It has been a couple of days since Liverpool fans were greeted by the unwelcome news that one of their long-time targets, Timo Werner, will not be arriving at Anfield next season. To make matters worse, the RB Leipzig striker’s next destination has been revealed as Chelsea. Once the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed, the German will join Frank Lampard’s side, who are said to have paid his €55million release clause. Despite Liverpool’s interest being obvious, they seemed reluctant to compete and activate the release clause.
There are two ways to look at this from the Reds’ perspective – either the club’s finances have taken a hit due to the coronavirus pandemic, or they have decided to put the cash aside for other potentially bigger transfers. The first indication of the former was when the club decided to put some of its non-playing staff on furlough, a decision that they ultimately backtracked on following fierce public backlash. The reversal, along with the fact that a large chunk from Philippe Coutinho’s £142million sale to Barcelona is still due to be paid, and a second expansion of Anfield is on the cards (albeit postponed to next year), suggests there is a strain on the books of owners FSG (Fenway Sports Group).
However, it’s not impossible that the Merseysiders could have a substantial transfer kitty to consolidate their position at the top of the Premier League. In 2018-19 the club registered a pre-tax profit of £42m and increased turnover of £533m, and spent as little as £10m on transfers in 2019-20. Jürgen Klopp has always stated that he has the final say on transfers and despite reportedly being a fan of Werner’s, might have had second thoughts about the deal.
Liverpool fans tracking Werner’s development since the links first emerged back as early as the summer of 2017 know what would’ve made him a good fit for their side – fast and agile, a forward best suited to leading the frontline but capable of playing across it. While he may not have been ready to make the step up back then, after a single season in the Bundesliga with Leipzig, Werner now definitely is. The 24-year-old has notched 92 goals and 40 assists in just under four years, and only a certain Robert Lewandowski can boast a better goalscoring record in Germany this season.
This gives a hint into the kind of player Liverpool want to bolster their ranks next season. Roberto Firmino has led the line ably, but he is not a stone-cold killer in front of goal. Add up his goals in all competitions in the previous two seasons and you get 27 goals, the same amount he acquired in the 17/18 campaign alone. While he remains as important to Liverpool’s attacking game as ever, the Brazilian is better suited to running the game from deep. With that, let’s look at the options for Liverpool in the upcoming window.
Splash the Cash
This seems less probable given that the inability to structure a deal for Werner allegedly came down to the lack of funds. However, in the case that is not true, it’s plausible that a bigger deal is in the works behind the scenes.
Two names that instantly jump off the page in this scenario are Jadon Sancho and Kai Havertz, two of Bundesliga’s other leading lights. The former has set Germany alight since his move from Manchester City in 2017, and has clocked an eye-watering 20 goals and assists apiece across all competitions this season, making him the premier young talent in world football. A long queue of suitors, headed by Manchester United, mean that Borussia Dortmund can name their price irrespective of the current financial climate.
Havertz has exploded in 2020 after a slow start to the season, registering 12 goals on either side of the break in football. His goal threat has gone up a notch since the return of the Bundesliga, leading the line to excellent effect for Bayer Leverkusen. A constant supply of goals helped him beat the league’s record for most goals scored by a player before turning 21, and has no doubt driven his price up even further.
However, Klopp recently claimed, “It’s rather quiet here (at Liverpool) at the moment, I think it’s safe to say. At the moment, all clubs are losing money. Discussing with the players about things like salary waivers and on the other hand buying a player for £50-60m, we have to explain”. Either the Liverpool boss is keeping his cards close to his chest, or Liverpool will have to look at less expensive options to bolster the squad this summer.
Scour the Market for Cheaper but Exciting Talent
Liverpool could look at a few other options that haven’t received as much attention from the media as the aforementioned names. Marcus Thuram and Alassane Pléa have quietly gone about their business at Borussia Mönchengladbach picking up impressive numbers this season. Pléa, predominantly a centre-forward, has notched up 10 assists and 10 goals in the league playing a vital role in Gladbach’s hunt for a Champions League spot. According to Transfermarkt he is currently valued at €24m and could offer a cheap backup option for Firmino. Most of Gladbach’s attacks go through Pléa, a testament to his quality.
Marcus Thuram, his strike partner, has been equally impressive this season. He is tall, pacy, strong and possesses a good first touch, and has the quality to operate across the frontline. His presence of mind on the pitch is one of his more underrated traits. The young Frenchman can drift in from the left, drop back to collect possession and help in fast transitions. Thuram has scored 10 times and also assisted 8 goals in the League this season making him a potentially able deputy for Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané when the fixtures come thick and fast. He is valued at €22.5m which is well within Liverpool’s budget. While Gladbach won’t sell their star duo easily, an offer in the ballpark of €30-35m could be enough to prise one of them away.
Liverpool could end up not signing an attacker at all, especially if the 2021 African Cup of Nations, which could take Salah and Mané out of action for upto a month in January, gets delayed to the following year. Instead, they could opt to reinforce in other areas on the pitch.
Houssem Aouar, Lyon’s silky metronome, is a highly-touted alternative who could bring back some of the creativity and guile that Liverpool’s midfield has missed since Coutinho’s departure. Playing the role of an Iniesta-esque number 8 in Rudi Garcia’s 4-3-3 set-up, Aouar could be available for a cut-price deal. Les Gones’ failure to qualify for the Champions League following Ligue 1’s premature conclusion and the heavy losses in terms of broadcasting rights’ figures for all of its clubs put them in a precarious position where they may have to sell their stars for less.
With a reported price tag of €50million, Aouar would be in the sweet spot for a marquee signing that doesn’t break the bank. Juventus, against whom the 21-year-old Frenchman shone in the last Champions League encounter before the break, are circling with a 2-year loan with an option to buy. Liverpool would do well to take a leaf out of the Serie A champions’ book in times that call for frugality.
Timo Werner’s unsuccessful pursuit hardly spells doom for Liverpool. Fans need only remind themselves that they initially looked at Gotze and Brandt before ending up with Mané and Salah, and the rest is history. Sometimes Plan B can work out just as well, something they hope transpires as they eye the top honours once again next season.
Written by Kabir Ali with inputs from Alex Barker and Anubhav Sarker | Feature Image by GEOFF CADDICK/AFP via Getty Images
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