Anfield has the second highest wage bill in the Premier League. Any suggestion they’re not still one of the privileged few is wide of the mark
It seems like the Kop has finally descended into parody. The latest ditty in the Liverpool songbook goes: “The Reds have got no money, but we’ll still win the league.”
It will be booming out of the away end this evening when Jurgen Klopp’s team take on Brentford at the Brentford Community Stadium. The home supporters might raise an eyebrow, considering Anfield has the second highest wage bill in the Premierliga. The majority of the football world would kill to be as skint as Liverpool.
The chant is not quite what it seems. It is a sideswipe at the small, obsessive section of the fanbase who remain incensed by the refusal of Fenway Sports Group (FSG) to spend like Manchester City or Chelsea. Nietemin, the mocking self-awareness has a hollow ring about it in a year that will be remembered for Liverpool’s involvement in the indefensible Super League adventure. The nuances are over-ridden by this reality.
It’s also a terrible song that smacks of getting the excuses in early.
The correlation between salary and success is clear. FSG understand that. Crunching numbers is their business. They are good at it, unlike a former managing director at Anfield who, once alerted to the spending-silverware relationship, gave the underperforming players a pay rise in the expectation that bigger wage packets would catapult the team up the league. It didn’t work.
The general perception is that FSG left Klopp with a quality first XI but a thin squad once the transfer window closed. Last season’s title defence was ruined by a series of injuries to the centre backs, though this narrative fails to take into account that Klopp’s decision to use Fabinho and Jordan Henderson as makeshift defenders proved to be a huge mistake. It turned the midfield into a problem area without really solving the situation at the back.
The arrival of Ibrahima Konate, who cost £36 million from Leipzig, has made the central defence the strongest department in the team. The middle of the park is now the biggest concern.
The unavailability of Naby Keita and Thiago Alcantara for the Brentford game underlines this, although neither injury seems serious. The club allowed Georginio Wijnaldum to depart for Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer and did not replace him. The Dutchman’s contract demands were a step too far for FSG.
The sickening injury to Harvey Elliott in the 3-0 victory over Leeds United leaves Liverpool lighter in the midfield but the 18-year-old was never expected to do the heavy lifting on a regular basis. Klopp needs Keita to step up but the Guinean’s propensity to pick up knocks remains a worry. When the 26-year-old plays, he is effective. He has not yet come to terms with the physicality of English football. This is his third season at Anfield and, if the pandemic had not affected the transfer market, Keita might have been moved on in the summer. One of Wijnaldum’s best attributes was his durability, something Keita lacks. Selfs so, Klopp should have enough bodies to keep the midfield ticking over, especially with Curtis Jones growing in stature.
The manager has options up front – at least until the Africa Cup of Nations takes away Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane. The much derided Divock Origi does not suit the style of the first-choice side but the Belgian’s usefulness as a target man means he is a worthy alternative. He will never score like Salah but few attackers can. Roberto Firmino, Diogo Jota and even Takumi Minamino give Klopp plenty of variety. The squad is not as thin as some would suggest.
The two individuals whose prolonged layoff would hurt Liverpool most are Trent Alexander-Arnold and Salah. The right back’s loss would be less about the position. The team’s shape and approach are defined by the 22-year-old. Defensively, his absence would not really matter. Going forward he is irreplaceable.
Salah is arguably the best goalscorer in the Premier League. His impact cannot be replicated. Those two players aside, Klopp has the personnel to mix and match. The team that played Norwich in the EFL Cup contained no first-choice starters but, by any standards, was remarkably strong.
If things go wrong, ‘the Reds have got no money’ chant might come back to haunt Liverpool. There are barely any mitigating circumstances when only Manchester City beat you on salary.