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Gab Marcotti and the ESPN FC crew discuss how far along Liverpool are in their contract negotiations with Roma’s Alisson.

The first sign of a new season approaching is the coaches and players returning to training — those who haven’t involved with the World Cup, anyway. One person notable by his absence at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground on Monday was Jurgen Klopp’s long-time assistant Zeljko Buvac.

There’d been some hope his abrupt departure in May — just before a crucial semifinal second leg clash with Roma — for “personal reasons” was a temporary issue which might be resolved somehow.

But Klopp was left alone to fend for himself during an intense conclusion to the season and whether the German actually wants his old friend back now remains cloaked in secrecy.

The man who literally wrote the book on Klopp, ESPN’s Raphael Honigstein, claimed back in May the two had several past clashes before managing to patch things up. If the reason Buvac left was down to another one then, coming at such a vital time, it seems far more serious and permanently divisive.

Buvac was initially linked with other coaching jobs, including bizarrely that of replacing Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.

The dynamic between the two was always of Klopp taking centre stage while Buvac beavered away in the background as “the brains behind the partnership,” as Klopp himself acknowledged many times.

Now there may be a need for a new assistant manager with a markedly different approach. There are some who feel this may be Klopp’s most important “signing” of the summer, more so than any new player.

Liverpool’s magical forward line scored so many goals last season it’s unlikely they can match that again, particularly Mohammed Salah. Where Liverpool fell below the required standards last season was at the back and generally throughout the team whenever a lead needed to be preserved — 16 equalisers conceded is already too many, before factoring in how many times Liverpool led by more than one goal and kept conceding late, damaging goals.

Perhaps it’ll take a fresh pair of eyes to see what needs to be adjusted — always remembering of course that what Liverpool does at the moment is very close to successful football.

One new (old) face is that of Pepijn Lijnders, who is returning to the club after trying his luck as the manager of NEC Nijmegen in his native Holland.

His spell was brutally cut short within months and it’s possible he will return to Anfield in a promoted capacity. Given his original brief had always been to work with the younger players — with Liverpool benefitting from the emergence of Trent Alexander-Arnold — this is not really what Liverpool need right now.

It’s awkward for all managers to find a suitable assistant — one who’ll have no problem talking truth to power without wanting that power for himself.

Klopp’s long, almost-equal relationship with Buvac seemed perfect on the surface but something may have been festering underneath.

It’s at times like these older fans yearn for the famous boot room when men like Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Ronnie Moran and Roy Evans served with modesty and distinction. All four were eventually promoted to the top job although Moran was only ever caretaker boss.

Any manager faces an internal struggle between the job’s demands and the ego required to even take them on. It leads many to stifle criticism and dangerously ignore whatever needs to be done.

No Liverpool fan will forget Brendan Rodgers’ self-absorbed nonsense in March 2015 after his generally leaky team somehow managed to secure some rare clean sheets; “it must be that new defensive coach everyone’s talking about.”

Weeks later the season lay in ruins and Stoke were slamming six goals past an abject Reds defence. That was probably the precise moment Rodgers’ fate was sealed. For all of his whimsy, a defensive coach might have actually helped.

Numerically Liverpool conceded less league goals last season but it didn’t help secure more points. Changes are needed. The purchase of Monaco’s Fabinho at least suggests the problem will be addressed, augmented by a complete season for Virgil van Dijk.

Tactically Liverpool need to adjust and that could be the precise role of their next assistant manager. The tricky balance between attacking ingenuity and knowing when to shut down a game to seal victory could be one that Klopp cannot find alone.

Steven Kelly is one of ESPN FC’s Liverpool bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @SteKelly198586.



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