Who from Outside the Premier League Top 6 Should Liverpool Sign in January?

Rob LancasterFeatured ColumnistOctober 3, 2017

Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool have been stuck in their own version of Groundhog Day this season.
Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool have been stuck in their own version of Groundhog Day this season.LINDSEY PARNABY/Getty Images

Frustration. Pure and utter frustration: It was hard to feel anything else after Liverpool's performance against Newcastle United on Sunday.

An all-too familiar tale had unfolded at St James' Park, as the Reds spurned scoring opportunities and gave away a soft goal, meaning they departed Tyneside with only a solitary point. 

The same scenario had occurred at Spartak Moscow in the UEFA Champions League in midweek. Then there was the home game with Burnley in the middle of September too, plus the home tie with Sevilla in Europe.

When domestic duties were put on hold for the last international break at the end of August, Liverpool had reeled off four wins on the spin and were unbeaten in all competitions, including securing their place in the Champions League group stage with home-and-away wins over Hoffenheim.

Since then, however, they have recorded one victory in seven outings.

Beating Newcastle would have raised sagging spirits among the fanbase ahead of welcoming Manchester United to Anfield on October 14. Instead, supporters will now have to wallow in a pool of disappointment and doubt for nearly a fortnight before the high-flying Red Devils visit.

Manager Jurgen Klopp has done so many good things since taking charge, but his successes don't mean he is immune to criticism. Likewise, owners Fenway Sports Group keep coming under scrutiny.

For whatever reason, Liverpool didn't spend as expected in the summer. Whether through choice or financial shortcomings, they opted to stick with the vast majority of the squad that finished fourth last season.

Such loyalty is admirable in many industries, but the ever-changing Premier League isn't one of them.

"There were key areas that Liverpool didn't strengthen in the transfer window and the past month has brought the club's summer business into sharp focus. They simply didn't do enough," James Pearce wrote in his assessment of the situation for the Liverpool Echo after the 1-1 result at Newcastle.

Fans will hope the club plans to be busy when the market reopens in January. But who will they buy?

Doing business with a top-six rival halfway through a season seems unlikely; clubs competing for titles and trophies are unwilling to allow players to leave unless they've been cast aside. Those stuck out in the cold are unlikely to be on Liverpool's radar unless Klopp fancies working on a reclamation project.

So who else in the Premier League could they go after? There is one obvious target, of course.

               

Going Dutch

In giving away a soft penalty on Saturday, Virgil van Dijk looked like he'd fit right in at Liverpool.
In giving away a soft penalty on Saturday, Virgil van Dijk looked like he'd fit right in at Liverpool.Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Getting Virgil van Dijk has become an obsession for Liverpool fans.

The Dutchman is the rather tall stick to beat the current centre-backs with and the sure-thing, can't-miss signing who can make a difference. He's the answer to the defensive deficiencies that have plagued Klopp's team.

Van Dijk has been placed on such a lofty perch you have to wonder if he can walk across the River Mersey.

"The one that got away is always the hardest to forget, isn't it? This could become the sonnet of a despondent poet, soaking in a bath of his own misery, but it isn't," Anfield Index writer Alex Barilaro said.

"It's simple; Klopp still wants Van Dijk. He obviously thought he could sign him from Southampton's unreasonable, petty hands even after the club was forced to make a public apology in the summer.

"If he believed the Van Dijk deal to be as dead now as the pessimists in red seem to, then he'd have made an approach for another centre-back before the last window closed, rather than waste his time.

"He's spoken about the issues at the back before. Don't let the hyperbole regarding his quest to turn Dejan Lovren into Alessandro Nesta fool you—he is clearly looking to upgrade on this defence."

Liverpool's defence was once again a hot topic on social media after Joel Matip and Lovren left a bus-sized hole for Joselu to gallop canter through and score a fortunate equaliser on Sunday.

Had things run smoothly, Van Dijk would be a Liverpool player already. Instead, a botched approach left the Reds unable to chase a key transfer target and lumbered Southampton with a disgruntled player, per Jeremy Wilson of the Daily Telegraph.

Banished to train with the youth team during pre-season, the Dutchman has been integrated back into Saints' first-team plans. His first Premier League start on Saturday, however, didn't go well, as he gave away a first-half penalty in his team's 2-1 defeat at Stoke City.

Yet, Klopp isn't the type to be swayed by one bad game (he keeps picking Loris Karius after all), and Van Dijk's physical presence and abilities on the ball make him a prime candidate for a post-Christmas purchase.

Forget any idea of getting a bargain in the January sales, though—Liverpool are going to have to pay a premium to get their man.

                

The Alternatives

Jack Butland: Stoke City's prize asset and an England international with big potential.
Jack Butland: Stoke City's prize asset and an England international with big potential.Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Bleacher Report asked the fans who they would recommend Liverpool pursued from outside the rest of the top six:

Funnily enough, Van Dijk came out a clear winner in the vote. There were a lack of options in the poll for a reason; there really aren't a lot of alternatives outside the upper tier of the Premier League.

Still, there were some interesting alternatives in the replies...

It's easy to spot a common theme here. Liverpool need to be more resolute at the back, or else their weakness in stopping goals will continue to undermine their abilities to score them at the other end.

Ben Mee and James Tarkowski have excelled for Burnley this season, for example. But, as Klopp stated earlier in the year, playing centre-back for Liverpool poses an altogether different set of problems.

"A centre-half for a top team is playing with a lot of space at the back. That’s how Tottenham act, how City act and sometimes how Arsenal act. Manchester United are for sure a bit different," the German said last season, after a 2-1 home defeat to Crystal Palace, per Andy Hunter of the Guardian.

It's not only at centre-back where Liverpool could consider making an upgrade, though.

"Obviously, Liverpool fans will be screaming to get Van Dijk to sign after missing out on him over summer—and the continued defensive mishaps so far this season—but there are other players who would instantly improve the Reds at the back," Scott Groom of Anfield HQ said.

"Starting in goal, I think Jack Butland would be an ideal choice. Young, proven in the Premier League and with room to grow further still. 

"I'd also look at, dare I say it, Everton's Seamus Coleman at full-back too, someone who has quality going forward and is equally as good defensively.

"There's nobody really outside the top six who I'd say would be a major upgrade in midfield, however, nor up front. But, if you forced my hand, someone with Jamie Vardy's tenacity but with Harry Kane's finishing ability would do nicely.

"Does this striker exist? Someone tell Klopp if he does."

                 

The Verdict

Signing Butland would surely give Liverpool a clear first-choice goalkeeper, meaning Klopp could put an end to the rather odd rotation policy he's got going on between the posts this season.

Adding a centre-back such as Mee, Tarkowski or even Jonny Evans—a suggested move on Twitter that would go down as well as Piers Morgan popping around for Christmas dinner at Arsene Wenger's house, considering the Northern Irishman's strong Manchester United connection—may patch up the back four.

Yet Van Dijk is the obvious choice here. If—or perhaps when—he leaves Southampton, it's hard to see how he will end up anywhere else but Anfield.

"The fact of the matter is that Van Dijk does what no attainable alternative can: He's simply better in every respect," Barilaro added.

"It's clear: The Van Dijk saga is a case of short-term pain for long-term gain. If he does end up arriving in January, it will be worth it, because he's simply better than all the others, and six months of waiting doesn't change that."

Liverpool supporters will hope Klopp's patience and persistence pays off, because every defensive error right now just ramps up the pressure on the manager, not to mention the board, to make signings in January. If moves are not made in the next window, the mood on Merseyside could quickly turn ugly.

For now, it's just one of frustration. Pure and utter frustration.

                   

Rob Lancaster is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.