After years of happy stability and gradually growing success, Liverpool are starting to see the downside of keeping their core squad in place for so long.
Winning the Champions League and Premier League in consecutive seasons was an unthinkable dream before Jurgen Klopp took the lead, but with the unwavering trust of the owners, he made it a reality.
But the club is slowly reaching a point where the strategy that led them there is causing problems. The bedrock of Klopp’s trusted team is made up of their own age players with similar contract terms, and those factors look less and less favorable over the years.
Jordan Henderson’s situation is the main concern but he is one of 11 Liverpool players whose contracts expire in two years. This cabal includes the famous first three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane as well as Virgil van Dijk and Fabinho – five pillars of the starting XI in full strength.
With the exception of Fabinho, each of these players will be well over 30 by summer 2023.
If Liverpool were to meet the contractual requirements of each of these players, the carefully crafted wage structure would have to transform them back into a self-sustaining titan of the European.
They would have one of the oldest teams in the Premier League for years to come, even if they stick to their policy of getting young, hungry players on to breakthroughs in their careers.
As difficult as it is for the fans to accept this, it is impossible for Liverpool to keep all of these players beyond the expiry of their current contracts. If they want to be sustainable and long-term successful, compromises have to be made, and that will mean some more emotional departures in the style of Gini Wijnaldum in the coming years.
Of the players eliminated in two years, the chances are that Nat Phillips and Xherdan Shaqiri will soon be transferred. Rhys Williams is young enough that a new deal and a few loan periods seem realistic, while Naby Keita is rumored to be on the verge of a new deal. That leaves Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who probably wouldn’t say no to a move after two frustrating, injury-ridden seasons.
However, his situation shows that Liverpool must regenerate their midfield before the situation deteriorates further. Curtis Jones and Fabinho should be long-term if he plans an extension, but with Thiago turning in his 30s, options are otherwise sparse.
A younger midfielder in the form of Youri Tielemans or Renato Sanches should be the next big sign.
After last season’s injury hell, Liverpool’s back line looks in decent shape in the long run. Alisson is nowhere between the sticks, and Caoimhin Kelleher will be his long-term deputy. Van Dijk’s contract is cause for concern, but Ibrahima Konate and Joe Gomez should each become elite center-backs in the years to come.
And as full-backs, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold rarely miss a game and each have three years to spare. The latter could use some backup, but that depends on what happens to Neco Williams.
The most pressing long-term problem, however, is at the other end of the field. Keeping Mane, Salah and Firmino just isn’t possible – they’ll all be in their 30s by the time 2023 runs around and at least one has to move on if Liverpool are to keep building for the future.
Diogo Jota could be a ready made replacement for one of them, while Harvey Elliott, if he stays on his current course, will have a say. But at least one more signature in this area will be required – ideally a little younger than Iota to avoid history repeating itself a few years later.
It won’t be Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappe, let’s face it, but PSV’s Donyell Malen, Napoli’s Victor Osimhen and Hertha’s Matheus Cunha are just a few that might be just the thing for you.
Liverpool’s rebuilding won’t be a big summer overhaul; that harbors too much risk both on the pitch and next to it. Instead, there will be a gradual refresh here and there until they have a functioning squad again in the long term.
With the departure of Wijnaldum and the arrival of Jota and Konate it is already under way. But there will have to be a lot more business, both inside and outside, before the recruiting team can retreat to the shadows again and enjoy the stability that has brought them back to the top of the European game.