Mignolet, Clyne, Skrtel, Sakho, Moreno, Leiva, Can, Milner, Lallana, Coutinho, Origi
Subs: Toure, Allen, Ibe, Bogdan, Sinclair, Teixeira, Randall
Just three players remain at Liverpool from the 18 named by Jurgen Klopp on October 17 2015 for his first game in charge of his new club, a 0-0 draw with Tottenham. Nathaniel Clyne is a forgotten reserve and Adam Lallana a bit-part player – though James Milner remains ageless and versatile.
In four years, Liverpool has transformed: from a club re-entering the doldrums after a brief flurry under Brendan Rodgers to European champions and odds-on to win the Premier League this season. It has cost £416m in spending to achieve that.
De Gea, Darmian, Jones, Smalling, Rojo, Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, Herrera, Mata, Martial, Rooney
Subs: Depay, Carrick, Blind, Fellaini, Lingard, Pereira, Johnstone
The Manchester United team that won 3-0 at Everton that same day in 2015 has five survivors from the starting line-up in David de Gea, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial, and a further two subs in Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira. Since then, United have spent £360m under Jose Mourinho and then £145m under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, equalling over £500m.
The fruit of that labour is United having endured their worst start to a season for 30 years.
It makes harrowing reading for United fans, and the pain runs even deeper when one considers that Liverpool have cashed in an asset like Philippe Coutinho for a deal worth £140m, which funded the record fee paid for Virgil van Dijk. United have shed players, but their biggest sale, Romelu Lukaku for £73.9m to Inter Milan, was only equivalent to what they had paid for him.
Refreshing the squad by cashing out at the right time is an important part of the recruitment process that Liverpool have got so right, and United so wrong. The result has been to see English football’s grandest rivals pass each other as one descends into mediocrity and the other ascends to becoming the premier team in the country.
Even when Liverpool did not make any senior additions to their squad last summer, Klopp stayed on-message while the last six years have seen each United manager either asking for or defending signings. The transfer market is a route to both success and failure, and it can only accentuate the latter.
Back in 2015, Brendan Rodgers departed Liverpool after his failure to get the best from a squad with which he himself had not been happy. The phrase ‘transfer committee’ used to be guaranteed to send a chill down any fan of the club, to recall the body set up by American owners FSG in which Rodgers a faced panel of sporting director Michael Edwards, chief scout Barry Hunter and Dave Fallows, head of recruitment. That summer, Rodgers had wanted Christian Benteke, the committee wanted Roberto Firmino. The club ended up signing both.
Benteke and Rodgers are no more, and the relationship that Edwards and club director Mike Gordon forged with Klopp has been central to the club’s regeneration. With Klopp far clearer on the type of player he wanted and FSG having learned from the mistakes they made when Rodgers and before that Kenny Dalglish were in charge, they have built a team feared across the continent. Better, faster, stronger to fit the Klopp framework.
Firmino has become the fulcrum of the attack, with Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah expensive but cogent signings, to partner him. Right from the first summer, when Klopp landed Joel Matip on a free transfer from Schalke, the club has worked to his specifications. There have been misfires, goalkeeper Loris Karius most obviously, and there remain doubts over Naby Keita, a costly and delayed arrival, but Liverpool’s excellence is the result of careful planning and targeting. Andy Robertson, such an important player, cost just £15m from Hull and was signed almost unopposed for that money.
That sense of purpose and direction appears almost wholly absent from Manchester United. A glance at the current squad produces a Frankenstein’s monster collection of players brought to the club by five managers, and that still includes Sir Alex Ferguson. Paul Pogba is the marquee player, and in 2016 at £89m was the world’s costliest but he has not concealed his desire to leave. The group that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has to hand is short in midfield of talent, and lacks a proper line-leading striker after Lukaku was sold.
The prime players in those departments are now Scott McTominay and Marcus Rashford, both players who cost the club nothing. Solskjaer has been forced to look to a teenager in Mason Greenwood as a solution to striking problems during the latest injury crisis. After £900m spent on players since Ferguson retired, United have their weakest squad since the late-1980s and with an unproven manager in charge.
Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, has been bearing the blame for those years of waste. In 2013, freshly promoted, he talked of United being able to blow anyone out of the water and he has been proved correct in that the club’s spending has kept pace with everyone else, including Manchester City.
But quantity has not equalled quality or long-term usefulness. Angel di Maria was the type of marquee signing in which Woodward appears to revel but was wholly unsuitable while Bastian Schweinsteiger could not stay fit. Even Zlatan Ibrahimovic did not manage to complete a full season. The club has been unable to repeat Ferguson’s successes in the transfer market, where his scouting and then landing of a player relied on the best contacts in the business. There have been alliances with super-agents like Jorge Mendes and Mino Raiola, only for United to end up out of pocket and on the bad side of deals.
The reform process is now six years old, with still no sign of success.
Last summer’s arrivals of Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire each look like steps in the right directions but this week’s media briefings that six further players are required can only look like an admission of previous, repeated failure.
Both of English football’s biggest clubs have spent hugely but only one of them successfully. United, the failure – and bordering on a historic failure – have become a paragon for wasteful and aimless recruitment.