If you had only watched Liverpool Football Club for the first time on Wednesday night, you might think me mad for suggesting the Reds need strengthening offensively.
Liverpool played arguably their biggest match for over two years against Hoffenheim at Anfield, with qualification for the group stages of the Champions League at stake.
Holding a slender 2-1 aggregate advantage from the first-leg, Liverpool remained aware of the threat posed by Germany’s fourth-best team last season.
Their response was to blow them away before Hoffenheim could even respond.
In a little over twenty minutes, Liverpool were 3-0 up, 5-1 on aggregate, and cruising towards the group stages with some of the best football the team had ever played under Jürgen Klopp. Even defensive issues would not deny Liverpool, ultimately prevailing 4-2 on the night and 6-3 on aggregate.
As usual, it was never boring with the Reds.
Liverpool scintillating in attack but short on depth behind first-choice options
Liverpool were imperious going forward, with Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Emre Can providing special performances. Mané has remained consistently spell-binding since arriving from Southampton last summer, and is Liverpool’s most important player, regardless of Philippe Coutinho and his future.
Klopp certainly has firepower at his disposal, with the front three of Mané, Firmino and Mohamed Salah. Strikers are no issue, with Firmino one of the best in his false nine position, but Liverpool have numerous traditional options, including Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi, Danny Ings, Dominic Solanke and Ben Woodburn. An excellent mix of quality, youth and experience.
So what is the problem?
Klopp’s 4-3-3 formation places heavy emphasis on the pace of Mané and Salah either side of Firmino, and whilst there may be three forwards, in reality there is only one position for a striker. That means Liverpool are overstocked with strikers and lack inside-forwards and wingers.
Beyond Mané and Salah, there are various alternatives for Klopp, but none are experienced specialists with similar attributes to the first-choice duo.
Ryan Kent remains raw; Firmino, Sturridge, Origi and Woodburn prefer playing centrally; James Milner, Adam Lallana and Coutinho lack the pace of Mané and Salah and Alberto Moreno is better at overlapping from left-back, though his decision-making defensively has led to calls to play the Spaniard further forward.
In addition to the lack of depth out wide, Liverpool are also struggling to link the midfield three with their deadly forward line. Normally Coutinho would be the one to knit everything together, but the Brazilian is currently unavailable – supposedly due to back injuries and viruses, but probably because of Barcelona’s repeated attempts to bring the 25-year-old to Spain.
Liverpool have shown no indication that they are going to sell, rejecting three bids from Barcelona as soon as they arrived, but how will Coutinho respond psychologically? Will he really be welcomed back instantly by Klopp and the Liverpool squad? What about the reaction of the fans, feeling betrayed by Coutinho’s sudden change in ‘character’ this August?
If Coutinho stays at Anfield, he may struggle to find his best form in the short-term. Normally, any injuries or struggles for Coutinho would mean greater responsibility for Lallana to help unlock defences. Yet the 29-year-old is out injured until at least November, meaning Liverpool are at present without both of their creative midfielders.
Do Reds have enough players capable of providing creativity from deep?
Are there alternatives within the squad? Barely. Captain Jordan Henderson can succeed in a box-to-box role but lacks the spark of Coutinho and Lallana, and in the last year has rebuilt himself as a defensive midfielder. Georginio Wijnaldum and Milner are similar to Henderson, while Marko Grujić is still finding his way at Anfield.
That leaves Emre Can. The young German was excellent against Hoffenheim, scoring twice in a game for the first time, and was a driving force from midfield, linking well with the front three and providing his own dangerous crosses
. His control, skill and footwork were superb, and, whilst equally capable as an alternative to Henderson in a defensive role, the 23-year-old could fill in for Coutinho and Lallana until they return and recover.
Yet Can should not take all of this responsibility alone. The transfer market remains open until next Thursday, and Liverpool needed depth across the squad, regardless of the issues with Coutinho and Lallana.
A central defender and central midfielder are a must but signing another creative player, who can operate as an attacking midfielder or out wide as a genuine alternative to Mané and Salah, should also be a priority before the transfer window closes.
With Premier League and Champions League football to consider, Liverpool need quality alternatives for every position, which requires investment. Whilst the first-team can compete with anyone, Liverpool saw how injuries and a lighter fixture-list crippled the squad last season.
That cannot be allowed to happen again for any chance of success this season, hence the importance of this week for Liverpool, despite Wednesday’s success.