In his regular column for Football Whispers, former Liverpool forward Paul Walsh gives us his thoughts on his old club and tells us whether he thinks they can end their long wait to become champions again. Here Paul gives us his unique insight into how he thinks Jurgen Klopp’s men will fare and where they might need to strengthen as we head into the second half of the season.
Back at the start of the season I was asked if I thought my old club Liverpool could finally end their 26 year hoodoo and win the Premier League, I said I didn’t think so, and from what I’ve seen so far this season I have no reason to change my mind.
In the summer I thought the main title contenders would be Manchester City and Chelsea and I’m sticking by my guns as we reach the end of the first half of the season. Yes, I also said that I thought Manchester United would be involved in the shake-up too, and that doesn’t look like it will happen now; but as far as Liverpool are concerned I still think it’s a step too far to expect them to win the league this season.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see my old side finally being crowned champions again like they were during my time at Anfield, but I just don’t think they are strong enough across the whole pitch to mount a serious title bid and much of that can be put down to Jurgen Klopp’s activity in the transfer market – or lack of it up to now.
I think a top-four finish is about as high as they can expect to go this season and I put that firmly down to not having the strength in depth in all departments that a team needs over a long and gruelling season if they are to win the title – but the area that worries me most is between the sticks.
For me the biggest concern has to be at the back and I think most people in the game and ex-players simply feel their goalkeeper just isn’t good enough. Personally, I still can’t believe Jurgen Klopp didn’t go for Joe Hart when he became available after he fell out of favour at Manchester City as I think he is still a top-class ‘keeper with plenty to offer and would have made the team much more solid and stable at the back.
New signing Loris Karius has failed to impress me so far this season, particularly his display in the recent defeat at Bournemouth, where I think he was responsible for at least two of those goals. I heard someone say that if that had been Simon Mignolet making errors like that he would have been hung out to dry and I totally agree, but that’s how unfair the game can be. Quite often a new guy can come into a team and get away with mistakes if they continue to win games, and that is what happened with Karius at the start of the campaign, but that can soon change when you start losing games.
I’m convinced Joe Hart would have improved Liverpool immensely and I was really surprised they weren’t sniffing around when clubs like Everton were showing an interest in the Manchester City man, whose experience for club and country would make him a huge asset in my opinion. I know Liverpool aren’t in the Champions League, and sometimes that can be a factor when you want to try and sign a top international player like he is, but Torino aren’t in it either and it didn’t stop him going there.
Liverpool have certainly been exciting and good to watch, not just for ex-players like myself, but for the neutrals too, but Klopp himself summed it up when he said recently that they need to be a little more consistent throughout the side and I totally agree with that sentiment.
Obviously he’s had to chop and change his side from time-to-time with players like Joel Matip, Adam Lallana, Philippe Coutinho and Dejan Lovren being injured, but when you’re Liverpool Football Club you’ve got to be able to cope with the loss of one or two good players and take it in your stride. The key is, when a player is out you have a quality replacement waiting in the wings to come in for him – that way the impact isn’t so noticeable.
When I was at Anfield we always made sure we had a number of quality players for every position on the field in case of injuries or a drop in form. It wasn’t necessarily like the squad system we have today with 30 or so players on the staff; but I seemed to be constantly battling with the likes of Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish for my place in the side and then, later on, Peter Beardsley and John Aldridge, which meant that ultimately I slipped down the pecking order and often found myself out of the team on the bench.
Looking at this Liverpool team right now they do seem a little on the light side and could do with strengthening at the back, but the problem these days is convincing a player to come to a club even though they might not always be first choice and be prepared to fight for their place and step into the breach and take their chance when needed.
The secret is finding that player who is hungry enough to come in and try and take the place of another first team regular, thus creating some healthy competition for a number of key positions throughout the side. For me, with Liverpool so far this season it’s the full back positions, maybe another centre-half, not to mention the goalkeeper where they are lacking somewhat and that’s why they will ultimately fall short come the end of the season. But as we all know there’s still a long way to go.