After years of happy stability and gradual swelling success, Liverpool are starting to see the downside of keeping their core group in place for so long.
Winning the Champions League and Premier League in successive seasons was an unthinkable dream before Jurgen Klopp took over, but with the support of the owners’ unwavering faith, he made it a reality.
But the club is slowly reaching a point where the strategy that got them there is causing problems. The bedrock of Klopp’s proven team consists of players of the same age, on similar contract terms, and these factors look less and less favorable as the years go by.
? Significant uncertainty about Jordan Henderson’s Liverpool future. Talks to renew the contract (2023) began weeks ago and no real progress. Neither side wants a Wijnaldum iteration so that it can open the door to 31-year-olds. W / @JamesPearceLFC for @TheAthleticUK #LFC https://t.co/AX9K2r7597
– David Ornstein (@David_Ornstein) July 19, 2021
Jordan Henderson’s situation is the main concern, but he is one of eleven Liverpool players whose offers will expire in two years. That solitaire includes the famous front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, as well as Virgil van Dijk and Fabinho – five pillars in start XI in full force.
With the exception of Fabinho, each of these players will be well into their 30s when the summer of 2023 comes.
If Liverpool were to meet the contractual requirements of each of these players, the carefully crafted salary structure that has transformed them back into a sustainable European titan must go out the window.
They would also have one of the oldest teams in the Premier League for many years to come, even if they retain their policy of hiring young, hungry players during the career breakthrough.
As difficult as it is for the fans to accept, it is not possible for Liverpool to keep all these players beyond the expiry of their current contracts. If they want lasting, long-term success, sacrifices must be made, and that will mean some more emotional departures from Gini Wijnaldum in the years to come.
Of the players who are out of contract in two years, it is likely that Nat Phillips and Xherdan Shaqiri will soon move on. Rhys Williams is young enough for a new contract and a few loan statements to look realistic, while Naby Keita, it is rumored, is close to signing a new deal. That leaves Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who probably would not say no to a move after two frustrating, injured seasons.
His situation highlights, however, that Liverpool must recreate their midfield before the situation deteriorates further. Curtis Jones and Fabinho, provided he pens an extension, should be in the long run, but when Thiago enters the 30s, the options are otherwise sparse.
A younger midfielder, in the form of Youri Tielemans or Renato Sanches, should be the next big signing.
After the injury hell last season, Liverpool’s back line is in decent shape in the long run. Alisson goes nowhere between the sticks, and Caoimhin Kelleher will be his long-term understudy. Van Dijk’s contract is a concern, but Ibrahima Konate and Joe Gomez should develop into elite defenders in the coming years.
Hard work in Salzburg’s sunshine? pic.twitter.com/hL4IlfexEs
– Liverpool FC (@LFC) 19 July 2021
And on the slopes, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold rarely miss a game and have three years to run. The latter can do with some backup, but that depends on what happens to Neco Williams.
However, the most pressing long-term problem is at the other end of the field. Retaining Mane, Salah and Firmino is just not possible – they will all be well into their 30s when 2023 rolls around, and at least one must move on if Liverpool are to continue building for the future.
Diogo Jota could be a complete replacement for one of them, while Harvey Elliott, if he continues with his current career, will say something. But at least one more signature in this area will be required – preferably a little younger than Jota, to avoid history repeating itself a few years later.
Trent Alexander-Arnold is ready to return to Liverpool. ?
– 90min (@ 90min_Football) July 19, 2021
It will not be Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappe, let’s face it, but PSV’s Donyell Malen, Napoli’s Victor Osimhen and Hertha’s Matheus Cunha are some who just fit the bill.
Liverpool’s refurbishment will not be a huge overhaul of a summer; which entails too great a risk both on and off the pitch. Instead, it will be a gradual refresher process here and there until they once again have a functional group in the long run.
With Wijnaldum’s departure and the arrivals of Jota and Konate, it’s already underway. But there must be much more business, both in and out, before the recruitment team can retreat into the shadows and enjoy the kind of stability that led them back to the top of the European game.