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Premier League

FSG's prudence or Boehly's extravagance? Liverpool and Chelsea have big decisions to make as Champions League disappointment looms large

12:30 EAT 20/01/2023
John W Henry Todd Boehly GFX
The sides meet at Anfield on Saturday knowing defeat for either would spell the end of their top-four hopes, and leave them with big problems to fix

In a normal season, this would be the game of the Premier League weekend. Liverpool and Chelsea have enjoyed some epic encounters in recent years. They have contested FA Cup and League Cup finals, Champions League quarter-finals and semi-finals, even a European Super Cup.

Their league meetings have been tense, tight and often decisive; remember Steven Gerrard’s slip, Mohamed Salah’s strike and just about everything else in between?

The latest instalment of this intriguing rivalry promises to be equally fascinating, but for rather different reasons. The sides arrive into it together in the table, separated only by goal difference, but knowing that victory at Anfield on Saturday, while welcome, would be little more than a sticking plaster, a rare bright spot in a season of struggle.

These are, as it stands, the ninth and 10th best sides in the Premier League, teams who would have hoped - or expected - to be challenging for the title, but who instead find themselves flailing in the race for a top-four finish. 

Failure to achieve that goal, clearly, would be a source of huge embarrassment, but it is interesting to note the key differences between these two Champions League regulars, and between their respective circumstances.

One club has recently been taken over, while one remains up for sale, with no buyer or partial investor found. One club has changed a Champions League-winning manager this season, while one remains firmly behind the man who brought them such glorious success. 

And one club is spending money like it is going out of fashion in the transfer market, while the other continues a patient, frugal policy which has paid off handsomely in the past, but which now appears to be starting to undermine attempts to progress.

The Todd Boehly era at Chelsea is only seven-and-a-half months old, but it has already been little short of remarkable, with the wind of change gusting through Stamford Bridge on an almost daily basis.

Boehly and the Clearlake Capital consortium paid more than £4 billion ($5bn) to acquire the club last May, and they have shelled out more than £370m ($450m) since then, with more spending expected before the January window closes.

Saturday will see the debut of Mykhailo Mudryk, with Chelsea having blown Arsenal out the water to sign the exciting Ukrainian winger from Shakhtar Donetsk, while it appears as if Londoners will soon add another sought-after young attacker to their ranks, with a deal to sign England Under-21 international Noni Madueke from PSV Eindhoven agreed.

Add that to the captures of Joao Felix, Benoit Badiashile, Andrey Santos and David Datro Fofana this month, and to those of Raheem Sterling, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Wesley Fofana, Kalidou Koulibaly, Carney Chukwuemeka, Marc Cucurella and Cesare Casadei in the summer, and you get the picture. This is a club, to coin a hackneyed old footballing phrase, 'having a right good go'.

Whether it pays off for them, and for Graham Potter, the club’s embattled manager, remains to be seen. Spending mega bucks on players - Sterling, Aubameyang and Koulibaly - whose best days are behind them is a risky policy, while the failure of big-money signings such as Kepa Arrizabalaga, Timo Werner, Romelu Lukaku, Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech to live up to their early billing will end up costing the club millions. It already has.

But it is understandable that Liverpool fans are looking a little enviously at events in west London and wondering what might happen if their club, and more importantly their manager, was to receive a similar level of investment and backing.

The Reds have already added to their squad this month, bringing in Cody Gakpo from PSV in a £44m ($52m) deal, but with less than two weeks remaining in the window, there is little sign yet that the midfield signing supporters crave, and which Jurgen Klopp’s team so clearly requires, will be following the Dutch international forward, with Liverpool seemingly prepared to wait until the summer to try to land their preferred, long-term targets.

That will jar with some, especially in a week in which it was confirmed that the Reds had jumped to third in Deloitte’s Football Money League, overtaking Manchester United with revenues of more than £594m ($736m). How that revenue is used remains a major bone of contention for many supporters.

There was plenty of excitement this week as rumours of a potential Qatari-led takeover gathered pace online, but they were swiftly played down by sources close to Fenway Sports Group, who insist there have been no formal offers for the club, and who have begun to suggest that a partial sale to a “minority partner” remains the likeliest outcome from their global search for investment, which was first revealed by The Athletic in November.

And so for now they must crack on, hoping Klopp can once again unlock the performances which took his team to within the brink of greatness last season, hoping out-of-form players rediscover their mojo and that injured ones return on or ahead of schedule, and hoping the likes of Gakpo and Darwin Nunez, as well as Harvey Elliott, Fabio Carvalho, Curtis Jones and the fast-emerging Stefan Bajcetic, can fulfil their obvious potential.

All very possible, by the way, but there is no doubt that significant changes will need to take place at Anfield at the end of the season, in terms of playing personnel.

Klopp will be there to oversee them of course, with FSG’s faith in their manager unaltered by the Reds’ stuttering season. 

How Potter would love similar backing at Chelsea. How Thomas Tuchel, Jose Mourinho and countless others would have liked it too. Support for managers at Stamford Bridge, from the stands and the boardroom, has been in short supply down the years.

Time will tell whether the ‘hire ‘em and fire ‘em’ attitude of the Roman Abramovich era continues into the Boehly one, but it is already clear that Chelsea are prepared to roll the dice under their new American ownership. To speculate in order to accumulate, you could say, and to risk expensive mistakes in the quest for expensive success.

The question is, will Liverpool ever be in a position to do the same under FSG? The jury remains very much out in that regard but, like Chelsea, the Reds know that it will be a lot easier to plot their future course from the Champions League. Missing out could set them back years.