Liverpool cannot afford to spend their way out of this mess

When the 2022–23 Premier League season began, the FiveThirtyEight Club Soccer Prediction Model Gave Liverpool the second best chance of winning the title. After five months and more than 20 matchweeks, however, the Reds are ninth in the table, ahead of Brentford, newly promoted Fulham, and Brighton & Hove Albion, and the model gives them less than a 1 per cent chance of domestic glory.

At the same time last season, Liverpool are in third place, nine points behind eventual champions Manchester City, but with a game in hand. Model Loved City – And finally proved – but Liverpool played almost flawless football from that point on, buoyed by the signing of former Porto forward and Colombia national team superstar Luis Diaz in the winter transfer window. Díaz signed, by and large, One of the great masterstrokes Premier League winter signings in history: his non-penalty expected goals and expected assists per 90 minutes (npxG+xAG/90) Tied for ninth (with Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez) among players with at least 11 starts.

Of course, the Reds ultimately fell agonizingly short in their pursuit of a record-tying 20th English top-flight title – Thanks to an Aston Villa collapse — but the brilliant business of their winter transfer gave them a chance to punch.

The same cannot be said this season, despite the recent lure of Dutch forward Cody Gakpo — one of Europe’s most exciting young attacking talents, and one of the breakout stars of the 2022 World Cup. Away from PSV Eindhoven. As good as Gakpo is right now (and he may eventually be world-class), it’s too little, too late. Furthermore, Liverpool’s issues don’t lie with its forward line – they are (mostly) its midfield (and a Inability to prevent opponents from scoring the first goal).

To put it mildly, Liverpool’s midfield is a mess. It’s a sad combination of being very old and many injured. Club captain Jordan Henderson – whose presence at Liverpool has been at once stuffed (unfairly) and decorated – probably never intended to play as many minutes as he did in his age-32 season. The same goes for the maestro Thiago Alcántara and the destroyer Fabinho, who are both on the wrong side of 29.

A year ago, those three comprised the best midfields in world football – a combination that (more or less) led Liverpool to the pinnacle of an unprecedented quadruple. As such, they each played more than 2,300 minutes in all competitions, which is a lot of minutes for any player, let alone players in their 30s (or closer). It’s impossible to know what manager Jurgen Klopp was thinking at the start of the season, but it’s also somewhat unbelievable to think that he planned to play the elder statesmen in his midfield as much as he’s been forced to this season. However, long-term injuries to Curtis Jones, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and the loanee Arthur have given Klopp precious few options other than a return.

Signing a midfielder during the transfer window (which ends on January 31) makes sense — perhaps more so than signing a forward, even with Diaz and fellow forward Diogo Jota sidelined by long-term injuries of their own — but at this point, Liverpool are in the market to improve their fortunes. Fingers not dipped. And it just might Liverpool cannot be fixed (At least not this season). When a team relies on a strong press – meaning, when a team relies on defending from the front (Diaz and Jota are two excellent pressing forwards, but have been out for months) – and the press is broken, it builds. Midfield work, and back line work, very difficult.

So Liverpool’s season is over? Not exactly. The league title is almost certainly out of touch, and the same can be said for a top-4 finish, which would be borderline financially devastating – Champions League qualification is worth tens of millions of dollars that clubs can use to reinvest in squads and facilities. , making them more attractive to potential future signings. But the Reds are still alive in the FA Cup and Champions League. Klopp’s teams have historically been monsters in knockout tournaments – Liverpool have reached the final in three of the past five Champions League campaigns, winning one, and won the FA Cup last season – so silverware is still a possibility. But without signing a midfielder (or two, or three), that prospect is dwindling by the day.

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