Smart Summer for Liverpool Can Spark Quantum Leap
Like in 2017/18, things are set for huge improvement, with the right two or three signings
Note: the bulk of this piece was first published on my separate ZenDen TTT Substack last week, with the idea of putting it on here, for paid Main Hub subscribers, this week.
I’ve updated and added a few more paragraphs here and there, and most of the intro before the paywall is a new addition.
Early 2018 vs Early 2023
If there's one thing I think most Liverpool fans are missing, it's that we're now essentially back in 2017 (when fools were doubting Jürgen Klopp) or, perhaps a little more encouragingly, early 2018, when everyone was going mad about having sold Philippe Coutinho, and missing the bigger picture.
Where we're not, clearly, is in 2019, 2020 or even 2022.
The early 2018 side was heading for a Champions League final (and a further season away from becoming a machine), but had also proved wildly inconsistent, and didn’t have the injuries seen this season. I think Liverpool have a better squad than in 2018, as I will detail, and the beauty, like then, is the obviousness of the issues to fix.
It's a vital summer ahead, clearly, and while I have always had the impression that Jude Bellingham prefers Liverpool for various reasons, an auction with crazy bids could prove the stumbling block, unless Bellingham is only prepared to join Liverpool – and Dortmund have to accept the fee, which will still likely be a £120m or more. (Or Dortmund could then just threaten to keep him against his wishes, but that's rarely productive.)
But what's clear is that it's almost impossible not to significantly improve the Liverpool midfield this summer, beyond the time that it takes to bed-in new players – which is why players with existing on-field and off-field relationships would help, such as Bellingham with his best two mates from the England camp, and Ryan Gravenberch with the Reds' two existing big Dutchmen.
Those two would be absolutely ideal.
Again: it's actually hard for Liverpool's midfield, the one weak area this season (which as affected the defence and attack), not to be significantly better in the future, and here's the vital thing: with Bellingham or without him (although if he improves a rival, that's a blow).
The outstanding Stefan Bajcetic will be better: stronger, older, faster, wiser. Ditto Harvey Elliott, who is developing very nicely; his underlying numbers for his age are outstanding.
And Tyler Morton, having a great loan at Blackburn, cannot be worse or offer any less than Naby Keïta or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have this season.
I thought both would be handy (most seasons you'd get 20-30 games from them; Keïta played 40 last season, 'Ox' 29), but 'Ox' got injured again, in preseason; and who knows with Keïta, other than injury and perhaps attitude issues have seen him become a mere afterthought. And unless Arthur Melo shines in the final 12 games, no one next season can do worse than him if his sole contribution proves to be 13 late minutes in a big defeat. That's three players whose 2022/23s have been almost been a total write-offs.
Fabinho, if he stays, surely cannot play any worse than he has in 2022/23 (at least for him this is a first major blip, but as he turns 30 next season, he seems a sellable asset before he totally melts), and if he's sold, a younger, fresher, faster, stronger model could be procured.
Indeed, I felt anything more than a reasonable contribution from Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keïta would be a bonus, but getting more-or-less nothing from them, and so little from Fabinho and nothing from Arthur, has multiplied the problem. (Fingers crossed some or all of them at least contribute something between now and June, even if they all then depart.) Injuries also haven't helped Curtis Jones this season, who may push on having just turned 22, or start to stagnate.
But here's the crux.
If Liverpool were to sign Gravenberch, Mason Mount and João Palhinha, as just three examples (but say it's instead Teun Koopmeiners, Sofyan Amrabat and Moisés Caicedo; or Matheus Nunes, Manuel Ugarte and Khéphren Thuram), then any balanced combination of three new top-class – not even yet proven world-class – signings would, if they settled sufficiently and if they gelled, improve the Reds' options quite considerably, and bolster the heart of the team.
There are a lot of very good midfielders out there, and possibly easier to procure than in January. To find a blend of pace, heft, height and skill, with no dickheads, isn't impossible. Even without the greatest of immediate chemistry and shared wavelengths (which usually takes time to build, and improves year or year), you’d think we’re at the stage where two or three suitable midfielders would still have a huge impact (injuries notwithstanding!)
Indeed, in this piece, I look back at early 2018, and look at how this current Liverpool squad compares to that team (which I felt was on the brink of greatness, and thus it proved), and how that squad really just needed two elevatory, transformative signings, to balance out the attack-heavy team and add some necessary elements that were absent.
Again, if Liverpool were having this kind of season without 6-10 players due to injuries most weeks, and had they not had a truncated preseason (same as 2020/21), and were they without a fast-fading pool of midfield options, and if they weren't sometimes playing two very promising but still-developing teenagers in midfield, and if they’d had more than one penalty all season, then I'd be far more worried, as little of this season would then make any sense.
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