Liverpool transfer ‘blunder’ is unexpected as Jürgen Klopp misses teen outdoing Mohamed Salah
Liverpool have been accused of making a transfer ‘blunder’ by signing Darwin Núñez. But a far less obvious Jürgen Klopp decision could be the real mistake.
For all the talk of not wanting to gamble, FSG oversaw a very risky Liverpool summer. Incoming and outgoing transfer business alike has posed a serious set of challenges to Jürgen Klopp — and the very early signs are that some of them will be difficult to navigate.
The lack of transfer investment in the midfield was a risk in and of itself, regardless of whether the ‘right’ player was available. At the other end of the spectrum, Darwin Núñez cost huge money for a player with such a limited record at a high level.
In terms of players sold, not only did Liverpool allow Sadio Mané to leave, but they also cut Divock Origi and Takumi Minamino out of the attack. The big new contract for Mohamed Salah was one of the few stability-focused decisions in a major period of flux.
Yet among all of these risks, none of them really stand out as the reason for Liverpool’s sluggish start. Spanish outlet El Pais has identified the signing of Núñez as a ‘blunder’, but Klopp has hardly even had a chance to play his big-money striker. Far more time is needed before such a judgement can be made.
Nor can the attacking departures be heavily criticised just yet. It is easy to say that Liverpool are missing Mané, but Luis Díaz is thriving in the left-wing slot that the Senegal international occupied for the vast majority of his Anfield stay. There has perhaps been a scarcity of clinical options through the middle, but this has more to do with the stop-start nature of Núñez’s introduction to the league and the injury to Diogo Jota than anything else.
Equally, while Minamino and Origi were useful depth options during their Liverpool careers, neither have done much to spark regret since joining their new clubs. Monaco’s two wins have come in the games where the Japanese forward did not feature, while Origi is yet to make an impression at Milan either. Much like Núñez, it is far too early to judge, but it is hard to imagine they would have made all the difference in the early going at Anfield this season.
The true blunder could have come in a far less heralded transfer move. Very little was made of Conor Bradley’s loan departure to Bolton Wanderers, apart from some simple comments that it seemed like a good move for the teenager, but his electric start to the campaign begs the question of whether he should have been allowed to leave at all.
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After all, Liverpool were far more cautious in other positions. The injury situation at centre-back prompted the club to delay a move for Sepp van den Berg, and block a move for Nat Phillips altogether. Yet Bradley was allowed to go despite being second-in-line at right-back at the time of his departure, with Calvin Ramsay not yet fit.
Trent Alexander-Arnold has not suffered an injury, but his form has certainly been questionable. When Klopp withdrew him against Everton, he had to turn to James Milner, who made one of the more abject cameos the Merseyside Derby is likely to see. And now he has no real choice other than to persist with the 23-year-old, despite a torrid showing against Napoli.
It seems likely that Alexander-Arnold will come good sooner rather than later. He has been one of the top performers over the past three seasons or more, and even his ‘failings’ this season are at least partly to do with systemic issues. But for rotation purposes if nothing else, it is clear that Klopp has been in need of a genuine option there.
Bradley is rapidly proving that he would have been perfect for the role. In fact, since joining Bolton, he has made more league goal contributions than everyone in the Liverpool squad except Roberto Firmino, even surpassing Salah. His two goals and three assists are pretty clear evidence that he ultimately belongs at a far higher level than League One.
Nor should this have come as a massive shock. While nobody can claim to have expected such a prolific start, Bradley did well with his limited Liverpool opportunities last season. Stuck behind Neco Williams as well as Alexander-Arnold in the pecking order for the most part, he nonetheless managed to get an FA Cup assist to his name, and only really struggled in a much-depleted team against Leicester.
The hope is that Ramsay will soon be able to offer the squad role that Klopp craves, as the manager looks to find solutions to Alexander-Arnold’s form along with the rest of his problems. Likewise, Bradley’s excellent start to life at Bolton is primarily a vindication of the move, with all signs suggesting that it will be valuable experience that at the very least inflates his value.
But it is hard not to think that for all of the more headline transfer dealings, this is the one that has been the biggest ‘blunder’ for Liverpool so far. Klopp has been short at right-back, and all the while a teen surpassing Salah for goal contributions has been an hour up the M62.