Ian Doyle examines the development of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool squad in the most recent Blood Red as four players get ready to leave.
They often present a particularly challenging balancing act, as anyone who has been to a shared leaving party at their workplace can attest. After all, there will always be some people who are more well-liked than others.
This afternoon, as Anfield prepares to bid farewell to four players who each had a unique role to play in Jurgen Klopp’s first great Liverpool team’s record-breaking success, perhaps will be the case.
According to what happened at the King Power Stadium on Monday night, Roberto Firmino will receive the most love from fans, at least in terms of their vocal support. However, there will also be unending admiration for vice-captain James Milner, who is consistently dependable and frequently underappreciated, as well as a recognition that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita’s contributions would have been greater but for untimely and serious injury setbacks.
Their departure further severes the connection between the Liverpool team that won the Champions League in 2019 and then went on to win a first championship in 30 years while also ensuring the Reds became World champions for the first time.
In fact, of the 24 players who made at least one league appearance that season, at least half won’t be playing for the team when the new season begins. Furthermore, 12 of the 23 players who were on the squad for the victory over Flamengo in the FIFA Club World Cup in December 2019 will no longer be there.
With Joe Gomez now the only player signed during the tenure of the Northern Irishman still at the club, the departures of Milner and Firmino have furtheyr distanced Liverpool from the Brendan Rodgers era.
On the other hand, time does not wait. And if assembling a winning team is one of the biggest management challenges, knowing when to begin dismantling the team and assembling another successful side is an even bigger challenge.
But Klopp has long come to terms with the facts. He’s already said, “We won’t be together forever. It is as it is. We need to come up with a solution if somebody wants to go somewhere else. All of these types of issues must be resolved if we want to locate someone from another club. All of the players are crucial because they are Liverpool players and can make a real difference when they start or are substituted.”
Few Liverpool managers have been able to create more than one winning squad, largely because it takes time in the coaching chair and a successful team before creating another.
Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley, two legendary Anfield managers, found it difficult. Shankly went without a trophy for seven years, from 1966 to 1973, while Paisley struggled for 18 months, finishing fifth in 1981 after six years in the top two and then falling to 12th by Boxing Day the following year before it all came together and Liverpool won the title. However, it was helpful that they simultaneously won the League Cup and a third European Cup. However, both managers gave up on their first initiatives to rebuild. It took some time.
Obviously, the four players who will say goodbye today are no longer part of Liverpool, who have moved on. Firmino has started just one game since the World Cup in December, Oxlade-Chamberlain has only made two brief appearances since early February, Keita hasn’t been seen since being replaced at halftime at Crystal Palace at the end of that month, Keita hasn’t played for more than 25 minutes in a game in a single game just three times since January.
Cody Gakpo, who joined from PSV Eindhoven in January, has taken Firmino’s place as the attacking leader, while Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keita have been pushed to the sidelines by the rise of teenager Stefan Bajcetic and the development of young players Harvey Elliott and Curtis Jones.
And that’s all before the anticipated summer hiring drive. Two prominent midfielders are anticipated, with the possibility of a third. With a new goalkeeper and center-back a possibility, there might be more adjustments made to the squad as a whole. But change is unavoidable and will eventually occur.
Nothing endures without end. And even though this afternoon’s tearful Anfield farewell serves as a reminder of a heyday in Liverpool’s history, it also serves as a preview of what manager Jurgen Klopp hopes is about to happen.