Liverpool have an option to turn centre-back Ozan Kabak's current loan from Schalke into a permanent move this summer; RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate is also reportedly close to joining the Reds, who could look to strengthen in midfield, with Gini Wijnaldum set to leave, and up front
Sunday 30 May 2021 15:11, UK
We analyse the plans and priorities for Liverpool as they look to strengthen the centre of their defence, while the Reds may also be on the search for a replacement in midfield for Georginio Wijnaldum.
It is no secret Liverpool will be signing a new centre back this summer after the defensive injury crisis which derailed their Premier League title defence last season.
Long-term knee injuries to first-choice central defenders Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez in October and November 2020 respectively meant Jurgen Klopp was forced to use an incredible 16 different centre-back parings in the previous top-flight campaign.
In February, after another centre back, Joel Matip, was also ruled out for the season, Liverpool signed Schalke defender Ozan Kabak on a six-month loan with an option to buy in the summer worth an initial £18m, which could rise to £26.5m with add-ons.
The Reds have until June to trigger that clause, although recent reports suggest they are unlikely to keep the Turkey international at Anfield next season, preferring instead to sign RB Leipzig central defender Ibrahima Konate in a five-year deal worth a reported £30.5m.
Elsewhere, despite the club offering Adrian a new deal, the Spaniard may return home this summer, meaning Klopp could be looking for a new back-up goalkeeper to Alisson if, as expected, promising youngster Caoimhin Kelleher is sent out on loan next season.
Meanwhile, Wijnaldum's expected departure on a free to either Paris Saint-Germain or Bayern Munich leaves a sizeable hole in midfield, one that may reportedly be filled by Brighton's Yves Bissouma and then there is the issue of Roberto Firmino's diminishing attacking returns.
The Brazil forward, 29, managed just nine goals in all competitions last campaign and while Diogo Jota's goals helped cover that shortfall after his arrival from Wolves last summer, Liverpool are still expected to bring in another player to add further competition to their forward line next season.
And Liverpool will reportedly fund some of these purchases by offloading as many as eight fringe players this summer, including some youngsters, with the club hoping to raise as much as £80m from these sales.
It was always going to be hard, if not impossible, for Liverpool to match their record-breaking, championship-winning campaign, a season in which almost everything went according to plan as the club won their first title since 1990.
Even harder when you suffer an injury crisis throughout the side, as Klopp recently alluded to: "With the amount of injuries we have had it was not the year to become champions. No chance. For nobody.
"As good as they are, if City have their three centre halves out, no [they don't win the league]."
And the stats do back the German up, with a noticeable drop-off in many key areas of the team last season compared to their memorable 2019-20 campaign.
How much of that decline was caused by injuries is impossible to say, although they certainly played a part in Liverpool's defensive issues as Klopp constantly changed his back line, often been forced to play midfielders out of position to fill the gaps in defence.
That in turn had a negative impact on the rest of the side, especially in attack where apart from Mo Salah, the forwards struggled to replicate their impressive form from previous seasons.
And as the above numbers show, Liverpool were scoring less often, and creating fewer big chances, while also conceding more goals than when they won the league - never a good combination for success.
However, while the expected return of Van Dijk, Gomez and Matip should certainly ease their defensive worries next season, there are lingering questions about whether the club's famed front three have past their collective peak and may need upgrading this summer.
Boss Jurgen Klopp speaking on the eve of Liverpool's final Premier League game:
"So, whatever we do or not do in the next transfer window, for sure we will not use it as any kind of excuse. We did what we did in the past with the way we did it; when there was money we spent it, when there was no money we didn't spend it, and here we are.
"That's how it is. Yes, I'm very happy with my squad - very, very happy. Could this squad improve? Yes, like each squad could. Is that affordable? I don't know. Is it necessary? I don't know. Whatever happens, we will see, I don't know in this moment, to be honest. We have to make decisions in and out, all these kind of things, it's normal in a summer.
"There's a moment in the pre-season when I hope then we have the team together we will go through the season (with). In that moment we will work on that we are able to be a really uncomfortable opponent. That's the most important thing. We might not be the best team in the world at the start of the season, but we want to be again the team who nobody wants to play against because we are that good.
"And I think that's possible. I really think my responsibility is to improve the team without signings as well, honestly. If a season is not like this where it's a lot not in your hands, but if you have players available, you have our players - all high-quality players - we have everything.
"We have experience, we have players in the best age and we have youth, so that's good. And that's my main focus in the moment and the rest really we have to see. But whatever other clubs are doing will not influence our business, for sure not."
Sky Sports pundit and former Liverpool captain Jamie Carragher says: "Liverpool will certainly improve, there is no doubt about that. As soon as you bring in three centre backs who are already at the club that will improve them massively.
"But we keep talking about centre backs, Graeme [Souness] mentioned Van Dijk, the bigger problem for me is at the other end of the pitch. Liverpool have not had injuries there.
"More often than not, it is the same front three with Diogo Jota coming in. He is the only one of the front three that has been injured out of the attacking players.
"That is the bigger worry because I am sure that the defensive frailties that we have seen at times this season will be rectified by players coming back and Liverpool signing a player in the summer in that position.
I am sure that the defensive frailties that we have seen at times this season will be rectified by players coming back and Liverpool signing a player in the summer in that position. The big worry is that there is a changing of the guard. Not so much this team coming to an end but just that it has to be freshened up. I think through the centre of the team - centre back, central midfield and certainly someone up top to go straight into the starting line-up and break that front three up.
"The big worry is that there is a changing of the guard. Not so much this team coming to an end but just that it has to be freshened up.
"I think through the centre of the team - centre back, central midfield and certainly someone up top to go straight into the starting line-up and break that front three up.
"They have been amazing for four or five years but as we have highlighted on shows before, very rarely do we see front threes stay together as long as these have. They have been amazing for Liverpool but the lack of goals is the biggest worry for me."
Meanwhile, fellow Sky Sports pundit and ex-Reds skipper Jamie Redknapp says: "They have got to recruit a couple of players and they lose Wijnaldum, but I think Liverpool are going to come back very strong next year."