Dominic Solanke's transfer doesn't relieve Liverpool bottleneck
Background image: Zweifüssler, CC BY 2.0
The winter window is heating up. Bournemouth signed Liverpool striker Dominic Solanke for a reported £19 million. Solanke arrived at Anfield from Chelsea in 2017 as an interesting prospect. While the Reds enthusiasm passed, the club turned a nearly 400% profit on their investment.
Last season, Solanke made 21 appearances almost entirely from the bench. He scored one goal. Working toward a 400% improvement on that return wasn't worth Jurgen Klopp's time. Still, young players need more than cameos to develop and in the new campaign, Solanke was receiving less. He didn't make an appearance for Liverpool this term.
Klopp admitted it was right for him to leave. Their interests didn't align. In one sense, that's one less headache for the manager. In another, it invites more. They say you'll never walk alone through Merseyside's red half but the forwards waiting for Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino or Sadio Mane to slip up have no room to step.
Liverpool's frontline is in the UEFA vanguard. Salah, Mane and Firmino's production in 2017/18 evoked favourable comparisons to the best in football. Their success took them all the way to the Champions League final. While the trio competed for their respective countries in the World Cup, Klopp built on the foundation they provided.
Repeatedly linked to Lyon's Nabil Fekir in past transfer windows, the Frenchman proved repeatedly unobtainable. With Stoke relegated and clearing the clubhouse, Klopp turned to Xherdan Shaqiri. At £ 13.5 million, nearly a third less than Solanke, t he Swiss dynamo is a goal waiting to happen. His brace against Man United in a 3-1 win demonstrated both his quality and luck [both deflected off defenders to evade David de Gea] coming off the bench. In addition, he allowed the German tactician to tinker with the squad's shape, most recently adapting a 4-2-3-1 that's delivered a comfortable four-point lead atop the Premier League table.
Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi have their moments but are far less reliable. The duo started against Wolves as Liverpool were knocked out of the FA Cup. Origi scored but it remained evident the duo don't suit Klopp's system. Their ball retention, creativity and positional play were shambolic.
Whether the pair can bridge the gap until the Reds' academy products are ready is debatable. Ben Woodburn, Harry Wilson and Rhian Brewster offer promise but ask for time.
Woodburn's loan to Sheffield United was not renewed. The 19-year-old Welshman only played the full 90 minutes once. Being Liverpool's youngest ever goalscorer exerts pressure on a teenager. While recently sidelined with an ankle injury, lack of game time under Blades manager Chris Wilde undermined his tremendous potential. Given his age, Klopp has been diplomatic about Woodburn's travails at Bramall Lane.
Meanwhile, Wilson is thriving under Frank Lampard at Derby. The 21-year-old, also Welsh, claims 10 goals for the Rams and two assists. The academy player's player of the year in 2017/18, Wilson loves to strike from dead ball situations and tight angles. He became an instant darling for the Kop when he produced the goal that ended Manchester United's EFL Cup defence. Performing the Fernando Torres 'five-times' gesture to signify two more European Cups than the Red Devils helped. Klopp will need to find minutes for the youngster when he returns, whether that's in 2019/20 or the season following.
Brewster remains in the Kirkby youth set-up, hoping for the same opportunities afforded Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez. He is back to full strength after being stretchered off during an U23 match last term. The Under-17 World Cup Golden Boot winner would love to contribute to the senior team before summer arrives.
Paul Glatzel and Bobby Duncan have also caught the Kop's eye. Each scores goals in abundance for the U18s.
There are so many guests but little room at the Anfield inn. Klopp's dynamic trio and their new drummer Shaqiri are going nowhere. Origi and Sturridge are not young enough for Klopp to mould them into world-class players. The only option remaining is to ship them off. Liverpool Sporting Director Michael Edwards has shown his willingness by dealing Danny Ings to Southampton last summer.
There are more forwards in the queue. Ryan Kent and Curtis Jones, for instance. The latter was recently given a debut in a 2-1 defeat against Wolves in the FA Cup and is worth the hype. Kent is enjoying his time in Glasgow with Steven Gerrard and Rangers. He has three goals and two assists in domestic play and featured in the Europa League where he has another helper. Jones showed flash in the defeat to Wolves.
Klopp's problem isn't unique among top Premier League clubs. Jadon Sancho and Brahim Diaz left Manchester City searching for regular football. Jose Mourinho struggled to find time for all his attackers even while he feuded with two or three. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has given Marcus Rashford starting minutes but £75 million man Romelu Lukaku keeps scoring from the bench begging the question, how long will that continue?
While this season is all blueberries and cream, things might sour next year if Klopp doesn't find time for his young stars during this campaign. A summer exodus followed by a critical injury or two in the fall could cripple the Merseysiders. Winning now doesn't guarantee the future.