Liverpool will clinch the title sooner or later but attention is already turning to how Jurgen Klopp can build on this season’s success. Is more squad depth required?
Jurgen Klopp gave an upbeat assessment of Liverpool’s performance against Everton in his post-match interview with Sky Sports, talking up the intensity of the encounter and praising his side’s defensive display.
Their Premier League title triumph remains an inevitability, of course. If Manchester City drop points to Burnley on Monday, they could even clinch it against Crystal Palace two days later. But while Klopp was pleased enough with a point at Goodison Park, this display was in many ways a continuation of Liverpool’s stuttering form before the lockdown.
Liverpool only won two of their final six games before the coronavirus outbreak, remember, and as in the defeats to Watford and Chelsea and the Champions League loss away to Atletico Madrid back in February, they struggled to create clear chances against Everton.
In fact, over the course of the 90 minutes at Goodison Park, Liverpool only mustered three shots on target – their second-fewest in a Premier League game all season. Klopp admitted they were lucky that Tom Davies did not win it for Everton when his angled shot hit the post in the closing stages.
“I thought Everton deserved to win,” said Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher afterwards. “You can talk about Liverpool having the possession, but it’s about what you create and the chances that you make. Everton allowed Liverpool to have possession, so that was easy for them, but when you get that much possession in the opposition half, it’s about what you can do with it.”
Sadio Mane proved a handful for his markers as he so often does. Naby Keita provided moments of penetration from midfield. But there was little else in the way of creativity. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s deliveries were not as precise as usual and there was no Andrew Robertson on the other flank.
Liverpool’s central midfielders – Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Keita, and later Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Georginio Wijnaldum – only created one scoring chance between them, according to Opta. It’s not the first time that they have lacked invention from that area of the pitch against a deep-lying opponent, and it’s an issue they may need to address in the summer.
The biggest miss at Goodison Park, however, was undoubtedly Mohamed Salah. The Egyptian was not deemed fit enough to start – or, as it transpired, even to make an appearance from the bench – allowing January signing Takumi Minamino to make his full Premier League debut.
The 25-year-old showed plenty of desire, flashing one early shot wide and covering more ground than any other Liverpool player in the first half. But he didn’t make it out for the second and his replacement, Oxlade-Chamberlain, did not make much of an impact either.
Rarely, if ever, did either player make the kind of runs in behind that make Salah such a nightmare to defend against, and when they did get on the ball in dangerous areas, Everton were quick to drive them away from goal.
It should come as little surprise that Liverpool were not at their potent best, of course.
They have earned the right to ease up this season and they will not be the only side who take time to get back up to speed after the three-month lay-off. A trip to Goodison Park is rarely an easy assignment, either, especially when Everton show such impressive resilience.
But as attention begins to turn to how Liverpool can build on this season, how they can strengthen on the back of their record-breaking success, this performance was a timely reminder of their issues with squad depth.
“The front three are as good as anyone in Europe but whenever one of them is out, there is a massive drop-off,” said Carragher.
“That’s why Liverpool need to strengthen the front three.
“Divock Origi is a legend for Liverpool as he’s scored big goals at big moments, but he doesn’t quite have the quality. Is Minamino part of the front three? Not for me.
“The front three are very robust and don’t miss many games, but if Liverpool were to lose one of them, especially the two wide players, for a lengthy amount of time, then they could have a real problem next season.”
It presents a conundrum for Klopp. He will still be confident that there is a lot more to come from Minamino. The Japanese international possesses great talent, as he showed at RB Salzburg, and will be stronger next season having had time to settle in his new surroundings.
But Klopp will also be aware of the need for further reinforcements. Liverpool’s interest in the Chelsea-bound Timo Werner was no secret, but it is not easy to attract players of sufficient calibre who know they are unlikely to usurp Mane, Salah and Roberto Firmino for a regular starting spot. The right balance is difficult to strike.
“Once again, you’re talking about the harmony in the team,” added Liverpool legend John Barnes on Sky Sports.
“You’re talking about a world-class player who is going to want to play and every week and if he’s not going to play every week, is that going to upset the spirit in the camp? You’ve got to be careful. I know Jurgen doesn’t like to have lots of superstars in the team because keeping them happy can be problematic.”
It’s why the summer ahead will be a challenging one for Liverpool. For now, the priority remains to finish what they started and enjoy the hard-earned celebrations that follow. After that, however, there is work to do to ensure they stay at the top next season and beyond.