Yesterday, the transfer window has closed here in England. For years, people have called for the transfer window to close before the start of the season, rather than a few games into it, and this is the first year it’s happened.
The transfer window closing before the start of the season makes sense; teams have all summer to strengthen, and shouldn’t be given longer just because they failed to do so. However, it’s a very strange move by English clubs to close their transfer window weeks before the rest of Europe does. That means there’s now going to be a few weeks of uncertainty as English clubs will worry that their players can be picked off by clubs across Europe, and they won’t be able to replace them.
As for the transfer window, Manchester City improved an already daunting squad by adding midfielder Rodri and making Joao Cancelo the world’s most expensive full back. Spurs not only improved their midfield by adding Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso as well as adding Ryan Sessegnon, one of the brightest talents in English football, but maybe more importantly, established their credentials as a club with the ability to attract some of the best players around, with only a late change of heart by Juventus preventing Pedro Dybala from joining.
In what I think will be an open battle for 4th this season, Chelsea were banned from making transfers having already added Christian Pulisic; Arsenal have made some pretty impressive moves, and will hope Kieran Tierney and David Luiz can help out in defence, which was their Achilles heel last season, while Nicholas Pepe adds an extra dimension in attack.
Manchester United have had a strange transfer window, with some good signings having been made, but then seemed to go on tilt towards the end of the window; being linked with all kinds of players and not getting any of them; which hints at the lack of an overall plan and once again begs the question of why they don’t have a sporting director.
Everton have made some impressive looking signings, but still have some glaring weaknesses that they haven’t really addressed and may be a good outside bet for the top 4, as might Wolves, who were very good last season and have further strengthened.
The notable absentee in lists of transfer activity was Liverpool, who spent the least of all 20 Premier League clubs, only spending £1.3m on young Dutch defender Sepp van den Berg (they also signed Harvey Barnes from Fulham, with a tribunal to set the fee at a later date). Liverpool came as close as you can get to winning the league last season, and did win the Champions League, so it seemed the perfect chance to go out and get the players that would take them over the top domestically and make them able to challenge for and win trophies on a consistent basis.
The official reason for Liverpool’s lack of activity was that the players they wanted either weren’t available, or were only available at prices that Liverpool weren’t prepared to pay.
Many Liverpool fans see the logic in that; Liverpool have had success taking a more measured approach to transfers in recent seasons. Besides, Liverpool already have a very strong team, haven’t lost any key players and are a relatively young side, with the only aging player being the seemingly evergreen James Milner.
I can also see the logic in Liverpool’s stance, but at the same time I think Liverpool are unnecessarily taking an incredible risk. Liverpool desperately need depth. They don’t have much by way of options from the bench to change games or to cover injury. Choosing not to add to that is a big call.
Last season, Liverpool’s worst run of form was the run of 2 wins and 4 draws from 6 games from late January to early March. While that run was by no means a disaster, and included draws at tough away grounds such as Goodison Park and Old Trafford, and was then followed by a 9 match winning streak to end the season, it was the reason why Liverpool didn’t win the league as Manchester City pulled off an incredible 14 game winning run to end the season.
That run of 7 games in 33 days (there was a Champions League game in there too) showed all the deficiencies in Liverpool’s squad, namely the lack of a fourth forward who was anywhere near as good as the other three. This meant that they couldn’t do anything when Roberto Firmino ran out of gas and was playing while running on fumes and Salah went through a dry spell.
Rather than having strengthened, Liverpool go into this season even weaker than last season. The only player Liverpool have signed for the first-team squad in the last 13 months is former West Ham goalkeeper Adrian, who was signed on a free transfer to replace the departing Simon Mignolet as backup to Alisson.
Liverpool will depend on a lot of square pegs having to fit in round holes. They don’t have a natural back up to Andrew Robertson at left-back or Trent Alexander-Arnold at right-back now that Joe Gomez has been crafted into a centre-back. Should Dejan Lovren be sold, they could be forced to field a 17-year-old at centre-back should anyone get hurt.
Last season, Jürgen Klopp showed that he was comfortable with having midfielders James Milner, Fabinho and Gini Wijnaldum fill in in defence if needed, but that will leave Liverpool exposed elsewhere.
In the midfield, Liverpool will be needing contributions from Adam Lallana, who hasn’t done a great deal in his Liverpool career, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who’s back after a serious knee injury and Xherdan Shaqiri, whose form fell off a cliff last season.
In attack, the big danger is fatigue or injury. Liverpool’s front three spent the summer at the Copa America and the African Cup of Nations, and they will surely feel the effects as the season goes on. Sadio Mane hasn’t had a pre-season as he was given extra time off.
The back-up options are sparse; Daniel Sturridge left after his contract expired and Harry Wilson has been allowed to go out on loan. This means that Liverpool’s backup options in attack will largely depend on Divock Origi. Origi will likely get a lot of minutes this season, and while he went on an incredible run of form at the end of last season, that went far above anything else he’d shown in his years at Liverpool. So it’s big question mark as to what productivity can be expected from him, and how the team differs when he plays.
Other than Origi, the only true forward in the Liverpool squad is Rhian Brewster, a young player who has impressed at age group level but is untested at the first-team level. Klopp doesn’t have a great record in bringing young players through, so rather than Brewster I suspect he’ll prefer Oxlade-Chamberlain or Lallana in attack.
The lack of options limits what Liverpool can achieve this season. They can’t compete on all fronts like other clubs can, as they don’t have a big enough squad. Liverpool’s record in the domestic cups under Klopp is dreadful; they haven’t won a league cup game in two seasons, and have never gone past the fourth round of the FA Cup under Klopp. That bad record is likely to continue.
Liverpool tend not to buy players in January (Virgil van Dijk being the only player signed in January under Klopp), as they don’t believe you get value for money, so it’s unlikely that they’ll go out any spend, unless there’s an emergency.
For Liverpool to have a successful season, they will be relying on key players to avoid injury, fatigue or suspension. Last season the front three of Salah, Mane and Firmino only missed 6 games between them. It’s unlikely they’ll be that fortunate again.
Maybe the best comparison for Liverpool is last season’s Spurs team. They too didn’t buy anyone in the off-season, then started the season well and were in the title picture only for a combination of fatigue and injury and derail their league campaign.
Liverpool’s transfer dealings in the past few seasons have been excellent, and they’ve earned some good faith from the fans. Also, Klopp seems happy enough with having a small squad.
But, the risk seems unnecessary to me. If the players who could improve the starting XI weren’t available, then fair enough; but it’s a stretch to suggest there was absolutely nobody out there who could have some for a moderate fee just to bolster the squad and give better options than playing someone out of position.
Throughout the history of the Premier League, Liverpool haven’t been able to consistently contend, season upon season. After coming so close last season, hopes were high that they would be able to build on that progress. Recent history suggests that taking such a passive approach to transfers doesn’t work. Let’s see if Liverpool can change that.