“It’s 0-0 and, even though Arsenal probably feels in a better position, we don’t feel this tie is over for us so we will give it another proper try. We know we can play better and we know we have to play better.” Those were the words of Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp as his side frustratingly drew 0-0 at home to a ten-man Arsenal in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final. It was a performance redolent of last season at times — lacking fluidity, creativity, and ultimately, end product.
So often the man for the big occasion, Mohammed Salah, Liverpool’s talisman – 23 goals to his name already this season – would have thrived in a big game under Anfield’s lights. Regularly a cauldron for the big games, frustration grew abundantly in Salah’s absence, as Liverpool looked inept as they approached the final third and really missed a chance to seize the incitive when Wembley beckoned. Salah, Sadio Mané, and Naby Keïta being at the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) have exposed the massive fragility of Liverpool’s squad depth — a situation that looks perilous in terms of the title race if reinforcements aren’t brought in this January.
The reality of the situation is that Liverpool hasn’t spent enough money during Klopp’s tenure at the club. Their owners Fenway Sports Group, spearheaded by American businessman John Henry, have made their ‘sell to buy’ model very clear and it’s apparent from the Reds’ net spend over the last five years that Klopp isn’t going to be granted the transfer war chest offered to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City or Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea, and while Klopp’s reputation for recruitment proceeds itself, you wonder how far this squad could go had their bench been a comparable match to a starting eleven who make them regular favorites in the Premier League winner odds from Betfair.
The Arsenal game only exemplifies why Liverpool needs to sign more players. While James Milner is certainly a valued and respected veteran within the dressing room, his robust style simply is made redundant as soon as Granit Xhaka gets sent off. The mundane Takumi Minamino looked like a deer in the headlights, unnecessarily pressing and needlessly surrendering possession, while options off the bench were far too scarce to punish Mikel Arteta’s men — relying on the youthful exuberance of Curtis Jones shouldn’t have to be Klopp’s best alternative.
There are underlying issues in the squad that are still yet to be addressed. Harvey Elliot was meant to play a bigger role this season after impressing sporadically over the past couple of years. However, an ankle injury against Leeds United back in September has ruled him out for the majority of the campaign and despite good performances, it will take time for the youngster to get back to his best.
Gini Wijnaldum’s departure left gaping holes in midfield as well. In terms of personnel, Jordan Henderson simply can’t replicate the tireless running of the industrious Dutchman, and the gaps in transitions have led to Liverpool surrendering points from winning positions far too often this season — Brentford, Leicester City, and Chelsea all spring to mind.
The frustrating thing is replacements are certainly available should Liverpool invest, and no doubt it would boost their odds in the premiership predictions, with Yves Bissouma, Florian Neuhaus, and Aurélien Tchouaméni all realistic, albeit expensive-sounding options.
This tough period will ask a lot of questions about Liverpool’s current side, and it will be interesting to see how the rest of the month plays out for them, both in terms of reaching Wembley and sustaining their push for a title that looks all the more elusive as the weeks pass by.