Liverpool have urgent transfer issue to solve after two influential players allowed to leave

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp talks with Curtis Jones during the Premier League match against Everton at Goodison Park on April 24 2024

If Jurgen Klopp was intent on making life easier for his successor as Liverpool manager, the last few weeks was nevertheless not quite what he had in mind.

From being what appeared an almost impossible act to follow as the Reds chased down an unprecedented trophy quadruple, that there will almost certainly be just the League Cup to show for his exhausted team's efforts in the campaign underlines there is significant scope for improvement for whoever follows the German, with Feyenoord head coach Arne Slot edging nearer a move to Anfield.

Indeed, Liverpool's stuttering form since their return from last month's international break has acted as a painful reminder of how further the Reds must still travel to regain a regular berth among the Premier League elite.

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Even the most optimistic Reds supporter would admit Klopp's side have overachieved this season, regardless of the plethora of injury absences that have ultimately caught up with them during the run-in.

The leap from fifth to first is a difficult one - Arsenal failed in similar fashion last term - particularly with Liverpool having been compelled to completely rebuild their midfield last summer. And it's the engine room, or at the very least part of it, that will again need to be addressed in the coming transfer window.

That the meek surrender in the derby has prompted questions over Liverpool's lack of mental strength is somewhat harsh given they have won 27 points from losing positions this term and lifted the League Cup at Wembley in adverse circumstances. Hardly the sign of weak minds. But tired legs alone can't explain the manner in which, over the past four weeks, Liverpool have slipped out of the FA Cup, the Europa League and now, realistically, the title race.

There are of course other factors, such as the inevitable impact of Klopp leaving both on the manager himself and the squad. And the inexperience of certain players in coping with a high-octane derby at such a pressurised moment of the campaign was evident, most notably in the centre of the park.

As Everton swarmed in a manner akin to the 1990s Dogs of War, Liverpool lacked bite in midfield. Yes, Alexis Mac Allister leads by example and Curtis Jones attempted to get the Reds going, but neither they nor the disappointing Dominik Szoboszlai were able to rouse their team-mates in the same manner as Everton's feisty approach. It wasn't just the trio who were found wanting, though - across the pitch the Blues won 83% of their tackles (compared to 50% for Liverpool) and were easily on top in terms of duels, particularly during the pivotal opening half-hour.

Much is rightly made of the Reds' leadership group and they have an important part in the everyday work of the squad. But the current members are a different breed to former leaders Jordan Henderson and James Milner who, while not to the taste of everyone, could never be faulted for looking to impart motivation and ensure endeavour from their team-mates. Neither were afraid of putting a tackle in and revelled in the derby atmosphere, Henderson losing just one of 20 - and that was when he went off injured after half-an-hour - while Milner was unbeaten in 13.

That Klopp attempted to sign Moises Caicedo last summer underlines he recognised the need for a strong, athletic defensive midfield enforcer last summer. Wataru Endo, to whom Liverpool instead turned, has many of those attributes and in retrospect should have started against Everton, but was never bought with the long term in mind. And, with Endo unable to play every game, Mac Allister has spent the majority of the season filling in, in the process unable to operate in the more advanced role in which he has already shown he revels.

Yes, Stefan Bajectic is a future prospect, but he has made only six career Premier League starts and will take time to reintegrate having missed almost all of the last 13 months due to fitness issues. Like Endo, he will have a role to play next season, but there needs to be greater competition in the position.

Liverpool's next manager, then, will this summer find himself in exactly the same place as Klopp 12 months previous. Recruiting the right number six could be key to dragging the Reds further into the conversation with Arsenal and Manchester City next season.