It was perhaps the least surprising development of the weekend.
Nothing new there, you might say. The Bayern Munich midfielder has, after all, become something of an obsession for Reds supporters, and after defeat at Wembley in the Community Shield they were ready to beat their drums once more, louder, louder and louder. Let’s just hope Gini Wijnaldum doesn’t check his mentions, eh?
This was not a game to convince the sceptics. If Jurgen Klopp had hoped to drown out the transfer talk with football, he was to be left disappointed. Glorified friendly or not, Liverpool’s display left plenty to be desired.
Klopp’s assessment was straightforward. “In these kind of games you need the final punch,” he told his post-match press conference. His side, he said, had missed too many chances, eventually paying the price through Rhian Brewster’s wayward penalty.
Liverpool had more of the ball and almost twice as many shots, but walked away empty-handed. Their poor record at the home of English football continues.
The Premier League champions were underwhelming, downright poor at times, especially in the opening 45 minutes. They stuttered and they plodded, frustrated by Arsenal’s deep-lying defence and undone by the Gunners’ swiftness on the counter.
Only after the introduction of Takumi Minamino and Naby Keita, shortly before the hour mark, did they begin to resemble the Liverpool we have come to know; sharp, inventive, confident and cohesive.
Minamino grabbed the equaliser, his first goal since joining from Salzburg in January. The Japanese international has looked bright during pre-season, and this was another significant step forward. “He can be a real player for us,” Klopp said afterwards. “He is in very good shape.”
Keita, meanwhile, injected some life, some energy and some risk into a hitherto lifeless midfield. The Guinean has looked sharp for months, and looks a certainty to start when the league campaign kicks off in less than a fortnight’s time.
It remains to be seen, of course, whether Thiago is on board by then. In Germany they’re convinced he’s Anfield-bound, but Liverpool sources remain silent on the matter. There has been no outright denial and no encouragement either. If the Spaniard is coming, then they’re not telling anyone just yet.
Klopp spoke on Friday about “living in the real world”, repeating again that he will not look to spend money just for the sake of it.
“We cannot just bring in five new players because we want to be ‘busy’,” he told reporters. “I don’t think I have ever bought enough players in the transfer window for everybody! It was always, ‘Agh, we need another one!’”
Liverpool’s transfer business so far this summer has been limited to one senior signing, Kostas Tsimikas arriving to provide competition at left-back, but with more than a month left until the transfer window closes, fans will hope to see at least one more addition – preferably one with an Italian birthplace, a Brazilian father and a Spanish passport.
It is not hard to see what Thiago would bring. Improving upon a team which has taken 196 of the last 228 points available is not easy, but the former Barcelona man surely fits the bill.
His touch, his vision, his passing range and his ability to resist the press mark him out as a truly world-class performer. Liverpool have good midfielders, underrated midfielders, excellent midfielders in fact, but none of them do what he does.
He may not, at 29, on high wages and with a somewhat chequered past in terms of injuries, fit the usual ‘profile’ in terms of a Liverpool signing, but his influence could be huge. It would instantly improve both the team and the squad, and instantly lift the mood heading into the new campaign.
Wayne Rooney believes his signing would do more than that. He thinks it would guarantee Liverpool the Premier League title. “That is a better signing than [Lionel] Messi going to Man City,” Rooney said this week. From a former Manchester United and Everton captain, that is some statement. For now, though, the wait goes on and so does the speculation.
Liverpool fans, meanwhile, sit and hope. They want to see that name trending again in the coming weeks. Who can blame them?