The season is over and thoughts have turned to putting together next year’s squad. Many supporters have huge and unrealistic expectations so let’s try to break down the “cans, shoulds, and woulds” of the situation.
Two of the things supporters overlook are: a.) players under contract don’t have to go anywhere (see Fabio Borini and Jose Enrique for great examples) and b.) Liverpool can only put 17 “foreign” players on the squad out of a total of 25 senior players.
Liverpool finished the season with 29 players having senior squad numbers. Of those only Curtis Jones, Neco Williams and Rhys Williams can qualify as non-senior players next season. Kabak is expected to leave but Konate is incoming. The Wijnaldum to Barca-Bayern-Barca again and now PSG saga will see Liverpool lose one of their midfielders.
Liverpool also has 10 players returning from loan! 3 of these are non-senior and 3 more qualify as “homegrown” meaning they are not or are no longer considered foreign. Of these, the Reds would definitely like to ship out Ojo and Wilson. Of the other 4 Grujic and Karius will almost certainly depart in the form of loan or sale, Minamino’s status is uncertain (Southampton is exploring a move to make his loan permanent), while Taiwo Awoniyi never has secured a work permit. When all is said and done, Liverpool has 28-31 players to trim down to no more than 25.
Goalkeepers: Liverpool will want to carry 3 and Alisson is a given. I recently wrote that Adrian would be allowed to leave but it seems he’s negotiating a new contract at Anfield. This suggests that Kelleher may be sent out for much-needed experience leaving the question if Grabara, freshly back from successful loans in Denmark, with Huddersfield, and with 17 Poland U21 caps, could be retained to compete for the number two spot. Important to the cause is that he qualifies for the homegrown exemption. Karius meanwhile need not bother looking for housing on Merseyside.
Defenders: Offers abound for Nat Phillips who may be given the opportunity to leave for a stable starting spot. Neco Williams badly needs a loan to develop, Klopp vetoed offers in January and he will either have to play him more often or send him out. It could depend on Phillips given that a healthy Joe Gomez can play across the back four and would have more availability to do so with another CB in the camp. Joel Matip will not be going anywhere despite the suggestions of some supporters that he be “moved on”. Regrettably, many of the fan base don’t have a great understanding of what players do (and don’t do) on the field. Ben Davies though, recruited in January for emergencies, will probably be jettisoned.
Midfielders: Michael Edwards will listen for offers for a number of midfielders in order to trim the squad. Those that can’t meet valuation will be loaned out. Liverpool would like to move on Keita and Shaqiri and would like a permanent solution for Grujic. They are however resisting offers for Oxlade-Chamberlain. This would leave a core of Fabinho, Henderson, Jones, Milner, Thiago and Ox. Meanwhile Ben Woodburn is now losing the protection of being an U21, is nowhere near the first team, and needs to find a new home.
Forwards: Once again Liverpool will try to move on Harry Wilson and Sheyi Ojo. Liverpool have 4 strong forwards for its 3 starting spots. Added to that is Harvey Elliott coming off a successful loan at Blackburn and Klopp may be keen to test how far along he has come. This leaves Minamino and Origi very much on the fringe, especially considering the manager was using Ox in cameos up front at the end of the season.
Based on what we’ve concluded here, and assuming a) Kelleher goes on loan and Grabara comes in to cover him b) both Williams and Phillips stay put and c) Minamino and Origi are retained; then Liverpool would have 22 senior players of whom 7 meet the homegrown exemption. This would limit any further signings to 3 senior players at least 1 of which would have to qualify as homegrown.
Liverpool do seem to be sniffing around for another midfielder which would make sense considering the upcoming departures, and the limited amount of shelf life remaining on Milner in particular but also on Henderson. Brighton’s Yves Bissouma seems more likely to end up at Arsenal and Saul Niguez seems to prefer Bayern Munich (presuming Gini doesn’t change his mind again), but there is consistency to rumors concerning Leicester’s Youri Tielemans. Meanwhile, Wolves Ruben Neves is at just the point of his career where a move to a bigger club might suit everyone.
It’s hard to be sure exactly what will happen but this should prove to be a useful guide as to the needs, expectations, and limitations that Liverpool face. The Euros will put a lot of moves on hold for 3-4 weeks but expect movement to speed up after that.