Following Liverpool’s third-placed finish in the 20/21 season, Chris and Tom debate the main talking points from the season.
Tom: What a bloody ride that was. I remember turning to my girlfriend on 19.12.20, after we’d spanked Palace 0-7 at their place and saying to her that she was witnessing one of the best football sides in modern history, with us 5 points clear at the top after 14 games played. Perhaps hyperbolic, but recent successes would forgive such claims.
14 games played and we were top of the league by 5 points. Couple that with the idea that we ended the season with 8 wins and 2 draws out of 10 and it tells a story of how miserable the middle third of the season was.
We lost 6 games at home on the bounce, ironically starting with the loss to Burnley on 21.1.21, signalling the end of our longest ever period of home games without defeat. How very fitting.
I don’t know about you, but when Alisson scored that 95-minute header that felt like the script had been written. Easy to say in hindsight, and it diminishes the palpable tension of the remaining fixtures, but that moment felt as though it had to be key. It was key. It showed us how united these boys are; how last season’s mentality monsters had remembered why they’re so-called.
Back in February, Mo Salah took to social media to promise us that this season wouldn’t be defined by the poor run of form, and they’ve stuck to Mo’s words.
What they’ve achieved, against the odds, has been so impressive.
Chris: It’s a bittersweet feeling. We came third which, given the drop in form at Christmas, seemed extremely unlikely, but third at the beginning of the season would have been brutally disappointing. Third, even at Christmas, would have been a blow.
It was a season of blow after blow after blow. VAR, the Everton game, getting hammered by Villa, Virg, Big Joe and Matip getting ruled out, Klopp and Alisson losing loved ones, the pandemic…
Even when we were top in the early part of the season, I felt we looked mentally fatigued. Even in the last ten games, despite being the in-form team in the league, we somehow scrambled through them. Having said that, I think third is a fantastic achievement given everything that has happened to the squad.
Plenty of neutrals have said to me over the course of the season that we can’t use injuries as an excuse. And my answer to them all is, ‘Fuck right off’. No matter how deep the squad, losing Virgil is massive. He’s irreplaceable. Look at the United fans moaning about losing Maguire for five games. And that’s when they still had Bailly and Lindelof. We were left with Rhys Williams, who played for Kidderminster the year before, and Nat Philipps, who was on loan in the Bundesliga 2. Any of you top clubs try that and see if you’re still the same side. Add alllllll of the other injuries to the team, and the players playing out of position, and that is your answer.
So, all in all, I’m delighted with the finish, especially getting Champions League football again, but I don’t want to get too carried away as there is a lot of work to be done to get anywhere near City next season.
Tom: Mo Salah. Without him we’d have been lumbering in mid-table. A truly world class operator.
Chris: Very hard to disagree with Tom here. Mo hasn’t been quite at his best but he’s carried the team for the vast majority of this season. A few players have had good patches of form, but pretty much the entire squad, bar Salah, suffered a monumental drop off at some stage.
Tom: Not getting to see more of Virgil, Gomez, Henderson, Thiago all in the same side, after that glimpse we got at Everton.
Chris: I’m going to name and shame a few of the lads. Firmino is probably my biggest disappointment of the season. Shortly followed by Mane. Both have had a really poor year and although the defence was a shambles for large parts of the season, it was the blunt attack that was equally as bad, if not worse. Naby Keita is the other name I’ll throw into the hat. It was made for him, and he failed to grasp even a moment of goodness.
Tom: Alisson’s winner against West Brom. An iconic moment in football history.
Chris: It’s slim pickings in truth, but Alisson’s header is one of the best moments I’ve seen in Liverpool’s history. Especially as we went on to get the Champions League spot. It was superb, and it mattered in the end.
Goal of the season
Tom: Trent’s vs Villa.
Chris: Mo’s second v a resurgent West Ham. The ultimate team move. Could watch it all day long.
Tom: Gini’s going to be hard to replace. He’s a top-class footballer, a top-class professional and a well respected, big character in a dressing room full of big characters. One of Gini’s greatest qualities is his availability; that’ll be hard to replace.
There’ve been a few names in the hat lately. The one seemingly most likely would be that of Yves Bissouma, a player I really like but perhaps wouldn’t be my first choice, although if it makes financial sense to do a deal here and have resources left to strengthen elsewhere then I’d be on board.
The obvious possibility of Curtis Jones getting even more minutes remains very much alive, but sadly that doesn’t seem to apply to either Naby Keita or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, neither of whom I’d be too surprised or disappointed to see moved on for the right fee. There’s been some talk of them being involved in swap deals (such rare and beautiful things they are). There’s talk that Brendan likes the look of Keita and we, unsurprisingly, like the look of Tielemans. Chamberlain has been linked to Dortmund, with Sancho the name popping up as a potential inbound signing, though I can’t see this happening.
