Reports started emerging as early as April that FSG were ready to splash the cash in this window. With fourth place secured and Champions League football on the horizon, this must surely be truer than ever – it looks as though Klopp will be backed to the hilt, and it is vital that he spends the money wisely. The squad is not in bad shape, but they were probably operating at close to full potential to finish where they did last time out: three to five astute signings could transform Liverpool into title challengers.
1. Benjamin Mendy
It is inevitable that a lot of these sort of articles are floating around at the moment – it is the off-season, after all, meaning all we have to go on is transfer rumours! However, not one of them seems to list a left-back as the number one target. For me, replacing Milner should be the top priority. Although he has been relatively solid defensively, any genuinely gifted winger has caused him serious problems. Even more problematically, he has been ineffectual as an outlet going forward: his lack of attacking instinct combined with the fact he is right-footed meant that many a promising attack was brought to a grinding halt when the ball reached Milner on the left. It doesn’t take a genius to assess the first eleven and mark out the central midfielder filling in at left-back as the one that most needs replacing. Benjamin Mendy fits the bill. He would undoubtedly be costly, but Monaco have already shown that they are not totally unwilling to sell their assets: Bernardo Silva recently moved to Manchester City. If he could be lured to Anfield, he would be worth the money; his defensive contributions would undoubtedly be an upgrade on Milner, but the biggest impact may well be in the attacking third. He returned a solid five league assists last campaign, as well as four in the Champions League – if anything, these numbers sell short what he brings to the attack. He is fast, direct, strong and has one of the best deliveries in Europe. I can’t see it happening, but if I were in charge of Liverpool’s transfers then this is where I’d be throwing the money.
2. Virgil Van Dijk
This one might be dead in the water, but I’m holding out some hope on it. As discussed in a previous article (http://jamesmartinblogs.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/van-dijk-dutch-ado-about-nothing.html), there are viable alternatives if the deal has indeed fallen through – nonetheless, he was identified as the prime target for a reason. His aerial prowess is extraordinary, he is strong in the tackle, and he is very comfortable with the ball at his feet. In short, he possesses all of the key attributes to perform well in Liverpool’s back line; parallels have inevitably been drawn with the Lovren deal, but this would be different. There is a reason so many of the top clubs are after Van Dijk: at Celtic and then at Southampton, he has consistently shown his class. To be honest, the list could end here and I would consider it a pretty successful transfer window – the attack is already one of the most potent in the league, and with Van Dijk and Mendy shoring up the defence the team would look very strong indeed.
3. Mohamed Salah
As good as the current attack is, it could still use some reinforcement. It would be fair to say that Mane was the most consistent threat in Liverpool’s front line during the last campaign: when he was absent through injury or the African Cup of Nations, the team looked significantly worse-off. What made Mane so dangerous? His pace and directness, combined with his unpredictability. There is nothing worse for a full-back than a skilful player sprinting out you, who could at any given moment dart infield or accelerate past you down the line. Liverpool could do with such a player on both sides of the pitch. In some ways, Salah is not the obvious choice: he too occupies the right flank, and he too is at risk of being absent for the AFCON once every two years. However, his attributes as a winger fit the bill perfectly. He loves to cut inside, which is almost a prerequisite for Liverpool’s fluid front three, and he certainly has the necessary raw pace. In any case, Mane played off the left at Salzburg: he could take Coutinho’s place, with the playmaker dropping back into the midfield three where he briefly showcased his talents at the end of last season. The Brazilian feeding through-balls for one of Mane or Salah to run on to is a tantalising thought, and one which will surely make opposition defences terrified. Salah actually functioned as a striker for some of his time at Roma, contributing in part to his hugely impressive goal and assist returns: if he is provided with the chances, there is little doubt that he will take them.
4. Alexandre Lacazette
The hypothetical money is certainly starting to run out by the time we reach this far down on the list, but as it’s hypothetical I’m going to go right ahead and keep on spending it. In fairness, Lacazette might represent fairly good value – he said his farewells at the end of the season and the club seems resigned to selling him, and in recent times Ligue 1 does seem to have offered some of the best value from the top five leagues. He would of course still be costly; he has some of the best attacking returns of any striker over the past few seasons, and is an established forward. France’s staggering crop of talent coming through at the moment means that Lacazette is currently very much on the fringes of the national setup, however: with the upcoming World Cup he needs to impress on a bigger stage in order to force his way into the squad. Liverpool could offer him that stage – there are already good options up front, hence why Lacazette finds himself fourth on the wish-list, but the Frenchman would represent an improvement on all of them. Of our existing squad, only Sturridge can match him for natural finishing talent and striker’s instinct: his pace is sadly not what it once was, however, and Lacazette offers speed in abundance. It would be a wrench to demote Firmino and Sturridge to the bench, but depth is what is needed to compete effectively in both the league and the Champions League.
5. Naby Keita
I know, I know, I’m getting greedy at this point! Naby Keita was one of the best central midfielders in Europe last season, truly establishing himself amongst the elite with his performances for RB Leipzig. Why, then, is he down in fifth on the list? Essentially, it’s just a matter of where the squad needs to strengthen. Liverpool already have an array of central midfielders; the team would benefit from an upgrade, but it can’t be considered the top priority. Can, Wijnaldum, Henderson and Coutinho (if the long-term plan is indeed to drop him deeper) are all good established players in that position, and that’s before mentioning upcoming talents such as Grujic and, further down the line, the likes of Pedro Chirivella. Of course, none of these players function in the exact same role as Keita – indeed, that ‘role’ is extremely hard to define as the Guinean is something of a unique talent. Nonetheless, it illustrates that the big cash might be better spent elsewhere for the time being. If money is going spare, however, then he would undoubtedly be a huge asset to the team!
It would be frankly miraculous if the club pulled off all of these transfers – it would represent by far and away the best window in the club’s history. Just two from the list would be very good business: for me the defenders have to be prioritised, but any one of the players mentioned would be a very welcome addition to the squad. The Salah deal looks like it might be done soon – this is a promising sign that the club is very much moving in the right direction.