Sat in the shadows of a world-renowned powerhouse is Bavaria’s third-largest city. Not known so much for its sport like the footballing presence 50 miles away, the oldest town in Bavaria would act as the stage for a parting goodbye in a career of a man poised for greatness on foreign shores.
As Augsburg hosted RB Leipzig on the last game of the season, Timo Werner’s fate was already decided. It wasn’t Bavaria’s most prominent up the road which was expecting the young German’s signature. On this occasion, Bayern Munich wouldn’t be hoovering up the country’s best talent. That luxury would fall to Frank Lampard’s Chelsea.
Werner was heading to London, the deal was signed, the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed. The deal meant he would play no further part in RB Leipzig’s hopeful siege on the Champions League. Atletico Madrid are set to face a Werner-less Julian Nagelsmann outfit, before either France’s PSG or Italy’s Atalanta come to town in the semi-finals.
But before that, Werner needed to brush Augsburg aside, which he did. The striker wanted to leave on a high, which he did. He had hoped of scoring on his German farewell, which… you got it. Werner officially signed off his RB Leipzig career with a brace, and for him, all attention turned to Stamford Bridge.
However, his attention hadn’t always been solely on Chelsea, nor was it fixed in Bayern’s direction. Jurgen Klopp seemingly held a torch for Werner, and vice versa. The striker had, on a handful of occasions, mentioned Klopp’s Liverpool in such a way that rumours cemented into concrete belief that he was heading to Merseyside.
The Chelsea switch was a surprise no one had seen coming. It was Liverpool red which he had been earmarked to feature in. This wasn’t merely due to Werner’s regular mentioning of Liverpool, or Klopp’s keen eye for his compatriot. It was because Werner is a class act, and one that would slot into the current Liverpool squad seamlessly.
Liverpool’s front-three are excellent. It will take a lot to dislodge any of them, but football is a team sport, the rigours of both the Premier League and Champions League are very real. It is impossible for Mane, Salah, and Bobby Firmino to play the lot, although I’m sure most Liverpool fans would want it. The regularity of which Divock Origi pulls on a Liverpool shirt is proof of the need for a fourth versatile forward who can slot in along the front line.
Werner’s versatility and abundance of quality made him the perfect acquisition. Chelsea didn’t need to break the bank for him either, and you would imagine Liverpool could have stretched to cover his buyout clause if they had wanted to. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has played its part. I suspect we may have seen Werner playing in a different city next year if COVID-19 hadn’t been so catastrophic.
Liverpool’s owners, FSG, run the Merseyside club exceptionally well. The proof is in the pudding as the club currently sit as World, Premier League, and European champions. Although extremely wealthy and not likely to be struggling like some, the pandemic hasn’t exactly skipped them. If it is not a time where they can see a £50m purchase for a German striker a viable option, then that is understandable. It’s frustrating, as Werner was the perfect buy, but following four months of irregular income in their businesses, it’s understandable.
One week into July, when Premier League clubs would usually be immersed in pre-season fitness sessions, Klopp spoke to the Liverpool Echo; “this is a challenge to us to improve a really good football team. But time is a challenge as well. Nobody knows what the future will hold for all of us, so how can we make decisions, really expensive decisions, about how we deal with it?”
A conservative Klopp here hinting at a lack of spending power in the upcoming transfer window.
The Liverpool boss continued, “this is a difficult year for all football clubs in the world, and it is not just a time when we talk about transfers as if the rest around us has not happened. It is not possible. At least, not for us. We cannot do it like this. Other clubs maybe can, but this club is lead in a specific way. This is our way, and here we are. Is it the best way? I do not know, but we will stick to it.”
Klopp, giving the interview in his usual manner, relaxed, but conversing intently, seems unfazed. Klopp goes on to mention Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and how he single-handedly won a game against Manchester City not too long ago. It was a nod towards the depth we see in the Liverpool ranks.
It may be arguable for some, but you would say that Oxlade-Chamberlain, Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri, Takumi Minamino, Divock Origi, James Milner, Adam Lallana, and Dejan Lovren, are all seen as deputies to the starting eleven.
Lallana is definite to leave, and Shaqiri is flirting with a likely Anfield exit.
Takumi Minamino needs time to adapt, but his form with RB Salzburg hints at a promising future, as does Naby Kieta’s stint at the other well known Red Bull franchise, and individual performances here and there in England. It’s clichè, but if Kieta can recapture Bundesliga form, it’s like a new signing.
Liverpool’s midfield is set up for another siege domestically in Europe. There’s enough there for Klopp to be confident of that. If Henderson and Wijnaldum get injured, for example, there is able cover to step into both roles and perform at the level Liverpool would expect. Henderson has shown that he can slot into Fabinho’s holding role and not only provide adequate cover, but exceed all expectations entirely.
Lovren is a worry for some at centre-half, but I believe that if he is happy to stay and fight for that third choice centre-half spot, Liverpool boast a mass of quality there. The best centre-half in the world, accompanied by Matip or Gomez, and a willing Lovren behind the scenes; that’s impressive in my eyes.
The future is bright
Although only 21-years-old, Trent Alexander-Arnold is recognised as one of the best in the business. A local boy who may even emulate the longevity of the one-club career that fellow scouser, Steven Gerrard, served up to his adoring city. Full-back is an area Liverpool don’t need to worry about with the emergence of Trent, and the consistent form of Andrew Robertson on the left flank. James Milner, although preferring a midfield role, is a willing deputy on either side.
