Liverpool should target Burnley’s young star Dwight McNeil when the summer transfer window swings back around.
If and when this season of Premier League football resumes, it will be a formality for Liverpool to be crowned champions of the land for the first time in 30 years.
Having not signed any real first-team stars in the last summer transfer window, Liverpool are expected to be a lot more active in the upcoming window, with the likes of Timo Werner and Jadon Sancho being mentioned as potential targets for the Reds in the summer.
Both Adam Lallana and Nathaniel Clyne are expected to leave Jurgen Klopp’s side in the summer, so it will be interesting to see where the Reds look in their quest to maintain the homegrown player quota in their squad.
Norwich City’s Todd Cantwell is a name that has done the rounds, as a player that Klopp might be interested, but in this piece, we suggest that Klopp could do a lot worse than signing Burnley’s young winger Dwight McNeil.
McNeil burst on to the scene as a left-winger in Sean Dyche’s rigid 4-4-2 system and has kept his place in the side to become a regular starter for the Clarets. This season, the young Englishman has already provided four assists with his excellent crossing ability.
With Xherdan Shaqiri’s Liverpool future uncertain and Divock Origi potentially looking at a fresh start to get more game time, Klopp and sporting director Michael Edwards could well be looking at multiple reinforcements for the front three.
Liverpool also need to consider the Africa Cup of Nations, which has been scheduled for next January, when they’re likely to lose both Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane for a few weeks.
Klopp also took a massive risk at the beginning of the season by choosing to not buy a back-up left-back to Andy Robertson. James Milner has done an acceptable job in that position whenever called upon, but the veteran Liverpool no.7 isn’t getting any younger.
While Milner’s presence enables Klopp to have options in multiple positions, the German might want to have a left-back option in place, given how much Liverpool are dependent on their full-backs to create scoring opportunities.
Why are we talking about left-back when we’re talking about McNeil though? Well, the simple answer to that is that Klopp loves signing players seemingly not suited to a particular role, but plays them there anyway.
Gini Wijnaldum is the biggest example of that. Wijnaldum was an advanced midfielder, supplying goals from midfield at Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven and Newcastle – even playing on the left wing sometimes.
But at Liverpool, Klopp has turned him into an all-round midfielder without a big emphasis on his attacking end-product.
Roberto Firmino came in after impressing in the no.10 role at Hoffenheim and was played out wide by Brendan Rodgers but Klopp took Firmino and made him lead his attack and the Brazilian is now an integral cog in Klopp’s Gegenpressing wheel.
So, why can Klopp not turn McNeil into an auxiliary full-back? The tools are there with the young Englishman, and as Klopp showed with Trent Alexander-Arnold, he can hone raw ability into world-class performances.
McNeil’s crossing has been a massive plus for Burnley this season, with target-men like Chris Wood and Ashley Barnes to aim for. Obviously, the targets at Liverpool won’t be that conspicuous even though the likes of Firmino are not the worst in aerial duels.
But that is a skill one can hone – the method of crossing. High floaters need to become flat, curving, pacy balls between the defenders and the goalkeepers.
But of course, left-backs also need to defend. Can McNeil cope? First up, starting position. Liverpool’s full-backs play so high up the pitch that they are auxiliary wingers in any case, so McNeil wouldn’t really have a problem adjusting to that.
Even more importantly, Liverpool’s left-sided centre-back is Virgil van Dijk. That is automatically a massive boost in confidence for anyone playing at full-back on that flank, with van Dijk’s leadership, command and more importantly, his ability to cover for any errors that the left-back might make.
If McNeil were to be Liverpool’s left-back, he would also be assured of immense defensive support from Sadio Mane, whenever the Senegalese starts on the left wing. Mane has proven to be a much more effective defensive worker than Mo Salah in the last couple of seasons, and that must be a massive plus.
Klopp generally loves versatile players, who bring him the ability to be flexible with his system but sometimes, like he did with Alexander-Arnold, Klopp could create gems out of rough stones.
McNeil right now, is just that – a rough stone with immense scope if polished right. You’d trust no one more than Klopp to get the polishing right.