Saturday, 6 September 2014

Replacing Suarez with a squad: Reviewing the Reds' summer revamp

Luis Suarez bookended Liverpool’s summer transfer window.

His departure to Barcelona for £75 million on 11 July sparked a spending spree that saw a grand total of nine new signings arrive to try and fill the Uruguayan’s considerably sized boots. The fact that his return to Liverpool’s Melwood training ground to pick up a few personal items and say his goodbyes to former teammates was one of the main stories on Merseyside on transfer deadline day demonstrated the success of the Reds’ summer revamp.

Suarez with his former teammates
Liverpool’s lack of activity on deadline day was a sign of success. As football fans get caught up in the excitement and drama of deadline day, they often forget that frantic activity on the final day of the transfer window is more often a sign of failure than of success. As the media whips up speculation and anxiously counts down the minutes until the transfer window slams shut- it never closes quietly!- the fact that leaving your business until the last minute does not make footballing or financial sense is frequently overlooked.

On the financial side, transfer fees and wages become inflated as sellers know that buyers are becoming increasingly desperate to add to their squad as the clock ticks down to midnight, or 11pm, as the case may be. On the footballing side, new signings who arrive late on in the transfer window miss out on spending pre-season with their new teammates, making it more difficult for them to gel and form a cohesive unit.

Consequently, the fact that Liverpool, alongside Manchester City and Chelsea, did not make the headlines on deadline day demonstrated the success of their respective transfer strategies, while Arsenal and Manchester United belied the panicked nature of their transfer activity by spending big and working on deals into the twilight hours of the final day of the summer transfer window.

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While Manchester United spent a whopping £24 million on signing Radamel Falcao from Monaco on a season long loan and hurriedly ushered Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez out of the door to finance the out-of-the-blue signing, Liverpool quietly offloaded two squad players surplus to requirements, namely Sebastian Coates and Oussama Assaidi, who joined Sunderland and Stoke respectively on loan for the season.

It was a good way to end a busy and productive summer transfer window in which Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has sought to replace a superstar striker with a strong squad. So far he seems to have been fairly successful , although only time will tell whether or not Liverpool “do a Spurs” and repeat the mistakes that Tottenham Hotspur made last summer when they financed a whole host of signings by selling star performer Gareth Bale to Real Madrid.

On the evidence of Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Tottenham on Sunday lunchtime, however, it appears reasonable to conclude that Rodgers has completed his revamp of the Reds’ squad quite well. Undoubtedly, the Reds’ squad has far greater depth now and is much more thoroughly equipped to cope with competing on four fronts.

Importantly, Rodgers also has options off the bench to call upon. At White Hart Lane, there wasn’t a single inexperienced youngster sat on the substitutes’ bench; every sub had experience at the highest levels of club football and had been involved on the international stage as well. As it turned out, Rodgers didn’t need to call upon them as his side had already taken Tottenham apart, but in closer games when a little inspiration from the bench is required, it is reassuring to know that the Northern Irishman can call on the likes of Coutinho, Lambert and Markovic to come on and change the course of the game.

Moreover, the Reds’ revamp has seen improvements in all areas of the pitch, particularly problem positions. Everyone in the footballing world knew that the Reds’ defence needed major work over the summer, and Rodgers has spent big to try and rectify the glaring holes in Liverpool’s defence that unquestionably cost them the title last season.

At centre back, Dejan Lovren arrived for £20 million from Southampton and has already assumed the mantle of leader of the back four, marshalling it superbly in the opening few games. Admittedly, he’s prone to the odd error, but his pace normally compensates for that and allows him to make some spectacular recovery tackles. Most significantly, he looks like the long term leader that Liverpool have been lacking at the back since the retirement of Jamie Carragher in 2013.

The loss of Agger is disappointing, but more for emotional than footballing reasons. It’s always sad to see a faithful club servant leave, but the reality is that he wasn’t going to play a key part in Liverpool’s defence heading into the future.

Additionally, the left and right back positions have been bolstered by the acquisitions of Alberto Moreno and Javier Manquillo respectively. The former, signed for £12 million after protracted negotiations with Sevilla, looks like a talented left back in the John Arne Riise mould, and promises to provide plenty of attacking verve down the left wing, as demonstrated by his brilliant solo run and goal versus Spurs.

The latter, who arrived on a two-year loan from Atletico Madrid, finally provides Glen Johnson with much needed competition. He seems encouragingly feisty in the tackle, although he’ll have to channel that aggression correctly in order to avoid adding to the couple of bookings that he has already picked up.

At the other end, Mario Balotelli- why is it always him? – arrived from AC Milan in the shock signing of the summer to provide the touch of genius and healthy dose of madness that Liverpool lost when they sold Suarez. It’s a risky gamble, but one that certainly seems reasonable to make considering Arsenal signed Danny Welbeck for the same £16 million transfer fee.

I know which I'd prefer, and it's not the one that Roy Hodgson loves
With Lambert arriving and Borini staying put, Rodgers has four strikers, which is needed when competing amongst the European elite. Moreover, versatile attacking players like Coutinho and Sterling mean that the Reds shouldn’t struggle for goals this season, even without their superstar striker from last season, who would have missed a sizeable chunk of the campaign through suspension anyway.

Meanwhile, Liverpool’s midfield has vast reserves of talent following the signings of Lallana and Can. With Gerrard, Henderson, Lucas and Allen also competing to fill three midfield positions, Rodgers has an exciting array of options from which to choose, and he’ll welcome the resulting selection headache.

All in all, the Reds’ squad has been comprehensively and successfully revamped. Between the posts is arguably the only place in which improvements have not been made, although there are rumours that the out-of-contract former Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes may arrive to provide back-up to first choice Simon Mignolet, which would be a good free signing assuming the Spaniard’s wage demands are reasonable and fitness levels adequate. 

Every signing seems to make sense on an individual level and each department of the team has been improved. The only remaining issue is how long it will take for them to form a cohesive unit and whether or not this will be a season of transition or a campaign in which Liverpool can kick on and compete at the highest levels.

Despite losing Suarez, Rodgers’ and Liverpool’s successful strategy and footballing philosophy remains in place and the Reds are carrying on their progress by building a strong squad to replace their superstar striker. After all, the club is and always will be bigger than any one individual.


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