After the honeymoon period of October and November came crashing down in December, the stark reality of his squad is definitely getting clearer for Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp. A sizeable number of his inherited squad are mid-table level, not good enough for a club with ambitious of returning to the Champions League.
Talk of a possible title in the midst of such an unpredictable season has now been firmly silenced, as the Reds are themselves stuck in mid-table, having suffered defeats to so-called ‘lesser’ sides. Even a top four place looks increasingly unlikely, with Leicester City’s form this season looking less like a one-off, Tottenham Hotspur and even Crystal Palace emerging as challengers to Manchester United for the fourth spot.
All Klopp can do now till the end of this season, or the start of next season, is to plan for the next campaign. This season is all but written off with the dearth in quality of the previous manager’s recruits being very apparent. Here are five areas Klopp has to sort out, whether in January or in the summer, before the start of next season’s… title charge:
Some have pointed out how Klopp cleared a big part of the Dortmund team he inherited back in 2007, to make way for his own signings. It would not be a surprise if he does the same here, with many unsuited for the physicality of the Premier League, let alone his demanding gegenpressing athletic style.
one last anfield lap of honour for enrique and toure
Out of contract starlets like Jose Enrique and Kolo Toure are as good as gone, regardless of what they do in the next six months, with youngster Jerome Sinclair likely to follow the greedy path out of Melwood. European imports like Tiago Ilori and Luis Alberto should be shown the door too, with the former failing to even start at relegation-threatened Aston Villa.
Other favourites of the previous regime, namely Joe Allen, Adam Lallana and James Milner, will certainly be on the market, and even if they do not leave, will have to make do with a place out of the first eleven. Andre Wisdom is unlikely to get another chance at Anfield, while big-money signing Christian Benteke just does not look suited for Klopp’s style.
Settle The Goalkeeping Situation
This area became a problem after the previous manager forced Pepe Reina out of the club, and replacing him with a mid-table goalkeeper. Klopp has to decide whether to keep faith in Simon Mignolet or Adam Bogdan. In any case, if Liverpool are to move forward, even if either are kept, they will have to play second fiddle to a new goalkeeper.
impressing on loan, ward will provide quality cover and competition
The likes of Bundesliga star Timo Horn has been mooted as a potential target for Klopp, and though a move for a new No.1 will only come in the summer, it simply has to be done. The better move would be to show both Mignolet and Bogdan the door, and give academy product Danny Ward a chance in the first team. He surely can’t do any worse than the current duo.
With a young hungry local lad battling with a new goalkeeping arrival for the No.1 shirt, Klopp could finally make Liverpool competitive in the goalkeeping department again.
With the deadweights released, more space is available for more youngsters to enter the first team picture. Conor Randall, Brad Smith and Jordan Rossiter should be given more top flight experience for the rest of this season, with the aim of having the former two provide sufficient cover at full-back. Jon Flanagan’s return will also be welcomed, with Klopp’s aim to see him return to full fitness and some form ahead of 2016/17. For Rossiter and Flanagan, tying their brightest youngsters down to a new contract is a must for the Reds.
sheyi ojo: one of many hidden talents for next season
One, even two, of the three forward loanees Harry Wilson, Ryan Kent or Sheyi Ojo should be given a chance in the first team for next season. They have demonstrated their quality in the Championship already, and either could provide quality and competition on the Reds’ flanks, which is sorely missing this season and for a few years now.
Decide on Daniel Sturridge
The biggest dilemma for Klopp going into next season would be on the England international. As most have already admitted, when fit, Sturridge is one of the most deadliest strikers across Europe. However, as seen in the last two seasons, it is more a matter of ‘if’ rather than ‘when’. Sturridge’s strike rate is immense, but he cannot string a run of games together without breaking down in training or in the pre-game warmup.
luxury fourth choice striker?
Sturridge is on premium wages as well, and Klopp has to decide whether to keep him as a luxury third or fourth choice striker at the club, or dispense of him and accommodate other fitter, hungrier forwards. With Benteke also on the brink, Klopp is left with a returning Danny Ings and still raw Divock Origi, with the latter needing to use the rest of this season to adapt to the English game.
Regardless, Klopp will have to bring in two forward players, whether two strikers or one striker and one attacking midfielder. Mobile forwards like Paul-Georges Ntep, Breel Embolo and perhaps even Alexandre Lacazette look good fits for Klopp’s system. Schalke’s Leroy Sane, or the like, could provide a more direct approach compared to the intricate styles of Philippe Coutinho and Joao Teixeira. Simply put, Sturridge cannot be seen as a first, or second, choice striker at Liverpool anymore.
Sign Just 5 Players
What Klopp must not do is a complete upheaval of his squad. More players will leave than be signed, with five new arrivals the most balanced target. Youths and some of the current players out on loan right now, like Lazar Markovic, could bolster the squad without too many new signings. The likely arrival of Marko Grujic in midfield is the type of young, hungry, athletic signings Klopp should be targeting.
What Klopp needs to do is to streamline the squad to one that has each and every single one of the 23 to 25 players fighting hard for the 11 to 18 match day spots. And even in an injury crisis, youngsters from the reserves must already be in line to step up, like how Randall emerged in the first team this season.
Klopp has six months to achieve these objectives, in time for a title charge next season. Reds fans will hope by then, he will have a clear idea of his squad and make firm judgements on who stays and who goes. Only then can this transitional season be seen as a success.