Jurgen Klopp’s best teams have always been built upon a foundation of absolute warriors that are willing to throw their bodies on their line for the cause.
Think of Liverpool’s recent peak. They started the 2019 Champions League final with a midfield three of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum, which remained the bedrock of their Premier League title triumph the following year.
Thiago Alcantara has had his moments during his time on Merseyside, adding a little more sophistication to the mix, yet there remains a sense that Klopp’s Liverpool lost their way after moving away from a trio of maniac pac-men eating up turf in the centre of the pitch. The opposition just couldn’t live with Liverpool’s ridiculous intensity as they dropped just two points from their first 27 games in 2019-20 – a feat that isn’t recognised often enough as completely f*cking bananas.
Things changed considerably after the departure of Wijnaldum and Liverpool suffered a total system breakdown when Fabinho and Henderson forgot how to play the chords of Klopp’s heavy metal football last season.
“We have this kind of new start with this Liverpool FC reloaded, it’s an exciting thing. Everybody was asking for changes, rightly so, because we were together for a long time,” the German coach teased ahead of the 2023-24 campaign.
“It’s a new chance for everybody, everybody has to step up. We all share responsibility and it’s not that we should give ourselves too much time to grow into it, let’s do it.”
You could see the dawn of that new era as fresh faces Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister showed lots of promise on their competitive debuts, Liverpool’s opening weekend 1-1 draw at Chelsea.
Yet there was clearly a cog missing as Enzo Fernandez dominated the midfield battle by taking advantage of the Reds’ lack of a natural No.6. Liverpool have their new Wijnaldum and Henderson, but they’re still evidently lacking a Fabinho. Ironically enough, it was Chelsea who have beaten them to the punch on their top targets for that position.
“Liverpool have not got big deals over the line and it’s been embarrassing,” Jamie Carragher said in reaction to Liverpool’s transfer strategy this summer.
“That’s why I will not be critical of the owners – they were willing to pay £111m and break the transfer record. To start with Lavia, not pay a certain amount, to then go to Caicedo and then go back to Lavia, it’s an absolute mess, a joke and it’s embarrassing.”
The club now find themselves in the nightmare position of having shown their hand. Having very publicly been willing to pay a Premier League record transfer fee, chairmen across Europe have been licking their lips as they see Liverpool coming from a mile off.
You can almost smell the desperation – which proved to be Barcelona’s undoing as the world-record €222million they received for Neymar proved to be a millstone around their neck. The last thing Liverpool need to do right now is follow the Catalan club’s terrible example and spend recklessly on the wrong targets.
Liverpool have since responded with a leftfield turn that no one – least of all us – saw coming in their search for a new defensive midfielder. In Japan international Wataru Endo, they’ve found a midfielder that looks a natural fit and doesn’t result in their pants being pulled down in the transfer market. That didn’t seem possible a few days ago.
Endo’s heroics on the final day of the 2021-22 Bundesliga campaign point to a player that could well become a cult hero at Anfield.
Want a taste of Wataru Endo is all about?
Look no further than his injury-time winner that kept Stuttgart in the Bundesliga in 2022. Clutch.pic.twitter.com/VinUy90cmS
— Planet Football (@planetfutebol) August 17, 2023
His last-gasp match-winner against Koln secured Stuttgart’s place in the Bundesliga for another season and resulted in the roof lifting off the Mercedes-Benz Arena.
Captain of Stuttgart, Endo is by no means a goal machine but stepping up for his team is just what he does.
Those that have watched him regularly over recent years in the Bundesliga all say the same thing – Endo is a player that doesn’t let you down.
“Quietly a big fan of this move,” tweeted journalist Jonathan Harding.
“One of the most consistent ball winners I have seen and low key one of the most reliable midfielders in the league.”
“Smart move by Liverpool,” added Jan Aage Fjortoft.
“One of the best in his position in Bundesliga: aggression, can keep the ball very good, leader / captain by Stuttgart, Stuttgart love him”
“This would be awesome for Liverpool. Proper warrior and leader. Love him,” wrote Bundesliga commentator Kevin Hatchard.
“He was a massive part of keeping a poor Stuttgart team in the Bundesliga in the last 2 seasons
“He tackles until he drops, he’s disciplined, and he’s got great energy. You could get 2/3 good years.”
At 30 years old, Endo is not a player for the next decade. But Liverpool need a stop-gap solution in these circumstances and £15.4million is a modest fee by the standards of 2023.
Some may quibble at Liverpool replacing Fabinho with an older player, but they’ve found a player that looks a good fit. The Japan international’s leadership qualities could also be immensely useful after the exodus of experienced older players at Anfield this summer.
By Nestor Watach