Our Liverpool blogger Dave Tindall believes Jurgen Klopp’s transfer inactivity represents a huge gamble from the German coach.
Knowing how quickly we can flip from wonderful to woeful, it was hardly a surprise to most Liverpool fans that we should follow the highlight of the season with its lowest moment.
After the thrill and drama of the 4-3 win over Man City, I was prepared to view the 1-0 loss which followed at Swansea as one of those things – a classic example of a sports team coming down to earth from a big high.
FA Cup exit a dagger to the heart
But the 3-2 home FA Cup exit to West Brom? That was a horrid and unexpected blow to the heart. We’re not going to win the Premier League and it’s a huge leap of faith to think about winning the Champions League (even though 2005 makes us believe anything is possible), so the FA Cup was the trophy in our crosshairs.
Two finals in Jurgen Klopp’s first season and a top-four finish in his next, an FA Cup victory would have continued the feeling of progression. God knows we need some silverware having been starved of it since 2011 under King Kenny so to have the door slammed shut in the fourth round for the third successive year was hard to swallow.
The next few days were tough. I’m sure my thoughts echoed those of most LFC fans – no trophy again, Coutinho gone, Virgil van Dijk not an instant miracle worker, no sign of anyone coming in at the end of the transfer window. Is this season about to go t*ts up?
I’m writing this the morning after the window closed having watched us do plenty to fill the ‘Out’ column but make no additions to the ‘In’. I admit I’d got caught up in the great Deadline Day charade and was simply willing Twitter or Alan Irwin (Sky’s man in Liverpool) to reveal some mega signing. But, nope, nothing.
And yet, as I stare at the Premier League table, there we sit in third place! We’ve scored the second most goals in the top flight, are the only team to have beaten the runaway leaders and have lost just three times.
With 15 games to go, we’re only three points behind a wobbly-looking Manchester United. Second place is a realistic possibility. Yes, we crave a trophy but third or second spot after finishing fourth last season would certainly represent progression.
But here’s the huge talking point.
Due to our January transfer (in)activities, Jurgen Klopp has taken a massive gamble.
Rather than spread the risk and invest in some instant reinforcements to see us through until the end of the season, Klopp is betting that we have enough in the bank already.
It could come off but, wow, this is dangerous. Injuries to Mo Salah and/or Roberto Firmino would have been a real blow earlier in the season. Now, with Coutinho in Spain, Daniel Sturridge loaned out to West Brom and Adam Lallana’s fitness fragile, they could be catastrophic.
Only a few months back, we had the luxury of leaving out Salah for one game, resting Firmino for the next and packing our bench with attacking prowess to get us out of trouble if needed.
Suddenly, the front three of Salah, Firmino and Mane are now being wheeled out every game and there’s a real drop off in class if Klopp goes with the alternative of playing young Dominic Solanke, who is still finding his feet.
If injuries don’t kick in, then all well and good. Leicester got away with it when Vardy and Mahrez avoided any long absences to drive them to title glory and Chelsea were the same with Costa and Hazard. Spurs have been playing a similar game of risk with Harry Kane although at least they now have Fernando Llorente as experienced back-up.
Klopp’s argument – and it’s a valid one – would be that he didn’t want to panic buy and pay over the odds for a player he didn’t really want. That’s admirable and you could speculate that he could have been rushed into getting a wide player in the last January transfer window and, with the position filled, not gone after Salah in the summer. Imagine missing out on that jackpot!
But there are very real dangers in playing the long game. In an ideal world, Coutinho would have stayed, Sturridge would have shown more in training to convince that he could play the Klopp way and we’d have been in a position of great strength in these vital closing months of the season.
Instead, Klopp has been dealt a difficult hand with which to play. By choosing to stay true to his vision and stick rather than twist, he risks elimination (in terms of Champions League and top four) before he gets the cards he wants. And if qualifying for next season’s Champions League isn’t achieved, those desired aces in the pack may become unavailable to him.
Ironically, FA Cup elimination helps as it reduces the late-season fixture congestion but it’s worth remembering that Leicester and Chelsea didn’t have the extra workload of Europe when their thin-in-places squads rode to title glory.
Of course, life without some form of risk isn’t life at all. I can almost hear Klopp saying those words. He would probably view an injury to Firmino as an opportunity for Solanke.
With Salah and Firmino absolutely flying – they have 45 goals between them this season – and confidence restored by the 3-0 win at Huddersfield during a midweek which saw defeats for Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal, there is still much to look forward to.
I want to keep enjoying it. There are plenty more potential highs on the horizon. The 2017/18 campaign could still be a real corker.
But my true feelings are hard to hide. I feel uneasy.