EOTK Insider with Neil Jones: Kovac rumours, what if Amorim stays at Sporting? & more

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Hello and welcome to my column with Empire of the Kop! You can read about all the latest updates around Liverpool Football Club and its forays into the transfer market right here, every week, with EOTK Insider. Thanks for giving this a read and let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Today’s top stories:

  • What life without Ruben Amorim might look like…
  • Could Niko Kovac be the next Liverpool manager?
  • And further updates on Luis Diaz, Mo Salah, Darwin Nunez and more!

Crystal Palace review

There were a couple of familiar themes at play again against Crystal Palace. A slow start and wastefulness cost Liverpool, the latter in the second half in particular! It is strange, isn’t it, because I don’t think Liverpool played well, and even if they’d come away from the game with a 2-1 win, I would have said, ‘Wow, that was a tough one, they sort of got away with one a little bit,’ or ‘they’ve had to dig deep for that one’. They still created a lot of chances. I saw an Instagram post this morning of two side-by-sides of Curtis Jones clean through and Diogo Jota on the six-yard box – how neither of those ended up in the net is beyond me! Then there’s the Mo Salah one at the end where you’re thinking, ‘That has to be a goal!’ Nunez had one earlier in the second-half as well, so there were four great, real chances in a match that, on another day, you might have ended up taking all four or two or three. At the same time, I think Liverpool were the architects of their own downfall.

I did some research and found that Liverpool have gone 1-0 down 15 times in the first 25 minutes of a game this season. Whilst we can always somewhat rely on Liverpool’s resilience and ability to figure games out, go in at half-time and make subs, and eventually win the game, the more times you go to the well, of course, the more you’re increasing the chance that one day the well will run dry. It looked like it might have run dry in the second-half against Manchester United, it looked like it ran dry against Atalanta on Thursday in the Europa League, and again on Sunday. It depends on your viewpoint, but the only saving grace is what happened to Arsenal on Sunday, or whether it makes you feel even worse about Liverpool’s result. When you look now, Liverpool had a chance to take complete control of the Premier League on Sunday in a home game against a team in the bottom half of the table. There will be a lot of regrets waking up on Monday morning but also a lot of resignation, not just amongst the fans, but I think a few of the players might feel that was the chance missed and there won’t be another one.

More disappointment at Anfield – (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

The emotional drain of having to be on a knife edge so often is an important factor. You look at all the great moments Liverpool have experienced this season and they have been knife-edge moments, haven’t they? You look at the Carabao Cup final victory, the great late win against Nottingham Forest and the roaring comeback at Newcastle. They’ve all been when Liverpool have been right up against it. It says a lot about the team’s resilience, character and quality that they’ve been able to do this so regularly. But when you get to this stage of the season, you want as quiet a life as possible; you want routine, you want the kind of result you see Manchester City get over Luton Town (5-1) on Saturday, where you have to exert yourself but not absolutely drain yourself physically, technically and emotionally. We know, of course, that Liverpool aren’t really that kind of team, but when they were for that period in 2019, that’s when they steamrolled the league, when they became that game-winning machine. What they’ve been this season is really, really rugged and resilient, not to mention consistently able to dig out these results.

Another thing that has to be mentioned, and it’s easy to forget, is the reality of this Liverpool side being a very new team. There are a lot of players here who are experiencing this for the first time – and not just the ones signed last summer! You look at the younger players that have come into the side and were around the great Liverpool sides under Jurgen Klopp but weren’t front and centre at the time. There are also those who haven’t been involved in a Premier League title challenge on an active basis like Darwin Nunez, Harvey Elliott, Curtis Jones, Conor Bradley and the like. There’s a great deal of newness around this – and it’s not just those players who may have underperformed; you look at the experienced players like Mo Salah, Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate who have had a couple of poor games. All this adds up to Liverpool potentially coming up short.

There was always the danger that they might. I thought there was a chance they could win the league and I was under the impression that if they won at Old Trafford the momentum could maybe carry Liverpool to the title, but there was always a chance Liverpool could come up short. I think a lot of people outside of Liverpool suspected their pedigree wasn’t quite as strong as Manchester City or even Arsenal. That said, there are still six games to go. You look at the league table and think, ‘If Arsenal can beat at home by Aston Villa, Manchester City could lose at Tottenham!’ Arsenal also have to play Tottenham, for what it’s worth, so there is the potential for twists and turns. The one worry that I have now, and the one worry that’s fair to have around Liverpool, is even if the other two slip up, you wonder if Liverpool are going to be faultless. I think they’ll have to be if they’re going to win the league and I’m just not sure whether they’re in the position at this moment in time to win the last six.

