Liverpool still have a chance of securing a Champions League qualification spot but recent performances suggest Jurgen Klopp will need to add to his squad if they hope to compete in Europe for more than one season.
The Merseysiders were not knocked out of two cup competitions in the space of a week following disappointing defeats against Wolves and Southampton at Anfield. It followed a run of poor form which saw Liverpool pick up just one victory since the turn of the new year and they go into another week of Premier League action under immense pressure.
Before the start of the 2016-17 campaign, many Liverpool supporters would have accepted the main priority was to secure Champions League football for the following season. They have been involved in a teasing title chase during the winter period but a quiet January transfer window and poor results have led to questions over whether Liverpool will be able to maintain a top four finish. European football has now become the ultimate and only priority following their FA Cup and EFL Cup exits but if Liverpool hope to compete among the best, they must strengthen their squad.
With Sadio Mane leaving for Africa Cup of Nations duty at the beginning of the month, it was surprising Liverpool did not bring in any recruits during the winter transfer window. Granted, Klopp’s business in January during his spells with Borussia Dortmund and Mainz were equally uneventful – it was still a worry that Liverpool were not actively looking to bring in a short-term replacement.
The risk did not pay off either. Liverpool’s lack of squad depth was exposed and the versatility of the players available did not live up to the expectations of their manager. Daniel Sturridge looks out of place in attack and Divock Origi struggles to bring the same kind of momentum and intensity to the centre forward role that Roberto Firmino does. Both Adam Lallana and Firmino have been forced to play out of position to accommodate for the loss of Mane.
While the movement of a few personnel may not seem like too much of a disadvantage, Liverpool have proven they do not have the quality in depth to provide alternatives. They are lacking a goal-scorer and a prolific attacking threat. They relied almost entirely on the effectiveness of the front three unit of Philippe Coutinho, Firmino and Mane but without all three, it looks weak. Rotation has not paid off and Liverpool have struggled when asked to compete in more than one game a week amid a bust festive period and gruelling cup clashes.
Should they recover from their near collapse in January and secure a European qualification spot, Liverpool face a tough task of retaining their place among the elite unless they strengthen in numbers during the summer transfer window.
They have already missed an opportunity in January and may have missed out on silverware as a result but Klopp is unlikely going to make the same mistake again. He strengthened in all apartments in 2016 – bringing Joel Matip at centre-back, Giorginio Wijnaldum in midfield and Mane in attack but he must now look towards next season and prepare for several additions to improve squad depth. Liverpool are lacking in defensive stability and even the starting back four is not strong enough. They must add more defensive-minded options in midfield and they need one or two pacey wingers to stand in for Mane. If Sturridge is on his way out of Anfield too, Klopp needs to bring in a prolific goal-scorer. Liverpool have not had a recognised striker since the departure of Luis Suarez in 2014 and if Firmino is forced to play out of position they look weak.
Liverpool still have plenty of potential and when they have their strongest starting XI, they can compete against any team in the Premier League. However, in order to mount a serious challenge on several fronts – which they will be required to do should they compete in Europe next season – they will need to bring in new additions so rotation can be met with equal success.