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What Thiago did before win over Fulham emphasizes biggest issue Liverpool need to fix



What Thiago did before win over Fulham emphasizes biggest issue Liverpool need to fix

The sight of Thiago Alcantara pitch-side at Anfield on Wednesday was a brief reminder of what Liverpool will miss between now and the end of the season.

As his team-mates went through their pre-match warm-ups for the visit of Fulham, Thiago was instead permitted to stand on the sidelines where the only passes he could be seen playing were to his young son with goalkeeper coach Claudio Taffarel.

Thiago’s campaign is over and he will play no part in the final four games against Brentford, Leicester, Aston Villa and Southampton after suffering a recurrence of a hip flexor issue that has troubled him for the last few months. A minor operation is now required to correct the issue meaning Jurgen Klopp will be unable to count upon one of his most experienced and pedigreed midfielders as the outside battle for a place in the top four goes on.

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Having already missed over three months of action for other injuries across the course of the campaign, the setback is a bitter one for both Thiago and his manager. Fitness troubles have never been too far away where the Spain international’s career on Merseyside has been concerned but the latest issue comes at a time when the club and their recruitment team are weighing up exactly what is needed this coming summer with regards to a significant restructuring of their midfield department.

By the time the end of the season comes, Thiago will have featured in just 30 of Liverpool’s 52 games and his total after three seasons at Anfield will stand at 97. During his three years on Merseyside, Klopp’s men have played 167 times, meaning the former Bayern Munich man has been absent for 70 fixtures. A handful of domestic cup games aside, – when Thiago would have been a big contender to have been rested anyway – it paints the picture of a fragile performer unable to stay fit. Perhaps that was never more obvious than before the finals of both the Carabao Cup and Champions League last season.

For the domestic cup win over Chelsea, Thiago was cruelly left in tears after failing the latest of fitness tests while he was forced to undertake a pain-killing injection in his toes to ensure he was cleared to play in Paris 12 months ago.

Those figures, however, pale in comparison to Naby Keita, who, after five years as a Liverpool player, has turned out 129 times for a team who have played 277 games during that period. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s numbers have seen him feature 146 times from 333 matches during his own tenure, while Arthur Melo’s disastrous loan spell has seen him play for just 13 minutes of the 4-1 loss to Napoli in September.

Arthur aside, those figures are of course skewed by the fact that none of that trio would have been played in every game by Klopp had they been available ever-presents, but the lack of durability and dependability has, at times, overburdened the likes of Fabinho, who has played 86 times more than Keita, despite arriving in the same transfer window in 2018.

That is the knock-on effect of having so many players unable to be called upon at certain junctures. While Klopp has always tried to rest and rotate where possible, the absence of players like Thiago, Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain has likely led, indirectly, to the twanging of muscles for others in the squad across the last few years.

Influential website Transfermarkt states that Keita has been absent for 83 Liverpool games through injury, while Thiago has sat out 60 and Oxlade-Chamberlain has missed 88, nearly half of that is owed to a serious knee injury sustained in a Champions League semi-final against Roma five years ago.

The departure of James Milner, who is set to join Brighton on a free transfer, means Liverpool are going to lose as many as four players who are currently housed in the ‘midfielders’ section of the squad list on the club’s official website. Stefan Bajcetic’s rapid rise and Trent Alexander-Arnold’s new-found status as a roving full-back-midfielder will help balance out the surplus to an extent but the need for quality, durable additions is an absolute must this summer.

It’s why interest in the likes of Florentino Luis at Benfica and Sporting Lisbon’s Manuel Ugarte makes sense, even if it remains to be seen if Liverpool will act decisively over either. No player has featured more for Benfica than defensive midfielder Luis this term with the 23-year-old having made 50 appearances in total. Ugarte is another defensive-minded operator who sources in Portugal have described as a “combat vehicle” in the centre of the park. It is these sorts of metrics that might be needed as much as quality on the ball.

For Thiago, speculation linking him with a shock return to Barcelona is likely to be given the short shrift inside the AXA Centre. He will be entering the final year of his deal when the new term gets underway and his undoubted class will be more valuable for the following 12 months than any cut-price sale for a player who will be 33 before the end of his deal.

But rather than lamenting the absence of a rare breed of midfielder, is there a school of thought that suggests his status within the squad is instead altered? Should the 2020 signing now be viewed through the lens of being a luxury player who does not need to be over-exposed next term? Used sparingly, he could be a potent weapon for Klopp going forward.

For that to be the case, though, Liverpool’s recruitment department will need to ensure battle-hardened, elite-level midfielders are brought in to cover the almost mass exodus in the engine room department.


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James Milner has just exposed major transfer problem facing Liverpool and Jürgen Klopp

Liverpool was always going to have a busy summer transfer window ahead of them — but the latest development has made it even more of a challenge.

News emerged on Thursday that James Milner is set to leave the club as a free agent in the summer. As per the Liverpool ECHO, the 37-year-old is on the verge of agreeing a deal to join Premier League rivals Brighton.

Milner has been with Liverpool for the last eight years, and his exit, should the move be completed, will be a major loss to the club, Jürgen Klopp and the players. But he is not the only one who will be heading for the exit door.

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Roberto Firmino is already confirmed to be leaving the club this summer when his contract expires. He joined Liverpool in 2015, the same summer as Milner, and will also be a great loss to the Reds and Klopp.

Liverpool has three other players who are currently out of contract this summer as things stand. They are Naby Keïta, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adrián.

For the moment, it looks like all three will be joining Firmino and Milner in leaving the club as free agents in the summer. And they’re not the only ones, either.

Arthur Melo is near-certain to leave Liverpool this summer and return to Juventus following his loan spell with the Reds. While he has only made one appearance and played just 13 minutes so far since arriving last summer, he would still be one fewer option for Klopp to choose from next season.

James Milner and Jürgen Klopp of Liverpool

(Image: Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images)

So that’s six players who are looking increasingly likely to be leaving the club for absolutely nothing in one summer. Whichever way you look at it, questions have to be asked about what Liverpool are planning for the future.

You can’t judge the club completely until the summer transfer window has concluded and Liverpool’s business is done and dusted. That will not be the case for nearly three months.

Liverpool could be losing six players for nothing, but if all of them are replaced in some way in the transfer market then not many issues will be raised at the outset. Even so, there will not be many defenses that letting six players leave in one window for nothing is the best business practice.

It must be remembered that Liverpool is no stranger to letting players run down their contracts and leave for free. Emre Can was the first big player to do so back in 2018, and he was followed by Alberto Moreno a year later, then by Adam Lallana in 2020.

That’s not all, either. Gini Wijnaldum left for nothing in the summer of 2021, and just last year, Divock Origi was another free agent exit.

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Based on all of this, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see Liverpool willing to let players leave on a free transfer when their contracts expire. What’s staggering about this summer, though, is that it’s six players who are mostly all involved in the first-team squad.

Do all six players play every week? No, but that’s not the point.

Klopp will need a big squad for next season, with the current group of players arguably smaller than it needed to be, especially when you factor in the injuries that have been suffered over the years. So if you’re automatically losing six players without bringing any money through the door, that automatically puts the club on the back foot.

We’re at the point now where it’s too late to reconsider keeping some of the players who are out of contract this summer. What matters most for Liverpool is having a plan for how to rebuild the squad going forward.

That will need to involve a significant overhaul of the playing squad, with several new arrivals needing to arrive. But it’s also important to bring in quality players who are capable of performing the way Klopp wants them to, rather than just signing individuals for the sake of it.