A lack of width has long been a problem associated with Liverpool, none more so than in the current campaign.
With James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne the full-backs, and Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana placed ahead of them down the flanks, The Reds often lack the ability to stretch the game out wide. Such was the case against Southampton at the weekend, with Liverpool faltering in their quest to return to the Champions League.
Without an out-and-out left back, the problems have been magnified. James Milner’s tendency to cut in from wide and deliver either an aimless cross or pass into the crowded midfield exemplify the need for change with Adam Lallana also keen to cut in and drive through the middle. Consequently, the left-hand side becomes null-and-void for Liverpool, putting pressure solely on the right which is hardly a success story in itself.
Nathaniel Clyne is probably the best wide player at Jürgen Klopp’s disposal in the current starting eleven, often cannoning forward in support of the attack. However, with Coutinho doing much the same as those around him, floating about in between the lines, the Englishman is suddenly the only wide outsource Liverpool have. That can be quite problematic when faced with defensively resolute sides who look to close off the space.
It becomes an increasingly hard task to break down teams, with no wide players able to stretch the defense. That’s what makes Sadio Mané’s absence from the side all the more crucial. He offers something that nobody else can, with his pace and tendency to stick out wide allowing Liverpool to make much more effective inroads. His injury has confounded the desperate need for more width ahead of a new campaign, especially with European football beckoning.
Solutions within the ranks
Possible solutions to Liverpool’s wide problems could be solved within the current crop of players. Take Sheyi Ojo for example. While the youngster has suffered a few injury setbacks of late, his qualities are clear. He has pace, power, strength and the ability to run at defenders with ease. Not the finished product by any means, but Ojo could help ease Liverpool’s lack of width.
Ben Woodburn would be another contender of the current youngsters. Having impressed when given the opportunity at centre stage this season, the Welshman has slotted comfortably into the starting eleven. Failing to look overwhelmed, he has a very bright future ahead of him and with Klopp a big believer in youth, he too could do a job for the German.
However, neither option would present the greatest solution, especially in the long term. To throw two youngsters into the mix in both the Premier League and Europe, with hopes of fighting for silverware next season, it seems a monumental ask. Thus, Klopp’s solution will more than likely lie in his summer transfer dealings.
Trent Alexander-Arnold on the other hand, could be an avenue to explore. The defender, who was recently named as Liverpool’s Young Player of the Season, has enjoyed a stellar campaign, establishing himself around the first team squad while impressing for the Under 23’s. Producing a terrific free-kick against Chelsea before storming down the right hand side and smashing home against Everton, Alexander-Arnold has shown his qualities going forward.
He could well solve some answers, with a possible switching of Clyne to the left-back role. That being said, should Liverpool sign a left-back in the summer, it’s likely this option would only be seen in domestic competitions. The 18-year-old has a serious future ahead of him and having shown moments of quality already, it’s an interesting avenue to explore.
A summer window full of opportunity
Douglas Costa is a name that’s been flung about in recent weeks ahead of the summer window. The Bayern Munich winger is likely to look for a move away from Germany with first-team opportunities limited behind Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben. If Klopp can guide Liverpool into the Champions League along with FSG delivering a large war chest, there is no reason why Costa’s next destination couldn’t be Anfield.
Not only would it represent a large statement of intent for the club, but it would provide a quality solution to their wide issues. Blessed with flair and pace, he would bring to the table similar traits to Mané, reducing the dependency on the Senegalese international while stretching the threat to both flanks.
Alternatively, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seems to be in line for a move to Merseyside. The Arsenal midfielder’s versatility is well known and again, with pace to offer, he could give Klopp another option. He’s excelled of late in the right-wing back role and pushed further forward ahead of Nathaniel Clyne, the duo could bring some real fire power to the side.
What is clear is that Liverpool must address a lack of width within the current side, and soon. Their shortcomings against teams outside the top six can largely be attributed to a lack of quality and pace out wide. Without Sadio Mané, there is no movement and no stretching of the play, leaving an overly crowded central midfield area. A quality winger in the summer would certainly do Jürgen Klopp good ahead of a much busier campaign next season, with the clubs youngsters offering depth in numbers.