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Transfer Rater: Mascherano to Liverpool

Transfers
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 By Dave Usher

Liverpool in desperate need of backup for Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane

After knocking at Crystal Palace's door all game, Sadio Mane finally found a way through at Anfield.
Alison Bender and Mark Ogden discuss why Liverpool are struggling to keep their best players.

Jurgen Klopp attempted to convince supporters this week that even if no further signings are made his squad is strong enough to compete on all fronts. Few are buying it, though.

Liverpool's need for a centre-back is well known, but Saturday's 1-0 win over Crystal Palace highlighted another squad weakness.

Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are outstanding and Liverpool will be a potent force whenever the speedy wide duo are in tandem, but they can't play every game. Salah was rested for Palace, and it turns out that Plan B is still the same as last season: Roberto Firmino being shunted out wide.

Let's not sugarcoat it, Firmino was awful in the first half against Palace, but he usually is when asked to play wide. He was unable to have the same kind of impact on the game he has when utilised centrally, but this is nothing new and no one should be surprised, least of all Klopp.

Virtually all of Firmino's best performances have been as a central striker and he's close to being the perfect No. 9 to make Klopp's system work. For all the attributes Daniel Sturridge has he doesn't knit the attack together in the way Firmino does with his selfless running and clever link play.

Yet instead of addressing the issue in the transfer market, Klopp seems content to use Firmino as cover for the wide positions, even though by doing so he weakens two positions.

Liverpool's squad is top heavy with centre-forwards but desperately short of wingers. Firmino is the clear first choice centre-forward but a fit Sturridge is as good a back up as there is anywhere in the Premier League. Dominic Solanke has made a promising start and appears to be next in line, meaning Klopp has Divock Origi as a fourth option and also Danny Ings who is on the way back to full fitness. Five players vying for one position.

On the flanks it's a different story, with only Mane; and Salah providing natural pace and width. There's Philippe Coutinho, too, of course, but Klopp had earmarked him for a midfield role prior to all this Barcelona nonsense that has disrupted Liverpool's start to the season.

Coutinho is a better option on the left than Firmino, but even had the wantaway Brazil international been available for the Palace game he was probably needed more in centrally anyway, where an injury to Adam Lallana has left Liverpool's middle three bereft of creativity and goals.

Perhaps Klopp envisions Coutinho splitting time between the left wing and central midfield, but if that is the case those plans surely need to be altered now. Coutinho will be a Liverpool player when the window closes but it's by no means certain that he can be trusted to perform to the standard expected.

Coutinho has always been wildly inconsistent. He started and ended last season in sparkling form, but there was a three-month spell in the middle when the "Little Magician" did a disappearing act.

That's the thing with Coutinho, for all of his undoubted brilliance he'll often have indifferent spells or games when he goes missing. Previously he'd get away with it because he'd produce a moment of magic the following week and all would be forgiven, but that was when he was the darling of the Kop. His crown has now slipped and the fans will no longer be so indulgent of his fluctuating form.

Sending Roberto Firmino out wide hurts Liverpool in two positions.

The scrutiny on Coutinho will be intense now, and any bad performance will spark accusations of sulking or not putting in the effort, when it might just be Coutinho doing what he's always done.

None of this helps Klopp, and if he's relying on Coutinho to be his third wide player then that plan probably needs to be rethought while there is still time to act.

There are players out there who are available and who would be a positive rotation option whenever Mane or Salah need a break. Take Leicester's Riyad Mahrez for example. He's available at the right price and, unlike Coutinho and some other high-profile stars looking to move clubs, Mahrez is still performing for his club and doing things the right way.

Mahrez is not known for being the hardest-working player in the Premier League and some may wonder whether he would fit into Klopp's much-vaunted gegenpress, but would that really matter?

In reality, Liverpool don't really get to play their pressing game too often. Mahrez, or a player of his type, might be a passenger away at Manchester City or Arsenal, but he'd be extremely useful in 75 percent of Liverpool's other Premier League fixtures, when the opposition sit deep and challenge the Reds to break them down. Having that extra goal-scoring wide player in the squad would allow Klopp the luxury of resting Mane or Salah for games such as last Saturday against Palace without having to worry.

For all Klopp's proclamations of squad strength, if either of Mane or Salah are injured then Liverpool are right back to where they were last season. There is still time to address the lack of depth in the squad and there are players out there who can help. Failure to do so could be the difference between Liverpool achieving something memorable this season, or once again coming up short.

Dave Usher is one of ESPN's Liverpool bloggers and the founder of LFC fanzine and website The Liverpool Way. Follow him on Twitter: @theliverpoolway.

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