The top six have been quiet in this window. So quiet, in fact, that they are yet to make a murmur. Far from the splashes of other winter windows, the Premier League’s richest teams are not heading into the January sales. Perhaps because those sales are actually more expensive, making it pretty poor value and not exactly fitting with the narrative, sadly.
One of the Premier League’s big boys has missed a chance this January. Or so far, at least.
Liverpool have experienced the worst of January slumps, winning only one of their matches so far, that being a victory in an FA Cup replay against Plymouth. From sitting as the next in line to the Premier League lead for much of the first half of the season, Jurgen Klopp’s side are on a slippery slope that could see them finish the campaign outside the top four. Something must be done to arrest the collapse, but they have missed a great opportunity.
The losses of Joel Matip and Sadio Mane due to contrasting African Cup of Nations situations has been the greatest factor in Liverpool’s 2017 woes. Matip has been the only positive thing about Liverpool defensively, they have looked all at sea without his calming presence. Mane, meanwhile, has become their most important forward player despite raised eyebrows over the size of his transfer fee in the summer. With his enterprising runs stretching defences and giving Klopp’s side an extra dimension in possession, he is clearly very important to this team.
Recent results have shown that Liverpool must add backups and / or competitors for Mane and Matip. A defensive partner for Matip before the end of this window is a must. Ideally it would be a player as calm as the former Cameroon international, who can compete physically, while offering enough pace not to be exposed when Liverpool’s defence pushes high up the pitch. It has reached the point that Liverpool will be waiting until the summer to add another defender, but that could cost them in the second half of this season, seeing as they have conceded six in their last three league matches.
One option for Klopp could be Angelo Ogbonna. The Italian settled quickly into the Premier League at West Ham and has the legs to cope with the high defensive line. Although he has had troubles at points this season, Ogbonna would be a good value option and is ready to move straight into the team. West Ham’s recent addition of Jose Fonte could also open the possibility of a transfer.
In the final third, Liverpool are already blessed with options. More troubling, though, is the lack of an alternative to Mane. Divock Origi and Daniel Sturridge have had their respective moments in the spotlight this season, but neither were able to ignite the Liverpool attack in the same way that Mane has done. Having scored nine goals and notched four assists in the league already this season, Mane is under severe pressure to perform upon his return to action, despite the heart-breaking exit he suffered at the African Cup of Nations.
The Senegalese winger needs a backup, an understudy – someone to compete with him in training for a place in the team. If again looking for a player to develop, as has been Liverpool’s approach recently, Demarai Gray could be a very good option. A raw, often frustrating talent, Gray has shown glimpses of what he is capable of while at Leicester. He has pace to trouble any defence, but needs nurturing to become a real Premier League starter. However, the former Birmingham City winger has proven he can cope with the standard and could yet become one of the most terrifying players to face.
Liverpool can still mount a title challenge. Their chances of doing so, though, are significantly lower if they do not act in the closing hours of the January window. Gray and Ogbonna may not be the show-stopper signings that fans will demand, but they would improve the squad and could make the difference during a tricky end to the season.