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transfer dilemma Jurgen Klopp is walking the high-wire and it's a dangerous balancing act for Liverpool's title hopes


Rhys Williams (left) has not looked out of place when called upon. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Rhys Williams (left) has not looked out of place when called upon. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire


Rhys Williams (left) has not looked out of place when called upon. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Jurgen Klopp will know the balancing act is getting seriously dangerous now.

His Premier League champions are walking the high wire amid a defensive crisis that threatens to cripple ambitions to win back-to-back top-flight titles.

While he insists he is not looking down and only upwards to more success, the chances of a fatal slip continue to grow.

Were Liverpool to be heading to Southampton tomorrow night with Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, or Joel Matip, in the line-up, then the big money would be on all three points for the Reds.

But Van Dijk and Gomez are long-term absentees with knee injuries, and Matip, who has a thigh problem, is not expected back for three weeks.

That leaves the Anfield boss with midfielder Fabinho continuing to fill one hole and a choice between youngsters Rhys Williams and Nat Phillips to plug the other one.

To be fair to the pair - Williams playing against West Brom, then Phillips at Newcastle - only one goal has been conceded.

Yet a 1-1 draw against Sam Allardyce's side was an indication that Klopp's defensive concerns are starting to get to his team.

Drawing 0-0 at Newcastle last week only confirmed that the mentality of a side that had hammered Crystal Palace 7-0 away before those two games is beginning to totter.

Liverpool rightly deserve their reputation as one of the most awesome attacking units in a generation.

They lapped the field as they won a first top-flight title in 30 years last season.

Klopp's men sit above Manchester United on goal difference, having hit the net 37 times in 16 games.

And until that double blip over Christmas, Mo Salah was flying again - 16 goals in 23 games.

Now the team has scored once in two games and the damage - originally physical, may now be emotional.

Going gung-ho, as Klopp loves his teams to do, is fine when you know the back door is locked and bolted.

But there is now more than a sliver of light coming out of it that will encourage better teams than West Brom or Newcastle to do more than just contain.

And Ralph Hasenhuttl's side will be one of them.

Come Friday night, Jack Grealish and Co - having humiliated the champions 7-2 earlier this season - will be well up for creating something of an FA Cup shock when Aston Villa again play hosts.

Klopp's fit players have so far done brilliantly to maintain equilibrium, but how long they can do so is increasingly open to question.

The easiest answer would be for Klopp to go into the market and bring in reinforcements. But Liverpool's owners, FSG, are not making any noises about throwing money at the problem.

For all the fortunes amassed over the past couple of hugely successful seasons, they are loathe to splash the cash during a pandemic.

The indications, too, are that Klopp is unsure about the value of spending in this month's transfer window.

In Williams and Phillips, he has two developing players who, he worries, might take it badly if a new boy was brought in above them.

Klopp always tries to foster an all-for-one team spirit - the kind that, if properly fostered, can induce outstanding displays, and especially at times of crisis.

Bringing in another centre-half - Sven Botman of Lille is one of the latest names to be thrown around - is all well and good, but an addition has its dangers.

Not only might younger players, long preached at to be ready and able when the call comes, feel rejected - but the defender being parachuted in would, himself, be under enormous strain. One mistake as he tries to settle in, and his confidence might suffer.

There is also the aspect that spending around £20million - and given Liverpool's crisis they would have to pay through the nose for anyone - would, long-term, be a waste of money.

Assume Van Dijk and Gomez return as good as new, then they would surely be back as the axis of the defence.

Cue a frustrated new buy and two disillusioned youngsters.

The sale of Dejan Lovren last summer for £15m to Zenit St Petersburg now looks like dodgy business, given that his departure left Klopp with only three senior central defenders going into what was always going to be the most stressful season in living memory due to Covid.

But Klopp was banking on either Phillips or Williams filling that gap. Now he has a decision to make.

His choice is to hope the high wire holds and that his team keeps their nerve. Or to take a chance in the market.

On the evidence of his caution over January arrivals, and his owner's reluctance to spend during these fraught times, he will keep walking that wire.

But it truly will be a dangerous balancing act.

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