After a summer of sweeping changes, Jurgen Klopp described the start of a new era as “Liverpool FC reloaded”.
Yet a frenetic opening weekend showdown at Stamford Bridge laid bare the fact that the overhaul is incomplete. This is a squad that hasn’t been adequately replenished.
The potential is clear. Liverpool have the firepower to beat anyone this season and they sparkled going forward in the first half when Luis Diaz put them ahead and Mohamed Salah was denied a second by the tightest of offside decisions.
Yes, a sense of injustice lingered in the aftermath as Nicolas Jackson’s handball went unpunished after Axel Disasi had restored parity on his debut.
But what really cost Liverpool victory in the capital wasn’t misfortune but an alarming lack of control. It was so open and far too easy for Chelsea to cut through them. There wasn’t sufficient protection for an overworked backline.
Klopp’s team couldn’t take the sting out of proceedings when Chelsea were in the ascendancy. They had just 35 per cent possession — their lowest on record in a Premier League game against the Londoners. But for the heroics of Alisson in the second half, this could easily have been a damaging defeat.
“We could have won but we could have lost as well,” Klopp admitted. “We opened the door for Chelsea. We lost the ball in one or two situations which was unnecessary.
“In the second half we had to dig really deep and fight hard. There were a lot of spaces to cover and gaps to close. That was actually our problem – we tried to cover the gaps by dropping instead of stepping in like we did at the beginning.
“We have a lot of things to improve, no doubt about that, but in the end we got a point and that’s okay. I really attempt to see it rather positively.”
The balance wasn’t right and that’s hardly a surprise given the failure to replace either Fabinho or Jordan Henderson since they left for Saudi Arabia last month.
There was much to admire about the debuts of new boys Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai, who added energy and invention. However, they need more assistance. They need a specialist No 6 operating between them.
Of course Liverpool aren’t blind to that glaring hole. Even principal owner John Henry could see it close up after taking a seat in the directors’ box at Stamford Bridge.
The drama of the previous 72 hours in the transfer market added an extra edge to the contest after the clubs had gone into battle over the signing of Brighton’s Moises Caicedo.
The defensive deficiencies evident at both ends served to illustrate why both Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino value the controlling presence of the Ecuador international so highly.
Both managers remained tight-lipped on transfer talk post-game but Klopp’s remark that “what the Chelsea manager wants, usually they get it” was telling. Caicedo is set to join Chelsea for around £115 million.
It’s a bitter pill for Liverpool to swallow because he would have been ideal – a real statement signing, the kind of combative holding midfielder this team is crying out for. He could have slotted straight in with the prospect of him being reunited with Mac Allister mouth-watering.
Having had three offers rejected by Southampton for Romeo Lavia, they turned their attention to Caicedo last week after Chelsea’s summer-long pursuit had dragged on.
With Brighton frustrated by Chelsea’s approach, Liverpool sensed an opportunity to hijack the deal and went for it after the owners gave the green light for a British transfer record bid of £111 million.
They tabled that offer and thrashed out a payment structure with Brighton late on Thursday night after being given sufficient encouragement from the player’s camp that he wanted to move to Anfield. Chelsea appeared to have been out-flanked.
However, on Friday morning, after Klopp had confirmed at his press conference that a fee had been agreed, the landscape shifted when it emerged that Caicedo was having “second thoughts” about signing for Liverpool and Chelsea were preparing to reopen negotiations with an improved bid.
It’s unclear whether he genuinely had a change of heart or whether Liverpool’s interest was simply used to get more favourable terms. Either way it’s a slap in the face.
Certainly, Liverpool have no issues with Brighton, who had little option but to renegotiate with Chelsea once it became clear that Stamford Bridge was his destination of choice.
Now Klopp and FSG must decide where to turn with the situation further complicated by Chelsea also trying to secure Lavia’s signature. Can Liverpool really allow another target to elude them?
It’s not a particularly strong bargaining position they find themselves in given that rival clubs know they are desperate to strengthen in that department and are also flush with cash having recently put £111 million on the table.
Liverpool’s kitty was swelled by the £52 million windfall they got from the sales of Henderson and Fabinho. That was what enabled them to put together the bid for Caicedo. Given his age, Lavia would be a project signing. Arguably, Liverpool need someone more complete, more polished.
You can’t really blame Liverpool for how the Caicedo pursuit ended but the fact is they shouldn’t have found themselves in a position where they still hadn’t recruited Fabinho’s successor so close to the start of the season.
Thiago and Stefan Bajcetic are both back in full training after long-term injuries but fresh blood is urgently required both in midfield and at the back. It didn’t work playing Cody Gakpo deeper — he’s much more effective as the central striker, while Mac Allister needs to be operating further up the pitch rather than at the base of the midfield.
“The transfer window is not closed yet so let’s see if we can make a couple more additions to make the squad as strong as possible this season,” new skipper Virgil van Dijk said after the dust had settled at Stamford Bridge.
Until those weaknesses are addressed, it won’t be “Liverpool FC reloaded” and there will be more days like this where real promise is undermined by vulnerability.
(Top photo by HENRY NICHOLLS/AFP via Getty Images)