Heading into the 2022-23 Premier League season, the FiveThirtyEight Club Soccer Predictions model has given Liverpool the second best chance of winning the title. After more than five months and 20 matchweeks, the Reds sit ninth in the table, behind the likes of Brentford, newly promoted Fulham and Brighton & Hove Albion, and the model gives them less than a 1 per cent chance of domestic glory.
At the same time last season, Liverpool were nine points behind Manchester City in third with a game in hand. The model favored City and was eventually vindicated – but Liverpool played near-perfect football from then on, signing former Porto striker and Colombia superstar Luis Diaz in the winter transfer window. Diaz’s signing was, overall, one of the best in the history of the Premier League’s winter signings: His expected goals excluding penalties and expected assists per 90 minutes (npxG+xAG/90) are ninth (npxG+xAG/90) Phil Foden and Riyad with Mahrez) among players who have made at least 11 starts.
Of course, the Reds have struggled to secure a record 20th Premier League title – thanks to the collapse of Aston Villa – but their winter transfer business has given them the perfect opportunity.
Not to mention this season, although they recently lured Dutch striker Cody Gakpo – one of Europe’s most exciting young attacking talents and one of the biggest stars of the 2022 World Cup – away from PSV Eindhoven. As good as Gakpo is (and he may eventually become world-class), it’s too little, too late. Furthermore, Liverpool’s problems aren’t with its forward line — they lie (mostly) with its midfield (and its inability to keep opponents from scoring first).
To put it simply, Liverpool’s midfield is a mess. It’s a pathetic combination of being too old and too injured. Club captain Jordan Henderson – whose presence at Liverpool has been at once burdensome (unfair) and decorated – may not be able to play as many minutes as the 32-year-old this season. The same goes for maestro Thiago Alcantara and destroyer Fabinho, both on the wrong side of 29.
A year ago, these three formed one of the best midfields in world football – a combination that (more or less) took Liverpool to an unprecedented top-four finish. So they’ve each played more than 2,300 minutes in all competitions, which is a lot of minutes for any player, let alone a player in their 30s (or approaching). It’s impossible to know what manager Jurgen Klopp was thinking at the start of the season, but it’s a bit unbelievable to think he planned to play with his midfield elders as he was forced into this season. However, long-term injuries to Curtis Jones, Neby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and loanee Arthur have given Klopp few options but to rework him.
Signing a midfielder during the transfer window (which ends on January 31) would make sense – perhaps even more so than signing a striker, even if Diaz and Diogo Jota are sidelined with long-term injuries – but for now, Liverpool are looking to improve their fortunes. would not go to the market. It just might be impossible for Liverpool to fix (at least not this season). When a team relies on a strong press – that is, when a team relies on a frontline defense (Diaz and Jota are two fantastic strikers but have been sidelined for months) – and when the press breaks down, the midfield’s job and the backline’s job is much harder.
So is Liverpool’s season over? Not exactly. A league title is virtually non-existent, and the same could be said for 4th place, which would be financially catastrophic — Champions League qualification is worth tens of millions of dollars, which clubs can use to reinvest in squads and facilities. , making them more attractive for future signatures. But the Reds are still alive in the FA Cup and the Champions League. Klopp’s teams have historically been monsters in knockout tournaments — Liverpool have reached the final in three of their last five Champions League campaigns, winning one and won the FA Cup last season — so silverware is still possible. But without signing a midfielder (or two or three), that chance is dwindling by the day.
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