Jurgen Klopp reaping the rewards as Liverpool reach sweet spot of squad building

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“Joe Gomez, what a game,” enthused Jurgen Klopp. “Naby Keita, what a game. James Milner, what a game. Diogo Jota – oh my god, what a game.” There are times when it seems as though the Liverpool manager is never happier than when praising his squad players and even Jota’s 21 goals this season may not have spared him the status of deluxe back-up.

Klopp possesses a world record for number of tributes to Divock Origi. He extended his own unrivaled tally of homages to Milner, who was summoned from the sidelines to star – albeit in utterly unglamorous fashion – in Saturday’s 1-0 win at Newcastle. Keita’s decider featured three prominent contributions from players, in Milner, Jota and the Guinean, who Klopp had brought into the side. His five changes from him were an illustration of his enviable choices from him. “The selection game is so important,” he reflected. In one respect, it has got easier; in another, harder.

Klopp has already branded this his best ever squad. If it is created largely by brilliant recruitment, there are other factors: a need to fast-track the planned arrival of Luis Diaz, the inability to sell Origi last summer, the way Kostas Tsimikas and Thiago Alcantara have kicked on this season, the reality virtually everyone has been fit in recent weeks. There are players who have adapted to give even more alternatives: Sadio Mane has reinvented himself as a center forward and Gomez, rather than looking like a centre-back playing right-back, is doing his best from him Trent Alexander-Arnold impression in the final third.

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And yet if Liverpool are in a sweet spot on the pitch, in a four-fold challenge for honours, they may also be in terms of squad building. Everything has converged to give them a depth of talent that even Manchester City cannot rival; at different points, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Harvey Elliott, Curtis Jones, Takumi Minamino, Origi and Gomez have not even made the bench.

If Klopp’s man-management skills are required, his boosterism of bit-part players still more significant, it feels an unsustainable situation. Over the next 18 months, Liverpool may become weaker: perhaps in the next 11, possibly the next seven, probably among those 19th to 24th in the pecking order.

There may only be so long that players of the caliber of Caoimhin Kelleher, Gomez and Tsimikas will be content on the fringes. Liverpool’s definitive replacement, Origi, will go when his contract expires in the summer. Klopp hopes Milner remains and the veteran is not haggling over the terms of a new deal but nothing has been agreed. Oxlade-Chamberlain has not featured in the Premier League for 10 weeks, did not take the field in Liverpool’s seminal April and feels the odd man out in the midfield mix.

Klopp’s man-management skills have helped Liverpool keep a happy dressing room

(Liverpool F.C. via Getty Images)

His is one of a raft of contracts that expires in 2023. He may be an exception in other respects. Liverpool could pay a price for their success. They have excelled at finding value for money in the transfer market; now many a player may ask for his market rate from him. Mohamed Salah has been the headline act; the Footballer of this Year might depart for free next year. He is entitled to ask for the biggest contract in Liverpool’s history but their owners have to determine what amounts to a false economy.

Mane’s expiring deal is starting to attract attention, too. Liverpool may face a decision about the final third of a famous forward line, if they think Roberto Firmino’s race is run. Obscured by others, there is the curious case of the younger Keita. He has produced his finest Liverpool form this season, is not tied down and could yet spend his peak years elsewhere. A need to prevent all exiting for free could prompt a sale this summer.

FSG’s equation may be influenced by age. Liverpool have eight thirty-somethings now and if most have shown few signs of decline, even Milner can only stay off the passing of time for so long and they won’t want to pay premium prices for too many to deteriorate. Klopp has managed to present a smiling face to the various impasses, grinningly insisting there is nothing to worry about, but his own future was secured in smoother and quicker fashion.

It has become a mantra of the German to savor how special this season is, to enjoy the journey. The quadruple hunt has come in part because they have had the resources to juggle and Klopp has had the skill to perm the right options. But, while he can plan further into the future, he may never have as many again.

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www.independent.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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