Jurgen Klopp has developed a particular habit for playing against prospective Liverpool transfer targets before signing them. The results are mixed so far.
So immediately we see this method doesn’t have a perfect hit rate. Caulker was Klopp’s second signing as Liverpool boss, with the defender arriving in January 2016 on loan from QPR to help ease a centre-back injury crisis.
Caulker had spent the first half of the 2015/16 season being borrowed by Southampton; it was not a productive spell. His final game for Saints, before his loan was curtailed to allow him to join Liverpool, was against the Reds in the League Cup quarter-finals.
Klopp’s side battered Saints 6-1, despite Sadio Mane opening the scoring for the hosts in the first minute. Daniel Sturridge scored two, Divock Origi netted a hat-trick and Jordon Ibe helped himself to the other.
Despite scoring six against the Saints defence, Klopp obviously saw… something in Caulker to bring him to Anfield the following month. Klopp had to wait a little longer to sign Caulker’s centre-back partner that night: Virgil van Dijk. There’s probably some kind of moral there.
Virgil Van Dijk channeling in inner Steven Caulker https://t.co/HWYto9mImw
— Anything Liverpool (@AnythingLFC_) June 14, 2023
Four days after watching Caulker and to a lesser extent Van Dijk, Klopp’s eye was caught by a Dutch international who bossed Liverpool’s midfield at St James’ Park.
Steve McClaren’s Newcastle beat Klopp’s Reds 2-0, with Wijnaldum earning man-of-the-match honours by netting and forcing Martin Skrtel into scoring an own goal.
Wijnaldum had already scored six goals for Newcastle and finished the season on 11 with five assists. One of those came at Anfield later in the season when Wijnaldum came off the bench to set up Jack Colback for an equaliser in a 2-2 draw.
Klopp was so impressed, he made £25million Wijnaldum his seventh signing of the following summer after Newcastle were relegated. And with 237 appearances across five seasons that yielded a Premier League and Champions League title, it’d be fair to say it worked out pretty well.
The third of those summer recruits was Mane, who arrived from Southampton for £34million in June 2016. In the season prior to his big move, he certainly made an impression on Klopp.
In three games against Liverpool, Mane scored four goals in a win, a draw and a defeat, while missing a penalty at St Mary’s and being sent off at Anfield. Fair play, it’s the sort of thing you’re likely to remember.
The performance that really left a mark on Klopp came in a 3-2 home win for Saints. Liverpool led 2-0 at the break before Mane came off the bench to score twice, including an 86th-minute winner, as the Reds caved in to Ronald Koeman’s men. It would have been a hat-trick had Simon Mignolet not saved his spot kick.
Mane was only playing after his red card at Stoke the previous week had been overturned. When he moved to Anfield the following summer, he became the fifth Saint in two years to join Liverpool. And one of the best.
The concession of seven goals in two games against Liverpool didn’t deter Klopp from paying a world-record fee to bring Alisson to Anfield from Roma in 2018.
The Brazilian keeper was caught in the crossfire when Liverpool blew Roma away with five goals in the opening three-quarters of their Champions League semi-final first leg at Anfield. Loris Karius conceded two late goals before Roma gave the Reds a scare in the return by coming within a goal of a stunning comeback.
Liverpool reached the final where Karius made abundantly clear the need to sign Alisson.
Roma initially quoted £90million, before dropping the price to £75million. Liverpool secured a further discount to land the Brazil No.1 for £65million.
Klopp didn’t hang about over Minamino. Liverpool signed the attacking midfielder from RB Salzburg after coughing up for his £7.25million release clause in December 2019, just short of a fortnight before the January 2020 window opened.
Two months prior to landing Minamino, Klopp watched the Japan international play a leading role in Salzburg giving Liverpool a fright at Anfield in the Champions League.
Liverpool led 3-0 in the first half before Wolves’ Hwang Hee-chan and Minamino scored either side of half-time, setting the stage for Erling Haaland (Klopp man, you were looking at the wrong player, you damn fool!) to level. Mo Salah spoiled it all by scoring his second of the night to give the hosts a 4-3 win.
Klopp took another look nine days before Minamino was unveiled as a Liverpool player when the Reds went to Austria and won 2-0. In signing for Liverpool, Minamino became the fifth player in Klopp’s squad to have worked under Ralf Rangnick. Things never quite happened for Minamino at Anfield, and he eventually left for Monaco via a loan spell at Southampton after netting just 14 goals in 55 appearances for the Reds, with six of those goals coming in seven Carabao appearances. Carabao specialist isn’t a great role, really.
Klopp had initially been willing to wait until the summer of 2022 to make his move for a left winger who caught his eye despite playing for Porto in 2-0 and 5-1 Champions League defeats to the Reds, but with the Colombian seemingly poised to make a late January move to Spurs Klopp was forced to bring his own plans forward, gazump the Londoners and wind up Daniel Levy.
Spurs for their part switched focus with atypical alacrity and sealed a loan move for Dejan Kulusevski from Juventus instead, meaning this was one rare occasion where everything kind of worked out pretty well for everyone and the joke was not in fact on Spurs as tradition dictates.
Klopp said he, his players and staff “fell all in love these two games” with Darwin Nunez, who scored in each leg of a pulsating Champions League quarter-final exit for Benfica against Liverpool in 2022.
“The power and the mix-up with technique, the desire, smart moves, the problems he caused us,” Klopp added. “It was massively impressive when he played in front of us.”
Nunez is yet to replicate those traits that so bewitched Liverpool, with 15 goals in 42 games a modest foundation from which to build.
Alexis Mac Allister
“I have played twice at Anfield and any player you talk to tells you that it’s crazy how the fans support them,” said Alexis Mac Allister before comparing Liverpool to Boca Juniors.
The World Cup winner has had ample time to acclimatise to his new surroundings, Liverpool capturing Mac Allister so early in the summer 2023 transfer window after being convinced of his brilliance by some stunning performances in Qatar and in two and a half years as a Brighton regular.
After matching the Seagulls’ steady improvement and transformation into one of the continent’s most exciting and admirable teams, Mac Allister will hope to repeat that feat with his new club. Liverpool might simply be happy to no longer have to face him: they lost their last two games against the 24-year-old, drawing the one before that 3-3.
It was in that ludicrous game against Salzburg – managed by Jesse Marsch, with future Premier League imports Rasmus Kristensen, Max Wober, Enock Mwepu, Patson Daka, Minamino, Hwang and Haaland all featuring – when Klopp got his first proper taste of Dominik Szoboszlai.
It was the return game of that Champions League group stage – a 2-0 Liverpool win in Austria – which helped Szoboszlai stand out from a crowd packed with Red Bull talent. In an interview soon after that match, the 22-year-old claimed to have had a chat with the impressed Reds manager, who admired the Hungarian’s “great work”.
Szoboszlai featured against Liverpool once more in a pre-season friendly ahead of the 2022/23 campaign, but it was new signing Nunez who caught the eye then with four goals.