AT the time of writing it’s January 26, five days before the end of the transfer window and the Reds’ solitary move that we’re aware of was to go for Julian Draxler, only to back off when it became apparent that the key factor in any move for him was going to be money. Many thought we should have responded to this by just paying more money. Just like we should have done to get Alexis Sanchez, apparently.
But Jürgen Klopp is on record that he isn’t interested in the players that are after the most money. Given his experience at Borussia Dortmund, where he saw the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Shinji Kagawa, Mario Gotze and Nuri Sahin make big money moves this is probably understandable. If you sign a player by throwing money at them, someone can take them off you by doing the same.
But what about the alternatives to Draxler, the back-up plan? The lack of activity, given that it has coincided with a spectacular drop in form, is causing a degree of unrest. The logic being that our leggy-looking squad, short of one of our best and certainly most unique attacking players, needs reinforcements. After all, we’ve got a shot at the league.
The counter to this is that we don’t want to buy short-term solutions. Someone who wouldn’t otherwise be a part of the long-term plan. That’s easily fixed though, isn’t it? Just bring forward this summer’s targets and lash some extra money at them.
It all sounds great and so simple in theory. But, let’s be honest, if it was as easy as that we’d just do it. So, why haven’t we?
There are obviously loads of reasons, but first the targets we want are good players. They need to be, Liverpool are a good football team and any additions need to be of the requisite standard, and Klopp has raised the bar. So the group of players we can target, those that could improve us, is small.
Because they are good players they are usually at good clubs. These clubs don’t want to sell their best players in January.
Add to this that we aren’t in Europe, and we don’t yet know that we will be next season either.
There’s another angle to short-term buys, though. When this is talked about normally, it’s with the idea that you don’t want to buy a player that features from January to May, then isn’t really in your plans. You have to move them on, or they hang around the squad and run down their expensive contract in the style of Jose Enrique and leave on a free.
The bigger issue, particularly in a Klopp side, though, is short-term impact. If you’re buying a player in January to make an impact then they need to be able to do just that; make an immediate impact.
We all remember in Klopp’s first season the amount of times he voiced surprise at the number of fixtures, and the fact that it limited the time he could spend on the training pitch. The good version of Klopp’s Liverpool, the one we all want to see, and the one people want us to buy players for, does not come easy. It comes from hours on the training pitch as players become accustomed to the complex tactical demands that our system places on them.
This is a non-negotiable. We, more than anyone else in the league, play a system. A system that only works properly when every component of it is doing its job. Look at what happens to that system when Roberto Firmino doesn’t play through the middle, or when Adam Lallana is moved out of the midfield three.
If we add a player who doesn’t gel straight away we negate not only their effectiveness, but that of the system too. We become less than the sum of our parts.
You could mitigate this by signing from a team with a similar tactical approach, but if we’re honest Spurs and Dortmund aren’t selling us anyone in January.
In addition to that, there’s the fitness that’s needed. The difference in the players following a full pre-season was night and day, and it was clear that when Klopp arrived in October 2015 the players weren’t fit enough for his preferred system, this was evidenced by the spate of injuries that followed. Fitness is such a big part of our system.
So, in order for a player to be a good January signing for us they need to be good enough to improve us, within our budget, not primarily motivated by money, be at a club who are willing to sell, be able to immediately fit into and understand Klopp’s tactical plan and be fit enough already to keep up with the physical demands of our system.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that’s not a very long list.
You can be sure that if something could have easily been done, and that it would have a good chance of working, then we’d have done it. Klopp’s not the type of guy to not get what he wants, and his record in the transfer market is solid which should afford his judgement a degree of trust.
This is, of course, is less of an issue in the summer. Clubs are more likely to sell and, assuming the deal gets done early — another feature under Klopp — you get a pre-season to get them fit and teach them the system. We’ve also got a good chance of Champions League football, which presumably is a draw for the players motivated by the sporting challenge, rather than the money.
So we’re going to need to work with what we have and go on a bit of a run. Mane will be back soon, and I wouldn’t bet against us doing just that. Everyone else’s European fixtures will start up again, and our hardest games are out of the way. Everything, apart from momentum, is on our side. We just need to get a couple of results and it will all start to look OK again.
Up the hard to buy for Reds.