Advising Jurgen Klopp on how to improve his Liverpool side is a little like offering guidance to Leonardo da Vinci on how to best add finishing touches to the Mona Lisa.
By any standard, Liverpool’s 2021-22 campaign was astonishing. Defeat to Real Madrid was only their fourth in 63 games. They scored 147 goals across all competitions, were miserly in defence and took a quadruple bid as far as their penultimate game, ultimately reducing rivals to the most hollow jibe that they ‘only won two major trophies’.
But there is no doubt that the two they most wanted were also the ones to elude them, with the Premier League lost by a point and the Champions League by a single goal to Real Madrid.
So, how does Klopp find that extra few percentage points to take his side to an even higher level?
Finding a more clinical edge
Liverpool won two of their three finals this season, too, although strangely they never scored in open play in any of them. Klopp and his analysts must decide if this is a quirk against high class opponents like Chelsea and Real, or a habit which will be addressed ahead of the next showpiece occasion. This sounds like a classic ‘First World Problem’.
Liverpool were the superior side in the Carabao Cup, FA Cup and Champions League finals. In the first two, they did not suffer for their failure to turn so many chances into goals because of Klopp’s foresight preparing his players for dead-ball situations. The price was paid in Paris, and as much as Courtois deserves the credit there was a lack of killer instinct.
Liverpool’s prolific finisher, Salah, did not convert as many chances in the second half of the season, and the next stage of Luis Diaz’s development will be to upgrade his chance to goal ratio. Sadio Mane delivered in the latter stages of the campaign. Klopp’s use of him as number 9 hinted as to where the next stage of the evolution will be - the profile of striker needed - regardless of whether Mane stays or goes. With Roberto Firmino entering the final year of his deal, Liverpool need to decide on his permanent successor - preferably someone with a higher goal return.
Klopp has had more central options this season, helped by Thiago Alcantara featuring more regularly. The injury concerns to Fabinho and Thiago before the final - and Klopp’s determination to include them because of the stature of the game -reflects the gulf in performance level between the preferred starters and the understudies.
Naby Keita would have stepped in had Thiago not come through his vigorous pre-match warm-up. Keita has been more productive this season, and Klopp has never stopped championing him. But after four years at Liverpool, he has never become the ‘x-factor’ midfielder anticipated when he joined amid rave reviews for his Bundesliga performances.
Keita is heading into the final year of his Liverpool deal, so a dilemma looms for the club as to whether to renew or upgrade. The club’s data crunchers will need to spruce up a dossier to offer a compelling argument Keita has provided a suitable return on the handsome investment of £52million. His wayward shot in the closing moment of the final, skewing horribly high and wide when well positioned to test Courtois, sums up his Anfield career - it promised so much more.
Beyond him, James Milner is in the twilight of his career even if does get another one year deal, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has barely featured lately. Liverpool’s first defeat to Madrid this month was when 22-year-old Monaco midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni indicated his preference to move to the Bernabeu. That Liverpool were interested demonstrated which position they are looking at, which is why they will keep being linked with Borussia Dortmund’s England midfielder Jude Bellingham.
A move for Bellingham is thought unlikely this summer as the German side will not countenance another high profile departure having sold Erling Haaland to Manchester City. It may be a case of watch this space in 2023. Liverpool have been patient before when it comes to getting the right player rather than any.
Turning works in progress into the finished product
Every summer he has been at Anfield, Klopp has heard a clamour for new faces. Every summer he has suggested the solutions may be within the squad. Klopp has been the master of turning players of potential into world class superstars.
Philippe Coutinho, Salah and Mane may argue they would have reached their level under any coach, but the misfortunes of those who recently left the club underlines Klopp’s influence. High among current projects are Harvey Elliott, Curtis Jones and the incoming Fabio Carvalho, the ex-Fulham youngster arriving to join the senior squad and sure to feature in the Premier League if he settles and makes an impression in pre-season. Any of these players can change the dynamic of Liverpool’s middle three. It seems to have been forgotten that Elliott started the season as a first pick, his campaign ruined by the serious injury he suffered in September.
Jones is sometimes unfairly judged to the standard of senior players - that often happens to developing home-grown players who are not Steven Gerrard - but he has time on his side.
Most exciting will be the development of Diaz. There was expectation Diaz would contribute immediately when he joined in January, but not that he would acclimatise to Klopp’s system so quickly.
It is mouth-watering to think what the Colombian will be like after a full pre-season, particularly when he has had longer on the training pitch to work on his finishing. Do not be surprised to see him high up the Premier League ranking for goals and assists next year. Should Liverpool reach a fourth Champions League final under Klopp, they may find Diaz most hungry and ready to banish the agonising memories of Paris.