After such a positive start to the season, Liverpool’s recent struggles have caused many to re-assess the strength of the squad at Jürgen Klopp’s disposal.
Every club encounters injuries, but Liverpool have undoubtedly suffered while players have been on the sidelines.
Losing Danny Ings to another season-ending injury was a cruel blow to attacking depth, while the midfield and defence have experienced similar absentees in Marko Grujic and Joe Gomez respectively.
Since November, attacking fluency has been constantly disrupted with injuries to Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana, while Sadio Mane and Joel Matip have been absent due to wildly differing international issues.
Yet with all these gaps to fill throughout the season, other members of the squad have failed to step up and take their opportunities. Consequently, many of these players look set to move on in the summer, particularly Daniel Sturridge.
Reds in need of smart recruitment
Klopp will be looking to sign a number of players so that the Reds can cope better throughout the season, both with his demands on Liverpool’s style-of-play and with the fixture congestion of English football.
Plus, if Liverpool qualify for Europe next season, be it the Champions League or the Europa League, extra bodies will be needed.
However, should Liverpool play in the Champions League, then the Reds will be dealing with two big games a week, requiring top-quality players rather than those on the margins or in the youth team, as they might get away with in the early stages of the Europa League.
So not only does Klopp need to bolster the numbers in the squad, but the German has to ensure everyone is competitive and on a similar level to the first-team.
That's not easy when you do not possess the budget of Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea.
Nevertheless, if Liverpool want to remain a top-four side in the long-term, before perhaps pushing on for more, then they will need to buy well and be more consistent in the transfer market, which has been an issue ever since Rafael Benitez left.
However, Klopp cannot strengthen every position. The Liverpool manager will probably sign at least five players, potentially more, but certainly not eleven. Therefore, certain positions must take priority, building on the work Klopp has already done in previous transfer windows.
Which positions take priority?
As with every manager, not all of his signings have been perfect, but Matip, Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum appear to have long-term futures as the club.
As a short-term stand in, Ragnar Klavan remains a viable option at centre-back going into next season, while Grujic deserves another year at least given his injury issues during this campaign, and his immense promise.
The first priority position for Liverpool this summer would be in goal. Loris Karius has talent, but, barring an inspired run of form from now until May, the young German cannot be relied upon as Klopp’s number one goalkeeper next season.
If Karius is unwilling to remain at Anfield as a number two, then perhaps a loan to a Premier League side? The 23-year-old would gain vital experience in England, demonstrating whether he has the quality to succeed at Anfield in the future – in a similar vein to Thibaut Courtois for Chelsea, who completed his footballing education with three seasons on loan at Atletico Madrid.
Meanwhile, Simon Mignolet is not good enough consistently for Liverpool. The Belgian has his good moments, but he remains unconvincing and a strong, experienced goalkeeper is needed, at least for a season, to help build up a coherent and confident defensive unit. Joe Hart could be that man but there are other options, including maybe Inter Milan’s Samir Handanovic.
A second vital position concerns left-back. James Milner has coped admirably in the position this season – he was arguably the best left-back in the Premier League until November.
However, whilst his versatility is remarkable, it is unfair to expect a 31-year-old centre midfielder to adopt the position for the long-term. His energy reserves are enormous, but Klopp expects a lot from his full-backs, and therefore Liverpool need more than just Milner at left-back going forward.
He needs competition, which means the departure of Alberto Moreno. The young, energetic and likeable Spaniard promised much when he first arrived from Sevilla in 2014, especially from an attacking perspective, with his pace a match for anyone.
Concerns over his defending were deterred by the feeling that over time, and with Klopp’s help, Moreno would become an all-round top-class left-back.
Sadly, that has not happened, and Klopp’s decision to move Milner to left-back suggests it will never happen for Moreno at Anfield.
His replacement should have time on their side but remain an experienced specialist in the position, especially defensively with Liverpool’s fragile backline. Wolfsburg’s Riccardo Rodriguez would be ideal, but there could be another raid on Southampton for Ryan Bertrand.
Midfield in real need of extra depth
Finally, the midfield needs at least three players. Klopp seems keen on signing a couple of wingers to help ease the pressure on Mane. The Senegalese international’s pace and direct play has to be replicated by others in the squad, as his absence at the African Cup of Nations meant Liverpool looked ponderous and one-dimensional.
There are many options. Julian Brandt, Christian Pulisic, Mario Gotze, Riyad Mahrez, Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain, Quincy Promes – the list goes on. It is a position that will definitely be addressed, hence the number of wingers linked to Anfield.
Yet the midfield also needs someone in the centre, to help Jordan Henderson in the deep-lying midfield role, particularly if Emre Can leaves the club.
Grujic will need time to find himself once fully fit, and to have another senior option who is adept at passing and tackling will serve the club well for next season.
Mahmoud Dahoud, a target from last year, could be another name resurrected in the rumour mills this summer.
Yet, though it may be a little left-field, what if Klopp could somehow convince Xabi Alonso to postpone retirement for a year? His return to Liverpool would be more just a popular sentimental move.
Alonso remains one of the best passers in world football, he has experience of Liverpool and the Premier League from his previous five year stay at Anfield, and would not need to play every game, just provide quality back-up to Henderson. It would keep his legs fresh in the final year of his career.
However, understandably Klopp will probably go for a younger midfielder adept at his ‘gegenpressing’ methods.
Liverpool could use reinforcements all over the pitch, but particularly in these positions. If Klopp can strengthen these areas with additional top-quality players, then the Liverpool squad could be strong enough to achieve big things next season.