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Brandt and Keita in, Sturridge out? What Liverpool need to do in the transfer market this summer

19:00 GMT 03/03/2017
HD Liverpool transfers
The Reds bought well in preparation for 2016-17, but didn't do enough and need an injection of quality in every department

Last summer, 20 players were involved in the shake up ahead of Jurgen Klopp’s first full campaign in charge of Liverpool, in what the manager described as “a really busy window.” 

He was not totally comfortable having such a mass turnover of personnel, but with excessive trimming required, that level of refreshing was necessary. 

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There were 13 exits from Anfield between the start of July and the end of August last year as the chiseling of the squad into one capable of executing the German’s high-octane demands began. 

Klopp wanted the bulk of Liverpool’s major business to be done early, allowing the incomings a chance to enjoy a full pre-season and to forge a togetherness quicker. 

There were seven new faces to integrate: four of which were expected to slot straight into the starting XI, two brought in as back-up, with one signed to further develop and be eased in. 

Of the first bunch, there will be no arguments that Sadio Mane, Gini Wijnaldum and Joel Matip have considerably improved Liverpool and while too many have already thrashed Loris Karius’ capabilities based on just 16 appearances, Germany is not a country that easily gives goalkeepers - especially young ones - such a big billing. 

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The 23-year-old is still viewed as the long-term No.1 and despite early teething issues, there is every confidence he will be the commanding stopper he proved to be in nearly a century of Bundesliga appearances. 

Ragnar Klavan was recruited as deputy to Matip, Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho prior to the latter's fall-out with Klopp.

Alex Manninger got a one-year deal to support Karius and Simon Mignolet, with left-back and No.6 the only positions to spark widespread concern externally as they weren’t addressed. 

Klopp has utilised James Milner for the former and Jordan Henderson has excelled as the club’s holding midfielder. The issue, currently, is not the performance of either in their new roles, but that they have no proper competition nor adequate cover: Alberto Moreno is an untrusted option, while Emre Can is off form and without the tools to sufficiently fill in for the captain. 

That problem extends to the majority of Liverpool’s outfield players - there is a strong and talented 10 for Klopp to field, but little comfort beyond that as Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi have struggled with rhythm and to be the kind of focal point the system needs.

Of course, the Reds boss would have counted on being able to select his best players in tandem more than just twice this season. 

Nathaniel Clyne, Matip, Lovren, Milner, Henderson, Wijnaldum, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho, Mane and Roberto Firmino have only started together in the 1-1 draw at Tottenham in August and the 2-1 away victory at Swansea four months ago. 

Injuries, fitness, form, fatigue plus the mental blow of falling so far behind Chelsea have combined to take Liverpool from first to fifth, underpinned by the issue that if one of the key players are sidelined - Clyne aside with Trent Alexander-Arnold being a very capable, albeit inexperienced junior - there are no stand-ins to be enthused over.

During the opening months of the season, the Merseysiders had a bench that even Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino openly admitted his envy over. 

The 6-1 victory over Watford at the start of November saw Klopp hold five internationals and a Europa League champion in reserve: Mignolet, Klavan, Moreno, Wijnaldum, Origi and Sturridge. 

In the current climate of two wins in 12 fixtures across all competitions since the turn of the year, it is understandable for that to be forgotten or dismissed. 

The first half of the campaign showed that Liverpool had bought well, but 2017 has provided a painful lesson that it was not enough. 

With the club not needing to offload as many players as they did last summer, they can certainly have more focus on construction in every department. Work will have long started on identifying and pursuing targets, but given it is only March and there are a lot of moving parts (the matter of whether a place in the top-four will be attained, the situation of the selling club and such), the planning is ever-shifting.

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How many players Liverpool need and the caliber they can recruit will ultimately be dictated by their league finish. 

What will not change, though, is the fact they need a proper injection of quality in every area.


GOALKEEPERS:


Karius was signed to be first-choice, and despite the impatience from outside, the backroom staff retain absolute faith in his abilities. Hampered by a broken bone in his right hand suffered during pre-season and lacking his typical assuredness upon recovering and being fielded between the sticks, the former Mainz stopper will be given the opportunity to make a fresh fist of the No.1 spot. Where would that leave Mignolet? 

The Belgian is a good goalkeeper, but one that has failed to consistently show he is the right one for Liverpool since his transfer from Sunderland in June 2013. He did not handle being dropped for Karius well, going on a PR offensive that made it clear he would not accept sitting on the bench. 

The Reds need strong, but healthy competition in goal and could part company with the 28-year-old, who celebrates his birthday next week. If that materialises, the club will recruit an experienced gloveman as a replacement, but that will not be Joe Hart. 

Meanwhile, Danny Ward has impressed Huddersfield Town manager David Wagner during his loan spell, and Liverpool need to decide whether the Wales international would be best served continuing to play every week rather than act as an understudy at Anfield. 

He is the same age as Karius, but does not possess anywhere close to his counterpart’s top-flight education. 

