Wataru Endo faces Liverpool change as major transfer decision becomes clear

Wataru Endo of Liverpool during the Premier League match against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield on May 19 2024
-Credit: (Image: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

He was the signing nobody had forecast who became the fan favourite hardly anyone would have anticipated. But not even an encouraging debut season was sufficient for talk to soon begin regarding a new arrival in their position.

Such was the campaign for Wataru Endo, whose eventual success and impact has underlined why Liverpool should be in the market for another recognised defensive midfielder during the summer transfer window.

Endo's arrival at Anfield a few days after the season had started in August was as swift as it was unexpected, former sporting director Jorg Schmadtke using his Bundesliga contacts to sign for £16.25million from Stuttgart, a player who, then aged 30, didn't exactly fit the Fenway Sports Group profile.

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Needs, though, must be given. Liverpool had lost out to Chelsea in high-profile moves for Moises Caicedo and Romeo Lavia following the surprise departures of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson to Saudi Arabia.

Early signs didn't augur well, with Endo starting just two Premier League games before December with his outings in the Europa League inconsistent at best. But a turning point came with his cameo from the bench at home to Fulham, when he roused the Anfield crowd with some rattling challenges and scored a late equaliser to help transform an imminent 3-2 defeat into a 4-3 triumph.

Endo subsequently started all bar two Premier League games for which he was available, having demonstrated the value of his experience and positional sense after finally adjusting to the intensity of the Premier League. Strong in the air, his technique in possession was sufficient for Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola to point out how the Japanese and Alexis Mac Allister had transformed the approach of the Liverpool midfield.

Endo's form did fluctuate on occasion. He was replaced at half-time both home and away against Crystal Palace, although the Anfield defeat to the Londoners in April was the only time he started a Premier League game that Liverpool lost, having been absent for the reverse at Arsenal and only a substitute in the final quarter of setbacks at Tottenham Hotspur and Everton.

Indeed, the latter defeat emphasised the importance of Endo, with his aggression sorely missing as Liverpool slumped to only the second derby defeat of the Jurgen Klopp era.

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Further evidence came in the closing games against Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa when, after Endo was substituted midway through the second half, Liverpool conceded twice in each game.

While Mac Allister started more Premier League games as the number six, it was Endo who ended the season as the undisputed first-choice in the position. However, he was never going to be a long-term solution to the defensive midfield issue. And with Mac Allister much better served in an advanced role and teenager Stefan Bajcetic not even close to being a regular option so early in his career, more reinforcements are required should new boss Arne Slot choose to replicate Klopp's 4-3-3 approach.

If, though, Slot relies more heavily on 4-2-3-1, that would also suit Endo and perhaps lessen the need for a new midfield signing given the versatility of many of those already in the squad.

Either way, Endo will almost certainly again be important for Liverpool next season. But it perhaps won't be to the extent in which he emerged as an unlikely key man for the Reds this term.

End-of-season rating: 7