Comment and Analysis @nicholaspwright
Liverpool prioritising chemistry and continuity in quiet transfer window
Liverpool have signed Dutch teenager Sepp van den Berg but they are yet to bring in any other reinforcements this summer
Last Updated: 11/07/19 8:00am
It has been a quiet summer in the transfer market for Liverpool but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Nick Wright explains why chemistry and continuity are crucial for Jurgen Klopp ahead of the new campaign.
Liverpool fans could be forgiven for feeling envious of their Premier League rivals in this summer's transfer window. Manchester City and Tottenham have completed club-record signings. Manchester United are also spending heavily. Even Chelsea have been busy, exploiting a loophole in their transfer ban to complete the £40m signing of Mateo Kovacic from Real Madrid.
At Anfield, though, all is quiet. The 17-year-old Dutch defender Sepp van den Berg arrived from PEC Zwolle last month, but Liverpool are yet to bring in anyone else. With only four weeks to go until the transfer deadline passes and the season begins, there seems little prospect of lavish spending.
Continuity comes first
The inactivity is a source of frustration to some. Liverpool were outstanding last season, winning the Champions League and achieving a record Premier League points haul, but their success owed a lot to the transfer business that preceded it. Alisson Becker and Virgil van Dijk transformed the defence. Fabinho, Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri boosted the midfield.
The temptation is to believe that further improvement requires further spending, but the circumstances are different this year. Firstly, while there is room for greater depth in certain areas, there are few weaknesses in Liverpool's starting line-up. Previously problematic positions have already been filled. There are only two players in the squad over the age of 30.
Just as significant, however, is the importance of chemistry in this Liverpool side. Alisson described their team spirit as their "biggest strength" last season and it's a view Klopp subscribes to.
"The group of players we have here is special," he said in May. "The relationship has got better and better and better and better because of our own experiences, what we did together, what we wanted to do, how we deal with the moments when it was not that beautiful and all that stuff.
"How can we get 94 points until this point with a random group of players? We don't have that, we have a really special group and that's why we are where we are."
Klopp's attitude towards transfer spending has changed since his 2016 assertion he would never shell out a Paul Pogba-esque fee on a single player, but he continues to place the power of the collective over individuals. His favoured counter-pressing system requires togetherness, understanding and unwavering commitment from every player.
It has taken time to build that up at Liverpool and it has also required a significant amount of care.
New signings are carefully considered not just in terms of their technical suitability but also their character. It is why Liverpool have refused to deviate away from primary targets such as Van Dijk and Keita. Klopp is an advocate for patience. He would rather bide his time than rush into another signing which might upset the balance and harmony of his squad.
That prudence in the transfer market has paid off, with the good signings strongly outnumbering the poor ones since Klopp's first full season in charge. But it also adds to the difficulty of finding a second-choice left-back or a back-up forward this summer. As well as accepting limited game-time, any prospective signing must be the right fit for the squad.
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It is little wonder, then, that Klopp is looking for solutions internally. Indeed, the German is always eager to point out Liverpool's progress in recent years owes as much to the time they have spent together on the training pitch as it does to new signings. "The job is to improve the team and there are different ways to do that, we've said that always," he said in April.
Pre-season is invaluable in that sense, and this year it also sees the return of several players who spent a significant portion of the last campaign on the treatment table.
Most notably, there is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The England midfielder's pace and dribbling ability adds a different dimension to Liverpool's midfield and his versatility is such that he can also slot into the front three. Having made his return from a cruciate knee injury at the back end of last season, he should be back up to full speed by the start of the new campaign.
Adam Lallana is fit, too, following an injury-hit season of his own, and there is also Joe Gomez. The defender suffered a leg fracture in December, ruling him out for several months, and his return is a significant boost to Klopp. As well as competing with the much-improved Joel Matip for Liverpool's second centre-back spot, Gomez can play at full-back.
"After a lot of problems last year, if these boys can really stay fit then that's completely different to last year for the team because there is real quality," said Klopp recently.
The hope is that the increased competition for places will bring the best out of everyone, including Keita. The 24-year-old had a stop-start debut season in England but it is not so long ago he was considered one of the best midfielders in the Bundesliga. The adaptation to the Premier League was not easy, but he should be stronger with the transitional season behind him.
Another name mentioned by Klopp is that of Rhian Brewster. The 19-year-old striker has impressed in Liverpool's academy sides and also boasts a fine scoring record with England's youth teams. He has already had some involvement with the senior squad, but with Daniel Sturridge now gone, there is an opportunity to establish himself on a lasting basis.
Klopp is hopeful he will do just that, his recent comments suggesting he does not feel the need to look elsewhere for attacking reinforcements. "He is a really big talent," he said. "We're really looking forward to seeing him in training and all that stuff. We planned an important role for him."
A long-term vision
Brewster is not the only player who could be primed for a step up. Among the youngsters to have featured in pre-season training so far are defenders Anderson Arroyo and Ki-Jana Hoever, midfielder Curtis Jones and forwards Harry Wilson and Ben Woodburn. There are many more who will hope to impress Klopp over the coming weeks.
Klopp places youth at the heart of his managerial philosophy and Liverpool's transfer activity this summer underlines the emphasis on long-term planning over short-term fixes. Van den Berg arrives at Anfield as an unknown, but he is regarded as one of the best defenders in Europe in his age group and he is already being integrated into the first-team squad.
Van den Berg could soon be joined at the club by Fulham's Harvey Elliott, according to reports. The winger, who, at 16 years and 30 days old, became the youngest player to feature in the Premier League when he came on as a substitute in Fulham's meeting with Wolves in May, has reportedly chosen to join Liverpool over Real Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain.
Like Van den Berg, he will not be expected to make an immediate impact at Anfield. But Liverpool are already well set for the present. The challenge is to ensure their future is just as bright.
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