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Following the news that Takumi Minamino has picked up an injury on international duty with Japan, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp suddenly finds himself in familiar territory.
Last summer, Klopp was criticised for failing to sign any replacement following the sale of Dejan Lovren and it duly caught up with the German as a bizarre spate of injuries at centre-half plagued their entire 2020-21 campaign.
Whether it was Klopp’s decision not to recruit or the club’s owners tightening the purse strings in the midst of a global pandemic with no gate receipts remains unclear, although it was probably the latter.
Either way, it backfired, and Liverpool have once again been ridiculed for their lack of activity in the most recent transfer window, making just one summer signing – defender Ibrahima Konate.
Just three games into the new Premier League season we’re already seeing a similar pattern emerge – this time the forward line being the vulnerable position.
There is a sense that Diogo Jota is the new third face of Liverpool’s famed front three but when Roberto Firmino limped off against Chelsea before the international break there were murmurs of discontent around Anfield.
Firmino has been pivotal throughout Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool reign and has often been cited as the man that makes the front three click when they reach peak performance as a trio. He is expected to be absent for at least another couple of weeks.
An injury to Minamino may not usually be too much of a concern but should any one of Jota, Sadio Mane or Mohamed Salah become unavailable in the near future too, Liverpool would be verging on crisis mode once again.
It would mean Klopp having to turn to Divock Origi – who survived yet another transfer window to remain a Liverpool player – or Harvey Elliot, the teenager who has impressed in a midfield role of late but who is seen as a forward of the future.
Reds ‘Probably Not’ Strong Enough
Emile Heskey, a former Liverpool player who knows a thing or two about squad rotation at Anfield, believes Liverpool’s starting XI is good enough to compete for the title this term, but has his doubts over the quality in reserve when compared to the depth of their rivals.
“In terms of the actual team then yes, I think Liverpool can compete, but in terms of the squad depth, probably not,” he told bookmakers.co.uk.
“It’s tough to bring players in if you’re not going to get rid of players too, that is key to a lot of squads. It’s not always about who you want to come in, it’s who you’re trying to get out before you can bring your targets in.
“When we’re talking about squad depth, we mean who the manager can look to on his bench to come into a game.
“Manchester United have a good bench, Chelsea too, and Man City are Man City. All of their squad depths are deeper than Liverpool’s. But when you’re looking at the best starting elevens, Liverpool’s is right up there with the best of them.”
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There was a time when Liverpool’s star players would be sounded out and lured to the promised land of La Liga, namely either Barcelona or Real Madrid, but the Reds have so far managed to retain Salah, their most consistent player in the Klopp era.
Indeed, the only key player they’ve lost since selling Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona in 2018 – which is now viewed as wise business – is Gini Wijnaldum, who left for PSG this summer after failing to agree a new contract at Liverpool.
Heskey believes Liverpool deserve credit for retaining the basis of their team but has warned his old club that another injury-plagued season is not out of the question.
He said: “Don’t get me wrong, Liverpool have done really well to keep hold of most of their key players and a lot of clubs are now investing more money into their medical departments to try and keep everybody fit, but that’s never going to be the case. Players will always pick up knocks and niggles.
“Let’s say Salah and Mane aren’t available, then what? You can possibly do without one of them, but Liverpool rely on both of them so heavily that if two of them are out you’d have to worry.”
There is the not-so-small matter of the Africa Cup of Nations which has been rescheduled to take place between January 6 and February 6 next year.
It clashes with Liverpool fixtures in the FA Cup third round, plus Brentford (H) and Crystal Palace (A) in the Premier League.
“AFCON is going to disrupt them but they’re just going to have to deal with it I’m afraid,” said Heskey.
“They’re going to miss them for a certain amount of time and this is where squad depth becomes so important.”
Meanwhile, on the subject of Firmino’s role in the team and his goalscoring record for Liverpool, Heskey can relate. The former England striker was renowned for his selfless style of play, often putting in the hard yards while the likes of Michael Owen grabbed the headlines.
His Liverpool goal return is actually quite similar to Firmino’s current record. Heskey scored 60 goals in 223 games for Liverpool between 200 and 2004, an average of one goal per 3.72 games. Since 2015, Firmino has scored 88 goals in 295 Liverpool appearances, a rate of one goal every 3.35 games.
As such, Heskey can appreciate Firmino’s position, but has still called on the Brazilian to contribute more goals to the team this season having only hit nine and 12 in all competitions in the previous two campaigns.
He said: “I appreciate that side of the game – he’s fantastic at bringing other players’ traits out of them but if the others aren’t scoring they’re going to be looking at him to chip in.
“He might be doing X, Y or Z to bring other players into the game but he’s got to get goals as well. If he gets 15 goals and either Salah or Mane get 25-30, then I think that’s a good return.
“But he’s got to be targeting that many goals as well as effecting the games in a way that helps his team-mates.”
Liverpool travel to Leeds this weekend and the visitors are odds-on to win in the result betting market across the board, with Firmino 7/4 to score anytime.
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