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Transfer Rater: Nkunku to Liverpool

Football Whispers
 By Steven Kelly

Liverpool caught in no man's land as transfer market moves on apace

Another week is ending in frustration for Liverpool fans. The club begin their preseason programme away to Tranmere on Thursday with only Mohammed Salah signed up.

Much is being made of how quickly local rivals Everton have done their business. Most of that noise is coming from Evertonians, in fairness, and Liverpool are in a different situation. 

But there are eerie similarities to the fateful summer of 2014. Back then, the Reds had also done well in the league and hoped to move onto another level.

Jurgen Klopp's team isn't quite that good yet, but so far there is little talk about him losing the team's best player, as with Luis Suarez three years ago.

A good league season was aided by the absence of European competition. It was felt in 2014 that transfer money needed to be spent on bolstering the squad. Eight new players arrived, none of whom even began to fill the gap left by the Barca-bound Suarez.

When Daniel Sturridge picked up a long-term injury, Liverpool's plans were in tatters. They'd wanted Alexis Sanchez but he chose Arsenal, forcing a last-ditch scramble for Mario Balotelli, the last turkey in the shop.

With that backdrop, supporters naturally become nervous about inactivity in the transfer window despite there being almost two months left of it.

It's also understandable if the club hierarchy feels once bitten, twice shy after the events of 2014. A club like Everton can't help but improve on numerous positions in their team, while Liverpool really need injections of pure class if they are to progress.

This inevitably meant vying for certain players who are extremely important to their current clubs. That in itself leads to a long, frustrating battle for closure.

Some will accuse the Reds of not using their financial muscle to get what they want, but they can't just give selling clubs whatever they ask. A fair price for any player is already built on shifting sands once Liverpool become interested.

It usually involves a huge hike in any player's actual value. Even in today's inflated market, a sellers' paradise, there are limits. There are also other players.

Fans hear names such as Virgil van Dyk and Naby Keita and then begin to fixate, while Southampton and Leipzig privately rub their hands with glee. It's unnerving how often Liverpool end up in a transfer bidding war with themselves.

In 2014, they were dramatically hindered by the Suarez/Giorgio Chiellini biting incident at the World Cup that ultimately triggered Suarez's move to Barcelona. Another injury to Sturridge left Liverpool short for the new season despite spending tens of millions of pounds.

They seem in better shape to deal with things this time around, so perhaps they could end up reverting to the original 2014 plan. Liverpool sometimes look poor when having to dig deep into their squad, a strengthening of which would give them a better chance next season.

Signing Virgil van Dijk is the first step towards rebuilding Liverpool's defence.
Whenever word spreads that Liverpool is interested in a player such as Southampton's Virgil van Dijk, the Reds seemingly begin to bid against themselves.

The first XI's only real flaw appears to be a cocky mentality against the league's weaker sides, as Liverpool's record against sides in the top six was excellent.

A refusal to spend larger amounts might however hinder long term. It's already being suggested that Paris Saint-Germain would love to spend big money on Philippe Coutinho.

The Brazil international is about to play his fifth full season at Anfield. At the end of 2017-18, if Liverpool are no nearer winning trophies than when he arrived in 2013, the little magician would be within his rights to move on. He would have been more than patient.

Ambitious players, frustrated supporters -- and Liverpool's hierarchy is stuck in the middle. "A rock and a hard place" doesn't even begin to describe it.

Klopp himself has called for patience; that is easier said than done. Publically identifying targets only meant more aggravation, with Leipzig getting as heated over Keita as Southampton were over van Dijk -- in public, at least.

Such clubs face future problems themselves. They must realise that for supremely talented individuals, they can be little more than a halfway house. Cutting up rough whenever any individual wants to leave might dissuade others in the future to signing long contracts with no release clause.

In the meantime, that is hardly Liverpool's problem. They were assisted in getting Salah from Roma by the Italian club needing to get all business done quickly, but still paid over the odds for a player who never set the Premier League alight while he was at Chelsea.

Liverpool fans are especially skittish because the days when the club found its own players -- whether locally or at lower levels of football around Europe -- would appear to be gone.

Having got it spectacularly wrong in 2014, the last time they'd advanced this far, Liverpool need to strike a balance between strengthening the squad and recruiting greater quality than is already at their disposal.

It's a complex conundrum for which a solution has so far proved elusive this summer.

Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC's Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.


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