As players jet off around the globe for the final international break of 2018, Liverpool FC sit second in the Premier League table on 30 points, just two points off leaders Manchester City and comfortably inside the Champions League places at six points ahead of Arsenal, who are in fifth. With nine wins and three draws, Jurgen Klopp’s men are still unbeaten in the league this campaign, and despite not scoring quite as prolifically as last season, the Reds are keeping themselves ahead of the chasing pack, largely due to an improved defensive setup.
By way of comparison, after ten games last season Liverpool were in sixth place, had already lost twice, and had drawn as many games as they’d won. Now, twelve games in this season, the Merseyside team look a better unit overall.
But how much of that improvement has come about as a result of the impact made by new signings?
Liverpool brought in four new faces in summer 2018 as Jurgen Klopp set about reinforcing his squad in the wake of May’s Champions League Final defeat in Kiev. Fabinho arrived from Monaco in a £39 million deal, pulling on the famous red jersey around the same time as Naby Keita, whose £52.75 million transfer from RB Leipzig had been agreed the previous August – both officially became Liverpool players on 1 July. Xherdan Shaqiri followed from Stoke for £13.5 million after Liverpool activated his release clause, before goalkeeper Alisson Becker wrapped things up on 19 July in a £66.8 million move from Roma.
In total, Liverpool spent just over £172 million on summer transfers in an effort to match the spending power of super-rich rival clubs Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United. The question is, with almost a third of the Premier League season already gone, has the investment paid off?
Let’s take a look at how Liverpool’s new boys have fared so far, in order of when their transfers were agreed.
Keita arrived with perhaps the most expectation on his shoulders after his transfer deal was agreed almost a year in advance. The dynamic midfielder had been a shining light for RB Leipzig prior to his move and fans looked forward to his move to Anfield with much anticipation.
The Guinean started strong, creating Liverpool’s opening goal of the Premier League season with a perfectly-weighted pass to Andy Robertson, who assisted Mohamed Salah’s first goal of the campaign against West Ham on 12 August. He has since shown flashes of brilliance in several matches so far, but has been largely hampered by injury since the last international break and has only recently become available for selection again.
There’s definitely a lot more to come from Keita. He could become a key figure in the heart of our midfield with his energy, work-rate and willingness to run at the opposition defence (something that Liverpool have lacked this season). He’s been a bit of a slow-burner so far, but at 23-years-old, he has his best years in a Liverpool shirt ahead of him.
Top attribute: energy and drive through the middle of the park
Where he can improve: passing
Season so far: 5/10
Fabinho was a bit of a surprise for us all, with his transfer from Monaco flying in under the radar in the aftermath of Liverpool’s Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid. Much like Keita, he arrived at Anfield on a wave of fresh optimism, touted as the defensive force our midfield had been missing.
It has, however, taken the Brazilian much longer to adapt to the Premier League than anticipated. His competitive debut was as a substitute in the 3-2 win over PSG at Anfield on 18 September, and his first league start wasn’t until 27 October against Cardiff.
For me, Fabinho’s blown a bit hot and cold in every match in which he’s featured. At his best, he’s putting in perfectly-timed tackles and initiating counter-attacks for his side; at worst, he’s misreading the game and getting caught in possession in crucial areas of the pitch.
However, I can see why Klopp wanted him for his developing Liverpool squad. If Fabinho can adapt fully to the rigors of English football, he can be a critical cog in the Reds machine, shielding the defensive line and breaking up opposition advances to create counter-attacking opportunities for the likes of Sadio Mane and Mo Salah. He has some way to go, but I’ve seen enough to believe he’ll eventually make the defensive-midfield spot his own over time.
Top attribute: tackling and direct passing
Where he can improve: reading the game
Season so far: 6/10
Remarkably, Shaqiri has been Liverpool’s standout transfer of the summer.
The diminutive Swiss international arrived for a fraction of the price of his fellow signings after his buyout clause at Stoke was triggered, and though his initial forays onto the pitch in a Liverpool shirt were mere cameos, he’s gone on to establish himself as an important part of the squad, one who seems to be on his way to becoming a regular member of the starting XI.
Shaqiri has two goals and four assists to his name in the Premier League this season, and has a nice little habit of positively impacting nearly every game in which he plays. Admittedly, I was surprised by just how talented he actually is – his range of passing, creativity and eye for goal have been revelations for a Liverpool side who have lacked some spark this season, and he seems to lift the attackers around him in the same way Philippe Coutinho did, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will do again.
I’ve become a huge fan of Shaqiri this season and am looking forward to seeing what the remainder of the campaign has in store for him.
Top attribute: can unlock opposition defences with creative passing
Where he can improve: shots on target
Season so far: 8/10
I’d say most Reds fans were delighted with the signing of Alisson in the summer after enduring several seasons of will-they-won’t-they performances in goal from Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius, both of whom can be excellent on their day but often made life difficult for the rest of their team.
Alisson, apart from one over-confident error against Leicester City, has generally had a very solid season. In truth, he actually hasn’t had a whole lot to do at times with the brick wall of Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez in front of him, but when called-upon he’s looked reliable. His passing is top quality and he rarely hesitates, which is a key attribute for a good goalie.
Liverpool made Alisson the most expensive goalkeeper of all time (briefly) because they want someone trustworthy between the sticks for the next decade, not the next couple of seasons. I think it’s fair to say that Alisson can be that man for Liverpool if he continues to perform as he’s done so far.
Top attribute: quick-thinking and passing out from the back
Where he can improve: communication
Season so far: 7/10
On the right track
While Liverpool’s new boys still have some way to go collectively before they’re immovable pieces of Jurgen Klopp’s jigsaw, I think they’re all well on course to justify their enormous price-tags (Shaqiri surpassed his a while back) and can certainly become key players for the Reds on a long-term basis.