End-of-season decisions

Mo Salah at Anfield – (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

There are a couple of big decisions to be made with contracts and Salah’s obviously one of the three that needs to be sorted. I’ve been on record as saying I would let him see out his contract and take out another year, but I don’t think Liverpool will. There’s obviously Trent Alexander-Arnold’s contract and I personally expect that to be sorted. I also expect Virgil van Dijk to get a new contract. In terms of the rest, if you look at the ones who aren’t coming to the end of their contract or who are in the mid-peak age, if you like, in their early to mid-20s – there are some decisions to be made here. Obviously, Luis Diaz has been linked with a move away from Liverpool quite recently and there was some talk about his contract. You make a case either way here; you could say a great offer would be too good to turn down and you could get a player comparable or at least as good or better than Diaz, or you can make the case that he’s been really good for Liverpool and carried them through a tough period of the season and he deserves to be treated as a star. That depends on your preference.

I think a lot of people might have a similar opinion about Darwin Nunez. I’m personally a big fan of his, but I suspect a number of people might get to a point where they think after two seasons, ‘Do we need to be brutal? Or does the team need to change in the way it’s set up to really get the best out of him?’ The centre-back position is definitely an area that needs another body, regardless of who the next manager is. Though, if the next manager plays with three centre-backs then, of course, that adds to it! I still think you’re in the same position with Ibou Konate when you signed him where, though he’s a really good player with serious potential, he misses too many games and you spend a lot of the season having to compensate for his absence.

I think all of the signings brought in last summer were brought in for the long-term, but there will be some who look at Ryan Gravenberch and want to see a lot more from him. What would happen if a bid came in for him? For me, there are no obvious ones where they’re flashing red on the dashboard, but there are a lot of ones you look at and wonder what might happen if £50m was slapped on the table for them. There are a few players at Liverpool at the moment where if £50m was on the table, there would be a split in terms of what you’d do with them, whether you’d sell or keep.

Ruben Amorim

Ruben Amorim of Sporting Lisbon – (Photo by PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP via Getty Images)

I think Ruben Amorim has been very sensible in his comments to the press. They’re on the brink of winning the league, with a cup final also coming up. I think he’s in a position where he doesn’t want any further distractions. He’s already made it clear that he doesn’t want to engage in further talk over his future between now and the end of the season. That’s perfectly fair! We’ve spoken before about managers and who might succeed Jurgen Klopp, but it’s very easy to forget about the club or the fans that manager represents. They have to be fair to them and put them front and centre in this situation. It’s only right that whilst Sporting are in a position where they’ll have the perfect end to the season, he’s not dampening the flames or upsetting the apple cart by saying he’s dreaming of going to Liverpool. You don’t want to take away anything from what has been a magnificent season. There has to be a chance that he does decide he’s happy with his lot with Sporting, but it would be unlikely to me.

He’s a young manager and quite clearly an ambitious manager. You’ve seen some of the interviews he’s given and he’s spoken in the past about aiming high. He knows he’s in demand, doesn’t he? He’s fully aware that it’s not a deep pool of managers at this moment but there are a lot of clubs that are fishing in it. He know he’s going to have at least one good option, maybe more, this summer. I think he probably would leave Sporting this summer, but, like I say, he’s still got a job to do – and so do Liverpool! Sporting are four points clear of Benfica and in a really good position to win a league. I think he’s done the right thing by his club by cutting down those stories and making sure every press conference isn’t dominated by managerial talk.

Niko Kovac links to Liverpool

I saw the headline and it made more sense for his agents who have been sounding out Premier League clubs. That feels like an agent-led story to me. I don’t think Liverpool will be in the running for Niko Kovac. It will be someone with a lot more recent pedigree.

Where would Liverpool go without Amorim?

It would leave Liverpool in an imperfect situation with two of their least imperfect options – in Xabi Alonso and Ruben Amorim – gone. Whoever Liverpool appoint, it’s going to be a manager where you think, ‘I like this and this about him but there’s always this and there’s this issue’. You’re going to be in that position regardless, even if it is Amorim. What it does is it puts Liverpool in a position where there are probably more of the negative aspects to contend with in terms of any manager they subsequently bring in. Steven Gerrard, Julian Nagelsmann and Ange Postecoglou will probably be on that betting list, but even as I’m listing those options I’m almost mentally crossing them off. It would leave Liverpool with a really tough decision to make – not to suggest they don’t already have one! They have a situation where whoever comes in will have a very, very tough job on their hands. The other fly in the ointment is that there are a few other clubs in Europe, like Bayern Munich and Barcelona, that look like they’ll be searching for another manager. If not now, certainly in another month or two.

More Stories Neil Jones Niko Kovac Ruben Amorim