When Liverpool take on Leicester City next Monday, Jurgen Klopp might be paying closer attention than usual to some of the opposing players.
Claudio Ranieri’s men are in real danger of being relegated just 12 months after their improbable title-winning season. It’s quite remarkable, really; they were fighting relegation two years ago, and they are fighting relegation now, yet they won the league in between. It’s almost impossible to comprehend how that can happen, especially as they’ve had more or less the same core of players the entire time.
Whenever a team is relegated, Premier League clubs will circle like vultures looking to pick the bones of the carcass, and Liverpool are often among that predatory group. Two years ago, Brendan Rodgers picked up Danny Ings from relegated Burnley, and last summer, Klopp swooped for Newcastle’s Georginio Wijnaldum. If the unthinkable does happen and the reigning champions are indeed relegated, there will be no shortage of takers for some of their players, but would Liverpool be interested in any of them?
Klopp was keen on young left-back Ben Chilwell last summer but wouldn’t meet Leicester’s valuation. Chilwell previously enjoyed a successful loan spell at Huddersfield Town, who are managed by Klopp’s best friend, David Wagner. It was on Wagner’s recommendation that Klopp moved for the England U-19 star, but when no deal was struck, Chilwell signed a new deal at Leicester.
Given the way the season has played out for him so far, it’s not looking like the best decision. He has seen some first-team action but remains behind veteran Christian Fuchs in the pecking order; ironically, he might have seen more first-team football had he moved to Merseyside. Klopp didn’t sign a left-back in January, which means there might still be a possibility of him rekindling his interest in the youngster, who could be groomed as the eventual successor to James Milner.
Another player frequently linked with a move to Merseyside is goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. Recent speculation had the Reds set to battle Arsenal to sign the 30-year-old. If the price were right, perhaps it might be something Klopp would look at, but is Schmeichel really that big of an upgrade on Simon Mignolet? Some might think that he is, but for the rumoured £30 million asking price, you’d surely want a keeper on par with David De Gea, Thibault Courtois or Hugo Lloris. The Dane is not in that top tier of keepers; rather, he is in the next tier down, a group many would argue Mignolet also inhabits.
If Leicester go down, or even if they survive by the skin of their teeth, Schmeichel might well move on, but the player most in demand will surely be Riyad Mahrez. The Algerian hasn’t come close to scaling the heights he reached last season when he was named the PFA Player of the Year, but the big clubs are unlikely to be put off by that and will remember his dazzling performances from a year ago. If anything, his below-par season will make him more of a hot commodity, as it will have reduced his transfer value.
Mahrez would be an intriguing addition for any of the top six clubs, especially Liverpool: If this season has proven anything, it’s that Klopp’s team have run into problems whenever they have had to make changes from their first XI. Assuming the Reds qualify for Europe next year, those issues will only be magnified. They need a bigger squad, but they also need an influx of players who are at a similar (or ideally higher) level to those currently in the first team.
Mahrez fits that bill. He would be a quality alternative to Philippe Coutinho on the left but could also operate on the right, which would allow Sadio Mané to occasionally play centrally.
Mahrez could have taken the route N’Golo Kante took and moved on last summer, but with him having done so much to get Leicester to the Champions League, it was refreshing to see the Algerian stay there to compete in it with them. Whether he regrets that decision now only he will know, but he’s young enough that it shouldn’t harm his chances of landing a big move in the future.
The same cannot be said for the other half of Leicester’s dynamic duo. Although the stock of Mahrez has probably not been harmed too much by Leicester’s dreadful showing this year, Jamie Vardy’s most certainly has. The England striker turned down the opportunity to join Arsenal last summer, but if he had known then what he knows now, he might have done things differently. The goals have dried up, and he’s looking increasingly like a one-season wonder.
Given his age and record prior to last season, Vardy’s stock will never be higher than it was last summer. There might still be some big clubs willing to take a punt on him, but they won’t be paying anything like what Arsenal were prepared to shell out last summer.
Would Liverpool be one of those teams? Probably not, though Vardy’s style of play would certainly provide their attack with some of the pace and energy they were missing when Mané was away at the African Cup of Nations.
There is still time for Leicester’s under-performing stars to remind potential suitors (perhaps including Klopp) what they are capable of, but Liverpool supporters will be hoping they do so after Monday’s game. The last thing they want is a repeat of what happened in this fixture last season, when Mahrez and Vardy inspired the Foxes to a 2-0 win on their march to the title.