John Aldridge: Liverpool greats are not finished – they just need help
Liverpool squad set for huge overhaul this summer after a troubled season
IT isn’t always obvious when your time is up in the game, but all the signs were there for me long before my final game.
I was fortunate to be Tranmere manager when my playing career was coming an end, as that allowed me to pick and choose my games and manage my body sensibly.
By the end, I was struggling to get out of bed in the mornings, and was having hot baths to try and get my muscles going each day.
That was all the evidence I needed that my time was up in the game and the only reason I hung around for as long as I did was because I was still useful to the team.
My instinct for scoring goals and knowing how to deceive defenders meant that my contribution to the team was still valuable until the end.
I was 39 when I played my last game for Tranmere and we won 2-1, with me scoring both goals.
My career ended with 329 goals in 620 games, which put me in sixth place in the all time list of goalscorers in the entire history of English football. Now that’s a statistic to be proud of!
The reason I’m opening my column with these memories this week is we have spent the last few months trying to work out what has happened to Liverpool’s more experienced players this season.
It’s hard to work out how a great Liverpool team that went so close to winning an unprecedented quadruple last season have fallen so far off the pace this time.
Their demise has sparked a debate over whether defensive talisman Virgil van Dijk, captain Jordan Henderson and his midfield colleagues Thiago Alcantara and Fabinho are past it at the highest level.
Yet it’s too easy to write off players who have been so good over the last few years.
Fabinho is only 29 and Van Dijk is 31, so those two should be in their prime, while Henderson and Thiago are aged 32 and should still have plenty left in tank.
And despite what we have seen from Liverpool this season, I feel those four could still have a lot to offer.
In my playing days, passing your 30th birthday was seen as evidence that you were in the back end of your career, but times have changed.
Sports science, diets and the way players are managed these days means they can extend their careers much longer than we used to – and I don’t think the players I mention are the problem for Liverpool.
The issue is, they are struggling collectively because the team as a whole needs a major freshening up.
Put two top-class young players with energy into that Liverpool midfield and Henderson and Thiago could still have a major impact.
That’s what needs to happen in the transfer market this summer – and if manager Jurgen Klopp (inset) is given the money and players he needs, the problems we have seen this season can be addressed.
I still think they might go back in for Jude Bellingham, despite suggestions Liverpool can’t afford him.
Yet whatever happens, they need to get the signings right, because I could see the problems in that area of the team when Leeds came to Anfield and won in October.
Liverpool confirmed Leeds are a pretty average team after battering them 6-1 last Monday, but they overran Liverpool in midfield in the first game this season.
From my seat in the stands that night, it was clear to see the problems and I came away asking myself what we had seen.
Was that a one-off bad night for the midfield or was it something more serious?
Sadly for Liverpool, it was a lot more serious – and we have seen that, time and again, over the course of this troubled season, with the midfield exposed as being the big problem.
Klopp has to address that issue this summer and for the first time in this column, I’ve come to the conclusion that one solution could come from within.
We have spent a lot of time talking about Trent Alexander-Arnold this season and having seen him play in a more advanced role against Leeds on Monday, the time has come for him to play there every week.
I saw Trent playing in midfield when we was coming through the ranks at Liverpool, and he was a sensational midfielder.
He went on to become the best attacking full-back in world football, but he has had issues defensively of late – and I feel Liverpool will get the best out of him in a wide midfield role moving forward.
That could solve one of the midfield problems for Klopp, but a lot of surgery is needed this summer and I hope the owners give the manager the money he needs to fix it.
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