Chris: Losing Gini is a bitter blow. I’ve read some negative comments about him over the past few months but I think there is a general acceptance now that he’s leaving as a Liverpool legend and has been a critical part of the squad’s success. The problem with replacing Gini is he’s incredibly tactically aware, as well as technically gifted. It’s a potent combo that not many players have. I like the idea of Curtis Jones getting more minutes but it’s a role that has an enormous amount of pressure assigned to it. Others have tried and failed to adapt to the demands, so it’ll be interesting to see who gets the green light next season.
The general chat is Fabinho, Thiago and Hendo as the midfield three next year, which is phenomenal. But who’s going to cover Robertson marauding down the left? If Thiago plays that left of the three role where Gini did, he needs to put a shift in as well as get on the ball.
I’m not sold on the Bissouma chat. If we do opt to replace him, and I’d like us to, I’d want a more established name in there. The problem is, who? There are very few like-for-like replacements that could slot into that role.
Who to sell
Tom: Covid seemed to interrupt a lot of our outgoing transfers over recent windows. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a fairly large exodus, with the likes of Grujic, Origi, Shaqiri, Wilson and Ben Davies getting moves and then us taking money for Keita, Chamberlain and Nat Phillips (whilst his stock is high) if we need to finance other deals.
Chris: It’s time to get rid of the deadwood. There are too many average players in the squad now who don’t offer much and it has really shown this season. City’s massive advantage is the bench they have. Ours needs to improve. I’d shift as many of the peripheral players (those Tom named above) as possible. I’d add Minamino to that list. And I’d be tempted by moving on Firmino as well. For me, I’d like to see Ox stay to give him one more chance.
Where to strengthen
Tom: We could do with another attacker. Klopp still hasn’t bought a traditional centre-forward (if you exclude Dom Solanke, who was likely to have been a recruitment team purchase more so than Klopp’s). I don’t imagine that will change this summer, but it’s sure to have been discussed as Firmino’s not getting any younger and suffered a bit this season.
Mbappe’s the obvious one, but that’ll take astronomical money which we almost certainly either don’t have, or won’t sanction. That said, as we’ve talked about on the podcast, what better way for FSG to redeem themselves?!
There’s talk of value signings such as Depay from Lyon or Donyell Malen who has been banging them in for PSV this season, both/either of whom I’d be OK with, despite not necessarily being the type of signings you’d expect to take us up a level.
Aside from a top tier attacking player, we could do with a central midfielder, as above. I’d love us to go after Jude Bellingham, but file that next to the Mbappe move in the ‘can’t afford/won’t sanction’. The same probably applies to Camavinga, whom Zidane seems to really want at Madrid, but will Zidane even be there for much longer?!
In short, I trust Klopp and Edwards. The question lies in whether we trust the board to give them what they need to keep us dining at the top table.
Chris: A proper striker is essential.
Konate strengthens the back so I think our work is done there. I’d like to see a proper Gini replacement, with Keita either leaving or becoming an impact sub (if he can ever stay fit).
It’s a naughty naughty rumour, but those who have followed The Red Debate will know how much I love Coutinho. So the chat of having Couts back on the cheap, possibly free, because of the money still owed to us by Barca has me getting giddy. Would I start him in ever game? No. Would I bring him on to win a game instead of Shaqiri, Origi, Ox and co? 100% yes. He could be a really cost-effective option that would add something different to the squad. And, despite his woes, he’s still class. Klopp could get it back out of him.
I don’t even want to think about the likes of Mbappe and Haaland because realistically it’s not going to happen. Even if we could afford the transfer fee, we couldn’t afford the wages.
Jack Grealish would be my realistic dream signing. English. Bloody brilliant. Brings something to the squad that we don’t have.
Next season’s predictions
Tom: We’ll be back challenging City at the top of the league, I’m sure of it. I’m also anticipating a raucous Anfield, traumatised by both absence and how close we were to not making it, being absolutely bouncing on Champions League nights and us having a good run there.
All in all, it feels good to be able to talk with optimism again.
Chris: Having the usual boys back fit and healthy will feel like new signings. We just need to hope they come back strong. If Virg is even 70% of the player he was, I back us to challenge for the title again. But we’ll need more firepower to do it. I can’t imagine Mane being as poor as he was this season in the next one, and, as Tom said, fans will make a huge difference.
The main challenge is likely to be the increased competition from the rest. I’d expect Chelsea and United to improve again.
From Liverpool’s point of view, I expect to see a more intense press, that extra bite in the tackle, more free-flowing football and a resumption of fortress Anfield. Allez, allez, allez.