SINCE the appointment of Jürgen Klopp in October, it has been repeatedly said that there are too many players in this Liverpool squad that are simply not good enough, writes Joel Rabinowitz.
The logic then follows that there must be a huge clear-out at Anfield this summer, with players shifted out and upgrades moved in.
The results under Klopp up to this point have clearly been erratic, but there have been glimpses of evidence to show the true potential of this Liverpool side when the manager has the club’s best players available.
A fully-fit trio of Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge is an immensely powerful attacking trident of world-class potential.
Danny Ings and Divock Origi could be more than able deputies.
Isn’t there enough star quality that Klopp need not dismantle and rebuild a new squad from scratch — inevitably leading to yet another season of “transition” — but instead focus on building a robust spine around which his most talented individuals can flourish?
A strong spine is a prerequisite for any successful football team — a core of high-quality players who can be relied upon on a weekly basis.
This Liverpool side has been labelled “spineless” on many occasions this season — and with good reason.
The inconsistent nature of Liverpool’s results can be attributed to the lack of a strong and regular backbone to the side.
We’re almost into March and we still never know which Liverpool will turn up from game to game. I’m not sure Klopp does either.
The current spine of Liverpool’s side is fragile to say the least.
Simon Mignolet’s inconsistency continues to undermine the rest of the team with a string of costly errors failing to instil confidence in those in front of him.
Question marks remain over all of Klopp’s centre-back options, although the arrival of Joel Matip from Schalke in the summer should strengthen this area. Whether Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren or Mamadou Sakho are deemed worthy of partnering the Cameroon international remains to be seen.
Liverpool desperately need a commanding midfielder, one able to control the tempo of a football match.
Emre Can is a promising talent but aged 22 is searching for consistency in his game while Jordan Henderson can dominate a game in his best form but the captain’s recurring heel injury is proving a major hindrance on his ability to dictate matches.
Neither Lucas Leiva nor Joe Allen are commanding figures, and despite the impending arrival of 6ft 3.5ins Marko Grujic from Red Star, Liverpool remain lightweight in this department with a 19-year-old unlikely to be the answer week in, week out.
At the top of the spine of 2016, Sturridge is a top class striker but one whose fitness simply cannot be relied upon. Ings and Origi are useful back-up options with bright futures as suggested above but proven and capable of 20-30 goals in the league?
Christian Benteke, despite plundering seven goals this season and 16 last, is looking to be the mistake many feared, slipping down to the bottom of the pecking order in Klopp’s forward options. The Belgian’s future at the club looks bleak.
When you compare this spine of players with the great Liverpool sides of the past, there is a remarkable a chasm in quality.
In the days of Bill Shankly, Liverpool greats such as Ray Clemence, Ron Yeats, Ian Callaghan and Ian St John were some of the core men.
More recently, we have seen a spine comprised of Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres, among other highly influential figures such as Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso.
When you look at the players the Klopp has at his disposal, the contrast is stark.
The great Arsenal Invincibles side of 2003-04 was built around a formidable spine of Jens Lehmann, Sol Campbell, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry.
Needless to say, there were many other outstanding individuals who played a part in this extraordinary team, such as Dennis Bergkamp and Robert Pires.
The current Barcelona side is the best in world football, boasting arguably the most potent front three the game has seen. Yet quality lies throughout the core of the side, through a choice of two excellent goalkeepers in either Claudio Bravo or Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets, through to the star names up front.
The Arsenal side of o3-04 and the Barcelona side of today are two exceptional sides, littered with top-class players in virtually every position.
It is not always necessary, however, to have 11 excellent individuals in order to have a hugely successful football team.
The Liverpool side of 2008-09, which recorded that stunning 4-0 victory over Real Madrid, included several average and below-average players.
Andrea Dossena, Ryan Babel and David N’Gog all featured for a side that finished second in the Premier League.
Fabio Aurelio, Alvaro Arbeloa and Martin Skrtel were all regular starters.
None of these were truly world-class players, but there was enough quality running through the spine of that team, from Reina to Torres, in order to achieve success.
Similarly, the title-winning Manchester City side of 2011-12 regularly featured the likes of Joleon Lescott, Aleksandar Kolarov and Nigel De Jong. A strong spine can compensate for average players.
Arguably, a great side only needs four or five great players, maybe less. To quote a Shanklyism: “A football team is like a piano. You need eight men to carry it and three who can play the damn thing.”
If there is enough quality in the backbone of the side, the other positions can be filled out by competent, but not top-class players.
Nathaniel Clyne, Emre Can and Jordan Henderson are figures who can play a key part in Klopp’s future Liverpool side. Although not elite-level players at this stage, they can do a solid job and should improve with better quality players around them.
In terms of strengthening the spine, Klopp must surely look to build from the back by recruiting a new first-choice goalkeeper to replace Mignolet.
Sakho and Lovren have between now and the end of the season to turn the doubters into believers.
In midfield, Klopp will most likely bring in a top-quality playmaker to complement the energy and industry of Can and Henderson, with the Bundesliga looking a likely league to exploit.
Up top, the emphasis must be on signing a player in the mould of Sturridge, so that his absence through injury does not have a major detrimental effect on the team’s ability to score goals.
If Klopp can add three or four high-calibre players in key areas — rather than the clear-out, mass recruit that has been suggested by many — this will create a strong spine around which he can build his own Liverpool side, one well-suited to his philosophy.
With sufficient quality in these positions, we can expect to see a far more consistent and balanced team, not one overly dependent on the brilliance of one or two individuals.
A solid defence reduces the pressure on forward players; likewise, a stronger midfield and a prolific attack takes the weight off defender’s shoulders.
Ultimately, goals pay the bills but strengthening the spine with a handful of astute first-team ready signings must be the priority for Klopp this summer.