Liverpool have a huge summer ahead with it increasingly unlikely that Champions League football will be played at Anfield next season. Jurgen Klopp could do with some more Michael Edwards magic with all eyes on his side to see if they will bounce back from an injury-interrupted 2020-21 campaign.
The Reds sit seventh and seven points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea, who have lost just once in all competitions since Thomas Tuchel took over at the end of January.
Jurgen Klopp’s side have a match in hand on the Blues after the postponement of their Old Trafford showdown with bitter rivals Manchester United last Sunday due to protesting fans breaking into the stadium.
But with so few games to go, clawing back even a four-point gap to Chelsea may be beyond Liverpool. Failing to do so would make it all the more important that the Merseyside outfit get things right off the pitch in the summer months to ensure the absence of Champions League nights does not become a regular occurence once more.
Express Sport breaks down some of the most important tasks awaiting sporting director Edwards as Liverpool look to get their recruitment right in order to go again in pursuit of the biggest honours – minus the European Cup – next year.
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Diogo Jota mark two
Widespread doubts greeted his £45million arrival but former Wolves wide-man Diogo Jota has proven an excellent addition for Liverpool this season. He’s not the first Edwards addition to smash expectations, and probably won’t be the last.
The Portugal international has contributed 12 goals and one assist in 27 matches and is outscored among his team-mates in the Premier League by only Mohamed Salah, despite a three-month lay-off due to injury.
With Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino so badly out of form this season, Liverpool need another forward capable of making a regular impact to ease the burden on Salah and Jota.
Leeds United’s Raphinha, Wolves’ Pedro Neto and PSV’s Donyell Malen are among the many attackers to have been linked with Liverpool, who won’t have the finances to sign the likes of Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappe.
Edwards must pick the right forward, one who is affordable, able to play across the front three, direct and ready to instantly contribute goals and assists, if Liverpool are to get closer to the top of the table once again.
Big sales figures
Edwards has become renowned for bringing in huge fees for outgoing Liverpool players, with Philippe Coutinho, Rhian Brewster, Dominic Solanke and Jordon Ibe among those to be moved on at huge profit.
But the soon-to-be-dethroned Premier League champions understandably found it more difficult to get the fees they wanted for out-of-favour players last summer, with COVID-19 damaging the finances of every club in world football.
Without the riches of the Champions League next season, though, Liverpool must ensure they bring in healthy figures for those who do leave Anfield between July and September. The extent of their incoming business might even depend on it.
Xherdan Shaqiri, Divock Origi, Marko Grujic and even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita are among the players who Edwards may be tasked with offloading for good money.
Liverpool need every available penny, and so cannot afford to let players leave on the cheap, but also must ensure they do not demand outrageous prices that leave them unable to sell unwanted stars, too.
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Managing the wage bill
Liverpool’s wage bill soared by £117million for the 2019-20 financial year, which encompassed the title-winning season, to around £325m.
Only Manchester City paid out more (£351m) and while poor performance on the pitch in 2020-21 means bonus payments will drop considerably in the next financial year, Liverpool have a host of important players entering the final two years of their contracts.
Salah, Mane, Fabinho, Firmino, Virgil van Dijk and captain Jordan Henderson are among them and many will rightly feel they deserve a salary increase in order to put pen to paper on a fresh agreement.
Liverpool need to ensure in particular the likes of Salah, Van Dijk and Fabinho are tied down (they are likely to have more time on their side with the others because they will have less prospective suitors) to new long-term deals.
But they also need to make sure that in doing so they do not hand out massive wage raises that hamstring them financially in the years to come, and must make sure their heavily-incentivised wage bill remains at a manageable level.
Squad strengthening buys
Liverpool need a new forward but they also need better back-up options in other areas of the squad. Among the acquisitions on the in-tray for Edwards will be another goalkeeper to rival Caoimhin Kelleher as the No 2 to Alisson.
A high-quality full-back capable of playing at left-back and right-back might also be handy with Neco Williams and Kostas Tsimikas rarely having been trusted to fill in for Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.
A centre-back is already on the wishlist, with RB Leipzig’s Ibrahima Konate looking likely to join Liverpool, though exercising the £18m clause to make Ozan Kabak’s loan switch from Schalke permanent might not be a bad idea either.
Finally, central midfield is another area in need of improvement, with Keita struggling, Oxlade-Chamberlain seemingly unfancied, James Milner ageing and Gini Wijnaldum set to leave.
Liverpool can’t really afford to break the bank with any such additions but know they need to bring players in who offer more than their current reserve options. No easy task for Edwards, then.