Liverpool undoubtedly have improved their team with the signing of Virgil van Dijk, the Dutchman arrived for £75 million and despite a slow start will almost certainly improve Jurgen Klopp’s defensive structure.
Whilst much of the early reaction from Liverpool supporters was one of joy that such a vast amount had been spent to secure the defender the club had coveted since before the summer window, there was a sense of unease as to just where the money had come from.
Liverpool are by no means paupers, gone are the days of Hicks and Gillett where the club struggle to put together any form of transfer kitty in their later years, under the Fenway Sports Group model the club is financially self sufficient and can spend in ways they hadn’t previously been able to.
Money has been spent on the stadium to improve it, whilst on the pitch there has been expenditure too, although crucially not to the levels of the two Manchester clubs.
This is why Van Dijk’s arrival was greeted with such excitement on Merseyside, they had broken the world record fee for a defender, it felt like the club were once again battling with the big boys in the transfer market, yet it didn’t make sense with regards to the FSG model.
Supporters of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool will both attest that their respective owners are effective, sensible and risk-averse. Signing £75 million on one player is quite the opposite of risk-averse, especially when just months earlier they couldn’t complete a deal for a fee closer to £65 million.
The explanation though would soon arrive as Philippe Coutinho was sold to Barcelona for a fee of £142 million, covering the costs of both Van Dijk’s signing and Naby Keita’s arrival next summer. Although when you take into account the set yearly budgets, Liverpool certainly have a lot left over to spend.
It’s been accepted for a while that the Brazilian would leave for the Camp Nou, however Liverpool anticipated that they would have him until the summer. Such was the former Internazionale playmaker’s desire to move combined with the Blaugrana’s willingness to spend such a fee to get him, the move was brought forward.
Now this leaves Liverpool in somewhat of a quandary, the Reds watched transfer deadline day unfold without a sniff of any incomings at Anfield, the club made their decision earlier in the window that unless Keita’s arrival could be brought forward there would be no further business.
In the current market this makes sense, there isn’t a need for a first-team replacement for Coutinho immediately, especially with Adam Lallana returning to full-fitness, though the drop in quality from the departure is sizable.
The first half of the 2017/18 season saw the Brazilian midfielder play arguably his best football for the Merseyside club, he returned from seeing a summer move collapse and was exquisite as Klopp’s team cemented a place in the top four at the expense of Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.
This is a spot they still hold, yet with Spurs the visitors to Anfield on Sunday the gap between the two teams is just two points. It’s a precarious position to be in and the loss of Coutinho’s individual quality could make the difference.
Had Keita arrived then there would be a far greater degree of balance in the team than before the window, there are no problems going forward for the Reds, however prior to January both the defence and midfield were areas of weakness.
Van Dijk’s arrival boosts the defence unquestionably, yet the midfield has merely been weakened. Jordan Henderson is reliable enough but is often made to look a lot better by the work of Emre Can, a player who will likely leave for Juventus on a free transfer.
Coutinho provided a spark from midfield; moments of magic he produced could win Liverpool matches, without a replacement this is now gone for the remainder of the season at least.
The fight for Champions League qualification will be extremely close, Chelsea have started to slip whilst Spurs appear to be hitting form, Manchester United have lacked a spark for much of the season but have actually been very consistent.
Arsenal are the weakest of this group of teams, but there is no way to predict the impact the arrivals of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will have on their results.
Liverpool have sat still and that could cost them, if there is an injury to one of their forward line then all of a sudden there is a problem, with Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge both leaving, there isn’t a great deal of creative depth.
How Klopp manages this situation will be interesting, they may well find a system that settles and brings positive results, however it’s difficult to see the Brazilian’s absence not making their life more difficult as the season draws to a close.
Written by Chris Winterburn
Follow Chris on Twitter @cmwinterburn
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