Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Where should Liverpool strengthen this summer?

It is clear that, after a below par season containing more downs than ups, Liverpool need to strengthen in the summer transfer window if they are to compete successfully for Champions League qualification, which surely must be the aim again next season.

But, where should Liverpool strengthen this summer? In this article I assess the areas of the Reds’ squad requiring the most work from Rodgers and his infamous transfer committee.

Attack: Complete re-haul required

I think every member of Liverpool’s striking department should be sold this summer except for Daniel Sturridge.

Mario Balotelli’s time on Merseyside has been an unqualified disaster from start to finish; he should be shipped out, probably back to his native Italy, as soon as possible regardless of the fee the Reds fetch for him. Fabio Borini has been lingering around like a bad smell for far too long and clearly doesn’t have a future at the club as much as he might like one. He too should be sold posthaste.

I feel sorry for Rickie Lambert, who hasn’t been given a fair crack following his £4 million arrival from Southampton last summer. He has been unfairly treated, but, at 33, he isn’t a long term solution and the club should be willing to listen to offers for him, even if I suspect rumours that Jose Mourinho is interested in him are slightly wide of the mark!

I also think that Raheem Sterling doesn’t have a future at the club, although that’s more due to his attitude and conduct off-field, particularly in contract negotiations, rather than due to issues on-field. The youngster has plenty of ability and potential, but clearly thinks that he’s far better than he actually is.

Sterling's attitude stinks
Liverpool offering him £100k a week was extremely generous considering his poor ability in front of goal, and for him to turn that down and then for his agent to say that Sterling would turn down even £900k per week simply serves to show that his future lies away from Anfield.

He should be sold for as much as possible and the cash generated reinvested in refurbishing an attack desperately requiring additions. Even when Liverpool were scoring over 100 goals in 2013/2014, their attack required investment as Iago Aspas was the only back-up to the dynamic Suarez-Sturridge duo. Now, Liverpool’s attack is even weaker and many changes need to be made.

Of course, Divock Origi will join the Reds this summer after immediately re-joining Lille on loan following his transfer to Liverpool last summer. The Belgian striker struggled last season and will take time to settle on Merseyside; we shouldn’t expect him to hit the floor running and instead he should be used as third choice striker.

The priority should be signing another world class striker to accompany Sturridge up front most weeks (the number 15 works best in a partnership) and replace the England international when he suffers one of his all too frequent injury setbacks. Christian Benteke has been suggested as a possible signing, but paying Aston Villa’s asking price of over £30 million would be a ludicrous repeat of the ill-fated Andy Carroll transfer which should be avoided. If we can get him for roughly £20 million, then maybe he’s worth a punt, but certainly not at any higher price.

I also think we need another striker of a similar sort of standard and quality as Origi in order to give options to Rodgers up front and replace Raheem Sterling potentially. If we can strengthen in these ways and end up with two world class strikers and two decent back-ups then we should score far more goals next season, bolstering our Champions League hopes significantly.

Defence: (Near) complete re-haul required

The form of Liverpool’s defence tracked the form of the rest of the team (or, perhaps more accurately, the form of the rest of the team tracked the form of Liverpool’s defence) last season. They started awfully, improved exponentially, and then collapsed dramatically.

There has been improvement, but more work needs to be done. First, Rodgers needs to figure out whether he wants to play with three or four at the back. Then, he needs to find reinforcements on both wings urgently.

On the right hand side, Glen Johnson has finally left the club after his contract ran out, leaving the out of favour Javier Manquillo, who has a year left on his loan from Athletic Madrid, the only option assuming that Rodgers doesn’t view playing Can out of position in defence as a long term solution. Of course, Jon Flanagan could potentially come back into contention, but we cannot rely on him remaining injury free.

That’s why the club have bid £10 million for Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne, who appears a really promising young British prospect with bags of potential. The Reds just must make sure that they don’t overpay for a Southampton defender for a second season running. £15 million seems a sensible upper limit in terms of what they should offer for the 24-year old.

Hopefully Clyne will not be the next Lovren
On the left, meanwhile, Alberto Moreno did enough last season to remain first choice, although he struggles defensively and the injury plagued Jose Enrique is his only back up. Therefore, another left back should be second on Rodgers’ defensive shopping list.

Some will also argue, with some justification, that changes need to be made at centre back. After all, Dejan Lovren was awful last season and Mamadou Sakho spent a lot of time on the treatment table. The only problem is, Liverpool have gone out and spent £20 million on a new centre back in the previous two summer transfer windows, and that’s something that the club just cannot afford to do every summer.

Either we make a shrewd signing or two for low transfer fees to improve Rodgers’ options at centre back, or we persevere with the two players that we have invested so much in.  I think Skrtel and Sakho should be first choice next season because Skrtel is our best defender and Sakho looked half decent during the Reds’ run of good form last season and has sufficient potential to make it worthwhile being patient with him rather than rashly spending loads of money on yet another centre back, money which could be more wisely invested elsewhere.

Midfield: Tinkering required if transfer budget allows

Despite the departure of Steven Gerrard, Liverpool’s midfield looks fairly strong. At the very least, it requires less attention than the defence and attack this summer. In the middle of the park, Henderson, Allen, Lucas, Lallana and Coutinho can all be called upon to fulfil various roles and functions in the side, while Jordon Ibe and Lazar Markovic offer options out wide, as does Moreno and Sterling if he, against the odds, stays at Anfield.

Lucas is still a great sitting midfielder, while Allen did enough at times last season to deserve another season, if only as a back-up, and Henderson has the capability to step into Steven Gerrard’s role in the side, although I’m reticent to call him, or anyone else for that matter, Steven Gerrard’s replacement, because there will never be anyone like Steven Gerrard, who is a Liverpool legend unique in his footballing genius.

Milner is an experienced England international
If there is surplus cash, which seems very unlikely, maybe Rodgers could bring in another option for the wings, but tinkering at most is all that is required in the Reds’ midfield. If we can bring in James Milner, who is a useful hardworking utility player with a surprisingly impressive number of assists, from Man City on a free transfer than that would be a great bit of business and possibly all that we need to do to enhance the midfield.

Goalkeeper: Back-up stopper required

During the first half of last season, many, including myself, thought that Liverpool needed to sell Simon Mignolet and sign a new first choice goalkeeper, perhaps Petr Cech or Asir Begovic. However, after the Belgian proved his critics wrong by keeping 13 clean sheets and sharing the golden glove with Courtois and Hart, few are suggesting anymore that he needs to be sold.

Brad Jones is on his way out of Anfield, though, so another goalkeeper who is good enough to cover for a couple of matches if Mignolet gets injured is required on the cheap this summer.

Conclusion: Big summer ahead for Brendan Rodgers

In sum, Brendan Rodgers has a big summer ahead of him and should be very busy. He probably has a maximum of one season left to re-build the squad and achieve Champions League qualification. If he fails, he will be sacked; it’s that simple. It’s therefore vital that he completely re-hauls the Reds’ attack and makes important additions in defence, as well as tinkering with his midfield to improve it further.

YNWA

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