After yet another disappointing result, Liverpool’s season is coming to a stumbling finish.
The Reds are currently falling over the line, but it may still be enough for Champions League football next season. They may well be playing their football in the top tier of the European game next season more or less by default. As Manchester United lost at the Emirates Stadium, Jurgen Klopp’s side know that two victories in their final two games will ensure a top four spot.
This summer, that will be one of the key things to think about: midweek football.
Liverpool’s squad is already quite thin on the ground. One of the biggest criticisms of Jurgen Klopp of late has been his slowness to make changes when his side are changing games, but that neglects one major question: what exactly is there to change? Perhaps the biggest illustration of their predicament is Sadio Mane, a man whose presence Liverpool really can’t do without.
Behind that, though, there are other obvious weaknesses of this squad which will have to be rectified whatever happens this summer. James Milner at left-back springs to mind.
Although he’s performed admirably for his team, doing a job that’s been foisted upon him, the former Manchester City man is not a left-back. And indeed, deploying him there takes him away from other areas of the pitch where he can be effective in helping Jurgen Klopp’s side to win games: in the absence of Jordan Henderson, for example, Milner could well be an asset in the middle.
A new left-back is a must, then, but who should Liverpool look to?
Having been linked with the likes of Ryan Sessegnon and Kieran Tierney, it looks like Klopp is favouring youth over experience. This might not be the way to go. After all, any summer purchase in that position would surely need to be able to take Milner’s place.
Liverpool should be looking to Schalke 04’s Bosnian full-back Sead Kolasinac, rated by Transfermarkt.com at £7.65m. Although Jurgen Klopp is a feted former manager of Borussia Dortmund, Schalke’s fierce local rivals, Kolasinac is the kind of player Liverpool could be doing with.
An attacking full-back who can play further forward, the Bosnian also averages almost three tackles per game and just over three interceptions, proving that he’s capable of that important skill each of the Premier League’s top six club’s desire in a defender these days: stopping counter attacks. He also brings the tall, physical presence of a player who can also slot in at centre back if required – something that should mean less of Lucas Leiva deputising in the heart of the defence.
Going forward, he can contribute, too, but the major concern is his crossing ability.
Playing in behind Philippe Coutinho would necessitate overlapping runs as the Brazilian likes to cut inside, and so chances to cross will be plentiful. Although Milner is a fabulous crosser of the football, playing on the left significantly decreases his value on the wing.
The naturally left-footed Kolasinac would perhaps be a better fit here, too, if it weren’t for the fact that he has only played – on average – one cross every two games or so.
But that is a bit of a misnomer.
For one thing, it’s the quality of crosses, not the quantity, which matter the most. But above all else, the question shouldn’t be whether or not the full-back delivers a cross, it should be a question of who he crosses to.
For Liverpool, the lack of a physical penalty box striker means the need for high crosses into the box is limited to players getting across the near post or the occasional deep runs of Georginio Wijnaldum – something we witnessed against Manchester City on New Year’s Eve.
This season, as Schalke have struggled to find a system that works, Kolasinac has been deployed as a full-back behind several different wingers all season, and with multiple different strikers, too. As a result, it would be unfair to read too much into Kolasinac’s attacking stats, especially when his defensive ones are so good.
If you’re looking for attacking numbers, however, only four Schalke players have scored more goals than the 23-year-old left-back, and no-one has made more assists.
In the end, this summer will be about adding depth and quality for Liverpool. Stumbling over the line in the league might just be a blessing in disguise: perhaps it focuses the minds on the need for investment, if they didn’t know that already. It means there can now be no excuses.
In Kolasinac, Klopp would be getting a versatile full-back who can play in other positions, too. That’s a huge plus point in the Bosnian’s column, given the need for depth and the fact that Liverpool have often been caught out this season, having to field makeshift wide players (like Milner at left-back) or defenders (Lucas Leiva).
When it comes to a new left-back, Klopp seems to be looking to youth. He’d do well to remember, though, that Kolasinac is still only 23, and yet is already an experienced international player. Liverpool should be going all out to get him this summer.