Make no bones about it, Liverpool’s 2020/21 English Premier League (EPL) campaign was hugely disappointing. After the unprecedented highs of becoming 2019/20 EPL champions to having to win their last five league games just to secure a top-four finish, Jurgen Klopp’s men were guilty of being well below-par. While some of that was a comedown from the efforts of their previous campaign, it could also be attributed to an atrocious injury crisis running through the spine of the team.
Reds boss Jurgen Klopp has spoken time and again about the severity of his side’s injury list during the 2020/21 EPL campaign. At face value, most people would see the German’s comments as sour grapes given the ease with which Manchester City regained the EPL title. However, Klopp is adamant that Pep Guardiola’s men would not have won last season’s championship had they had the same injuries that Liverpool dealt with.
It’s hard to argue with him when you drill deeper into the list, with the Reds losing all three of their senior central defenders to injury by January. Given how solid the City backline was in 2020/21, it’s highly likely that losing their three best centre halves in Ruben Dias, John Stones and Aymeric Laporte would have negatively affected City’s title charge.
The congested 2020/21 EPL season schedule has been blamed for most teams’ injury crises in the last 12 months. Academic research into the effect of fixture congestion on physical performance in professional football revealed that players struggled to run with the same levels of intensity when playing matches with fewer than four rest days between them. Although players were capable of running similar distances, the intensity of players’ runs was greatly diminished – something that could leave a side playing a gegenpressing style high and dry.
With the club’s American owners copping flack from fans in certain quarters for their decision not to invest and strengthen last summer, it’s almost certain that Klopp will be armed with funds this time around to bring fresh legs and dynamism to the squad. There are three areas Klopp could look to beef up in the coming weeks:
A dependable replacement for Georginio Wijnaldum
30-year-old Dutch midfield maestro Georginio Wijnaldum has been a tremendous servant to the Reds since signing from Newcastle in 2016. With 16 goals in 179 appearances, Wijnaldum has been a key cog in the midfield three alongside skipper Jordan Henderson. Wijnaldum’s desire for a fresh challenge, having spent five years at Anfield, was one that boss Jurgen Klopp understood. The Netherlands international signed for Paris St-Germain on a three-year deal earlier this month. Replacing Wijnaldum’s fierce competitive spirit and drive in the middle of the park will be Klopp’s number-one aim this summer.
If reports are to be believed, Klopp has his eye on Roma midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini. He has just one year remaining on his current deal with the Italian giants and the Reds’ recruitment department believe he could be a like-for-like replacement for Wijnaldum. Pellegrini has a £25m release clause in his contract, although Liverpool may attempt to secure his services for less.
Fresh competition in the forward line
Goals were certainly harder to come by for Liverpool in 2020/21 too. At the end of the campaign, the Reds finished with 15 goals fewer than champions City and even five less than Manchester United. It was a stark contrast to the previous season when Klopp’s men registered 85 goals.
Although Mo Salah continued his rich vein of form in front of goal, the same could not be said for Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino who were both off colour by their own high standards. Swedish sensation Alexander Isak has been trailed by Liverpool for at least five years now and a successful Euro 2020 championships with Sweden could see Klopp finally take the plunge.
One additional senior centre half to take the strain with van Dijk
Former Liverpool legend Graeme Souness believes Liverpool still require the services of one additional battle-hardened central defender this summer. Although the Reds moved in the January transfer window to sign Preston defender Ben Davies, it was clear that this was always going to be a stop-gap measure. Souness insists another senior centre half is needed to avoid the risk of being left behind – both domestically and continentally. Souness said that he “fully expects” the Reds to “buy this summer” and warned that if they weren’t active in the transfer market they would be the “only team in the Champions League not to [be]”.