Liverpool agreed personal terms with Ibrahima Konate in April. On May 28, they activated his release clause with RB Leipzig, even though the deal could not be officially completed until July 1. And in the subsequent two months, Liverpool have signed no one.
They have revived their reputation as astute sellers, capable of extracting fine prices for unwanted players. They have almost raised Konate’s £36 million ($50m) fee by selling Harry Wilson, Marko Grujic, Taiwo Awoniyi, Liam Millar and Kamil Grabara, none of whom were likely to feature much.
Yet, to increasing irritation among the fanbase, those funds have not been reinvested in the squad beyond Trent Alexander-Arnold’s contract extension.
Even with a spate of departures, Jurgen Klopp still has a sizeable squad. Jamie Carragher’s analysis was that Liverpool require added quality, rather than much extra quantity. “I’d like to see someone who could get goals, whether that’s from midfield or part of the front three,” said the 2005 Champions League winner. There are two positions that could require addressing: in midfield and in the forward line.
Georginio Wijnaldum is yet to be replaced. Not that he was Carragher’s dream finisher: Paris Saint-Germain’s new signing has proved prolific for Holland but not Liverpool.
Klopp’s Anfield model can involve an attacking midfielder but rarely a regular scorer from that department. It suggests the prime objective should be another forward.
Wijnaldum was integral and a constant, the man who only missed 11 league games in five years at Anfield. But with a full complement of centre-backs, and all fully fit, Fabinho can return to the centre of the pitch. There is a theory that the Brazilian, Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara was Klopp’s preferred midfield last season; instead, due to injuries and time in defence, they only began as a midfield trio once, in the fateful derby when Virgil van Dijk was injured.
Perhaps, in Thiago, Wijnaldum’s successor arrived a year before he left. Certainly Liverpool are not short of midfielders, with James Milner, Curtis Jones and the oft injured but gifted pair of Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in reserve.
The forward equation is different. Diogo Jota had a stop-start first campaign but it was encouraging. Mohamed Salah remained potent in troubled times. But Sadio Mane declared it the worst season of his career, posing the question if it is a one-off and if he will return to his previous brilliance. There is a stronger case for saying Roberto Firmino is in decline, his goal return deteriorating from 27 in 2017-18 to nine three years later, his incessant efforts perhaps burning him out.
Five players Liverpool should sign this summer
The problem of having a front three born within nine months of each other is that one will have to be phased out first. Firmino’s uniqueness means sourcing a duplicate is nigh-on impossible. It is nonetheless apparent that, but for the crunch on their finances caused by the pandemic, Klopp would have signed Timo Werner last summer; his propensity to make Mane-esque runs could have allowed the Senegalese to take the central role.
It is intriguing that Oxlade-Chamberlain has been tried as a false nine in pre-season. It has compounded the issues of the Brazilian’s struggles that Takumi Minamino has struggled to show a Firmino-like aptitude for the deeper role in the middle of the attack and that the 2019 cult hero Divock Origi has faded away to such an extent that his lone goal last season came against Lincoln.
Each can testify to the difficulties of slotting into Klopp’s idiosyncratic front three, which makes finding suitable additions harder. But the drop-off in Liverpool’s output – to 68 goals after seasons of 84, 89 and 85 – show why a scorer to ease the burden on Salah must be the top target.