As Liverpool fought out a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa in their final home game of what has been, for the majority, a disappointing season, it felt like the end of an era at Anfield.
Roberto Firmino and James Milner, the two players Jurgen Klopp has called upon most throughout his managerial career (not just since his own Reds arrival in October 2015), might have emerged from the bench to rescue Liverpool a share of the spoils, but in doing so they made their final home appearances for the clubs.
Along with Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the quartet are already all confirmed to be leaving the Reds at the end of their contracts this summer. In doing so, they become the latest players who have won everything at Liverpool to leave the club, following on from last year’s exits of Divock Origi and Sadio Mane.
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“Nothing is forever, that’s how it is,” Klopp would say at his pre-match press conference on Friday when talking about the departing quartet. “There is always a moment. It’s a good moment because it means one chapter is closed, but we can start writing a new one. That’s good as well, for them and for us.”
Having come agonisingly close to winning an unprecedented quadruple last year, this last chapter hasn’t exactly gone to plan for the Reds and their latest departees. While a top four finish still isn’t mathematically impossible, Liverpool are expecting to compete in the Europa League next season.
Club bosses will be hopeful that one step back can pre-empt two steps forward, and that after a transitional year wrecked by injuries, the Reds will be in a position to challenge Premier League champions Man City at the top-end of the table once again next year. With it, a new era of Klopp’s Liverpool is upon us.
Firmino, Milner, Keita, and Oxlade-Chamberlain won’t be the only players leaving Anfield this summer. A look at Klopp’s overall squad and the likes of Thiago Alcantara, Fabio Carvalho, Joel Matip, Nat Phillips, and Caoimhin Kelleher have also all been linked with the exit door in some form or another, while Adrian is another player out of contact and loanee Arthur Melo will return to Juventus.
As a result, Klopp’s Reds side could look very different the next time they run out at Anfield in three months’ time. With the Anfield Road stand redevelopment ensuring there is unlikely to be a home friendly this pre-season, and Liverpool requesting to play their first game of the 2023/24 Premier League away from home, supporters will have to wait a little while longer to get their first close-up glimpse of their new side.
Sources inside the club are unsure on what represents an ideal number of arrivals for Klopp and his staff this summer, but there is a general agreement that the manager wants to conclude his business as early as possible as his pre-season plans start to take real shape.
It is widely accepted that the club will look to sign two, if not three, new midfielders this summer as part of a long-planned revamp of their engine-room. Reports suggest Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder Alexis Mac Allister is well-placed to be the first new recruit, while the club are also interested in Chelsea’s Mason Mount and Bayern Munich’s Ryan Gravenberch.
Meanwhile, Klopp himself has admitted that the Reds could be in the market for a new defender, suggesting the only position Liverpool aren’t open to strengthening is in goal.
“We look in all departments apart from goalkeeper at the moment,” the German said on Friday. “Yes, if there is a good one (centre-back) out there, I would not deny it. That’s all. We look at all areas of the pitch, definitely.”
Whether such an admission suggests that the Reds could look to sign an attacking replacement for Firmino, or even a senior option at right-back, which in turn would free up Trent Alexander-Arnold to make a full switch into midfield, only time will tell. Meanwhile, despite Klopp’s insistence that Kelleher and Adrian will stay put, a new goalkeeper will need to be sought if either shot-stopper did push to move on.
Of course, a move for Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham won’t be forthcoming after Liverpool withdrew from the race to sign the England international last month. Despite being a long-standing target, the Reds ultimately decided their finances would be better spent across the board on a number of quality signings rather than one marquee arrival. That in itself created it’s own frustrations after 18 months of public flirting.
Regardless, FSG are going to have to do two things they haven’t done before to give Liverpool the best possible chance of being back in the title-race next year. And they’re going to have to do it without the riches of Champions League football, thus making their task that little bit harder while also ensuring it’s that much more important to succeed.
Firstly, they are, in all likelihood, going to have to sanction potentially the busiest transfer window of Klopp’s Anfield reign.
In recent years, the Reds’ recruitment has been rather controlled, with FSG often criticised by supporters as a result.
While Cody Gakpo, Darwin Nunez, Luis Diaz, and Ibrahima Konate have all cost hefty initial amounts in the previous four transfer windows, the £37m Dutchman, £37m Colombian and £36m Frenchman were solitary arrivals at the time. Meanwhile, while the £64m Uruguayan was accompanied by Fabio Carvalho, Calvin Ramsay, and the loan signing of Arthur Melo, the young duo cost less than an initial £10m combined.
As a result, we have to go back to the summer of 2020 for the last time Liverpool spent more than £20m on more than one player in the same window when bringing in Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota. It marks the only time the Reds have invested in such a way since they started winning trophies under Klopp, with Nunez also the only signing to have cost significantly more than £40m since their Champions League win in 2019.
