Towards the end of 2016-17, as Liverpool pushed for a top-four finish to crystallise their advancement under Jurgen Klopp, the sketch of their recruitment strategy for the new campaign was becoming apparent.
Their blinding, blitzing start to the season had underlined the electrifying potential of the team, but their stretched-out stumble at the turn of this year solidified the thinking that pedigreed reinforcements were required.
There were four primary objectives: reducing the dependence on Sadio Mane by adding another speedy attacker that could terrorise defences and make a difference in the final third; elevating the dynamism in midfield; ensuring there was greater competition in the squad; and bringing in an aerially dominant, accomplished centre-back.
Mohamed Salah, Naby Keita – who links up with the Merseysiders in the summer – and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain checked the first three priorities.
On Wednesday, the final part of that blueprint was boxed off – albeit belatedly. Virgil van Dijk is now the world’s most expensive defender after Liverpool and Southampton completed a £75 million deal, which will see him officially switch to Anfield on January 1 in a five-and-a-half year deal worth £180,000 a week.
Liverpool Football Club can confirm they have reached an agreement with Southampton for the transfer of Virgil van Dijk.
Full story: https://t.co/tJy9vsGOen pic.twitter.com/L17A7UwqaU — Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 27, 2017
All four of the aforementioned players have eclipsed the club’s previous record spend of £35m to swat away the theory that owners Fenway Sports Group are not willing to back a manager in the market.
Conspiracy theorists that suggest the head-spinning outlay for the 26-year-old is no more than a sign that Philippe Coutinho is off to Barcelona and his transfer fee is being emptied in advance, should remember that Liverpool were accused of tapping up van Dijk at the start of June, well before the Catalans made an approach for Brazilian, which only came in the middle of the following month.
Salah, Keita, Oxlade-Chamberlain and the Dutch ace were all on the agenda ages before Neymar’s game-changing departure for Paris Saint-Germain prompted Barca to bring forward their long-term intention to pursue Coutinho.
Whether the masterful playmaker will still be at Liverpool when the winter window closes remains to be seen , but what is not currently uncertain is Klopp’s strategy of strengthening the club’s spine.
Keita and Van Dijk, who overlooked Barcelona and Manchester City – despite Pep Guardiola's insistence otherwise – respectively to line up under the German, are core to this masterplan, which is set to continue.
They are both examples of the Reds boss refusing to scroll down a list of targets and settle for anything but the difficult-to-prise name at the very top of it – regardless of the cost or the time and effort needed to make it happen.
For too long, it has been the reverse for Liverpool. And for so long, the club have had to rectify a roster made up of second, third, fourth choices and a clear deficiency in true quality.
On Boxing Day, however, Klopp could field a bench of Loris Karius, Dejan Lovren, Joe Gomez, James Milner, Adam Lallana, Sadio Mane and Dominic Solanke. That is with three England internationals in captain Jordan Henderson, Nathaniel Clyne and Daniel Sturridge missing through respective hamstring, back and muscle injuries, while Spain’s Alberto Moreno also nurses an ankle problem.
Throw certain starters Keita and Van Dijk into the mix, and Liverpool will not only be able to count on a formidable XI, but a phenomenal reserve pool too.
Neither, of course, are a cure-all potion for the club’s weaknesses, but they strengthen fundamental areas, which Klopp is still intent on fortifying.
With Emre Can looking increasingly likely to depart as a free agent at the end of the season – Juventus are in pole position to sign him – and Coutinho’s stay on Merseyside feeling temporary now after his five years of service, Liverpool have designs on reinforcing the midfield.
Leon Goretzka, who has his pick of elite clubs with his Schalke contract expiring this summer, has long been under consideration and is set to reveal his destination next month.
Lazio’s imposing “Sergente” Sergej Milinkovic-Savic has also been monitored, but the Serie A side are reluctant to let him leave - expecting a fee of around £90m if he does - while the player has insisted he’s happy in Italy.
Manchester United, Juve and PSG have all also heavily scouted the 22-year-old, who declared in January: “Ibrahimovic is my favourite footballer. His coach, Mourinho, is the best manager in the world – he’s intelligent and simply great.”
Liverpool have done plenty of recon in the centre of the park, where there are several strong options that marry with their stylistic demands.
In an attacking sense, Thomas Lemar preferred moving to Anfield rather than linking up with Arsenal in the summer, and with Monaco insisting he is not on the market next month, if they scale back their £92m valuation of the Frenchman in the off-season, he should remain in the mix.
There has been no shortage of defensive assessment too, where Jose Gimenez, Aymeric Laporte and Manuel Akanji are just three attractive candidates.
There is also a decision to be made in the goalkeeping department; the area in which Liverpool are still not punching in the same bracket as the Manchester clubs and Chelsea.
Getting Keita and Van Dijk over the line through arduous circumstances deserves applause and appreciation. However, as Klopp always points out, celebrating what you’ve done is nowhere near as important as making sure you’re prepared for the next success.
And so, by the start of 2018-19, Liverpool’s nucleus should be as steely as the manager’s resolve to continue reviving them domestically and on the continent.