Liverpool’s form has lost them their Premier League title but it may cost them this week in the Champions League too. A premature exit may hasten the resolve of certain players to leave the club in the summer.
Jurgen Klopp has said that he does not believe that missing out on the Champions League will lead to any players leaving in the summer, stating that their loyalty to the club is sufficient. He is probably right, taking that point in isolation. Team spirit at Liverpool certainly does not appear to be a concern, certainly not in the way their alarming drop-off in performances is. However it would be foolish to think that failing to secure a top-four finish - or indeed another Champions League title - might contribute to some players deciding it is time to move on.
Mo Salah has repeatedly been linked away from Liverpool, as has Sadio Mane. The pair of them are 28 and their contracts expire in 2023, meaning they will be around 30 years old when their current deals roll over. It would be a brave club who would offer sizeable extensions to players of those ages. As speed becomes ever more vital for players in attack, it is rare that a front trio can support three ageing players, which Liverpool would have were they to also keep Roberto Firmino on their books.
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Given the whole club is struggling to deal with its post-victory hangover, Klopp would be justified and acting reasonably in considering who should be moved on in the summer. Similarly players who have given Liverpool both a Champions League and their first Premier League title may feel that they have afforded enough loyalty to the club to be able to try something new. Salah is plainly tempted by the idea of moving to Spain in the near future, and there is not another player who would likely feel otherwise. What more would another trophy at Anfield really do for them?
The arrival of Diogo Jota, who showed before his injury that there is a life after the current front three, should spur on Klopp to make further changes. And it won’t just be in attack that changes are made.
Georginio Wijnaldum came close to moving to Barcelona in the summer and with his contract up at the end of the season, he looks set to join his former Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman in Spain. Thiago has not yet found his best form, but should be an able and usefully different replacement. Jordan Henderson and James Milner are admirable central midfielders, but all three of them are getting on. It would be a mistake not to add youth to the middle for some creative destruction.
At the back, too, there should be alterations. Joel Matip’s injury record was dreadful before his most recent setback. Ben Davies was set for a move to Celtic before a last-minute change of destination, so it would be no surprise if he is not also moved on swiftly, nor for Ozan Kabak’s loan move to stay just that. Joe Gomez risks being known for his brittle body more than his potential, so at least one central defender should be brought in, and Trent Alexander-Arnold will need to have a break sooner rather than later if he is not to succumb to the fatigue that has brought down his teammates.
Jurgen Klopp | Liverpool v Fulham
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After two years of brilliant performances from Klopp and his players, combined with the stresses of the coronavirus, it is no great failure that this season deflated before it even really had the chance to blow up. They have lost six home games in a row, and perhaps a fundamental problem is the absence of their fans, something which should be put right in time for the start of next season should the country continue its remarkably effective vaccination programme.
They could, of course, still manage to pull off another Champions League victory but their current form suggests they are more likely to be sent packing by RB Leipzig than fight their way through - even if they are 2-0 ahead in the tie. Klopp has earned the chance to perform an overhaul funded by his FSG owners, and many of the players have earned the chance to put right their displays this season. But for Salah, Mane and others, now might be the time to move on and try something new for everyone’s sake.
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