No need for gloom at Anfield

WHEN Jurgen Klopp joked that Liverpool's next offer for Naby Keita would be €300 million, it did not hide a frustration felt by many Premier League clubs in an expensive and exasperating transfer window.

Nope, in football at least, the rich do not always get what they want but Liverpool's misfortune was to deal with a club even richer than themselves.

The Reds locked horns with the Red Bulls of Leipzig seemingly an age ago and have had no less than three bids for their star mid-fielder rejected – the latest one an eye-watering

€75m (RM376m) for a player few Kopites had heard of when the saga began.

Google searches revealed some impressive stats – the most interceptions and the second most tackles in the Bundesliga last season – and Liverpool saw him as being their own version of N'Golo Kante, albeit at a vastly higher price.

The 22-year-old Guinea international looked the ideal man to fill the box-to-box role that has earned Kante Premier League titles in successive years at Leicester and Chelsea. Indeed, the ground Keita covered suggested that Klopp would be able to turn up his gegen-pressing game to full throttle – in both senses of the word.

The trouble was that whereas Kante was picked up by the Foxes for a song and then sold to Chelsea for what was still a bargain £30m (RM168.48m), RB Leipzig were not for turning. Their policy is to keep their youngsters and, being owned by Red Bull, they don't need the money anyway.

Liverpool got into difficulties of a different kind with their other main target, Virgil van Dijk, but have re-entered the bidding only to find Southampton, who have been their virtual feeder club for the past three seasons, playing hard ball.

Although the player wants to go to Anfield, Klopp is finding this is another deal that is extremely hard to clinch. And with Barcelona hovering menacingly over Coutinho, Liverpool have much to ponder with the season less than two weeks away.

It is a measure of how drastically things can change. The recent 'How Liverpool could line up' team we printed in these pages looked seriously impressive. Even United fans conceded that they could be title contenders.

But that side included Coutinho as well as both Keita and Van Dijk, and is now looking more and more like a fantasy team. Take one out and you still have a pretty decent line-up; take two out and it's so-so, but take all three away and the top four might be out of reach.

What is increasingly likely is that if Coutinho does leave, Liverpool's owners will have to pay whatever the Saints want for Van Dijk just to placate the fans whose rise in expectations has been commensurate with the fees banded about. And even then they could be gazumped by a late bid by Manchester City.

Knowing the meticulous nature of the Fenway Sports Group and aware that Klopp himself prefers to mould players rather than buy them, Liverpool fans were pleasantly surprised that the lofty values being quoted did not bring about any altitude sickness this summer.

With Reds mindful of two successive January windows when nobody came in and the profit made on last summer's dealings, this summer's dogged pursuit of the two top targets sent excitement levels soaring.

So if they are both missed and the star man is to be sold as well, disappointment would be palpable. That is not to say that the business done so far has been anything but excellent, albeit on a modest scale.

Mohamed Salah does look a terrific signing and the injection of pace that he will provide along with Sadio Mane could prove a game-changer. Liverpool will have perhaps the two quickest attackers in the Premier League – and the effect could be electrifying.

Dominic Solanke is suggesting Chelsea should have given him more of a chance while Andrew Robertson also looks a bargain for a paltry £12m (RM67.39m). Without being Roberto Carlos, the Scottish international will at least allow James Milner to revert to being the jack-of-all trades from the bench, thus giving Klopp more options.

With the new pieces of the jig-saw fitting in well, Klopp himself is optimistic. Younger players like Trent Alexander-Arnold and Ben Woodburn will be a year older and, whisper this in hushed and coded tones, Daniel Sturridge is looking fitter and more positive than he has in years.

More than one player has remarked, "it's like having a new signing."

It will be a defining season for the player who was such an able lieutenant to Luis Suarez in 2013-14, but such is Sturridge's reputation, no one will be counting even one chicken wing.

But mention of his name does raise the question of where the goals are going to come from. With no one prolific on the books, Klopp will be counting on Mane, Coutinho – if he stays – and Firmino to provide the bulk augmented by Adam Lallana, Georginio Wijnaldum and Salah.

If that doesn't fill Kopites with confidence, there could be plenty that will with another month left in the window. While Ivan Rakitic – rumoured to be offered in part-exchange for Coutinho – would definitely be seen as a castoff, Christian Pulisic, for whom Klopp would make a bee line if the Brazilian left, would not.

Just 18, the Borussia Dortmund playmaker is said to be the first potentially world-class star that the United States has produced. Of Croatian stock but a fully-fledged Yankee, Pulisic is no Freddie Adu but one of the most exciting young talents around. And Liverpool would have to pay at least three, perhaps four, times the £11m (RM61.78m) they offered last summer.

But if they can drive Coutinho's price to the top tier of the Nou Camp – Barca will have the Neymar money by then – Liverpool would have enough for Pulisic and Van Dijk. And Coutinho, as good as he is, would perhaps be viewed as a wantaway who sometimes disappeared even when he did want to stay.

Nope, there's no reason for doom and gloom, the defence needs the money spent on it more than midfield and Keita's price will drop next season anyway.

It looks like Klopp can see the positive side too.