Why Jurgen Klopp needs a BIG summer to sort Liverpool's problems
Why Jurgen Klopp needs a BIG summer to sort Liverpool’s problems: Getting Van Dijk back to his best, resolving Salah’s future, a world-class signing and solving the Thiago riddle are among the key issues to address
- Liverpool were knocked out of the Champions League by Real Madrid last week
- A trophy is now out of reach for Jurgen Klopp’s side following a tough season
- Key defenders Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez have been out for most of the year
- The Reds need a big summer to rediscover their spark from the last few years
- Sportsmail takes a look at five vital elements Klopp and Co need to take a look at
There was to be no historic comeback on this occasion. Liverpool had their chances against Real Madrid on Wednesday but ultimately, in an all too familiar manner during this troubled season, the Reds fell short in the Champions League quarter-finals.
It means Liverpool won’t win a trophy this year, for the first time since 2018. It has been a supporter-less campaign characterised by wretched luck with big-name injuries and a spate of bad form at the beginning of 2021 which saw their season fall off a cliff.
While still in contention for a top-four place, it is far from the season envisaged for Jurgen Klopp’s side. Heading into the summer, Sportsmail takes a look at what the Liverpool manager needs to focus on as he looks to rebuild towards 2021-22.
Liverpool crashed out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage to Real Madrid
It means Jurgen Klopp won’t win a trophy this season and has a summer rebuild ahead
GET DEFENSIVE STARS BACK FIT
Ultimately, given the impact of Virgil van Dijk since his £75million arrival in January 2018, his long-term absence was likely to be decisive in which way Liverpool’s season swung.
Since his knee injury back in October in the Merseyside Derby, Liverpool’s centre back partnerships have been changed more or less every week.
It’s not just been Van Dijk either. Joe Gomez was also ruled out for the season’s remainder in November, while Klopp lost Joel Matip – his third first-team centre back – in January.
Playing Fabinho at the back adversely affected the midfield’s effectiveness. Notably, the Reds’ form has improved in the past month with a settled back four, with Ozan Kabak and Nat Phillips playing together centrally, and Fabinho restored to midfield.
However, Klopp’s No 1 priority this summer needs to be to get Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip all ready to go – if possible – by the beginning of next season on August 14.
The absence of Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk has been a huge blow to the Reds this season
Joel Matip’s list of injury problems also meant a crisis at centre back at the beginning of 2021
First of all, that means quashing any talk that Holland captain Van Dijk could make a return for his country at this summer’s European Championship. Even if he is pain-free, it’s a huge gamble.
The defensive talisman needs a full pre-season to rehabilitate back to full fitness, as does Gomez following an ankle injury.
Matip may be the most in danger of losing his spot in the team, such is his flimsy injury record.
But with all three of them back in the fold, in addition to the three centre backs currently playing in the first-team squad – plus youngster Rhys Williams – Klopp will feel much more confident about his chances of success next season.
The big question is – can Van Dijk return to his dominant, monstrous best?
MOHAMED SALAH – STAY OR GO?
For all of Liverpool’s troubles, one wonders where they would be without the goals of Mohamed Salah?
The Egyptian is the second-top Premier League goalscorer with 19, two behind Harry Kane, and he has 28 in all competitions – an astonishing 16 ahead of Sadio Mane and Diogo Jota, who have 12 each.
Yet, much like Tottenham star Kane, Salah’s future is up in the air this summer.
Mo Salah has scored plenty of goals but this season has also seen speculation about his future
The campaign has been dogged by speculation about his future. Sometimes it’s been whipped up by being dropped to the bench, like against Crystal Palace in December when he came on and scored twice, having given an interview to a Spanish newspaper flirting with the idea of moving to LaLiga in the future.
At other times, Salah’s agent Ramy Abbas Issa has pumped up the transfer talk, posting a cryptic tweet in the wake of Salah’s substitution against Chelsea on March 4.
Yet on Wednesday, Salah’s ruthless finishing in front of goal deserted him, missing something of a sitter in the opening minutes before two other openings passed him by.
