PHIL Blundell wrote a brilliant piece yesterday all about how Jürgen Klopp has made a fool of us all. Phil’s premise, which I entirely agree with, was that Jürgen knows much more about football than the rest of us. Essentially, this German fella who is dead good at the football came in last October, spent the best part of a season looking at his squad and assessing its weaknesses and then came up with a plan to mitigate those weaknesses.
Phil’s article led me to ask myself: Was this Liverpool’s best summer transfer window of the Premier League era?
It’s a big question, I realise. A proper journalist would look back at every single summer since 1992, investigate how many appearances each signing made, how many goals they scored and what their win percentage was. I’m not going to do that. Partly because I’m not a proper journalist, but mainly because I’m sat in Pizza Express and I keep getting garlic butter all over my keyboard. Stitch that, Henry Winter.
My working theory, as I begin to write this piece, is that all of the signings in the summer of 2016 are boss. Doubtless some people will be telling me soon enough that Loris Karius hasn’t really been tested yet and they’d be right. They’ll inform me that Sadio Mané might have had a brilliant start to the season but that he isn’t as good as Luis Suarez. They’d be right about that, too. They’d also be right if they told me that Ragnar Klavan is no Sami Hyypia.
Yet — and I realise this is undercutting my entire argument but stick with me — it’s somewhat fruitless to compare players as if they’re all the same. When it comes to Suarez, was he better than Mané in his first season? Let’s ignore the half a season he got in 2010-2011 and just look at his first full season. He made 29 league appearances that term, scoring 11 goals and getting three assists. At Liverpool, he has made five appearances, scoring three and getting one assist. It’s all guesswork, of course, but isn’t it likely that he’ll surpass the Uruguayan in his debut season for us, if he carries on at that rate?
That’s not to say that Mané is a better player than Suarez, of course. It’s just that Luis was so good when he left us that people forget that it took him a bit of time to get going. He certainly didn’t get labelled the Player of the Month in his first few weeks, that’s for sure. The former Southampton man is influencing the entire team, changing the way we play and speeding everyone up. Something noted and discussed well on the free podcast earlier this week.
As for Karius, it’s true that he hasn’t really been tested yet but isn’t it entirely possible that there’s a reason for that? It is virtually impossible to not notice how high his starting position is when Liverpool are on the attack. His heat map for the game against Hull is mainly him in the centre circle, using his time to take selfies, write a dissertation and light a cigar. By being so far up the pitch he is in turn allowing the defence to push further forward. That allows the midfielders to get closer to the attack and the attack closer to the opposition’s penalty area.
My opinion on Simon Mignolet is well known and perhaps at times I’ve been overly critical of him. I listened with interest to one of the shows recently when Neil made the point that he’s probably the sixth or seventh best ‘keeper in the Premier League. I genuinely don’t watch enough of other teams to be able to rate him objectively, however I’m aware that’s a bit of a shithouse answer so let’s just go with Neil that he’s the league’s number six. As much as he might have made me pull the limited amount of hair I’ve got left out in the past, I honestly have no idea how our Blue Brethren put up with watching Tim Howard every week without going all Michael Douglas in Falling Down.
Karius may not be the best goalkeeper in the league. He may not develop into the next Manuel Neuer. He may face these ‘tests’ that everyone keeps talking about and fail them spectacularly and look no better than Migs. But the difference is that his style of play, his natural desire to push the team forward and allow them to get on the attack as soon as possible, helps the team in a way that the Belgian can’t do. That is an improvement worth making a note of.
Then comes Klavaniesta (CC: Sam McGuire). Sean Rogers made the point on a recent Tuesday Review that the Estonian’s performances could fall off a cliff in the near future. It might be a case of him giving it his all in the initial phase of his Liverpool career only for his legs not to be able to keep up with what his head wants as the season wears on. A similar thing may happen to James Milner in the left-back slot. For now, though, Klavan is putting in excellent performances when he’s being called upon, making a couple of small mistakes but nothing so horrendous as to mean the pitchforks are out.
Joel Matip, meanwhile, looks the real deal. I’ve been seriously impressed with how calm and assured he’s looked so far. When you consider that he’s been asked to deal with Ultimate Snide Diego Costa, Steptoe Lookalike Jamie Vardy and One Of Their Own Harry Kane in his opening set of fixtures, his performances look even more impressive. He’s dealing with most of the big balls into the box without looking like an imposing grock, running up the pitch and taking people on without looking as gangly and weird as persona non grata Mamadou Sakho and generally just looking like he belongs in Red.
Georginio Wijnaldum is another one who fits well into Klopp’s well-oiled machine. I didn’t really know what to expect when we signed him, to be honest. £20+ million seemed a lot for a player who Newcastle fans claim turned into the invisible man as soon as they left St. James’ Park. Then you remember that every Newcastle player did just that and you start to wonder what point they’re trying to make.
Wijnaldum is a tidy player who has looked like a perfect member of our midfield. It may not be ‘the best midfield in the world’, but it is a unit that is working together and for each other in support of both attack and defence. You get the feeling that if he’s able to get the goal-scoring monkey off his back sooner rather than later then he might start to bang them in on a regular basis. He’s certainly getting into positions to do exactly that.
Finally, a quick word about Marko Grujic. The Serbian is only 20, so he’s got a lot of learning still to do. He couldn’t have asked for much of a better start to his Liverpool career, though, except maybe to have scored a goal. He’s another one who has looked calm in possession, intelligent on the ball and full of clever movement. It’s very early days, but he seems to have the making of a very good player, if he carries on at his current trajectory.
This summer’s business may not have been ‘perfect’ in the way that some might have hoped. What it was, however, was targeted. Klopp saw the weaknesses and addressed them, He also saw the players — like Jordan Henderson and Milner — who could be trained to adapt to a different position and he went about teaching them how to do it. Whether this proves to be the right strategy in the long-run won’t really be known until May. Right now, though, our business combined with the German’s managerial jiggery-pokery looks to have worked well enough. Now we just need to match City game for game and beat them twice and the title is ours. Easy when you put it like that, hey?