There are so many things to admire about the current set up at Liverpool. Tactically and technically, Jurgen Klopp has created one of the most ruthless and entertaining teams to watch and face in Europe, and it is no surprise that they are just 90 minutes away from a seventh Champions League crown. The only problem with that is, their opponents, Real Madrid, are chasing number 14.
But Klopp has not been able to do everything by himself. The entire ethos of the club is in a good place and everybody appears to be working towards the same goals. Football goes in cycles, and recent history tells us that the clubs who perform well without being backed by wealth on a state scale often run out of steam sooner rather than later. But that doesn’t appear to be happening at Anfield.
Klopp is around six-and-a-half years into his tenure and recently signed on for two more, meaning by the end of his new contract, the German will have been on Merseyside for over a decade. That allows the fans to feel confident in the stability being demonstrated; when the decision was announced, those who gave their immediate reaction all said his future was more important than any player. That is why the lack of developments on the futures of both Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane’s renewals aren’t causing mass panic and hysteria.
Both players’ time is up in a year, just like Roberto Firmino’s. The biggest clubs in thew world away from Anfield are all interested; Salah is coming off the back of arguably his best season in Reds shirt, having been unlucky not to win the Ballon d’Or last year, while Barcelona and Bayern Munich are believed to be circling for Mane. Perhaps there is an inner confidence amongst everyone involved at Liverpool that they will both stay; it is hard to imagine life being better anywhere else right now; as Gini Wijnaldum can attest due to his struggles at Paris St-Germain, the grass is seldom greener on the other side.
But there is another reason to be calm. Liverpool have become masters of evolution within their squad; they are ready for almost every eventuality because they are so proactive in the market. This team has been around for roughly five years now, gradually growing and improving but in the main getting older together. Initially, after Salah joined a year after Mane, their relationship up front together and with Firmino was what made the team tick. As time has gone on, though, the focus has shifted, not only with the team strengthening defensively thanks to Alisson and Virgil van Dijk, but also because reinforcements have come in to provide alternatives before a decline begins.
Now Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz, both in their early to mid-20s as Salah, Firmino and Mane were when they joined, are beginning to offer insight into the future. It still feels likely that the trio will remain at Liverpool for some time, and that allows for more premature transition elsewhere in the team. If that needs to happen anywhere, it is in midfield.
The one criticism they had in the early years was a lack of creativity in the middle. It was their engine room, full of energy and high pressing, a place of functionality to get the most from the front three and increasingly Andy Roberson and Trent Alexander-Arnold at fullback, but it wasn’t uncommon to say they lacked ingenuity. Then in came Thiago Alcántara and, though It has taken some time, this season he has well and truly changed the record. But he is over 30, as is Jordan Henderson, while Naby Keita has struggled for form and fitness for some time and his day of reckoning may be approaching.
It seems as though that is being recognised, though; if Liverpool are going to make a big signing this summer, it will likely be a young, agile and robust midfielder. The dream candidate may well be Jude Bellingham, who has taken to the elite level without hesitation since moving to Borussia Dortmund from Birmingham City in the summer of 2020. But he is thriving in Germany, and having just lost Erling Haaland to Manchester City, they are unlikely to want to do business this summer. Klopp tends to wait for his top targets, but if he wants an alternative, then Monaco’s Aurelien Tchouameni may be another option in the correct mould.
This has been a breakout season for the 22-year-old Monaco midfielder. He has gradually grown into the first team as a young player over the past couple of seasons, but his efficiency has taken a huge step up during this campaign. At 6’2, he is more physically imposing than Liverpool’s current midfielders, but he is effective in winning the ball back, holding a shape and most pertinently, counter-pressing.
After the draw with Tottenham recently, Klopp said his side put on a counter-pressing performance worthy of showing anybody how to do it. They are the best in the world at it, and to keep it that way, they need to find the next generation, which Tchouameni represents. Just as Dias has proven the direct, in to out style of attacking cultivated by Salah and Mane will be in tact after they’ve gone, you can be sure the future of their high intensity midfield play will be found soon enough.