The summer of 2017 will likely be remembered as the summer that changed soccer transfers forever. Paris Saint-Germain’s newest attraction, Neymar Jr., was purchased from perennial superpower FC Barcelona for an earth-shattering €222 million ($267 million), while German contenders Borussia Dortmund sold wünderkind Ousmane Dembélé for a whopping €105 million ($126.3 million). The deal for Neymar, which was more than double the previous world-record transfer fee—Manchester United’s 2016 signing of Paul Pogba for €105 million—set the European soccer world ablaze, as commentators and team executives alike wondered how this inflationary spending would affect the future of their teams.
Perhaps no side drew more attention than one of the English Premier League’s most prominent clubs: Liverpool. Despite its storied history—the Reds have won 19 domestic league titles in their 125 year history—Liverpool has struggled since its 2005 Champions League victory. Since their European championship, the Reds have struggled to put together a consistent campaign, with their only silverware coming from a 2011-2012 League Cup victory.
But the Reds had the opportunity to make major strides towards correcting their inconsistencies during the summer 2017 transfer window. As FC Barcelona desperately looked to replace the hole left by Neymar, Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool’s most prolific midfielder, became an obvious target. In the 2016-2017 season, Coutinho spearheaded the Liverpool attack, using a combination of skill and intelligence to create several dangerous opportunities on the pitch. He scored a team-high 13 goals and provided seven assists for the Reds in 31 games, helping the team to an impressive 18-5-8 record when he played. Coutinho’s brilliant season led Liverpool back into the Champions League for just the second time since the 2009-2010 season.
The combination of Coutinho’s best season and an unpredictable summer transfer window could not have been more perfect more Liverpool. FC Barcelona reportedly made three separate transfer offers for the Brazilian midfielder, with the third being in excess of £110 million ($145 million). Coutinho, one of the world’s finest talents, may be worth more money than this, but that does not negate the fact that Liverpool desperately needed this money to properly fill its team sheet. For £110 million, Philippe Coutinho should have been the Reds’ most lucrative transfer ever.
Having signed winger Mohamed Salah from AS Roma for £34 million ($45 million) and midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Arsenal for £40 million ($53 million), the Reds added solid pieces to their attack. Salah’s creativity adds a level of depth to the Liverpool attack, which is often lifeless without the likes of Sadio Mané or Coutinho on the field. Oxlade-Chamberlain, on the other hand, provides the Reds with a high-defensive work rate from the midfield, while adding a consistent passing presence throughout the middle-third of the pitch. Neither of these players possesses Coutinho’s quality, and, perhaps, the two of them combined don’t equate with Coutinho’s immediate impact on the pitch. But with these two additions, Liverpool could have focused on the most ailing part of its team: the defensive unit.
Last season, Liverpool conceded 1.11 goals per game, a mark good for fifth-best in the Premier League. Therein lay the problem. Liverpool hasn’t been able to crack the defensive code in order to move up into the top ranks of the Premier League.
At the end of the transfer window, Liverpool’s defense featured Trent Alexander-Arnold, Dejan Lovren, Nathaniel Clyne, James Milner, Joel Matip, and Alberto Moreno, among others. The most compelling of the group is the 18 year old Alexander-Arnold, whose stunning free-kick goal against Hoffenheim in the Champions League playoff round helped lift the Reds into the group stage. For many teams, having a young talent such as Alexander-Arnold garnering attention would be enough. But Liverpool aren’t most teams, and they have their most pivotal season in years staring at them. The club must be competitive on the domestic league, domestic cup, and European cup stages, or else they risk remaining a team stuck daydreaming about their former glory.
Had the club sold Coutinho and received the reported £110 million in compensation, Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk would have been an obvious target to shore up the defense. Van Dijk, one of the Premier League’s top defenders, handed in a transfer request in early August after a tumultuous few months left him feeling disillusioned with his current club. Liverpool could have attempted to get van Dijk for less than his £60 million ($79 million) pricetag, a bargain for a player of van Dijk’s caliber.
Many have said that Liverpool need to look outside of Anfield for a new goalkeeper, but Simon Mignolet has proven himself to be a reliable goalkeeper when needed. He provided three consecutive shutouts in the team’s final four games of the 2016-2017 campaign, catapulting the Reds into Champions League playoff territory. Mignolet may not be an elite goalkeeper within the Premier League, but he is too good for Liverpool to justify spending a large sum of money on a replacement when other areas of the squad need aid.
Removing a goalkeeper from consideration, Liverpool should have spent the remaining £55 million by continuing to invest in defense. The Reds could have made a bid for Athletic Bilbao’s Aymeric Laporte, a prolific 23-year old center back. According to transfermarkt.com, Laporte is worth approximately €25 million ($30.1 million). While it would have taken more than this to grab Laporte, Bilbao could have been persuaded, given the amount of change Liverpool had to spend. AS Roma’s Konstantinos Manolas (valued at €30 million), Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld (valued at €30 million), or Dortmund’s Sokratis (valued at €25.2 million) all would have been nice additions for Liverpool, even if transfer inflation rocketed up the price for any of these defenders.
Assuming Liverpool was able to bring in another defender in addition to van Dijk, the transformation would surely have been an improvement.
New XI: Mignolet, Alexander-Arnold, van Dijk, Laporte, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wijnaldum, Henderson, Can, Mané, Salah, Firmino.
Old XI: Mignolet, Clyne, Matip, Klavan, Moreno, Coutinho, Can, Lallana, Mané, Salah, Firmino.
One player can’t win the Champions League or Premier League on his own. Philippe Coutinho is a fantastic talent and surely makes Liverpool a dangerous team, but he cannot cover up the gaping holes that stand behind him each time the Reds take the pitch. With Liverpool having confirmed the transfer of midfielder Naby Keita to Anfield next summer, Liverpool seem primed to improve, so long as they fix their defensive woes.