Manninger will be out of contract in the summer, while Adam Bogdan - recovering from a torn ACL in his right knee which cut short a season-long stint at Wigan - has no future at the club. 

Liverpool will thus ideally need to bring in someone as third choice or find a solution internally.


DEFENCE:


Klopp’s problems here are multiple. He has not had a settled centre-back pairing given the injury issues of both Matip and Lovren, as such, Klavan and Lucas have been used way more than anticipated. 

Sakho’s triple fault during the camp in California came at the end of July when Liverpool had already completed their major business in keeping with the manager’s demand of players getting a full pre-season. 

He was advised to go out on loan in the summer to rehabilitate his career and attitude, but was still turning down opportunities to depart on deadline day. 

Had the France international proved he could keep his head down, be professional and an example to Liverpool’s Under-23s, it would’ve helped carve a path for redemption. But a ridiculous 3am Snapchat rant on the day Liverpool hosted Hull City at Anfield spelled the end for him. 

The club will hope his stay at Crystal Palace until the end of the season drums up enough permanent interest to cut ties. They must move for a centre-half of his pedigree - but better, robust and who can slot straight into the XI. 

Lucas’ decade-long service will be up in the summer and the Brazilian wants to move on to secure regular minutes. Joe Gomez can do with a full pre-season under Klopp to elevate his sharpness following two serious injuries.

Bringing in a solid left-back is a priority to provide proper competition, variation and reliability to the role. Moreno has not pushed Milner - a 31-year-old midfielder - hard enough in the position and is odds-on to exit Anfield. Jonas Hector was overlooked last summer, but would be a good option given his excellence for club and country, as well as his versatility. 

The 26-year-old can also operate in midfield - on the left, centrally and in the defensive role. Monaco’s young, dynamic Benjamin Mendy would also be a quality addition, but will be hard to attract given the likes of Manchester City are circling.

While right-back may not be where his long-term future lies at Liverpool, Alexander-Arnold has emerged as an exciting alternative to Clyne, who is dependable but needs to up his offensive contribution. Jon Flanagan has clocked just over 700 minutes on loan at Burnley this season, playing on both flanks, and his future is up in the air.


MIDFIELDERS


There is a mountain of sense behind Naby Keita being on Liverpool’s list of options in the centre of the park. He is exactly the kind of dynamic presence the club is crying out for, is stylistically perfect, and can operate as a No.6 - where there is an over-reliance on Henderson - or as an attacking midfielder. 

Neither Wijnaldum nor Lallana are under much pressure for their starting spots either, with Can not as effective in the system as the duo. The German’s contract impasse shows no signs of abating, and it is feasible that he could be on his way out should a substantial offer materialise.

The 23-year-old has limitless potential, but struggles to implement the fast, fluid passing game Klopp demands. His scanning and orientation both require plenty of work and Liverpool can do with someone more suitable. 

Coutinho could be dropped back into midfield, but the Reds still need to ensure greater quality is injected into the department. 

Marko Grujic and Ovie Ejaria should find more opportunities next season, but Kevin Stewart may have to leave for the same to ring true.


FORWARDS 


Liverpool’s attacking trio of Firmino, Coutinho and Mane are excellent in tandem, but none have any fears that a poor game will lead to them being dropped as there are no alternatives. There were hopes and expectations that Sturridge and Origi would provide weighty support when presented with opportunities, but neither have done anywhere close to enough. 

The former remains an elite finisher, but does not thrive in the set-up and is unavailable too often, while the latter is still developing. Sturridge will want to maximise his peak years as a player and that won’t include sitting on the bench at Liverpool. PSG had interest in a loan move for the England international knocked back in January, but he will have options in the summer.  

Danny Ings will once again have to build up his fitness following cartilage damage to his right knee, which has ruled him out of action since the start of November.

Klopp needs to move for a speedy, free-scoring centre-forward that can bail the team out when they’re not at their best - as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sergio Aguero and Diego Costa so effectively do for their clubs. 

Liverpool currently have to be at full tilt to be guaranteed maximum points and that is unsustainable. 

Their desire for wide forwards is no secret, with Goal revealing Julian Brandt is a top target back in November. Ousmane Dembele was approached by Klopp last summer, but he had already committed to joining Borussia Dortmund. And his team-mate Christian Pulisic’s claim that he never considered the Merseysiders isn’t strictly true, given the club were encouraged to bid for him in August. BVB’s repeated public warnings to Liverpool also indicate the Reds further pursued him and Klopp’s former employers were not comfortable enough to keep quiet on the matter. 

The above-mentioned players indicate a definite profile the position: speedy, direct starlets who already have top-flight experience and the ability to effectively operate in a high-pressing system. 

Mane’s success at Liverpool shows how valuable such qualities are for quick transitions and maintaining offensive pressure on opponents. 

The Reds may not be able to match the likes of City, Chelsea and Manchester United for transfer fees, but they need to be parting with more than the likes of Crystal Palace to properly bolster the squad.