It’s been a rather up and down season to say the least for Liverpool so far this year and there’s been plenty to discuss both positively and negatively so far.

The Reds started the season in decent form and looked as though they’d be capable of defending their title up until around Christmas, even without Virgil van Dijk at the heart of defence.

However, results have tailed off in 2021 and that has sparked speculation over several players at the club as well as sparked calls for signings to be made in the summer.

The financial situation, meanwhile, remains unclear whilst it also remains to be seen if Champions League football will return to Anfield next season as the Reds battle to make the top four.

To discuss that, and much more besides on all things connected with the Reds, Anfield Watch spoke exclusively to Liverpool reporter David Lynch.

The full transcript of the Q&A we had with him is below:

How would you sum up Liverpool’s season so far?

Very much a tale of two halves! If someone had told me on Christmas Day when Liverpool were top after a 7-0 win at Crystal Palace that things would unravel this badly, I don’t think I’d have believed them. The only hope is that they can buck the trend somewhat in the games to come and at least give us something to enjoy before the end of the season.

Looking at the injuries that have decimated Liverpool’s rhythm so far this term – Jurgen Klopp’s players have missed a combined total of 155 Premier League games so far – 49 more than any other top-flight club, according to The Athletic – can you even begin to explain why Liverpool’s luck has been so rotten this campaign?

Are fans and pundits perhaps looking for a scapegoat for the injury nightmare Liverpool have faced this season? Would you criticise the medical department at all in terms of the way things have been managed this year? Or is it simply just a case of really bad luck in your opinion?

I didn’t really want to justify the recent suggestions on social media that the medical department deserve blame for this season by writing anything about it, but since you ask… To put it simply, Liverpool have just been freakishly unfortunate this year. One of my contacts is a person who has worked in medical departments across the Premier League and they explained it to me like this: The long-term injuries to Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk and the slightly less long-term ones to Diogo Jota, Kostas Tsimikas and Thiago Alcantara created a physical demand on the players who were still fit that they simply couldn’t meet in a season with such an unusually condensed calendar.

They have subsequently suffered muscle injuries as a result (see: Fabinho, Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold) that have further exacerbated the issue, while those who have remained fit haven’t quite looked themselves due to fatigue. It’s a vicious cycle that Liverpool haven’t been able to break and perhaps won’t be able to do until next season. If you really wanted to point the finger over any single situation, you could say Fabinho was maybe brought back too quickly against Manchester City, as evidenced by the fact he missed more games straight after due to another muscle problem.

But these decisions are made by the medical department and​ the footballing staff, with the manager ultimately having the final say. Attempts to pin everything on the physios are just a case of people getting carried away with what little information they have available to them. They’ve faced a ridiculously tricky job this season and are doing their best despite the challenges.

What do you feel the mood is like around the squad? Are spirits high amongst the staff and the players despite the continuous challenges, both on and off the pitch?

I don’t think Jurgen Klopp would ever allow the mood at Kirkby to become glum and you can still see plenty of smiles and laughs in training despite recent results. These players are competitors, though, and so enjoying training doesn’t mean they’re not angry about this run and keen to turn things around ASAP.

For 4/5 years now, we’ve associated Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool with a 4-3-3 system, which has proved to be so effective throughout the course of his time in charge – but do you think there needs to be a Plan B and a tweak to the system to keep things fresh? Does Klopp require additional personal to implement this change in your opinion, with the players currently at his disposal so tuned to the current tactics? Or should these players be able to adapt better?

I think the case for a change of system has been made by the last five games at Anfield. The opposition know they’re coming up against a Jurgen Klopp 4-3-3 that isn’t anywhere near what it was over the last two seasons in terms of cohesiveness and quality. They’re easier to defend, easier to play through, and easier to turn around at the back. Considering the fact that most of the current absentees are likely to be on the sidelines until the end of the season, it would be madness to continue with this same setup until then and expect different results. As for whether that leads to a long-term change, well that’s a discussion for the coaching staff come the end of the season.

Did Liverpool make a genuine mistake in the January transfer market by not acting sooner?

Without doubt. My information is that they weren’t going to sign a centre-back at all until Joel Matip suffered his injury at Tottenham, which means that if he’d have lasted just a few days longer before picking up that problem then Liverpool would have spent some of the run-in using a partnership of Nat Phillips and Rhys Williams. How is it possible that Matip was expected to get to the end of the campaign given his injury record? And why wasn’t a top-class centre-half sought earlier on to give this squad a chance of a top-four finish?

Duje Caleta-Car didn’t end up at Anfield because Marseille didn’t feel they had enough time to source a replacement, and that meant Liverpool settling on Ozan Kabak who, while talented, was a 20-year-old coming in from a struggling team with huge expectations on his shoulders. For a club that prides itself on its planning, that’s pretty poor.

Will Liverpool look to sign a proper number nine in the summer to provide Klopp with more of an option to rotate Roberto Firmino?

Talent like Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe will obviously always be players of interest to Liverpool, but could the club realistically afford either of them this summer, especially Haaland, who is sure to be subject to bids from European clubs.

