As Liverpool suffered another dent in their top four ambitions with defeat to Nottingham Forest, a crestfallen Jürgen Klopp looked on in frustration knowing his gamble hadn’t paid off. Granted, his side qualified for the Champions League round of 16 with victories over Rangers and Ajax, but having beaten Manchester City and West Ham United in the Premier League, you felt the Reds finally had enough momentum to kick on.
Liverpool’s season has been plagued by inconsistency, and defeat to newly-promoted Forest was the latest example of just that. Klopp rested the majority of his first team at the City Ground, with injuries to Thiago and Darwin Núñez the difference maker as Forest upset those that bet on the English Premier League courtesy of a goal from former red Taiwo Awoniyi. Liverpool squandered several big chances, particularly from set pieces, and even with a rested squad, Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez should have done better.
“I think this game was decided in six or seven situations,” Klopp said. “One was the set-piece they used and the other situations with the set-pieces we didn’t use. That it will be a difficult game for us was clear.
“Away, Nottingham not in a great situation and [a] super-intense week for us, two super-intense games, [we] had to change late, so it was clear that we have to be ready to put a big fight in. The boys did. But how we cannot score from the set-pieces, I have no idea. That’s it now, pretty much. So the performance I can explain, the result not really, to be honest.”
The game once again pinpointed the need for transfers in either January or next summer. With rumours circulating that former chief executive Michael Edwards, a mastermind of some of Liverpool’s best transfer ploys in the Klopp era, is going to be joining Manchester United at the start of next season, evasive action might be needed from owners Fenway Sports Group to not only reduce the average age of the squad, but to ensure they are competitive for the remainder of this campaign and guarantee top four.
The Reds have been linked with Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham, but with the 19-year-old also linked with Real Madrid, we could see a similar situation to Aurélien Tchouaméni, who looked destined to join Liverpool from Monaco but instead traded Merseyside for Madrid. Another option is Inter Milan’s Nicolò Barella. The Italian is a mercurial creator, redolent of Thiago, but would be hard to prise away from the San Siro. Enzo Fernández is another target with the long term in mind.
Given the ongoing hostility between Liverpool fans and owners FSG, the Americans could use the January window to make a real statement of intent. However, the more likely situation given Klopp’s history in the transfer market is that he will wait until the summer to identify the right player for his system.
However, Klopp will be relieved that the Premier League is undergoing its first ever winter break, enforced by the World Cup, which allows his players to return to full fitness. Indeed, the squad needs repairing and with the return of both Luis Díaz and Diogo Jota, Liverpool can maintain their attack at the turn of the new year.
The signing of Díaz from Porto last season provided the squad depth necessary to pursue a quadruple, and the Colombian’s performance in both domestic competitions, including a great display against Chelsea in the League Cup final, allowed Liverpool to win the double and come within touching distances of the Premier League and Champions League.
Only time will tell how far the Reds go this season. Their European run could be written in the stars with an Istanbul final, but one does wonder if reinforcements are needed to ensure the club can finish in the top four given their slow start to the new campaign.