Despite the summer transfer window having drawn to close, Liverpool fans are still crying out for the signing of Virgil van Dijk to address what they believe to be serious deficiencies in their defence.
However, while the Van Dijk deal is still a possibility in January, and his signing would no doubt strengthen Liverpool’s side, there is a case to be made for why Jurgen Klopp has seemingly decided to overload on attacking options instead.
The acquisitions of Mohamed Salah, Dominic Solanke, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could have potentially been topped up further by the arrival of Thomas Lemar.
While Oxlade-Chamberlain can play in a central midfield role, he is a very attack-minded player.
Many observers will note that a team that conceded 42 league goals last season has not improved their defence enough, but does the increased depth in attack mean they won’t need to?
Last season Liverpool were second at Christmas on 37 points, six points behind leaders Chelsea, and playing some of the most exciting football in the league. Fast forward to the end of the season and Liverpool had only amassed an additional 39 points in the remaining 21 games, compared to the 50 points notched up by Chelsea after Christmas.
Liverpool’s form took a significant dip in January and early February, which included a 2-2 draw at Sunderland, a 3-2 home loss to Swansea, a 2-0 defeat to Hull, and elimination from the FA Cup and League Cup at the hands of Wolves and Southampton respectively.
The mid-season capitulation was put down to tiredness and a squad that lacked quality replacements for absentees such as Sadio Mané, which resulted in playing Roberto Firmino out wide and harmed the fluency of the team. The attacking reinforcements that Klopp has brought in now have the potential to replace any player in the attacking three.
Mohamed Salah is the type of pacy, energetic winger that can stretch a defence similar to the way Mané does and could replace him in the side if the need arose. Oxlade-Chamberlain is a versatile signing who could fill in for any one of Lallana, Salah, Mané, Coutinho or Firmino too, making sure that no one gets too tired or too comfortable.
Oxlade-Chamberlain is a versatile signing who could fill in for any one of Lallana, Salah, Mané, Coutinho or Firmino too, making sure that no one gets too tired or too comfortable.
Many pundits will say you can’t always rely on blowing teams away, but when Liverpool’s front line is firing on all cylinders, more often than not that is the end result. With quality replacements on standby to cover for injuries and fatigue, the Liverpool machine should stay well oiled over the course of a long and arduous campaign.
Of course, Liverpool has defensive weaknesses, especially at set pieces, but whenever Liverpool played the way that everyone knew they were capable of last season, these mistakes were not costly.
Liverpool went from having the second best goal difference of +21 at Christmas to the fourth best at +36 by the end of the season, showing that their defence was a manageable problem when the attackers were on form in the first half of the season.
If Klopp can make sure his team sticks to the high energy levels that make his style so effective for the entire season, there is no reason why Liverpool can’t sustain a push for honours. Competing in the Champions League provides an additional challenge, but it is definitely one that should be embraced. In fact, the layout of the competition in the knockout stages suits Liverpool’s gung-ho approach, where they have the chance to outscore teams over two legs.
In fact, the layout of the competition in the knockout stages suits Liverpool’s gung-ho approach, where they have the chance to outscore teams over two legs.
Liverpool should certainly be in contention at the top of the table come Christmas this year, but it is the second half of the season that will be the true test of the team’s credentials.
If injuries can be avoided and key players stay fresh, 2018 could be a promising year for a Liverpool side that has the potential to flourish in the years to come.
Michael Cole, Pundit Arena
Check out the latest episode of The Mixer, where we looked ahead to the Republic of Ireland’s World Cup qualifiers and spoke with Longford Town manager, Neale Fenn.