The constant Jude Bellingham to Liverpool transfer talk has become nauseating. Every new day brings new reports claiming the Borussia Dortmund midfielder will or won’t join Liverpool in the offseason.
While one report claims Liverpool have Bellingham’s transfer in the bag, others insist the midfielder wants to join another team capable of winning silverware as soon as possible.
Liverpool have myriad problems on and off the pitch. The team has been a shambles compared to last term. The fight for four trophies took a lot out of the team and the squad hasn’t recovered.
Fenway Sports Group are seeking new investment, making it possible to overhaul the squad and continue to challenge for elite honours. The sustainable model FSG implemented is under threat and the owners are struggling to keep the team competitive in a world of Petrol-state-owned clubs willing to spend money that toe the line of Financial Fair Play.
Bellingham: “The Next Steve Gerrard”
Bellingham is seen as a must-have player for Liverpool. He is a potential captain, capable of wearing the famous No 8 shirt and becoming the natural heir apparent to Steven Gerrard – sorry Naby Keita.
Bellingham has appeared in 25 Bundesliga games for Borussia Dortmund, scoring four goals and adding four assists. He is a box-to-box midfielder, capable of playing in an attacking role or as a holding midfielder. Think of Bellingham as a hybrid of Gerrard and former Liverpool great Xabi Alonso.
According to WhoScored.com, Bellingham averages 1.1 key passes, 2.8 dribbles, 50.1 passes, 2.5 tackles, and 1.2 interceptions per Bundesliga match. His tackles and interception stats are better than those of Liverpool midfielders Fabinho and Jordan Henderson, albeit, playing in a different league.
Yet, Bellingham alone cannot fix Liverpool’s problems. Indeed, Liverpool need upgrades in multiple positions this summer.
Problems all over the pitch
The Liverpool midfield has received much of the blame this season due to the area being overlooked in recent transfer windows. However, a lack of midfield signings is understandable with the quality of youngsters Jurgen Klopp has at his disposal.
Harvey Elliott, Stefan Bajcetic, and Fabio Carvalho are all bright, young players, with two of the three starring for the Reds this term. There is still hope Curtis Jones can fulfil the potential he showed in 2019-20 despite having his development stalled by injuries. Signing a midfielder last summer would have blocked the young quartet from gaining vital match time.
Liverpool’s defence has been the biggest issue this term. Although the midfield can be blamed for a lack of protection, the likes of Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Andrew Robertson have all taken a step backwards. Van Dijk and Alexander-Arnold have been truly poor for nearly the entire campaign. The duo has lacked energy and urgency in defence.
Alexander-Arnold’s display against Manchester City at the Etihad was especially bad. Jack Grealish had his way with the Liverpool right-back, practically doing whatever he desired. City’s fourth goal, scored by Grealish, put Alexander-Arnold’s defensive weaknesses on display once more. The right-back pressed Manchester City’s defence allowing space down the left-hand side of the pitch.
Out of position, Grealish was able to play a pass to Kevin De Bruyne before receiving it back to score. Alexander-Arnold simply jogged back from unsuccessfully pressing Man City’s defence. Meanwhile, Van Dijk stood around on the goal line as City cut through Liverpool’s defence like it was Swiss cheese.
Bellingham is a building block for the future
Bellingham cannot make Alexander-Arnold play better defensively nor can the midfielder make Van Dijk try harder. The Englishman is a building block for the future. However, Liverpool must build around him to improve the team with additional high-quality players.
Several players will leave Anfield at the end of the season. James Milner is out of contract and hasn’t been offered a new deal. Roberto Firmino will leave when his contract expires, too. Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have either been injured or out of the side for most of the campaign. Both are on their way out of Anfield. Three midfield places will be open this summer, and Bellingham, as good as he is, cannot fill all three.
Liverpool require two to three midfielders to fit into the established group. Atletico Madrid’s Rodrigo De Paul is linked with a move to Anfield. The World Cup winner’s career has stalled at Atletico Madrid after joining the club in 2021 from Udinese. Adding Bellingham and De Paul is a start, but more is needed.
The decline of a dominant defensive duo
Signing a new centre-back is just as important as Liverpool signing a new midfielder. Van Dijk is declining rapidly. His nonchalant attitude once made him appear unbeatable by opposing attackers. This season, that nonchalance has made him look like a player that couldn’t care less about the team’s performance.
There was the bust-up with Milner at Old Trafford after the defence was exposed by Manchester United. It was an incident that showed cracks forming in the side. In the first half of the campaign, Van Dijk’s poor play was put down to the upcoming World Cup. His performances have not improved, although there was Liverpool’s 7-0 win over Manchester United.
According to Whoscored.com, Van Dijk averages 0.9 tackles, 1.0 interceptions, and 4.0 clearances per match. Last season, he averaged 0.5 tackles, 0.9 interceptions, and 3.1 clearances. His numbers are up slightly this season, which likely reflects Liverpool’s poor Premier League performances. More tackles may also mean he is getting caught out of position, forcing him to go in for tackles to win the ball.
Joel Matip’s race looks run at Anfield. Although he has been excellent since arriving from Schalke, time and injuries have taken their toll. Matip and Van Dijk were once a feared defensive duo. Now, Liverpool need a new centre-back capable of playing with Ibrahima Konate. With Liverpool conceding 33 goals after 28 games, only 26 goals were conceded in 38 Premier League matches in 2021-22, the defence must be held accountable for its poor play.
Competition is needed at right-back
Klopp also needs a Premier League-quality right-back to challenge Alexander-Arnold for the starting role. Joe Gomez was Liverpool’s best player against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, helping the team keep a clean sheet.
Gomez is a far better right-back than a centre-back, but his skill set is far different to Alexander-Arnold’s. Gomez is a much more solid defensive player compared to his teammate.
Calvin Ramsay was signed last summer from Aberdeen to give Alexander-Arnold competition at right-back. Injuries have kept Ramsay on the sidelines. He has made just two appearances, both in cup competitions, and reports claim the Scottish right-back will go out on loan next season.
Alexander-Arnold has one goal and two assists in the league this term. Last season, he had 12 league assists. Defensively, Alexander-Arnold is making slightly more tackles (1.5 compared to 1.3), but he is also making more fouls (0.6 compared to 0.4) per game. The offensive side of Alexander-Arnold’s game has taken the biggest hit, which has also hampered the Reds’ attack.
The attack is okay, right?
Despite all the problems, Liverpool’s attack needs the least amount of work. Yes, Firmino will leave after eight seasons this summer and Diogo Jota continues to run around the pitch like a headless chicken unable to put the ball in the back of the net. Darwin Nunez has shown plenty of promise, despite being played on the left wing rather than through the middle.
Cody Gakpo’s arrival gave Liverpool a player to assume Firmino’s position as a false No 9. Gakpo was often at his best for PSV Eindhoven on the left wing. Luis Diaz has been out since October 19, when he suffered a knee injury against Arsenal. The attacking tools are there, but Klopp must address the defensive issues to rebuild the side.
Bellingham alone won’t change Liverpool’s future. The Reds need multiple transfer signings in the offseason to improve the side. Along with fresh players, Klopp needs new squad members that are hungry and ready to run themselves into the ground for the team’s cause.
According to Transfermarkt, Liverpool have the fourth-oldest squad in the Premier League this season at 27.1 years old. Only Fulham, West Ham, and Tottenham Hotspur have older squads. The youngest squad this season belongs to Premier League leader Arsenal at 24.4 years old. The Reds are getting older and need an injection of youth, and Bellingham can bring some much-needed freshness to the squad. Yet, Klopp needs more than just one 19-year-old to turn things around at Anfield.