How do you think Liverpool will approach the transfer window this summer, where do you think the club will look to strengthen, and how much spending money do you think will be available? Will budgets be dependent on Champions League football? Could we see a situation where Liverpool need to sell first in order to raise funds for new signings?

Liverpool’s transfer budget is generally dictated by Champions League qualification but, even with that looking increasingly unlikely, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a decent amount of investment this summer. It’s too often forgotten that Liverpool actually did some decent business in signing Thiago Alcantara and Diogo Jota last time, largely because both players have been unable to make the sustained impact it was hoped they could provide due to injuries. They just need to keep building on that to ensure that Klopp can oversee a smooth transition to a new-look team rather than finding himself needing to rebuild the squad completely in a year or two’s time.

As for the two strikers mentioned, clubs with deeper pockets are sure to be chasing both, but Liverpool still remain an attractive prospect with Klopp at the helm. It’s worth mentioning, too, that FSG have shown in the past with Alisson and Van Dijk that they aren’t afraid to spend big if they believe there is value in it and, with Mbappe and Haaland, you’d be signing a world-class centre-forward for the next 10 years – that’s value as far as I’m concerned!

While he isn’t finished yet, Firmino is clearly on a slight downward trajectory, and directly replacing such a unique player would be extremely difficult. So, if Klopp’s next move is to go for an out-and-out No.9, then it would be remiss of Liverpool not to put themselves in the mix. Getting a deal over the line is a different thing, though, and I’d be wary of anyone who can offer certainty over where either player will end up. 

With Dayot Upamecano confirming he will be joining Bayern Munich this summer, attentions have turned to his defensive partner Ibrahima Konaté – do you think he could be a genuine target?

Do you think Liverpool have a genuine interest in Raphinha at Leeds?

Liverpool are definitely going to be in the market for a centre-half this summer and, while I was told some time ago that there wasn’t anything in the constant links with Upamecano, it could well be that they are looking at Konate instead. Personally, though, I wouldn’t be too surprised if they went back in for Caleta-Car over the summer given the player was so keen on the move and that the deal is clearly there to be done. 

As for Raphinha, I don’t have any particular steer on whether Liverpool want him, but he certainly seems the type of forward they would be keeping tabs on.

What players do you see leaving Liverpool this summer and do you think Michael Edwards will be able to command the sort of fees to justify his valuation of a certain number of the fringe players?

Divock Origi and Xherdan Shaqiri will both definitely be on the market again but Liverpool have struggled to shift them before and clubs aren’t exactly awash with cash as we (hopefully) head toward the end of the pandemic. It’s surely time to start considering taking a small hit on previously mooted asking prices so as not to delay the rebuild Klopp needs. I do also wonder whether they might consider Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s place in the squad if a decent offer came in.

What do you think will happen to Harry Wilson this summer?

Again, Liverpool have been keen to move Wilson on for a while now and I think if they can finally get the right offer in this time, he should go.

What do you personally think will happen with Ozan Kabak this summer?

I think performances in training will have more influence on Klopp’s thinking than matches, but I really struggle to see Liverpool signing Kabak permanently. They didn’t really seem that keen on him when links were flying around in the summer and the insistence that he arrive in January with an option rather than obligation to buy spoke volumes about the lack of faith in the player. It looked a lot like the club simply getting someone in who was available rather than viewing him as a long-term option. I expect them to look elsewhere. 

Do you think Steven Gerrard is a realistic project for Liverpool once Jurgen Klopp finally does leave the club, and if a new manager was to come in today, who would you like to see take on the job?

Liverpool are keeping an eye on a number of managers across Europe in preparation for the time when Klopp eventually leaves and Gerrard is of course among them. It’s not just the fact that his Rangers team is running away with the Scottish Premiership this season that’s so impressive, it’s that they boast both the best attack and the best defence in the division (nine goals conceded, for goodness sake!!!), and that they are also going well in Europe. If Gerrard keeps this up then it’s going to be extremely difficult to ignore the clamour to bring him back to Anfield when Klopp departs.

Is FSG still open to selling a portion of the club?

Definitely. I haven’t heard anything about the potential investment from RedBird Capital but FSG have made no secret about their desire to raise capital by selling a minority stake. How that would affect the day-to-day running of Liverpool remains to be seen but, if it does happen, you would hope it could provide a cash injection after what has been a difficult period in financial terms.

Do you think we will see Virgil van Dijk play again this season? 

I know people have been getting excited about Van Dijk’s social media updates but, unfortunately, he is no further along in his rehabilitation than would typically be expected at this point. I’m not ruling out a late-season appearance off the bench, of course, but the aim is to have him ready for next season and Liverpool won’t take any risks as they stick to that timeline.

Just finally, what has been the most challenging aspect you have faced covering LFC during the pandemic?

Fans not being there has underlined just how pointless football would be without them. Supporters bring so much colour and noise to proceedings and genuinely make every game feel like a big event, which definitely hasn’t been the case this season, making writing about it more challenging than usual. I also genuinely believe the absence of fans has led to a major drop-off in terms of quality and application in some matches in the Premier League this season. Let’s hope we never have to go through something like this again.

Thanks to David for his time, and you can follow him @dmlynch on Twitter.

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