A top-four finish a couple of months ago for Liverpool seemed impossible, but they managed to dig deep and secure Champions League football next season.
On the face of it, it looks like a disappointing campaign as their Premier League title defence didn’t quite go to plan, but they have managed to salvage something from it.
Given the circumstances, it’s a job well done.
Jurgen Klopp will point to the injuries of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip as to why they didn’t meet their expectations this term, but it’s too lazy to solely point the blame in that direction.
Liverpool’s attack were well below par during the second half of the season, including Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, and goals from midfield were almost nonexistent.
The shuffling of the defence disrupted the whole team somewhat, but they will be the first to admit that they shouldn’t have had to reel off five wins in a row to end the season just to finish fourth.
It’s also too lazy to suggest that if Liverpool signed an established centre-half in the January window to cover for the absence of van Dijk and Gomez the title race could have gone any differently.
The Reds signed Ozan Kabak on loan from Schalke, a low-risk deal, and Ben Davies from Preston, who didn’t feature once for Klopp’s men.
Fabinho was often deployed as a centre-back, but it wasn’t until he was played in his natural position in central midfield and Klopp trusted youngsters Nathaniel Phillips and Rhys Williams that Liverpool formed their best partnership in the heart of the defence and played their best football of the season, as a result.
Liverpool were adamant they were not going to spend big in January on a new centre-half, a notoriously hard window to find talent, even if it was going to jeopardise the league.
Klopp said at the time: “In good times everyone thinks our owners are really generous – ‘My God, big signings, whatever’ – and in bad times everyone thinks they are really tight – maybe because they are from a different country – but they are not, they are absolutely concerned about the club and success of the club.
“And that is an understanding of how we have it. They see exactly the same things I see about necessity of players and stuff – it’s not that I say ‘By the way a centre-half would be really nice’ and they say ‘Wow, a centre-half. Really? Why?’
“It is all clear, all on the table, we work on that. It is the situation and on top of that we have January, not the easiest transfer window, having not the money exactly like we want.
“It is a window where other clubs say ‘No, we have enough (money) to survive’ so we don’t do anything on our targets. It is nothing to do with worrying (about whether it affects their chances of defending their title) or not. These are the facts.
“My job is to deal with the circumstances which I always do. If the world would be in a completely normal place, we would try everything to do the right stuff now but the world is not in a normal place so I don’t know why we constantly try to treat the football like it is independent of other issues around.
“I am a football supporter but not employed here as a supporter, I am employed as a manager. As a supporter I see we need a centre-half and another club has a good one so bring him in. I understand that. My job is not that, my job is to make the players we have here as strong as possible to deal with it.
“Would one centre-half help and sort all our problems? For a game or two and then he could be injured as well. It is the trickiest situation you can imagine; you have three senior centre-halves and they are all injured. That doesn’t happen a lot but it happened. We have to deal with it and we cannot solve it on the transfer market.
“The club tries what they can but if they can’t then we have to do what we did so far: get stronger as a group, stick more together and fight against the world, fight against the circumstances, strike back with all we have and make the most special season ever of it.”
It was a hugely controversial decision at the time and Liverpool might have been near the top of the league in January, but there was a sense it wasn’t sustainable due to those injuries at the back.
There was no doubt there was some risk involved as they weren’t just surrendering their league title, they were putting a top-four finish at risk with teams bunched up at the top of the Premier League table.
But the myth that a new centre-back in January would have changed anything in the second half of the season is well…a myth.
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Getting players up to speed quickly when a player arrives in January isn’t a given and with the likes of van Dijk and Gomes returning in the summer, it would have been a short-sighted decision.
Financially, it didn’t make sense either as the Anfield hierarchy weren’t going to alter their budget in Covid times for a short term gain.
As soon as the centre-back trio were ruled out for the season, Liverpool’s goals realigned and top-four was the realistic target, although pundits still considered them title challengers. They never would have kept pace with Manchester City even if had they dipped into the transfer market with serious cash.
Granted, they made hard work of it but that wasn’t solely down to their defence.
Whether van Dijk was there, a new centre-back was there or anybody else for that matter, it’s important to note that Liverpool’s attack still underperformed.
Liverpool had been eyeing up Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig but they were waiting to trigger his £35m release clause in the summer.
The Reds had the know-how to stick with their long-term vision instead of trying to paper over the cracks in the short term for a situation that was out of their control.
And now with Champions League football under their belt, Konate on the verge of signing and the likes of van Dijk returning to the fold, Liverpool’s decision to stick with what they had has been vindicated as they look to challenge on all fronts next season.