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One January signing could save Liverpool’s season - but in reality Klopp’s squad needs two

11:00 GMT+3 26/12/2022
Liverpool January 2023
The Reds have problems in midfield and attack, and they can't afford not to spend before the window closes.

“My feeling was that we needed the boy like water in the desert.”

That was Pep Lijnders, talking in typically colourful fashion about the signing of Luis Diaz last January.

One wonders how Liverpool’s assistant manager feels at this moment in time, as we approach yet another winter transfer window and with the landscape at Anfield far more barren than it was 12 months ago.

January has often been pivotal for the Reds under Jurgen Klopp, and it looks as though that will be the case this time around too.

And to put it in simple terms, it needs to be as busy off the pitch as it is on it.

Liverpool need at least one new addition before the window closes, and in truth they probably require two: a midfield boost and an extra forward. It could be the difference between success and failure this season and, if it helps secure Champions League qualification, it could have a significant impact on the next couple of years too.

Right now, their season hangs in the balance. Never mind the Carabao Cup exit - that can happen when you’re drawn away to Manchester City - just look at the Premier League table. Work to do? Just a bit.

At present Liverpool are seven points off the top four, and given the fact they have won only six of their 14 league matches this season, it is hard to make a compelling case that they will, as some have presumed, simply click into gear in the new year and waltz their way back towards the top.

Indeed, if Thursday’s return to action at the Etihad told us anything, it is that many of the issues that were there before the World Cup are still there, and that the coming weeks and months may be even tougher for Klopp and his side, with games coming thick and fast and the club’s injury issues showing no sign of easing up.

Klopp himself admitted, at a press conference on Friday, that something may need to happen in the January window. “You can imagine, in our situation, that we are looking,” he told reporters. Earlier, he had confirmed that he was very much in favour of the idea of fresh investment, tellingly adding that he believed the future remains bright at Anfield, whatever happens with owners Fenway Sports Group and their attempts to sell off some, or perhaps all, of the club.

He laughed when it was suggested that, as former Reds star Jamie Carragher stated on Sky Sports this week, the club needed to spend up to £250 million ($301m) on new players, and grinned again when the name of Jude Bellingham, a serious target for the summer of 2023, was mentioned as a possible January addition. “It’s Christmas time, eh?!” he joked.

But you don’t have to be a mind-reader to know that Klopp, like just about everyone else, can see the need for reinforcements. Liverpool worked wonders to build a squad capable of taking on Manchester City, not to mention the rest of the European powerhouses, but they need significant additions now, as players leave, others grow older and some, inevitably, fail to live up to their early promise or sustain the superhuman levels reached in recent seasons.

Midfield is the most obvious area in need of a revamp, and it would be little short of negligent if Liverpool weren’t looking to add someone there in January. Relying on Thiago Alcantara, Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita to stay fit and healthy, on 19-year-old Harvey Elliott to play every game in a position he still hasn’t mastered, or on Curtis Jones or the lesser-spotted Arthur Melo to suddenly emerge from the shadows and nail down a place, is not a strategy any top club should be following. Liverpool have numbers in the middle of the park, yes, but reliability? Not even close.

Their attack, too, suddenly looks alarmingly thin. Having started the campaign with five senior forward options, they are down to two at present. Diaz is out until March, Jota likely until February, while Roberto Firmino will probably miss the next two games with a calf issue, and has already been carrying a heavier load this season than many expected.

That leaves Mohamed Salah, the machine, and Darwin Nunez, to carry the goalscoring burden. Beyond that, you’re talking about gambles. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, say, or Jones as a left-winger. Fabio Carvalho clearly has talent and promise, but a Diaz or a Jota replacement he is not. The 20-year-old has looked more like a No.10 than anything else so far, but Liverpool don’t play with one.

Klopp has said in the past, rightly, that the club should not sign players just because of injuries - and indeed, when they have been forced to do so, it really hasn't worked out. Who could forget Steven Caulker, Ozan Kabak or Ben Davies, or even Arthur himself?

But have a look at the fixtures coming up across the next five months. Liverpool could play as many as 38 games between now and June, all of them potentially vital, and they simply don’t have the players to cope with that kind of schedule. Looking further ahead, four senior players are out of contract in June and would need replacing. It makes sense to get at least one of those replacements in in January.

The winter window, generally, has been kind to Liverpool. Diaz worked out brilliantly as a January signing, as did Virgil van Dijk in 2018. Phillipe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge made a huge difference in 2013, Luis Suarez was a mid-season gem in 2011, and going back further, the likes of Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel turned out to be bargains even if they took time to settle initially.

It isn't easy, especially with the World Cup inflating fees and egos, but it is possible to find the right player at the right price in January - the one who can make both an immediate and a long-term impact. The water in the desert, to return to Lijnders' phrase.

That’s exactly what Liverpool need now. And they need it far more than they did last year.