ASSESSING LIVERPOOL’S SQUAD AFTER THE TRANSFER WINDOW
An interesting end to the January transfer window has seen changes to Jürgen Klopp’s side. What are these changes, and what does it mean for the squad the manager has available for the second half of the season? We take a look.
January was a quiet month till the last couple of days. Three key transfers took place and will have a direct effect on the squad. First, there was the signing of Colombian winger Luis Diaz for a fee rising to £50million. The Porto star was signed permanently on a five and half year deal.
A double departure on Deadline Day saw Nat Phillips join Bournemouth, and Neco Williams switch to Fulham. Both on loan deals to the end of the season in search of more regular game time. These three moves have a direct impact on the defence and forward line.
The goalkeeping department saw no changes, with Alisson staying number 1, Caoimhin Kelleher establishing himself as number 2, and Adrian seeing out the last few months of his contract as the number 3. In the defence, there are a couple of changes.
The departure of Phillips has been remedied with Rhys Williams set to serve in Phillips’ role as fifth choice centre back. The defender who turns 21 in two days was recalled from an unsuccessful loan spell at Swansea City. He played just 392 minutes across 7 appearances in all competitions for the Swans.
He will now spend the second half of the season at the club, likely turning out for the U23s unless there’s another injury crisis like the one that saw him pressed into first team action last season. It’s a case of one in, one out in the heart of defence. It shouldn’t affect the team much.
Phillips himself played just 196 minutes across four appearances, with none coming in the Premier League. Van Dijk and Matip have returned from their long layoffs strong as they play virtually every game. It’s a huge boost especially in Joel Matip’s case as he seems to have put his niggling injury woes behind him.
Konaté serves as third choice with Gomez the fourth choice. There were rumours linking Joe with a move away in search of more minutes but he’s stayed and will hope to get more time on the pitch in the coming weeks. The centre back department looks really strong.
In the right back position, Williams’ departure was a bit out of the blue. The Welshman had looked a different player this season with his impressive performances at right back seeing him pushed up to the right wing on occasion. It is a bit of a shame to lose him at this stage but it is completely understandable.
With Wales having a crucial qualifier in March, and Welsh boss Robb Page making public his desire to see Williams play more games, it is no surprise to see Neco look to get consistent game time elsewhere. It leaves Conor Bradley as the only natural back up to Trent.
The Northern Irishman has made five appearances for the first team this season, showcasing his raw abilities. James Milner and Joe Gomez are more senior options for the right back position if needed. We’ve seen Milner line up there this season and put in a MOTM performance against Zaha and Palace at Anfield.
It must be said we’ve also seen him get roasted and almost sent off at the hands of Foden. Gomez is a different kind of option, the 24 year old could see his desire for more minutes come in the form of a right back stint. Trent is unique, nobody can replace what he does so these options will offer something else if need be.
Bradley will likely get the FA Cup game against Cardiff this weekend. If the Reds progress as they should, and get paired against another Championship (or League One/Two) or lower level PL side, Bradley will get another go. It might be a bit of a stretch to see him cover for Trent in huge PL/CL games however.
That’s where Gomez and Milner come in. Gomez offers a pacy defensive option to the veteran’s steady but slow option although Milner has more creative ability. I guess it will depend on the opponent. If Trent is out for a big CL/PL tie where we will be under the cosh, Gomez will likely start.
If it is a PL/CL game against a team we will have more of the ball against, Milner is the better option. It is not completely ideal. We’d all love ‘a Tsimikas’ at right back. A fella who comes in for Trent and there’s not much of a drop in quality or style, like we see at left back. It is what it is, and it’s better to have options than none at all.
In midfield, the options look set to be boosted by injury returns. Fabinho, Henderson, Jones, Ox, Milner, Keita, Thiago and Elliott are eight strong options, with the latter trio all returning soon (Keita from AFCON duty and Elliott & Thiago recovering from injury).
Young Tyler Morton is the 9th option for what is effectively 3 places in the starting XI. On paper it seems strong, but an argument could be made that it’s a case of quantity over genuine quality that can be relied upon week after week. There are one too many injury prone players in there.
The midfield could see some major surgery in the next window. Come this summer, Henderson turns 32, Milner is out of contract and Keita as well as Oxlade-Chamberlain will be down to the final year of their contracts. We could well see some reshuffling in that department.
As it stands though, it’s great to see almost all nine options fit and available. Keita, Thiago and Elliott’s returns in particular will be a huge boost for the side. Competition for places will be fierce once again, and hopefully that will see the levels raised.
The only incoming of the window is a winger who has bagged 14 goals in 18 league games to send Porto 9 points clear of rivals Sporting at the top of the table. It is a huge boost to the attacking line. Jürgen Klopp can now count on seven senior attacking options in Salah, Mané, Jota, Firmino, Diaz, Minamino and Origi.
Youngster Kaide Gordon is the eighth option, with Harvey Elliott and Oxlade-Chamberlain both capable of lining up in the frontline in case of emergencies. It’s a very healthy looking frontline all of a sudden, even if Salah and Mané are given a couple of days off after AFCON exertions.
It is an embarrassment of riches really if Diaz hits the ground running like Jota did. Even if he’s eased into action slowly, his mere presence alone could see levels go up due to the competition for places his arrival signals. Just imagine seeing Diaz and Jota stripped and ready to come on in the 65th minute of any game.
A truly mouthwatering prospect and a nightmarish one for defences across the land and in Europe. Diaz will fly to Merseyside later this week after international duty (Colombia face Argentina tonight). He will then commence his life as a Red.
His arrival renders the futures of Minamino and Origi bleak. Both were linked with moves away but ended up staying at the club. They will both want to fight for their opportunities and show they can still offer something to the team.
It was reported on Deadline Day that Taki wanted to stay and fight for his place. A commendable stance to take in the face of increased competition. Taki has been key to reaching the League Cup final and for that reason alone, deserves to stay and experience a Wembley final.
Origi on the other hand is a cult hero and that will never change. You still wouldn’t put it past him to deliver a huge moment for the club before his contract runs out at the end of the season. Whether he makes enough appearances before then to trigger a one year extension remains to be seen.