Jurgen Klopp is facing some big decisions as he is left to face the undeniable truth that he must painfully rebuild his Liverpool squad in the summer transfer window.
As he sits and surveys the ashes of Liverpool’s season, Jurgen Klopp will know, deep down, two intensely painful things.
First, and most immediately, his loyalty, pride and belief in his players was ultimately to blame for the soul-crushing defeat which was the worst in Anfield European history.
It was the nature of that defeat though, a total capitulation as his side fell apart both physically and mentally around him, which will lead to his inevitable second intensely difficult conclusion. His great Reds team is at the end of its cycle.
Klopp didn’t want to believe that. He didn’t want to believe the evidence of his own eyes this season. That is why his continuing trust in his players persuaded him to go into the game against deadly opponents with such adventurous, almost cavalier tactics.
Yet in analysis, Madrid boss Ancelotti had seen all too clearly what Klopp had chosen to ignore – this is not the same Liverpool. “We changed the tactics from the final, hoping the game would be open and we picked a team for an open game, with goals in it,” he said afterwards.
What he left unsaid: he did that because his analysis showed Liverpool were not the same team. Were vulnerable. The stats showed a midfield on the decline, without the energy to produce intensity for 90 minutes, a defence without the confidence to go one on one with top strikers.
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Klopp went toe to toe on faith, on trust, maybe on anger at losing the final to an inferior opponent. Perhaps even a little on hubris. It failed. This is not the Liverpool he created, not in the same league as the Madrid team which turned up.
That will lead to the second painful conclusion. It is time to dismantle a side Madrid were truly afraid of, hell, a side even Pep Guardiola said famously he was scared of. Sadio Mane has already gone of course, and Gini Wijnaldum before that.
Others look not just jaded, but at the end of their time at Liverpool. Fabinho seems a shadow of himself, and with hindsight, it seems Klopp knew that last summer. Why otherwise would he have pursued so hard a £75m holding midfielder in Aurelien Tchouameni, who they were close to signing?
There are fringe players he no longer trusts too. Liverpool’s midfield was destroyed in the second half and he had six alternatives on the bench, but didn’t bring any of them on until Madrid were five up. Even then it was 37 year old James Milner.
So the likes of Keita, Oxlade-Chamberlain and maybe Milner will go, but his rebuild will require starting XI surgery, not just fringe adjustments. Liverpool’s central defence has always been able to cope with a high line and one on ones. Not any more.
Joe Gomez, unfortunately, looks too vulnerable to continue at that level, perhaps Joel Matip too. But at the moment so does Virgil van Dijk. Ibrahima Konate is too often injured.
If that truly is a long term malaise and not just being exposed by a fragile midfield, then two centre halves of that quality are required, the fees will be eye-watering.
Klopp’s whole system is based on intensity in midfield, which means energy. Jordan Henderson was magnificent last season, but he too, like Fabinho, may be suffering now from advancing years and intense workload.
So that means at least two new midfielders too, who can go straight into the team…a team which was genuinely feared by Real Madrid last season, but not any more. The figures required will probably give their American owners sleepless nights.
The good news for Klopp, is it is not a complete reconstruction from the ground up, as he had to do when he arrived at Anfield in 2015. Three or four intelligent signings will make a massive difference.
If they deliver the equivalent intensity levels of last season, then Liverpool will be feared once more. Even by Carlo Ancelotti and Madrid.
Jurgen Klopp has already stated he signed a new contract with Liverpool to ensure he rebuilt his great team, instead of leaving the task to his successor. It’s tough to offload players on long contracts, but here we look at the areas requiring urgent surgery:
Staying: Alisson still top class despite howler v Madrid and Kelleher has quality and youthful potential as understudy.
Leaving: Adrian contract up, so could move on.
Needed: Could sign experienced back up.
Staying: Van Dijk still the pick and Konate massive potential, possibly one other.
Leaving: Phillips will move on, possibly one of Joe Gomez or Joel Matip.
Needed: Two defenders, one world class, the other with real potential.
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Staying: Thiago and Henderson have experience and years remaining on contracts. Bajcetic has been a sensation, Elliott and Carvalho have progressed. Jones may be given one last chance.
Leaving: Keita, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Milner all at end of contracts, Arthur will definitely go. Fabinho a possibility.
Needed: At least two top class signings to go straight into first XI. Klopp wanted holding mid last summer, clearly a big priority. Also needs energy and intensity for one side.
Staying: All of recent signings, and most likely all of them, as hard to offload players these days all of them.
Leaving: Possibly out of contract Firmino – would be a financial decision to balance squad in other areas. In extremis, Salah to fund new signings.
Needed: Klopp already signed Diaz, Nunez and Gakpo to replace Mane. So enough strength, unless Salah goes.