With Roberto Firmino and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain set to leave and Mohamed Salah facing a mid-season Africa Cup of Nations call-up, Liverpool may be short on attacking options next season
Jurgen Klopp is in the fortunate position of having all of his senior attacking options available for selection as Liverpool prepares to return to action.
While Luis Diaz won’t be thrown back into the starting lineup right away, his return to team training this week after nearly six months out due to a knee injury has bolstered the Reds’ ranks as they look to secure Champions League qualification in the final 12 games of the season.
In the absence of injured alternatives, Darwin Nunez and Cody Gakpo had established themselves as first-choice alongside Mohamed Salah over the previous two months. Klopp, on the other hand, has plenty of options with Diogo Jota and Roberto Firmino set to return in February.
Even though Firmino has confirmed that he will leave Liverpool at the end of his contract this summer, there has been little indication that the Reds will add to their attacking options. After all, they’ve spent the last year overhauling their forward line with the additions of Diaz, Nunez, Gakpo, and Fabio Carvalho.
Meanwhile, they still have Harvey Elliott, Kaide Gordon, and Ben Doak on standby in case they are needed. Salah’s international exploits for Egypt, on the other hand, may necessitate a rethink this summer.
During the March international break, the 30-year-old scored twice and assisted twice for the Pharaohs, who won back-to-back games against Malawi in Africa Cup of Nations qualification. As a result, they only need one point from their final two matches to secure a spot in next year’s finals in Ivory Coast.
The tournament was originally scheduled for the summer of 2023, but it was announced last year that it would be moved to January-February 2024 due to weather concerns in the host country during the summer. As a result, Liverpool will be without Salah’s services again in the middle of the season.
His lone absence would not be as painful as his previous AFCON departure with Sadio Mane and Naby Keita in 2022, but it is still a setback and would give Klopp an unwelcome headache in terms of how to replace his most prolific goalscorer.
Last year, Salah missed six matches before returning as a substitute for the Reds, while Mane missed seven as Egypt reached the AFCON final before losing on penalties to Senegal. In Gordon’s absence, Takumi Minamino, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Jota would all start on the right side.
In reality, they would serve admirably as fill-ins, as all four scored in Salah’s absence. However, they may not be viable options next winter when the Egyptian temporarily departs again.
Minamino was sold to AS Monaco last summer, and Oxlade-Chamberlain is set to leave on a free transfer at the end of the season when his contract expires. Meanwhile, Gordon has been out for more than a year due to a pelvic injury.
Jota is perhaps the best-placed alternative, with six goals and an assist in 14 appearances for Liverpool, but there is no doubt he prefers playing centrally or on the left. Regardless, his future is still up in the air, and after being plagued by injury for the past year, he hasn’t scored since last April.
Diaz also played on the right side for the Reds twice last season. While he would get an assist against Aston Villa, it was far from his most comfortable position. Meanwhile, Gakpo would play the role for PSV Eindhoven 20 times, but would only score once from the right flank.
And, while Elliott was a right-winger before joining Liverpool, Klopp has since transformed him into a midfielder. He could still play on the flank, but he has two goals and two assists from 16 appearances on the right.
Doak is a wildcard option, and while the Scotland youth international has a bright future ahead of him, it would be a bold move to turn to the 17-year-old, who has made two Premier League substitute appearances so far, as a starter in Salah’s absence next season.
Given that the Egyptian is a virtual year-round fixture for the Reds, finding him a quality understudy is a thankless task. As a result, Klopp may have to make do.
While Nunez, Gakpo, and Jota ensure that there is no real need for a like-for-like replacement for Firmino, the Brazilian’s and Oxlade-impending Chamberlain’s departures may leave Klopp with a short squad overall.
Of course, as Salah ages, the hope is that one of Liverpool’s talented youngsters will be ready to step up more frequently and relieve the pressure. However, there is an argument that the Reds have a vacancy to fill in the short term.
It remains to be seen whether they will be able to make such a signing in the summer, given their other pressing transfer priorities.