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Liverpool’s Champions League qualification means it’s all systems go for the club’s transfer plans, which would have had to be re-evaluated had they failed to secure a top-four finish. Thanks to a 2-0 victory over Crystal Palace last Sunday, that is of course not the case.
RB Leipzig’s Ibrahima Konate is set to become one of Liverpool’s first signings of the summer with the highly-rated Frenchman poised to join the Reds at a cost of around £34million thanks to a release clause in his contract.
The 22-year-old, included in the France squad for the upcoming under-21 Euros, has already agreed personal terms and is expected to replace the on-loan Ozan Kabak, who will return to Schalke after a six-month loan spell at Anfield.
Konate’s move may not be made official until after that tournament but it’s widely expected he will link up with Jurgen Klopp and co. to offer a fresh high-quality alternative to the trio of Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip, all returning from injury.
Liverpool will then move on to strengthening other areas of the squad, namely central midfield with Barcelona-bound Gini Wijnaldum leaving upon the expiry of his contract.
Brighton’s Yves Bissouma is one of many players to be linked with the Merseyside outfit and the 24-year-old Malian, also liked by Arsenal and several other rival clubs, would cost around £30m.
Perhaps of equally critical priority however is another attacker, following the slide in standards from Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane over the last 12 months.
Yet in that regard, there are some who believe a summer’s rest and a full pre-season might allow Mane and Firmino to match the levels of team-mate Mohamed Salah once more.
Mane, after all, was the stand-out performer in the win over Palace at the weekend and his display fully merited his brace.
Gary Neville said: “I am not a great believer in this fact that the front three are done. I still think their performances at a really high level.
“They have performed at such a high level for so many years. Sprinting a million miles that team.”
But Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher said by contrast: “The front three have been amazing but it’s just at that stage now where it needs something else and it must be rectified in the summer when you think of the chances that have been missed this season.
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“You have to move with the times, and an extra bit of competition up front wouldn’t go amiss.”
Carragher is right. Salah was by far the shining light of the front three this term having contributed 31 goals and six assists, while Mane and Firmino combined produced 25 goals and 18 assists.
On the face of it, those numbers aren’t too bad. Their performances, for large chunks of the campaign, did not match up to how good they are as players.
Their final numbers were also helped by the fact Mane and Firmino came on strong at the climax of the campaign, having underperformed for much of it between late December and early March.
Firmino scored three and laid on two assists in the last five games while Mane helped out with four goals and two assists, including his crucial final-day brace against Palace.
But despite their late revivals, and the key parts they played in securing Champions League football, Klopp should not be swayed from Liverpool’s initial plan to strengthen in the final third.
With Divock Origi surely headed for the exit door and Xherdan Shaqiri set to follow him, Liverpool need another forward who can contribute from the bench.
Harvey Elliott could come into Klopp’s thinking after an impressive season on loan at Blackburn Rovers but he’s still only 18 and is highly unlikely to be as immediately effective as Diogo Jota, signed last summer from Wolves.
Jota’s goalscoring hot streak dropped off towards the end of the campaign but he still scored 13 times in 30 games, despite tallying only a little over 1,700 minutes (compared to Salah’s 4,178, Mane’s 3,719 and Firmino’s 3,372), and was sublime pre-injury.
Liverpool need another player who can be similarly as effective when required to play, with Leeds United’s Raphinha, Wolves’ Pedro Neto and Harvey Barnes of Leicester all exciting young options who seem excellent fits for the Reds’ tactics.
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Whether Klopp and his recruitment staff look abroad for a cheaper less-established option remains to be seen, but it is that level of talent they will be looking at – and that they need.
And though Mane and Firmino’s form and output may improve next season after some rest over the summer, there is no doubting that another attacker and the extra competition from another body would benefit them all.
It must not be forgotten that Salah and Mane will also both be involved in the Africa Cup of Nations, which will take place midway through the campaign in January 2022 having been rescheduled from June 2020 due to Covid.
And signing a player the age and quality of Raphinha, Neto or Barnes would also benefit Liverpool’s succession plan, given Salah is 29 in June, Mane is 30 next April and Firmino is 30 this October. All are also currently out of contract from June 2023.
If Liverpool are to get back to challenging for the Premier League and Champions League, another attacker the ability of Jota is sorely needed. Klopp must not allow Mane and Firmino’s late form to change his mind on that.
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