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Tactical Analysis: Liverpool’s midfield renovation has left gaps elsewhere

The 2023 summer transfer window has closed in England and most of Europe, and boy has it been busy!

While Manchester United tried to get their business done early and Chelsea attempted to buy every player under the sun, Liverpool left things quite late.

The Reds’ transfer business has been somewhat questionable in the last few windows.

The departures of Michael Edwards and later Julian Ward have weakened what was one of the best recruitment departments among Europe’s elite clubs, so their squad building has taken a turn for the worse.

It is tough to say what exactly is going on behind the scenes, but manager Jürgen Klopp has reportedly sought greater influence over Liverpool’s transfer business, leading to the departures of key decision-makers.

We assess their transfer business in this window, which has not been on point.

Arrivals

Liverpool have heavily focused on their midfield this summer, making four signings to really renovate that department of their squad.

Altogether, the quartet cost them just under £150 million in terms of transfer fees, which is not too bad in this market.

The first signing they announced was Alexis Mac Allister from Brighton & Hove Albion for about £35m.

He was a much-coveted player for several Premier League big-hitters after impressing with Brighton, so Liverpool will be glad to have signed him for this price.

The Argentine international is a very well-rounded midfielder who showed great ball progression ability from deep as well as attacking impetus and a serious goal-threat at Brighton last season.

Mac Allister’s various strengths mean that he can really play any position in Liverpool’s midfield trio.

He may not be the best as the deepest midfielder when defending in transition but can do a great job of helping progress the ball from there, while the more advanced roles would limit him in that regard but better utilise his attacking qualities.

Mac Allister should go down as a good signing at the time.

Dominik Szoboszlai also looks set to be a great addition to the squad, although he came at a greater cost. RB Leipzig received £60m to part ways with him, which again looks a decent sum given how crazy the transfer fees have been this summer.

The Hungarian international is a more attack-minded addition, as he excels in the final third with his creativity, chance creation and goal threat thanks to his world-class ball-striking ability.

He has already highlighted these qualities in a red shirt, particularly the last one with a fantastic goal against Aston Villa.

Szoboszlai was also very involved out of possession in Leipzig’s intense pressing, so that is another quality he can bring to the table for Liverpool if they wish to utilise it.

All in all, he clearly is a great addition who looks set to make the right-sided midfield position his own.

After getting these two signings done relatively early, Liverpool waited a very long time before their next move, although there were a couple of failed bids submitted.

Quite puzzlingly, it was only after the Premier League season started that they realised that they had nobody remotely resembling a defensive midfielder in their squad due to the departures of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and James Milner.

With just a couple of weeks left in the transfer window, they seemingly went into panic-buy mode and picked up Wataru Endo from Stuttgart.

While there were better options in the market had they acted earlier, the Japanese international could be a shrewd signing for around £16m.

Endo was a rock-solid presence in the last three German Bundesliga seasons in Stuttgart’s midfield, which can often be a very chaotic place.

His main responsibility at Liverpool will be to bring a similar sort of stability and free up the rest of the midfielders to attack, so he should be able to play that role quite well.

The last addition was made on deadline day when Ryan Gravenberch left Bayern Munich for Merseyside. His transfer fee was about twice as much as Endo’s, even though he played just 576 minutes in the Bundesliga last season.

While things did not work out as the Dutchman would have liked at Bayern, there can be no doubt that he has the potential to be a consistent starter in a top team.

He showed his qualities in the 2021/22 Eredivisie season with Ajax when he dominated proceedings in all aspects in almost every match he played.

However, the two questions that proved problematic at Bayern stand – can he do it in a more intense league and can he displace the established starters?

With no Champions League football on offer at Liverpool this season, Gravenberch will not want to spend another year as a squad player.

Holes in the squad

Given the numerous departures this summer, Liverpool’s focus on midfield signings is understandable. However, there also were other areas of their squad which needed improvement but have been neglected.

The departure of Roberto Firmino is perhaps not so concerning as Diogo Jota and Darwin Núñez should be able to cover the striker position between them, but other areas of their squad are lacking.

The right flank falls in that category, as they have been left with just Trent Alexander-Arnold and Mohamed Salah in the two positions, with the latter subject to big-money interest from Saudi Pro League giants Al-Ittihad.

Injuries or enforced absences for either of them could have a catastrophic impact on their season, given their reliance on those two players’ unique skillsets.

Elsewhere, the defensive midfielder situation has also not been best addressed as previously discussed, although the issue is a lack of a top-class starter rather than a lack of depth as is the case with right-back or right winger.

Liverpool have made some good signings this summer but failed to address some pre-existing and newly-created holes in their squad, which leave them in a less-than-ideal state this season.

Looking at these takeaways in a wider context of their business in recent years raises concerns about their recruitment structure and processes, which should be addressed or they will fall further away from the top four.

Stats courtesy Transfermarkt and Opta via Fbref.

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