Phase out Roberto Firmino and sell a key player like Mohamed Salah
Things surely couldn’t have got any worse for Liverpool after a 4-1 humiliation at home to Manchester City. But they did this weekend.
With 77 minutes on the clock, Liverpool had a deserved lead against Leicester at the King Power Stadium. They were 3-1 down eight minutes later.
That’s how the match finish as an eight-minute capitulation consigned the Reds to a third straight defeat.
They’re now 13 points off Premier League leaders Manchester City and could find themselves as low as sixth after Chelsea and West Ham play on Monday.
Pep Guardiola insists Liverpool still have a shot at retaining their Premier League title but Jurgen Klopp conceded that’s now out of reach for his side following the devastating defeat against the Foxes.
Defeats to the likes of Man City and Leicester can happen but it’s points dropped beforehand that Liverpool ought to be concerned about. There have been recent home defeats to Brighton and Burnley, plus draws at Fulham, West Brom and Newcastle in December that have ultimately seen Liverpool fall away from contention.
All those bad displays have seen Liverpool lack the usual verve and energy Reds fans have become so used to seeing from a Klopp side.
What’s the reason for this? Well, a combination of factors have led to Liverpool’s rapid decline from being the swashbuckling side that wrapped up the title with seven matches to spare last term.
Injuries, particularly in defence, have undoubtedly hurt the team with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez sustaining long-term knocks in October and November respectively, while Joel Matip is out for the season having picked up an ankle ligament strain last month.
It has meant Fabinho and club captain Jordan Henderson – both midfielders – have had to play at the back this season which appears to have had a ripple effect on the rest of the team.
But it’s Man City superfan Noel Gallagher, who despite cutting a smug figure after his side dismantled the Reds earlier this month, raised a profound point about where Klopp’s men are at.
He told talkSPORT: “All the great managers have always said when you win it’s the end of something not the beginning of something, you’ve got to go again.
“I never thought I’d see City win a title never mind back-to-back titles.
“But I think with Liverpool their best years were spent getting there. Now they’re there, I think they’re done.”
Great teams stick together but this group of Liverpool players are coming to the end of their cycle, meaning changes are needed if they’re to come again and challenge for the title next season.
talkSPORT.com has identified six things they must do to achieve that.
1) Get rid of the deadwood
Liverpool have become a well-run football club in recent years but the #FSGOUT brigade of fans don’t realise the club has a different business model to the likes of Chelsea and Man City and operates with a tighter budget.
John W Henry has spent big in the past though – Liverpool wouldn’t have Van Dijk, Alisson, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and many more if he was stingy.
An effective way to create some additional funds is by totally cutting ties with those who have no future of the club, such as Harry Wilson, Marko Grujic, Loris Karius and Sheyi Ojo.
A special mention must go to Divock Origi too. Fans will always be grateful for his important goals, particularly in Champions League wins against Barcelona and Tottenham in 2018/19 but the novelty of throwing him on in the hope he scores a decisive goal has worn off. He’s a decent player but not top Premier League club standard.
Chances are Liverpool would be able to make a tidy profit as they only signed Origi for £10million and he has three-and-a-half years left on his contract.
2) Sign two new non-injury prone centre-backs
The club may have found their solution to this problem with Ben Davies and Ozan Kabak arriving on transfer deadline day. Kabak had a Reds debut to forget against Leicester but it’s far too early to judge either players at this stage.
If they’re not then Liverpool need to dip into the market and sign two new centre-backs and ideally one top-class one.
This will allow Fabinho and Henderson to move back into midfield and give it the vibrancy it’s desperately lacked at points this season.
It’s not clear how good Van Dijk will be when he makes his coneback, while Gomez has sustained multiple long-term injuries in his career and Matip can’t be relied on to stay fit these days.
3) Look to sell injury-prone players
This leads onto what Liverpool should do next and look to cut ties with their injury-prone players.
Matip has had numerous niggly injuries this term at a time where Liverpool needed him to be fit so badly. Perhaps they’d still be in the title race if he was available for more matches.
But someone who’s more familiar with the treatment table is Naby Keita, who’s become something of a forgotten man in the Liverpool squad.
There was so much excitement when the Reds agreed a deal for the RB Leipzig midfielder in 2017 but he’s really not lived up to his £48million price tag with nine different injuries stunting his progress since he made his Liverpool debut in August 2018.
Both Matip and Keita have a while before their contracts end, meaning they should get a decent amount of money if they were to sell the pair.
4) Play Neco Williams and Kostas Tsimikas more
There’s definitely no need to be thinking about selling full-backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson but they’ve looked nowhere near as sharp than usual this season.
Like the rest of the team, Alexander-Arnold and Robertson have looked fatigued so why not give right-back Williams and left-back Tsimikas more game time?
5) Begin the phasing out of Roberto Firmino
At 29, Firmino still has plenty to offer but he needs to be made more accountable for his bad performances.
His lack of consistency towards the end of last season appeared to be bad form but his displays this term suggest a slow decline for the Brazilian forward is on the cards.
The signing of Diogo Jota appears to be recognition that the front three will be gradually broken up. Jota hit the ground running before his untimely injury in December but he has to be ready to step in Firmino’s shoes when he returns.
Liverpool hope Takumi Minamino’s loan spell at Southampton will reinvigorate him as he’s struggled to settle in at Anfield. If it has the desired effect, he and Jota will be there to keep Firmino, Salah and Sadio Mane on their toes.
6) Sell a key player
Getting rid of the deadwood and selling the injury-prone players should go some way to generating funds to rebuild a new squad reaching the end of its cycle but more drastic action may be required.
The signings of Van Dijk and Alisson made Liverpool a side ready to win titles. Would they have signed these players without selling Philippe Coutinho? Possibly not…
So the time may have come to do this again, with Liverpool badly in need of money. It’s been suggested Salah could leave in the summer, with Real Madrid reportedly willing to pay top dollar for him, while Bayern Munich have also been linked with him recently.
Signing an appropriate replacement is easier said than done though.