As expected, it was a quiet end to the January transfer window for Liverpool. That was in stark contrast to the blockbuster way it began, of course.
Supporters’ spirits had soared as the window opened and Virgil van Dijk arrived from Southampton in a £75 million deal that made him the world’s most expensive defender. The emotional high quickly turned to a low as Philippe Coutinho was sold to Barcelona for £142m less than a week later.
Still, having received the third-highest transfer fee of all time, Liverpool were well positioned to bring in a couple of new faces to aid in their push for a top-four finish and an unlikely, but not impossible, crack at winning the Champions League. Liverpool had months to plan for Coutinho’s departure, so supporters naturally assumed there must have a been a plan when he was sold. But it turns out there wasn’t.
Or more accurately, whatever plan they had could not be implemented until the summer, when the targets Jurgen Klopp has identified should be more attainable.
Attempts were made to persuade RB Leipzig to allow Naby Keita’s summer transfer to be brought forward, but — unlike Liverpool — the German club were unwilling to part with their prized asset midseason.
In addition to losing Coutinho, Klopp weakened his squad still further by allowing Marko Grujic and Daniel Sturridge to go out on loan.
With Grujic, it was at least understandable. He’s a young talent who needs to play if he’s to fulfil his potential. He was struggling to even make the bench for Liverpool but even so, he might have been needed in the second half of the season because Liverpool’s squad is getting dangerously small, with midfield a particular area of weakness.
At least Klopp can point to the long-term gain in Grujic going out and gaining valuable experience. What benefit is there to Liverpool in allowing Sturridge to join West Brom?
Sturridge’s considerable salary is off the books for a few months, so there is that, but on the football side of things it appears the only parties to benefit from this deal are West Brom, Gareth Southgate and Sturridge himself, who will now hope to play enough football to secure his place in England’s World Cup squad this summer.
Sturridge was no longer first choice and had again missed a lot of games due to injury, but Liverpool’s bench looked an awful lot stronger with him there than it does now. And what happens when Roberto Firmino needs a rest, or if — heaven forbid — he gets injured?
Danny Ings has gone from being unable to get anywhere near the match-day squad a few weeks ago to suddenly being the No.1 attacking alternative. Ings has a tremendous work ethic and before his injury problems looked like he could be an important player for the club, but his last goal was in October 2015.
Dominic Solanke is next in line, and he is even more unproven. The 20-year-old showed some promise early in the season but is yet to score since his summer arrival from Chelsea.
The lack of depth at centre-forward is undoubtedly a concern, as is the absence of suitable cover for Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is the only natural fit to play in those wide attacking positions, but that in turn would leave a hole in a midfield that now lacks goals and creativity due to Coutinho’s departure and Adam Lallana’s ongoing injury problems.
Given the paucity of wide attackers in the squad, it was a little surprising to see Harry Wilson join Wigan Athletic on loan. The Welsh youngster has been in sensational form for the under-23s and has plundered 42 goals since the beginning of last season from the same right-wing position Salah occupies in the first team.
That hasn’t been enough for Wilson to force his way into the senior setup, but he was there in reserve if needed and his exit leaves an already thin area of the squad looking even worse.
Klopp has taken a massive gamble this month, both in his lack of recruitment but also with the willingness he has shown in letting players leave without replacements. Liverpool’s squad contains only 21 outfield players, one of whom (Nathaniel Clyne) has yet to play this season and is nowhere near a return. Then there’s Lallana, who missed the first five months of the season and made only a couple of starts before breaking down injured again. He’s vitally important, but sadly he can’t be relied upon.
With a full squad available, Liverpool should have enough to secure their objective of a top-four finish, but the decisions taken by Klopp this window have left the Reds extremely vulnerable if they were to lose one or two players to injury between now and May.
Supporters can argue all they like about whether the stance Klopp has taken this month is right or wrong, and time will be the judge of that. One thing nobody can accuse the German of, however, is lacking the courage of his convictions.