Premier League preview: Liverpool plans rest on transfers
Klopp must keep his playmaker and land one of his summer targets as he plots assault on title
A dark cloud has appeared on the horizon at Anfield in the past couple of weeks as Barcelona try to poach playmaker Philippe Coutinho, a player Jurgen Klopp believes is indispensable. The saga could take much of the wind out of Liverpool's sails as they attempt to build on last season's encouraging campaign.
The Reds scraped into the top four last season, finishing one point ahead of Arsenal and producing some vibrant football. The question is whether the team's weaknesses – vulnerability at the back and a lack of killer instinct – have been addressed over the summer months.
Arguably the most important action over the next few weeks will be off the field rather than on it.
It's a mark of how uncertain things are at Anfield that BBC pundit Matthew Upson believes Liverpool will win the title if Coutinho stays and Klopp signs Virgil van Dijk and Naby Keita before the transfer window closes. Most of his colleagues can't see the Reds finishing higher than fourth.
"If ever a team's season depended on their performance not on the pitch, but in the last two weeks of the transfer window, then it is Liverpool's," agrees the Daily Mirror. "Clearly, they have serious work to do here, in keeping one massively influential player, and signing at least two more.
"With Coutinho secured and motivated by a place in the Brazil team, then Jurgen Klopp really needs to sign Virgil van Dijk, or someone very similar… If he does arrive, he could become one of the key signings in Liverpool's recent history, even for £60m. With a secure defence, Klopp really can start plotting a title assault for the Reds."
Klopp has refused to consider wholesale changes, however, and refuses to look at any alternatives to Van Dijk and Keita. The "success of that approach will be revealed once the transfer window closes and Champions League commitments arrive", says Andy Hunter of The Guardian.
"For a manager who craves consistency and prizes stability, however, the existing foundations are more important, and encouraging, than what is currently out of reach… The pursuit of quality over quantity is another indication of recent progress at Anfield. Liverpool possess a squad fit for Champions League qualification, one that finished above Arsenal and Manchester United last season and produced some exhilarating performances when emerging as Chelsea's closest challengers before Christmas."
Reasons to be cheerful
Klopp obviously knows how to motivate his players for the big games and the Reds were undefeated against the other top seven sides last season. It was their sloppy performances against the lesser teams, and the loss of Sadio Mane to the African Cup of Nations, that undid their title push.
This season the challenge will be to prevent any mistakes. "The team showed they were good enough to compete for a trophy," says Phil Thompson of Sky Sports, who is unconcerned by the transfer issues.
The signing of Mohamed Salah earlier in the window could prove crucial. "To have Sadio Mane on one wing and Salah on the other, to have such pace in the side and two players who can go past players in the box is such an asset," he said. "Our title challenge failed when Mane was missing and I think Salah will be really interesting because he's got great pace and makes intelligent runs in behind. He will be a huge asset."
Goals could also be an issue. Liverpool are blessed with speedy forwards, but "they lack a true goalscorer if Daniel Sturridge doesn't stay fit", says BT Sport.
But "Jurgen Klopp enjoys getting the best out of the players he has and the squad will have benefitted after a second pre-season with the German".