Liverpool transfer window priorities: Sadio Mane set to leave but who replaces him?

The way in which their season ended means that any reflection on where Liverpool are coming from needs to come with the caveat of how close they were from turning a great season into one of the greats. But for an unlikely Manchester City fightback against Aston Villa and Thibaut Courtois’ heroics in the Stade de France, Jurgen Klopp’s side might have been English football’s first quadruple champions.

They may have missed out on the two biggest prizes available to them, but a squad that came within a few lucky bounces of immortality does not need a radical overhaul… yet. That is perhaps good timing, coming as it does in the first summer without Michael Edwards at the head of Liverpool’s recruitment team. He will be succeeded by Julian Ward and with the structures still in place there is no reason to assume that the Reds cannot spot gaps in the market anymore.

However, Sadio Mane’s increasingly likely departure to Bayern Munich does offer a reminder of the one thing all great teams have in common: they end. Liverpool have already been preparing for the day to come when their core is past its prime or ready to move on. That day has not come yet, but Mane’s decision to up sticks suggests it may arrive sooner than some expect.

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Liverpool goalkeeper outlook

  • Staying: Alisson, Caoimhin Kelleher
  • Uncertain future: Adrian
  • Leaving: Loris Karius

There is precious little drama in this spot in the pitch — nor indeed much of Liverpool’s squad — with clear hierarchies established and an obvious plan for almost every player. Alisson is the undisputed number one, perhaps the best one-on-one shot stopper in the game right now and a totem of Liverpool for the coming years. Caoimhin Kelleher is not at that level, but proved in his role as the cup goalkeeper that there is a player of real talent in him.

Loris Karius’ Anfield career was effectively ended by his howlers in the Champions League final four years ago, it will be actually ended when his contract expires at the end of the month. All that is left unresolved is what happens to former West Ham goalkeeper Adrian in the final year of his contract; he wants to play more and may go back to La Liga.

Ideal moves: There is precious little for Liverpool to worry about here, all they need to do is ensure Kelleher continues on the same trajectory and, if Adrian leaves, perhaps pick up a third goalkeeper who could step in in a crisis. Ben Foster is out of contract at Watford at the end of the season; if nothing else he could help out with the YouTube content.

Liverpool defender outlook

  • Staying: Virgil van Dijk, Ibrahima Konate, Kostas Tsimikas, Andrew Robertson, Joel Matip, Trent Alexander-Arnold
  • Uncertain future: Joe Gomez, Rhys Williams, Nat Phillips, Neco Williams

Konate’s steady improvement since arriving from RB Leipzig has given Liverpool a level of quality in central defense that they have arguably not had under Klopp, with the Frenchman and Matip making for able partners to Van Dijk, giving the manager the option to rotate depending on the threat posed by the opponent. Place two of them in between the full back pairing of Alexander-Arnold and Robertson and there is an established backline that still has several good years ahead of it.

Most intriguing is what might happen around the fringes. There was a time when Gomez looked to be a cornerstone of Liverpool’s long-term defensive plans, but the 25 year old struggled to gain his place back after returning from the knee injury that sidelined him for most of the 2020/21 season. His club would like him to sign a new contract but where suitors can offer him regular games at center-back, he may instead be asked to fill in as fourth choice center-back and third choice right back at Anfield. Whether Liverpool will see more of Neco Williams, who won rave reviews for his performances on loan at Fulham, remains in some doubt as the club push to secure highly rated youngster Calvin Ramsay from Aberdeen.

Ideal moves: Once more the pitch here is continuity; plenty of clubs would crawl over broken glass to have Gomez in the XI, he is as good a fourth choice center back as they come. He could fill in at right back once more next season but it may be the time give Neco Williams a real run while loaning out Ramsay once his signing is complete.

Liverpool midfielder outlook

  • Staying: Fabinho, Thiago, James Milner, Jordan Henderson, Curtis Jones, Harvey Elliott
  • Uncertain future: Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

The first of a cadre of players whose contracts expire in a year, Keita is in an intriguing position. He is arguably the proto-Klopp midfielder in this squad, as good a presser as there is in the Premier League and one who can connect the pitch in composed fashion. The issue is, rather, that he cannot stay fit. He averages less than 1,000 league minutes per season. However, for now it would appear that Liverpool believe some Keita is better than none at all as they are reported to be readying a new contract for the Guinean.

If he were to put pen to paper he would follow in the footsteps of James Milner, who will enter his 20th successive Premier League campaign in 2022-23, still a steadying hand at the tiller but one whose minutes might be reduced to make room for the impressive Jones and Elliott. So many options may ultimately force Oxlade-Chamberlain out, now approaching his 29th birthday the former Arsenal midfielder has struggled to consistently fulfil the potential that caught the eye of both Klopp and Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. His only matchday squads since the start of February came in the FA Cup and he has been linked with a move to Europe.

Ideal moves: If the Champions League showed anything it is that Liverpool can lack guile in central areas if Thiago cannot get into the game. More often than not he does, so any addition should be viewed as a successor to the Spaniard who can establish himself as a starter as the veteran ages out. The same might be true in other midfield spots, eventually someone will be needed to be the steadying influence Jordan Henderson has been on the right side of the trio. Aurelien Tchouameni would have been that and so much more but he is bound for Real Madrid. Ibrahima Sangare could be an alternative option.

Liverpool forward outlook

  • Staying: Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota, Luis Diaz
  • Joining: Fabio Carvalho
  • Uncertain future: Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, Takumi Minamino
  • Leaving: Divock Origi

With Salah having announced his decision to stay next season (currently the final one of his contract) all eyes are on Sadio Mane, who has strongly indicated he would like to move on after six trophy laden years on Merseyside. Bayern Munich are the likeliest destination for the Senegal striker, who would become the focal point of the Bavarians’ attack in a way he rarely did at Liverpool after Salah joined in 2017.

Before Mane’s likely exit became common knowledge ahead of the Champions League final, there had been much speculation that Roberto Firmino, also out of contract in 2023, could be moving on for a bigger role elsewhere. That may yet come to pass but it is perhaps easier to see Firmino taking on an elder statesman role if Liverpool do not have to find money to extend him, Salah and Mane. Imagine the Brazilian as the James Milner of Liverpool’s attack; if he is happy to be that then the likes of Diaz and new arrival Fabio Carvalho could learn a great deal from him. Certainly Liverpool could do with forwards to make up the numbers with Divock Origi bound for AC Milan and Takumi Minamino wanted by clubs that can offer him first team football.

Ideal moves: Replacing Mane will be an almighty challenge, particularly as he has shown greater versatility as the years have worn on, ending this season as the center forward who made room for Diaz and Salah to excel. Two players who Liverpool have been closely tracking — Darwin Nuñez and Jonathan David — could do some of what Mane does and may yet learn some of the rest but it would be a big ask. Christian Pulisic is another who fits into that mold, though there is so little clarity over his future role at Chelsea that it may be some time before it becomes clear if he could make the move from London to Liverpool.

Perhaps the best approach might be to go for two reasonably priced options, trusting the scouting department’s ability to find bargains even in the post Edwards era.

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