What do you do when you have just won the Premier League title? You prepare to do it all over again of course. And these days that is harder than ever.
The past decade of Premier League action has seen five different champions but just one, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, have managed to defend their title. Extend it back to this millennium and all you can add in is iterations of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. Go back to the start of the Premier League? Two more of Ferguson’s United teams.
What does this tell us? Firstly that it is highly unlikely we will ever see a manager like Sir Alex Ferguson again. Secondly, the Premier League is an extremely difficult league to win twice in a row. Seeing dominant runs such as the ones taking place across the continent is hard to envisage in England. That sort of hyper-competitiveness is what leads some to declare the Premier League the greatest league in the world.
But tday’s discussion centres around Liverpool, newly-crowned champions for the first time in 30 years. Manager Jurgen Klopp has promised that he and his club “will not stop” in their pursuit of silverware but what exactly does that mean when it comes to recruitment?
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Well if you’re not owned by an oligarch or government during the time of a global pandemic it means sensible business. Not exactly what fans want to hear but in these times it is what is needed.
Who’s coming in?
In terms of incomings the big name for some weeks was Germany forward Timo Werrner. However, Liverpool held back on the deal in the face of financial uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the 24-year-old instead agreed to join Chelsea.
The Werner transfer is instructive to what the rest of Liverpool’s summer might look like. The links to Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly are certainly enticing, but Liverpool won’t want to pay Napoli’s asking price. Manchester City on the other hand (Champions League status pending) most likely will. Kylian Mbappe? Don’t even think about it. Jadon Sancho? More likely than Mbappe but still very much a pie in the sky dream.
Instead of flashy signings, Liverpool and Jurgen Klopp will be hoping that Neco Williams, Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott are all able to provide cover in the full-back, central midfield and forward areas respectively. Ki-Jana Hoever and Sepp van den Berg will also help reinforce the defensive side of things. The most pressure is likely to be on Jones with James Milner one year older. Rhian Brewster may also return from loan to compete in the three forward spots. If one of those young players can make an impact akin to Trent Alexander-Arnold that will be like a new signing.
"Curtis, Harvey, Ki-Jana, Sepp, Yasser, Leighton, Jake Cain; all these boys, they have done really well And a few I don’t know yet but I will know them." Klopp said at his press conference before the Manchester City game.
We cannot spend millions and millions because we want to or we think it is nice to do. We never want that
Links to Ousmane Dembele also seem fanciful at best given his likely price and it’s hard to see Wolves parting with any of Raul Jimenez, Adama Traore or Ruben Neves for anything but a king’s ransom. However one potential incoming signing is Thiago Alcantara. The Bayern Munich midfielder reportedly turned down a new contract extension and wants a new challenge at a big club, namely Liverpool.
Thiago performs shock contract u-turn to join Liverpool - Euro Papers
Midfield is arguably the weakest part of this team and he doesn’t really have an elite midfielder on the ball so Thiago would be a huge addition for Klopp. It’s going to be fascinating to watch how teams adjust the way they play against Liverpool next season and the ingenuity of Thiago might be just what he needs to unlock more stubborn defences.
Plus it was confirmed that the Africa Cup of Nations will be pushed back until 2022 which means that Klopp won't have to worry about losing Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah or Naby Keita.
Players linked with a departure:
Aside from Adam Lallana, who is set to leave at the end of his contract, it’s likely that Xherdan Shaqiri’s time at Anfield is also over. A move to Newcastle is being widely reported in order to secure more playing time. Harry Wilson may well be sold upon his return from a loan spell at Bournemouth to raise some funds. Dejan Lovren, unsurprisingly, continues to be linked with a move away.
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 29: Adam Lallana of Liverpool during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield on December 29, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Image credit: Getty Images
Other moves are certainly possible (it’s hard to see a Liverpool future for Loris Karius) but widespread sales are unlikely given the potential lack of signings.
So should Liverpool fans be worried? Rivals strengthening is always a cause for concern, particularly when they have the spending power of Manchester City and Chelsea. But this is a team that is 23 points clear at the top of the table and looks set to break the 100 point barrier. The gap between them and City is sizeable, the gap between them and the rest of the league is enormous.
Aside from Milner, every member of the first-team squad will be another year into their prime. The intelligent business the club has done, led by Michael Edwards, means that they are set up to dominate rather than be a one-off success. If Thiago comes in then the only real area of concern becomes what happens if any of the back four go down with a serious injury. Between them Trent Alexander-Arnold, Virgil van Dijk and Andy Robertson have started all but four Premier League matches this season. Yes there has been some rotation next to Van Dijk, but that has mostly been down to injuries and what happens if it is the Dutchman, this season an ever-present in the league, who goes down? That explains the links to Koulibaly but it is still really hard to see Liverpool playing ball with Aurelio de Laurentiis. That might be where one of the academy graduates comes in.
Realistically this team will get a little better as a few of the younger players build off the experiences they had this season. Then perhaps Gomez can make it a full season without injury, perhaps Takumi Minamino shows his true quality after a bedding in period, and perhaps Thiago arrives from Munich. Combine that with a breakout year for any of the club’s extremely talented youngsters and it’s hard to see past them for the title next season.