Raheem Sterling’s departure in the last transfer window opened the door for Jordan Ibe to step in as Liverpool’s main wide man. Unfortunately, the England U-21 International was unable to fully grasp this opportunity and lock down a starting spot. Ibe started Jürgen Klopp’s reign brightly, bagging his first goal in a Liverpool shirt in a Europa League tie in Russia against Rubin Kazan. However, this was perhaps the highest Ibe got in the pecking order as his performances began to decline throughout the season until he began to show signs of life again at the end of the season. This inconsistency has led to much speculation regarding his future at Anfield with a potential loan move to a lower level Premier League side appearing to be the best possible outcome.
Ibe’s biggest strength is his ability to attack defenses with his pace and strength. When in form, Ibe can drive down the flanks, stretching opposing back lines. Thanks to his tremendous strength, he is not afraid to cut in and open up the defense with an incisive pass or long distance shot. Perhaps the best illustration of what Ibe can offer is his goal in the final league match against West Brom where he made a fifty-yard run, beating at least one defender and cutting in before firing into the bottom corner. Ibe has all the physical gifts to succeed, but he does not currently have enough polish in the finer aspects of his game. Over 41 appearances in all competitions, Ibe only recorded four goals and four assists. Additionally, he only averaged 0.8 key passes and 0.5 crosses per game. These marks are far too low for a player of Ibe’s ability and potential. While he is still far from the finished product with a lot of potential that needs to be harnessed by gaining as much experience as possible, his performances in 2015-2016 make it hard to warrant significant time on the pitch for a top level team. Ibe isn’t a player that doesn’t hold any current value—he still averaged 2.4 dribbles per match; a very good return—but right now his pace is about all that he offers on a consistent basis.
Even with his struggles in the attacking end of the pitch, Ibe does not do a good enough job pressing and closing down defenders. An imperative in Klopp’s gegenpressing system, Ibe needs to greatly improve the defensive side of his game. The Englishman made a measly 0.4 tackles and 0.1 interceptions per match. For a player who is competing with Adam Lallana, Roberto Firmino, and Philippe Coutinho for a place in the side—all effective pressers with Coutinho as the weakest of the three but also the best attacker—Ibe needs to focus on this side of his game. Klopp expects his players to be more than just attackers that only contribute when in possession. His entire system is based on working even harder without the ball than when on the ball. Unfortunately, it does not appear that Ibe has shown a willingness to fully accept this philosophy. For all of Ibe’s struggles in attack this year, it would have been a great opportunity to show his ability to contribute in all phases of the match. As I have illustrated, though, Ibe did not take advantage and likely hurt his standing by falling behind Sheyi Ojo on the depth chart who has shown the ability to effectively cut off passing lanes and close down defenders.
Ibe is not a bad player, he simply does not have the polish in his game nor the confidence to fight through rough patches to be a consistently effective player at this stage of his career. The exciting potential is still there but Ibe needs to begin showing concrete improvements otherwise his time at Anfield may be up. Klopp is keen to bring in reinforcements in wide areas this summer, and Ojo has proved that he is well ahead of the developmental curve and can already be a solid squad member. Subsequently, Ibe is behind Ojo and would surely be behind an incoming transfer. As a result, it appears as though his best option for development and playing time in the short-term may lie away from Liverpool. Watford has been highlighted as one possible loan destination according to Express, but the viability of the two clubs negotiating may be exaggerated after the Jerome Sinclair problems. A move of this nature, however, would likely be the best option for both Ibe and Liverpool. It would give him the ability to gain vital experience in the Premier League where he will have far more opportunities for playing time than he would for the Reds. If Ibe continues to struggle or it does not appear as though he will have a place in the squad were he to return at the conclusion of his loan, Liverpool can easily sell him for a decent profit off the €600,000 the club paid back in 2012. A loan that benefits both parties in the short and long term would be a positive outcome and one that Liverpool should heavily consider.