Liverpool just capped a season in which they amassed 99 points (2nd most in history), won three trophies including their first Premier League title in 30 years, and seem destined to be title contenders for the next few seasons at least. So, the fan base is happy and satisfied, surely?
Look, I get the frustration. A lot of people simply want a top tier team like Liverpool, one of the 10 or so biggest brands in any sport in the world, to go out and buy top tier talent, without worrying about the owners’ purse strings. That’s all well and dandy, but FSG run a business first, and they won’t spend money unless it’s a smart investment. How on earth people can not comprehend that blows my mind to Kingdom Come. You also understand the flip side, that the fans don’t want the owners to be complacent and say “Job well done” and simply stop investing. If you can say anything about Liverpool fans, it’s that everything they do comes from a one-two combo of deep-rooted love for their club and fear of being hurt by them.
So, with all of that said, how does a team that just had a near perfect season carry that momentum into the offseason? Below I take a look at some transfer targets that both fit the mold of an FSG buy and Klopp player profiles.
Today, Melissa Reddy reported that Liverpool have made contact over a $10 million purchase of Jamal Lewis. Naturally, this is where Liverpool have done some of their best business of late, snatching up Gini Wijnaldum and Andy Robertson from relegated sides. Speaking of Robertson, let’s compare the two:
These numbers compare Lewis’ season to that of Robertson’s 16-17 season with Hull City. While not quite the attacking force Robertson is, he does complete a higher number of passes, has shown a willingness to carry it forward with his passing, and actually created the same number of big chances despite 1/3 of the crossing rate. While not particularly suited to be a starter, he’s more than capable as a reliable cover, magnified by the fact that outside of Robertson, Liverpool have had no true left back behind him.
With Dejan Lovren out of the picture, having moved to Zenit St. Petersburg in an $11 million move, Liverpool will need another man in the middle to replace him. Ki-Jana Hoever and Sepp Van Den Berg are tantalizing prospects, but still a few years away from making a true impact in defense. So, who is there to replace him? There are a number of options that would be cheap and reliable. Malang Sarr would represent brilliant business, as the left-footed centre back can also play left back (versatility is a big plus for a Klopp profile). He’s currently a free agent after playing his entire career with Nice in France, and to get him on a Bosman would be shrewd, as the player is currently linked to Arsenal and AC Milan. He has a similar passing skillset to Joe Gomez, and comes with plenty of experience with over 100 matches under his belt, including playing in both UEFA competitions.
Mohamed Simakan would also represent a good piece of business, and with the defender valued at around $13 million, would be right on the edge of the bargain bin. Like Sarr, he has versatility (having also plied his trade as a right back) and he fits the age profile, having just turned 20 years old. While not blessed with great pace – a potential issue given how high a defensive line Klopp likes to play – he’s more than capable as a 4th centre back behind Matip as he develops.
Okay, let’s get the obvious one out of the way. Thiago Alacantara would be a ridiculous addition to a pretty stacked midfield. While he actually represents the antithesis of an FSG purchase (29 years old, injury history, bought from a big club), he would add another dimension to the Liverpool attack. While Naby Keita is now the creative force in this midfield, he can’t be trusted to stay healthy at the minute. Thiago would represent an elite option in midfield with the ability to unlock defenses unlike anybody Liverpool have had since Coutinho’s departure. The biggest benefit of Thiago would be that it adds another way for Liverpool to attack you. Everybody knows that Liverpool aim to break you down with aggressive counter-pressing and through their full backs, but Thiago adds that extra bit of oomph to a midfield that can – at times – struggle for creativity. After a relatively uninspiring season, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Reds pass on him for somebody else if Bayern will not accept their terms.
Who else could they bring in? Good midfielders don’t come cheap, so one player that could be worth splashing the cash on would be Rodrigo Bentancur from Juventus. The 23 year old Argentinian had a solid season, amassing 7 assists in 30 appearances. He’s a hard worker who can play at the base of a midfield if necessary, and while his effort gets him in trouble (he also had 9 yellow cards in those appearances), he does everything a Klopp player should do, however he would likely come in at about $40-$50 million, so don’t exactly count on this. If you’re looking for a cheaper option, might I present Wendel from Sporting Lisbon. The Brazilian U-23 player made 28 appearances for the Portuguese giants this season, scoring 3 times and assisting twice. While he was outshone by his partner Bruno Fernandes, he was more the thunder to Bruno’s lightning. His hard work off the ball made a lot of Fernandes’ skillset work for Sporting. Given that he would only likely cost $20-$30 million, he would be an excellent replacement for Gini Wijnaldum, who is going into the last year of his contract.
My favorite link to the Reds by far is Ismaila Sarr, from recently relegated Watford. Sarr is a good friend of Sadio Mane, who famously told Troy Deeney to “take care of his boy” after a Liverpool victory in December. Sarr then took care of Liverpool, eviscerating them and keying the victory that ended Liverpool’s perfect season. While not a perfect player, he’s the archetype of a Klopp player.
Given the gulf between this year’s Watford side and a 15-16 Southampton team that finished 6th in the league, it might not be fair to compare Sarr’s season to Sadio Mane’s last year on the South shore, but there was a lot of promise. Sarr put up comparable assist totals, big chances created, and pass completion percentage, and actually put more balls in the box than Mane (who did play as a striker at times that season, to be fair). Given Watford’s relegation, it would make sense for Liverpool to bid at around $24 million, and hope that Watford bite as they begin clearing their wage bill for the Championship. Sarr is a less direct player than Mane, but his game changing speed can rip teams open, as Mane made clear to Andy Robertson before last season.
Were Sarr not to be available, look for one of Bayer Leverkusen’s brilliant wingers Leon Bailey and Moussa Diaby to be an option. Both players have pace to burn, and Bailey has an extra bonus of being a set-piece taker on his left, which would give Liverpool a dearth of options with him and Trent Alexander-Arnold. Bailey is a genius with the football, and his intelligence can not go understated. Bailey has been linked to every top club under the sun, but Diaby is a bit more understated, and would probably come at a cheaper cost. A final option could be Goncalo Guedes, otherwise known as the man opposite Ferran Torres, Man City’s newest winger. Guedes can play up front as well which would be a big add given Divock Origi’s likely hit his ceiling and Rhian Brewster may need one more loan spell, and Guedes has a silky touch that’s reminiscent of Bobby Firmino that would really help link play.
And that’s it! Tune in later this week as I run through each Premier League team’s ideal offseason.