Nico Williams’ emergence may have gone unnoticed for followers of other clubs. However, if you’re a regular viewer of The Reds, his cameo performances, a recent 45-minutes at left-back and his starting spot ahead of Trent today, will have shown that Klopp may have another of a similar mould to Alexander-Arnold at his disposal. In fact, if you were unaware of Williams’ starting role today, you may have been fooled amidst a plethora of sweeping cross-field balls, that Trent had kept his place for Burnley’s visit. He is composed on the ball, strong in the tackle, has an eye for a pass, and a willingness to get forward.
Further up the pitch, and following a new bumper long-term contract, Curtis Jones is attracting attention. A fellow scouser, Jones registered a cracker against Everton, and more recently the second in a 2-0 win against Aston Villa in the Premier League. Jones operates in an attacking midfield role and will offer an added dimension for Klopp as a useful option in midfield next year. Jones’ showing alongside Williams today only adds to the narrative that he doesn’t look out of place in Liverpool’s midfield.
16-years-old and recently signed from Fulham, Harvey Elliot looks poised to be a superstar. Playing with the know-how and confidence of a professional twice his age, what we have seen of him is extremely positive. Elliot may need a few years to leave his mark on this Liverpool team, and shouldn’t be considered as a regular backup option in Klopp’s plans next season, but it looks likely he will feature.
Joe Gomez’s ability to keep an impressive Joel Matip out of the side at times this season only highlights the tools in his arsenal. Having just turned 23 in May, the Englishman’s performances next to Virgil Van Dijk have impressed, and have put him in the hat to partner Harry Maguire next summer for his country.
Where to reinforce for Klopp?
The Champions League comeback against Luís Suarez’s Barcelona, the last-minute header against Everton, and the finish in Madrid to down Spurs; Divock Origi has etched his name into the club’s history books, that’s for certain.
He’s a good backup option for the front line. Liverpool were right to sign the Belgian to a long-term contract at the start of the current season. He will only progress under Klopp and does know where the net is. I imagine you sensed there was a ‘but’ coming.
Origi is a good backup option, but he’s currently nowhere near the level of the three in front of him. That is no shame for Origi, as Liverpool’s forward line is amongst the very best in football. He is an able option to come off the bench in search of a goal, or if Klopp needs a willing runner in the channels, or an active cog in pressing opponents.
The question marks arise when there is injury or fatigue within the ranks, and Origi is shoehorned into the lineup from the opening whistle. The gulf in quality is evident, and Klopp must see it. Origi cannot link the midfield and attack as Firmino does. He is not as direct or threatening from out wide as Mane and Salah continue to be, nor is he as clinical in front of goal.
Minamino, Jones, and Elliot will be on hand to chip in further up the field next season, but can any of them be relied on to fill in, in the event of an injury?
If Klopp enters the transfer market once this summer, it has to be for a versatile forward. Shaqiri will likely fetch £20m in the current market and would add real quality to many sides. It seems as if he’s not Klopp’s type of player, possibly for reasons away from the field of play, as the Swiss playmaker has barely had a sniff in the second half of the season.
Werner was perfect, but that ship has sailed. Jadon Sancho even more so, but finances won’t allow. It will be tricky finding someone of such quality, who is willing to fight for irregular first-team opportunities that come.
Liverpool have scoured relegated Premier League clubs in recent years in search for a bargain, and bargains they have found. Andy Robertson for £8m, Gini Wijnaldum for £25, and Shaqiri’s £13m release clause are seen as intelligent business. Could this be a viable option for Klopp?
Joshua King and David Brooks stand out as versatile options in a sinking Bournemouth side. Their colleague, Callum Wilson, would prove an excellent backup, but he’s primarily a centre-forward lacking the ability to be effective from wide positions. Ryan Fraser is an option, especially if the purse strings are tight. The Scottish wide-man is available on a free transfer and has made his intentions clear by not involving himself in Bournemouth’s relegation scrap.
Jack Grealish, Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia are the offensive standouts for Norwich City and Aston Villa, two sides lacking goals. All three would be welcome at Liverpool and have the talent to make the switch. Grealish could fill in out wide in a frontthree, but his best position comes centrally, and not across the frontline as Klopp would like.
Ismaila Sarr, Mane’s friend and compatriot, must be under consideration for Klopp if Watford get dragged into the Championship. His pace, directness and progressing end product, as shown consistently in Ligue 1, should attract several big sides. The chances for Sarr to run in behind opposing defences will no doubt be ramped up in a more penetrative team. Liverpool, one of the best counter-attacking teams on the planet, could utilise a wide-player like Sarr. Relegation infused food for thought, for Klopp.
West Ham are currently hovering above the drop despite possessing talent that should have them sitting in mid-table. Their 4-0 win today to relegate Norwich have handed them a huge boost on that front.
Felipe Anderson has underperformed for The Hammers, but has real quality and proved so in Italy. Recently purchased Jarrod Bowen looks like a proper player, and one which will grow into a genuine threat from left or right of centre. The very real chance of another lockdown and stoppage of play, coupled with relegation, may force West Ham to do business they don’t want to do. Bowen and Anderson would be top of the list if there were a fire sale. Four-goal Michail Antonio is an option, although his injury record is worrying.
Director of Football, Michael Edwards, Klopp, and their recruitment team, will be racking their brains ahead of the transfer window. Apparent limited spends, coupled with the want for a quality player to play a backup role, may just prove challenging to find.
Liverpool’s want to delve into relegation fodder in search of unearthing gems may need to continue. The top European sides need to improve each season to stay on top of their perch; this Liverpool team are no different. Nonetheless, don’t be surprised if there is limited to no movement at Anfield this summer.
Written by: Sam Ingram – @SamIngram_
Graphics: Sam Ingram – @SamIngram_