While winning the Premier League, as Liverpool did in record-breaking fashion, is a tremendous feat, defending it to land back-to-back titles grants near-legendary status.
This is because all of the other top teams and those who want to be a top team reinforce tremendously to mount the challenge. While Liverpool’s net spend over the last few seasons rocketed to £278 million, as favourites and defending champions, the club has spent very little.
So, we’re diving into the evolving transfer policy of the Reds and seeing if it aligns with teams that have achieved the near-impossible of winning back-to-back titles in the modern game.
The years of build and outlay
On 8 October 2015, Liverpool appointed Jurgen Klopp as the new boss, with the go-to starting line-up five years later being predominantly made up of players that the German boss has signed.
In 2016/17, the club signed Sadio Mané (£37 million), Georginio Wijnaldum (£24.75 million), Loris Karius (£5.58 million), and Joel Matip (free) to commence the moulding of the squad. The next season, 2017/18, Liverpool set a new world record for a defender’s transfer fee to get Virgil van Dijk (£75 million), and also brought in Mohamed Salah (£37.8 million), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (£34 million), and Andrew Robertson (£8 million).
In what would be the last season of huge spending, 2018/19 brought in Alisson (£56 million), Naby Keïta (£54 million), Fabinho (£40 million), and Xherdan Shaqiri (£13 million).
The transfer action over those three campaigns rung up a bill to the tune of £385.13 million which, considering the Reds won the Champions League and the Premier League with most of those players as the core of the team, was money well spent. However, the 2019/20 transfer windows showed a notably reduced rate of spending, as has this summer market.
Last season, Adrián came in on a free transfer to play as back-up to Alisson, and Takumi Minamino joined for £7.65 million to pad the attacking corps. While Minamino has played well in limited minutes and on smaller occasions, it seems very unlikely that the 24-year-old is considered a challenge to the recognised first-choice front three, all of whom are now only 28-years-old and in their prime.
To dive into the 2020/21 campaign as the defending champions, Klopp so far opted to add just one player, left-back Konstantinos Tsimikas from Olympiacos for £11.7 million. Another modest purchase who, while being highly rated by Olympiacos fans, likely won’t overtake Robertson as the go-to left-back. Moves haven’t been made to improve the team or pose significant competition to those leading the line-up for four transfer windows now. While the approach worked last season, other teams have had even more time to catch-up.
Kostas is a Red! pic.twitter.com/FTTxtGSlpr— Liverpool FC (@LFC) August 10, 2020
A historical need to keep cycling
It’s quite rare that the defending champions don’t enter the season as the favourites to repeat, regardless of how uncommon it is for back-to-back titles to actually occur. Using the complex league prediction system “Unikrn,” it was found that Manchester City are the favourites, with Liverpool in second. This sentiment holds true across the board, with the bookmakers giving Liverpool rather long odds considering that they’re the champions.
As of 8 September, Betway has Liverpool at 9/4 to win the title, with City ahead at 8/11, and third in the Champions League odds at 13/2. The biggest difference between City and Liverpool coming into this season is that the Citizens have done a fair bit of business – which is also why Chelsea have started to sneak into the conversation, too.
The Reds managed to stop City from achieving a three-peat of Premier League titles, but between their 2017/18 and 2018/19 trophies, Pep Guardiola made a key addition. For £61 million, City brought in Riyad Mahrez from Leicester City. While Leicestershire Live says that the Algerian was out of favour for much of the season, he still scored 12 goals and 12 assists over 44 appearances.
Furthermore, he pushed for a place in the team, forcing others to step-up. Of all of the managers to draw lessons from for sustained and consistent success in the Premier League, though, Sir Alex Ferguson may be the best source.
It wasn’t fun for the rest of the league, but the former Manchester United boss perfected the art of cycling his team to keep it a contender each season. In 2008/09, United completed the three-peat, with the transfer windows between each trophy showing an infusion of competition. The first summer saw them bring in game-ready prospects in Anderson and Nani as well as first-team competitors Owen Hargreaves and Carlos Tévez. Next season, another top scoring option was added in Dimitar Berbatov.
Through sustained success, Ferguson still brought through his top young talents, which Klopp has stated he aims to do, with players such as Neco Williams and Curtis Jones being recent examples of this, but there was still a regular infusion of competition for the starting XI via the transfer market.
This season will go one of two ways: Liverpool will slip to a competitor, most likely City, and pundits will point to the lack of transfer activity and a ‘title hangover.’ Or, the Reds will reign supreme to add yet another feather to Klopp’s cap and perhaps ushering in a new age of low-spending champions.