop in to cover for the marauding fullbacks is needed.
For now, it is clear with each passing day that Liverpool miscalculated with their gamble of releasing Fabinho. His switch to the Middle East has exposed Liverpool’s soft underbelly. And all the Kop Faithful can do now is wait with bated breath and crossed fingers, hoping that their club will manage to secure the services of a quality midfielder in the mould of Fabinho before the transfer deadline rolls around and the window slams shut.