Salah missed a hatful of chances against Real Madrid as the Reds failed to score at home
It’s unlikely Madrid would have been too impressed, despite Salah scoring in the first leg.
But at 28, one of the most marketable footballers on the planet has a decision to make. His contract at Anfield expires in two years and, particularly if the Reds miss out on Champions League qualification, he could push for a move abroad.
If that is the case, Klopp will have to look for adequate replacements. And fast…
TIME FOR AN IMPACT SIGNING?
Should Salah dramatically leave this summer – or even if he doesn’t – Klopp could do with an inspired piece of business in the transfer market.
His first major signing in 2016, Mane, had a huge impact on the team. Likewise Van Dijk in January 2018 and Alisson six months later.
Last summer, it was supposed to be playmaker Thiago Alcantara who’d make that difference. That hasn’t yet come to light, while Diogo Jota’s brilliant start was curtailed by an injury which kept him out for three months.
Truth be told though, the Reds have not been linked with many big names. A potential bid for RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate last month has gone cold.
There is one player who would be something of a dream arrival though.
Arguably the heir to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappe has set the Champions League alight since the knockout-stages began and at 22 is already a huge star in world football.
Kylian Mbappe is believed to be only interested in joining Liverpool or Real if he leaves PSG
A move to Anfield is perhaps not as far-fetched as you may think too. As recently as February, Sportsmail reported that the Frenchman was only interested in a move to Liverpool or Real Madrid.
Whether owners FSG have the required funds for such a hefty financial endeavour though is another matter altogether.
SOME STARS NEED TO STEP UP…
Back to Thiago, who was meant to be an inspired £25m signing from treble winners Bayern last summer.
Simply put, the Spain international has struggled in his first season in English football.
His opening problems were not his own making though. He contracted Covid, then was out of action for two-and-a-half months as a result of a reckless tackle from Richarlison in that feisty October derby.
Thiago Alcantara has struggled to exert his influence since arriving from Bayern last summer
But his regular inclusion in the starting XI at the beginning of 2021 coincided with a shocking run of form for the Reds.
In fact, it was a streak at home which only this past Saturday saw the champions pick up their first league win at Anfield this year.
His stats don’t make for good reading either: 22 appearances, zero goals, zero assists, five yellow cards.
But he isn’t the only one. Trent Alexander-Arnold dropped his level in the midst of that dreadful run while Alisson endured a difficult period too, with his two mistakes against Manchester City difficult to stomach. Mane is also looking in desperate need of a rest.
Roberto Firmino has really struggled in front of goal and is no longer a guaranteed starter
And then there’s Roberto Firmino. Liverpool’s No 9 has scored just six goals in 41 games, nearly a goal every seven games.
Matched with just seven assists, and with Jota pushing for a starting spot, Firmino must show in the season’s remainder that he is still worthy of an automatic starting spot. Patience is wearing thin.
IS ‘HEAVY METAL’ FOOTBALL SUSTAINABLE?
On punditry duty for BT Sport in the wake of Liverpool’s elimination on Wednesday, Rio Ferdinand made a pertinent point.
‘We asked the question before the game. Is it because of the heavy metal brand of football Liverpool have been playing under Klopp?’, as Ferdinand looked to explain Liverpool’s difficult season.
‘He’s been here four years, five years… so is it sustainable, playing at that level? Is it the pandemic? Is it the injuries to key players?’
Liverpool’s usual intense style of pressing has waned this season, perhaps due to fatigue
Klopp will be given the time to shuffle the pack and change philosophy should he look to do so
Known for his ‘gegenpressing’ style of play, Klopp has been an advocate of this intense philosophy since his arrival in October 2015.
But this season his players have waned when pressing. Is it fatigue? Quite possibly so, given the quick turnaround between seasons due to Covid.
However, should it prompt a re-think this summer? Klopp has a contract until 2024, so has time on his hands should he want to shuffle the pack and change tact.
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