Of course, the argument is that the Liverpool squad hasn’t needed major surgery during this period considering that, for the majority, they were still challenging for Premier League and Champions League titles. The response is Reds bosses were irresponsible for not strengthening from that position of strength, with this year’s season of transition the unwanted consequence after demonstrating a lack of foresight.
Liverpool were most-active under Klopp in the summer of 2016 when the Reds signed six new players (Joel Matip, Loris Karius, Sadio Mane, Ragnar Klavan, Alex Manninger, Gini Wijnaldum for a combined £67.9m). That transfer window also marks the last time the club headed into a season having not qualified for the Champions League.
As Champions League regulars, they would sign four players in each the summer of 2017, 2018, and 2019 respectively. If we take three new midfielders and a defender as the absolute minimum, such a total will be matched this summer. If Liverpool also seek recruitments in goal, at right-back, or in attack, summer 2023 could still emerge as Klopp’s busiest transfer window yet.
Of course, it’s not all about quantity. While the Reds signed four players in the summer of 2019 after winning the Champions League for example, they only parted with £7.7m on teenagers Harvey Elliott and Sepp van den Berg, with veteran goalkeepers Adrian and Andy Lonergan both joining on free transfers.
Considering the fees being touted for the Mac Allisters and Mounts of this world could see the pair cost a combined total north of £120m, FSG could well have to sanction one of the biggest spending sprees of their Anfield reign too. And they’ll have to do it without relying on major incoming fees.
The £174.25m they spent on Fabinho, Naby Keita, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Alisson Becker in the summer of 2018 remains their most extravagant splurge. Having tried to sign Virgil van Dijk from Southampton the previous summer, only to be forced to wait until January 2018, the £171.9m the Reds parted with to sign the Dutchman, Mohamed Salah, Dominic Solanke, Andy Robertson, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 2018/19 season would have pushed it close also.
Yet the club-record sale of Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona for £142m in January 2018 would have significantly helped finance such deals. The same can be said for Liverpool spending sprees off the back of the big-money departures of Fernando Torres, Luis Suarez, and Raheem Sterling, with the £65m departure of the Uruguayan in the summer of 2014 contributing to the Reds’ own £117m spending spree – the only other time they have broken the £100m barrier in one window in their history.
Lesser significant sales of Jordon Ibe, Christian Benteke, Mamadou Sakho, Dominic Solanke, Danny Ings, Rhian Brewster, Sadio Mane, and Neco Williams, ranging from £15m to £35m, have also significantly helped bolster the club coffers each year.
Yet, Kelleher aside, the Reds arguably have no obvious players that could move on this summer who would command such fees. As a result, FSG will have to stump up the cash themselves.
Last summer’s transfer outlay was only the fourth time Liverpool have spent more than £95m in a window in their history. While £175m might be beyond them this year, they will need to break the £100m barrier and then some.
Now a club-record move for Bellingham would have emphatically broken such a figure anyway, with reports suggesting he could cost up to £120m. Without the England international, the Reds will be spreading their funds to obtain more for their money.
Of course, transfer add-ons could help navigate this. While the overall fees of Nunez, Carvalho, Ramsay stood at just under £100m last summer, upfront it was less than £80m.
Either way, with a new-look midfield to build and, at the very least, a centre-back arrival hinted, it is set to be the busiest of close-seasons at Anfield.
“I don’t think it’s a rebuild to be honest,” Jordan Henderson told PA, at an NHS Charities Together event in Crewe last week, when asked about Liverpool’s upcoming business. “I do think there will be new players coming in. A rebuild is changing an entire team – which I don’t think we will be doing.
“I think you have a lot of core players in the team that will still be there and are still in great shape to compete and be successful. But yes, it will need freshening up of course with players leaving and trying to improve the team.
“I am sure players will be coming in at some point to give us a boost and freshen things up a bit and hopefully put us in a good position come the first game of the season.”
The Reds’ 10-game unbeaten run, which remarkably brought them back into top four contention from afar, ensures that their core is very much already in place. But it will still be a new-look side that takes to the field in 2023/24, with a handful of new players required. Consider that Klopp wants his new arrivals in in time for the start of pre-season in July, and club bosses are set for a frenetic six weeks.
If FSG fail to act accordingly, they risk Liverpool being left behind by their rivals, suffering another season of transition and the same feelings of underwhelming disappointment next May. Like it or not, Reds bosses have left themselves with no other choice.
Strap yourselves in, a new age is upon us at Anfield. And while this upcoming summer transfer window might not prove to be the costliest or busiest in Liverpool history, it will still be the most significant with another £100m+ spending spree required, and it needing to be the club’s most active summer since their last campaign absent from the Champions League.