Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 24 October 2019

Liverpool look future proof with a young and committed squad under Jurgen Klopp

Champions League glory should be just the start for a group of players with an average age of 26 all tied down to long-term contracts

The future of Liverpool’s Champions League-winning manager is shrouded in mystery. He could leave this month. His employers have failed to heed the fans’ wishes and back him. Enough about Rafa Benitez’s strange situation at Newcastle United, however.

The man who has replaced Benitez as Liverpool’s most recent European Cup winner is going nowhere. He was not anyway, even before the news emerged that Liverpool wanted to reward Jurgen Klopp with an extended deal.

The German is already contracted until 2022, until the end of his seventh season on Merseyside, and as he managed both Mainz and Borussia Dortmund for seven years, that may have seemed a logical end point.

But no club looks as future proof as Liverpool. Mohamed Salah noted this weekend that Liverpool’s average age is usually 26 or 27. The 28-year-old Jordan Henderson was the oldest starter in Madrid.

Henderson, Salah, Virgil van Dijk, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Naby Keita and Fabinho are contracted until 2023, Alisson, Andrew Robertson, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joe Gomez until 2024. That is an 11 in itself; indeed all bar the injured Keita and the injury-hit Gomez started in Madrid.

Three who may rank as some of the more unlikely heroes, James Milner, Joel Matip and Divock Origi, are being offered extended deals. It is as well that this group seem to gel, on and off the field, because they will see a lot of each other in the next few years.

The latest addition to Anfield’s sizeable trophy cabinet is a reward for fine planning over several years – Salah, for instance, was first wanted when he joined Chelsea in January 2014 – and puts Liverpool in both an enviable and an unusual position.

For many a year, when they were forever playing catch-up in the transfer market, they needed too many players. Their budget was divided too many ways. They spent some summers trying to rectify the previous season’s errors in recruitment.

Now, in contrast, they may only need back-ups. There is a case for pursuing an attacking midfielder, the belated replacement for Philippe Coutinho that Nabil Fekir, but for his knee problems, would have become; Manchester City got far more goals from midfield than Liverpool. And yet more should be expected from Keita next season, while a fully-fit Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could also help fill that void.

Meanwhile, the only departures could be deputies; maybe Adam Lallana if a midfielder arrives. Daniel Sturridge has already been displaced as second-choice striker by Origi and, with the England Under-17 World Cup winner Rhian Brewster waiting in the wings, a forward may not be bought.

Nathaniel Clyne has been loaned out but a combination of Milner, Gomez and the youngsters Ki-Jana Hoever and Rafa Camacho could bring cover at right-back. A decision beckons at left-back, when Alberto Moreno leaves: can the teenager Adam Lewis and the multipurpose Milner offer enough cover for Robertson? Assuming Simon Mignolet goes, Alisson will need another understudy.

But these are the sorts of minor problems many would love as they contemplate bigger rebuilding jobs. Liverpool have personnel and a tactical plan.

They may heed the words of a rival. Alex Ferguson often opined that a successful team had a four-year cycle and if constants like Ryan Giggs formed part of several sides, Liverpool can console themselves with the thought there is no need for an overhaul in the immediate future, albeit with the potential of one when a group of players start to decline together.

Their one obstacle in their path is a formidable one: City. Yet with Guardiola’s deal lasting until 2021 and the champions boasting more thirty-somethings, perhaps Klopp’s relentless runners are primed to outlast their rivals.

Updated: June 3, 2019 03:37 PM

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