With the January transfer window quickly approaching, speculation and rumors are flying around England’s elite teams. All eyes are on Jurgen Klopp and who he will target to improve his side for the season’s second term. As Liverpool look to continue impressive Europa League and Capital One Cup runs, while also fulfilling top four ambitions, the newly appointed manager must improve certain aspects of his current squad during his first transfer window at the helm.
Starting in the attack, arguably the largest hole in Liverpool’s lineup is the left forward position. Alberto Moreno has been a consistent threat down the flank, creating the most chances of any Premier League defender this season (31), but the fullback needs a capable attacker in front of him to play off of. While Philippe Coutinho certainly has the ability and speed to play out wide, his creativity and passing is best utilized in a number 10 role, as displayed in his two-goal performance at Stamford Bridge.
To fill this position, Liverpool have been heavily linked with one of Klopp’s former men, Kevin Grosskreutz. Grosskreutz was a versatile and successful player during Klopp’s reign in Dortmund, playing every position for him and starting in the 2013 Champions League final against Bayern Munich. Currently on loan at Turkish side Galatasaray but unavailable for any competitive matches until the New Year due to a paperwork error, the German has publically expressed discontent with his situation, rendering a transfer imminent.
Grosskreutz registered 23 goals in his time at the Westfalenstadion, and his work as a utility player means he could fill potential gaps at fullback as well; long-term injuries to youngsters Jon Flanagan and Joe Gomez currently leave Liverpool void of natural substitutes for the outside backs.
A position already hotly contended at Anfield is the center of the pitch. Skipper Jordan Henderson made a lucrative return to league play last weekend, and the battle to work alongside him has intensified with connections being drawn between Liverpool and another Dortmund player, Ilkay Gundogan.
The German box-to-box midfielder surely outclasses current options Joe Allen, Lucas Leiva, James Milner, and his developing compatriot Emre Can. Can has been an early favorite for Klopp and shown flashes of brilliance on the ball, notably a back heel pass to set up Liverpool’s third goal at the Etihad last month and an incredible outside of the foot bender to assist Daniel Sturridge in the 6-1 rout of Southampton.
However, Gundogan’s experience for the German national team and BVB trumps Can’s potential for the time being. His eye for goal would be a valuable asset in the final third, and his creativity could lead to exceptional playmaking behind Coutinho in Klopp’s favored 4-2-3-1 formation. Should Gundogan undergo a move to Merseyside, results may be reminiscent of the club’s previous number 8.
Moving to the net, the Reds have been linked with Stoke City goalkeeper Jack Butland as a potential replacement for current shot stopper Simon Mignolet. Mignolet has been known for his frequent and baffling mistakes, most recently holding the ball for 22 seconds in a Europa League match against Bordeaux and missing a clear cut punch from a corner in this weekend’s Premier League tie with West Brom; both of these errors led directly to conceded goals.
In light of these errors, the fact that the Belgian holds the most clean sheets (13) this year of any keeper in England’s top flight cannot be overlooked. While his decision-making and distribution skills can certainly be questioned, Mignolet’s ability as a shot stopper is undeniable and adequate for a team with top four ambitions. Klopp’s focus should not center on replacing the Belgian this winter, but rather wait until July to pursue a top class goalkeeper as the Reds prepare for a title challenge next season.
Perhaps the most speculated transfer involves the signing of yet another Dortmund player, center back Neven Subotic. Having fallen down the pecking order under new boss Thomas Tuchel, the Serbian is rumored to be eager for a reunion with former manager Jurgen Klopp. Whether or not the German club is prepared to let Subotic depart for Anfield remains to be seen, but the BVB man would be quite a signing for the Reds.
Although Mamadou Sakho is predicted to be back in contention shortly, renewing a solidified partnership with Martin Skrtel, third string center back Dejan Lovren picked up a potentially serious injury on the weekend. Lovren’s absence and no guarantee of Sakho’s fitness leaves only the aging Kolo Toure to fill in at center back. Despite a brilliant display against Real Madrid last season, the former Arsenal ‘Invincible’ is certainly in the descent of his career as he approaches 35, and recent injuries have brought his reliability into question.
Should Klopp be able to bring Subotic to Liverpool, he could certainly fill defensive injury vacancies and quickly contend for first team action given his previous success under ‘the Normal One’.
With Fenway Sports Group reportedly giving Klopp the green light for winter transfers, Grosskreutz should top his list, followed by defensive reinforcement through Neven Subotic. Goalkeeping woes can wait until July for resolution, though the Reds must be hesitant in renewing Mignolet’s contract, a negotiation recent reports suggest may be underway. World class talent Ilkay Gundogan should certainly be pursued, but only for the right price - such a highly-rated player will likely require a hefty fee, and considering previous boss Brendan Rodgers’ spending mistakes, Liverpool must be cautious financially.
January squad improvements may be key to the European and domestic success Merseyside has been deprived of over the past decade. Expectations are high on the Kop, and Klopp’s transfer decisions have the leverage to make or break Liverpool dreams.