Football Features

The steps European champions Liverpool must now take to topple Man City

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 18:10, 2 June 2019

Liverpool reign supreme in Europe for a sixth time.

Jurgen Klopp’s men vanquished the anguish of 2018 to etch their names in the history books. But you’d be a fool to think he – and the powers that be at Anfield – are satisfied.

The Reds are on the cusp of true greatness, sustained success at home and abroad, however, the challenge is a daunting one. Up against them is English football’s new central power Manchester City and they are not going to be standing still. Neither will Liverpool even if they’re planning to go about things differently.

Klopp suggested his side does not need to spend ‘big money’ in the transfer market back in March. But it’s been widely reported that Liverpool’s approach is not entirely based on long-term planning. The ownership also embraces the need for opportunistic moves, as we saw when Alisson was signed from Roma for £66m last summer.

As Liverpool owner John Henry explained last week, a greater target on the horizon would incentivise more investment over the next two months: “Not winning the Premier League this year means it’s an even larger goal for next year. Sort of like going back to the Champions League final this year was something our guys set their minds on.

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“We’ll be set on winning next year. ‘We’re going to have a go, and we’re strong already. Every year we haven’t gone through that process yet because we’re still playing, but every year we’ve shown we’re willing to invest in the right kind of player and do it the right way so the club is sustainable.”

Being denied the Premier League by one point hurts. A 29-year championship wait goes on and it’s changing that which must be at the forefront of everyone’s mind. It’s not going to be easy, as touched upon, but Liverpool are close and maybe a handful of top calibre signings could swing the pendulum back to Klopp and company. As follows are certain areas we feel Liverpool can strengthen to knock City off their perch.

1. More ‘technical’ ability

Following their 2-0 triumph over Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid, former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger – on pundit duties – felt the Merseyside club are now in a position to improve but reluctant to do so as it may come at the expense of what makes them such a formidable outfit.

Wenger, a three-time Premier League winner who presided over the only unbeaten season, lauded the never-say-die spirit forged by Klopp since he took charge in late 2015.  “They are in a position now where they want to improve the team but without destroying your strong point,” he told beIN SPORTS.

“They need maybe, to dominate European football, to improve the technical level. But they might lose what is their strength at the moment, that solidarity and fighting strength.

“We are always between that in our jobs. We know we need to improve the team. But by improving one aspect you destroy what makes you win.”

So, you can imagine the balancing trick required this summer. Klopp has created a team in his image. During his Borussia Dortmund days, where gegenpressing (or counter-pressing) was all the rage, he became renowned for his love of ‘technical’ midfielders. It’s the same at Anfield, no one embodies that more than James Milner, who has played every position imaginable (okay, that could be hyperbolic). Milner is still as good as ever, on the count of looking after himself, but there shouldn’t be too much reliance on him.

Does this mean a more prominent role for Naby Keïta next season? To say the Guinean midfielder’s first season has been up and down is an understatement. We’ve not seen the very best of Keïta, who across certain spells proved he’s capable of reaching the next level under Klopp, but maybe there’s something in the transfer market. The much-talked-about Adrien Rabiot will be a free agent this summer. Liverpool could do a Juventus and pick up a footballer – despite his flaws having a high ceiling – on the cheap. A technically-astute central midfielder, who has more than 160 top division games to his name, he’s got all the attributes to fit into a Klopp team.

2. A versatile forward

A year ago, Divock Origi’s future seemed not to be at Liverpool, after coming back from a modest loan spell at VfL Wolfsburg many felt the Belgian striker – who hasn’t exactly pulled up any trees since joining from Lille in 2014 – would be moved on.

However, with no serious buyers, he remained and no one could have envisaged what followed. Origi ultimately made 22 appearances, much of those coming from the bench, most notably in their improbable Champions League semi-final second leg win over Barcelona in which he bagged a brace. Cult status cemented it’s hard to see the newly-crowned European champions retaining him.

Not that Origi is a terrible player, but he falls short where Liverpool are going. He never felt like a typical Klopp forward like Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, so we can imagine this is the direction they will go. A characteristic of modern teams is defending from the front both Firmino and Mane, aside from being deadly, are tireless workers and played a pivotal role in Klopp’s pressing game.

The former, due to a niggling injury, played below his usual standard at the backend of the 2018/19 season but Mane was electrifying throughout. Daniel Sturridge is certain to say goodbye, so bringing in a new forward is certain to happen. Timo Werner, who can play across the front line (but predominantly as a striker), is someone who has been heavily linked with a move. Another option is to promote the highly thought of Rhian Brewster.

3. Squad depth at full-back

A big part of Liverpool’s success this season has been their marauding full-backs. Between them, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson have created 29 goals with the former grabbing one for himself. If anything this illustrates Klopp’s vision of those playing at right or left-back. He’s been fortunate neither has endured a long spell on the sidelines. But you can’t always expect a seamless campaign.

Neither has a credible back-up or someone who can truly challenge them for their spot. If Liverpool are to move on up to the next step they must kill two birds with one stone. Firstly, bring in competition to push Alexander-Arnold and Robertson; that competition, secondly, enhances their squad depth. Alberto Moreno, for everything he’s given, sadly no longer cuts the mustard and it’s probably wise to cut ties.

Klopp may turn to the club’s academy. We already know how much Ki-Jana Hoever is rated and despite being three years younger than Alexander-Arnold, the Dutchman could be promoted to an understudy role. Joe Gomez, who has forged an impressive central defensive partnership with Virgil van Dijk, is capable of filling in.

On the opposite flank Adam Lewis, yet to make his first-team debut, is being lined up to eventually succeed Robertson. But if they are to dip into the market and bring in an experienced campaigner there’s no better shout than Filipe Luís who will not cost them a penny – at least in terms of a transfer fee.

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