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Saudi raids helped Liverpool rediscover mojo

Whisper it softly, but could the Saudi snatch-squad raids have been the making of Liverpool 2.0?

Although the scoresheet reads 1-2 to the ‘away’ team (the Reds having lost two out of three players targeted in the transfer window), it still feels like a home win.

A 1-2 ‘victory’ is something the most one-eyed Scouser would hesitate to claim, even if keeping Mo Salah makes it less fanciful.

But it’s how Liverpool turned what initially felt like a crisis into a blessing in disguise that makes it feel like a triumph.

It was the lateness of the interest that was alarming and, with Salah, induced a genuine sense of panic.

With Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, there was barely time to find adequate replacements – and the jury is out on the two that came in.

The money for two old stagers was handy too.

But with Salah, there would have been neither time nor a replacement – if one exists.

And even when the EPL window closed, the anxiety was not over until Saudi Arabia brought its own shutters down.

The successful luring of Henderson and Fabinho had emboldened the Saudi Pro League (SPL) into thinking they could snatch the Egyptian King.

But everyone at Liverpool could see their season disappearing in his slipstream if the star man departed.

The club had adjusted to deal with the loss of the two midfield stalwarts but this, in Jurgen Klopp’s words, would have been “a catastrophe”.

And owners FSG must also be thanked as a £100m plus offer for a 31-year-old must have been sorely tempting for a club that is self-financing.

Given the unbeaten start the team has made, it now seems even more of a sliding doors moment.

To accept would have been to accept second-class status to the state-owned and zillionaire elite.

To refuse was to continue to fight this uneven contest with a genius manager and a history and ethos that allows it to punch above its financial weight.

And now Salah is playing a leading role in an impressive start to the season.

If the sizable task of playing Spurs away in the weekend’s big game (12.30am Sunday in Malaysia) produces three points, hopes of mounting a title challenge will be hard to suppress.

Indeed, the following weekend’s clash between Manchester City and Arsenal will no longer be hyped as ‘a top 2 battle’.

What the Saudis did was make Liverpool take another good, hard look at itself after the initial clear-out of five midfielders.

They were patting themselves on the back for acquiring both Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai for what Real Madrid paid for Jude Bellingham.

And Jurgen Klopp thought that was enough new blood in midfield, opting to stick with Fabinho and Henderson.

But that all changed and Klopp had to rethink and re-examine existing resources. And he found the cupboard was far from bare.

The almost forgotten Curtis Jones, who had suffered cruel luck with injuries for two seasons, was still around as was the industrious Harvey Elliott.

Neither had come near to a regular place in the starting line-up thanks mainly to lengthy spells out with injuries.

But this time, as both ooze versatility as well as boosting the home-grown quota, they were given a chance in pre-season and Jones, in particular, has not looked back.

In midweek, he featured at right back, which was testimony to his adaptability and the new-found faith Klopp has in him.

It’s a bit early to see him as the new James Milner but he’s a similar no-nonsense Northerner who never refuses a challenge to play for his beloved club.

He may not get many goals or headlines but Klopp knows he won’t let him down.

If only Elliott could add goals to his game, he’d get more starts but his energy is always likely to see him as a supersub whenever fresh legs are required.

Another youngster, Stefan Bajcetic, has now returned after a five-month absence with an adductor injury, and will hope to build on what was a breakout season last time.

And still on midfielders, the world-class player we’d forgotten, Thiago Alcantara, is also reportedly fit again. But better wait till after the warm-up.

Such a surfeit of riches makes you wonder why Henderson and Fabinho weren’t shipped out earlier. And, nope, they’re not being missed.

Of the two players that did finally come in, Watur Endo and Ryan Gravenberch, have yet to convince, especially Endo.

Already past 30, the Japanese may not have been on anyone’s list except director of player recruitment Jorg Schmadtke with his links to Stuttgart.

Gravenberch was looked at previously, has shown nice touches and has youth on his side.

With Bobby Firmino having already gone to Saudi with Liverpool’s blessing, the Reds have been gratified to see Darwin Nunez show why they agreed a potential club record fee of £85m for him.

The big Uruguayan is living up to his ‘Chaos’ nickname but now directing most of it toward opposing defences.

With him relishing the role of hitman, he’s making the Liverpool attack as unstoppable as it is interchangeable.

Only Salah remains of the fabled ‘Front Three’, but with Diogo Jota, Cody Gakpo and Luis Diaz also in the mix as well, Klopp has more options than ever.

If there was a quibble with the squad, it may have been a lack of depth at the back, but Virgil van Dijk’s recent suspension was a good test of resources.

Joe Gomez did not let anyone down but the big plus was another emerging home-grown star.

Just as Spaniard Bajcetic, still only 18, emerged last season, Jarell Quansah, 20, is threatening to do likewise this time.

Imposing and unflappable, the Englishman is a direct beneficiary of the Saudi recruitment drive.

Had Henderson and Fabinho, both of whom played in defence on occasions, still been around, we may never have heard of Quansah.

So, all in all, the outlook seems bright for the Reds to return to the heady heights of a couple of seasons ago.

In part thanks to the Saudi raids of summer.

Dominik Szoboszlai’s stunner ensured Liverpool see off Leicester City in the Carabao Cup at Anfield.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.