There is just one final game to get through before Liverpool can finally say for certain that they’ll be in this season’s Champions League group stages.
It’s been on the cards since their final day victory over relegated Middlesbrough confirmed that the Reds would finish in the Premier League’s top four, although the idea of losing in the play-off round was never really mooted seriously. Since the start of the summer, the accepted interpretation of the state of play has been very simple: Liverpool are in the Champions League.
And yet, given the emphatic feeling around Liverpool’s participation in the top European competition, there doesn’t seem to have been much urgency to create a squad strong enough to compete on more fronts than they did last season.
Whatever happens in tomorrow night’s game against Hoffenheim, Liverpool will be in Europe. Perhaps, then, the club should have been thinking about adding more to the squad than just Mohamed Salah, Andrew Robertson and Dominic Solanke. Though perhaps it’s victory over the Germans and a place in the group stages which is necessary in order to attract the right players.
Last week’s victory over Hoffenheim saw Trent Alexander-Arnold star in the victory in Germany with a solid performance at right back and a stunning free kick. But on the other side of the Reds’ defence was Alberto Moreno, long outcast from the team last season after some poor performances and a penchant for getting caught in attacking positions without a care for his defensive positioning.
And that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season. Andrew Robertson has arrived from Hull City and took Moreno’s place on Saturday against Crystal Palace, whilst Alexander-Arnold has been tipped to push Nathaniel Clyne for a place in the starting XI once the England international is back from injury. But neither are full-backs with Champions League experience.
Indeed, Liverpool currently look to be in a similar position to Chelsea.
Whereas the champions seem to have exchanged some of their players for new players (Costa for Morata, Matic for Bakayoko), Liverpool have at least made their squad stronger. Getting rid only of Lucas Leiva and bringing in two new players – three if you count Solanke, though it remains to be seen how much game time the former Chelsea youngster will get – means that the squad is stronger than it was when the season ended, but it doesn’t seem obviously strong enough to deal with the demands of a challenge on the domestic fronts plus a Champions League campaign.
Like Chelsea’s, Liverpool’s summer business doesn’t look like enough in the face of the extra games.
It’s also true that Liverpool’s squad needed strengthening whether there was European football or not. Last season’s fourth place should represent a decent season, though it will seem like a reasonably disappointing one given that, in January, Jurgen Klopp’s side were the ones challenging Chelsea for the title, as well as still fighting in both domestic competitions.
Their collapse after Sadio Mane’s departure to the African Cup of Nations and other various niggling injuries throughout the squad mean that whatever happened, they needed more strength in depth. The arrival of Salah addresses one of these issues, but apart from that, more is needed.
There’s still time left for new players to be added, of course. And the Champions League draw might focus minds. From Liverpool’s point of view as well as that of the prospective players who might be further enticed by Champions League football when the draw makes it all seem that bit more real. But at this point, it looks as though Liverpool are more worried about losing Philippe Coutinho than buying others.
At this point, all of the transfer sagas surrounding Anfield look unsolved. Coutinho looks like he’ll stay, but that could certainly change. Virgil van Dijk and Naby Keita both look like they’ll stay at their respective clubs, too. And so Liverpool are left needing players without any time left to make the right purchases.
And there’s the problem: Liverpool are short, especially with the extra European games, but they also shouldn’t panic buy just in order to have more players to cope with demand.
Like Chelsea, this is something of a strange position for them to be in given they knew about the extra games months ago.