What Fabio Borini and Joe Allen Add to Liverpool
The transfer season is far from over, but is beginning to take some sort of discernible shape. From proceeding thus far, we can discern two things.
1. Brendan Rodgers is Cleaning House
The Northern Irishman inherited an amalgam of a footballing squad. A by-product of the managerial carousel of Rafa Benitez, Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool’s personnel situation was—and to an extent still is—a mess.
Thus, the unfortunate truth is that Rodgers has had to spend a considerable amount of his opening months simply wiping the slate clean. The overhang is considerable.
To that end, Fabio Aurelio, Maxi Rodriguez, Dirk Kuyt, Alberto Aquilani and Craig Bellamy have all left for one reason or another.
If you believe the rumors coming from BBC, Andy Carroll may yet see the exit. Papers of lesser repute such as the Mail have Charlie Adam as possible makeweight in a deal for Clint Dempsey. Do not be surprised to see a few loan deals go through as well.
All told, seniority does not seem to be at a premium on Merseyside. Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher represent the profile of an albatross at Liverpool: the over 30s.
The message is clear. Those not young enough and/or tactical enough to evolve into the new 4-3-3 are surplus to requirements. Bidders are welcome.
2. Rodgers is Seeking out “System Players”
Fabio Borini and Joe Allen are alike in a few ways. Both have played under the Northern Irishman on at least one occasion (Allen at Swansea, Borini at both Swansea and Chelsea when he served as reserve team manager).
These are players which he knows with absolute certainty will fit the new 4-3-3. Those rumored to remain on his wish list fit the profile as well.
Barcelona is the gold standard when it comes to this formation. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the Liverpool Echo has Cristian Tello linked with a loan move.
Nuri Sahin is another outstanding example. His success at Borussia Dortmund serves as perfect preparation for the football in store at Anfield.
All of the above signal Rodgers’ dedication to his method. If the Northern Irishman is going to fail, he will at least be doing it his own way.
So then, let’s look at the two signings thus far, and what they mean for Liverpool going forward.
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Liverpool made a solid purchase in the form of Fabio Borini. At £10.7 million, the former Roma forward comes in and starts right away.
When you consider that the club paid £35 million for a predecessor currently occupying the bench–you have look at that as a positive.
For all intents and purposes, the Italian seems to have been Rodgers’ first priority in coming. He coached the young forward at both Chelsea and Swansea, making him well aware of the talent at his disposal. The new manager clearly thinks he has a real talent on his hands.
That said, expectations must be tempered. There is a reason Liverpool did not have to break the bank. Despite his raw potential, Borini is still a raw talent with room to grow.
When he made the decision to leave Chelsea, turning down their offer on an improved contract, there was very little complaint amongst the fanbase. Part of that is due to the extravagant profligacy of the Chelsea “youth system.” Nonetheless, it still bears notice.
The two legs of the Gomel match serve as an excellent example why. Of course there were multiple variables at work, but he was two different players across each match.
In Belarus, Borini failed to make an impact on the game operating as a lone striker. There was little to no link up play to speak of as he struggled to gain an understanding of either Cole, Downing or Sterling.
Conversely, with Gerrard and Suarez on top form in the home leg, Borini was a player reborn. He showed flashes of the promise the Kop hoped for. His innate understanding of his Uruguayan compatriot will have many salivating. There is also the goal–a volley which displayed a tremendous amount of confidence for a young man making his first home appearance.
All in all, the report card is mixed. Borini functions extremely well as a member of an interlinking front three. As Rodgers adroitly judged, he does fit the new system perfectly.
That said, Borini—given his age, size and skill—is not Fernando Torres yet. The Italian is an excellent forward who can play a number of positions. His future is extremely bright.
Whether or not he can become a world-class striker remains to be seen. For now, he is a starter, a player capable of moments of brilliance and a great buy given the price tag.
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The young Welshman will never be a disappointing signing. At worst, some may mumble in the future that Liverpool overpaid just slightly.
Given what he is now, The Reds did pay a bit over the odds in acquiring him. Given the potential, Rodgers and FSG may have just closed the bargain of the offseason.
Today, Allen stands as an excellent midfielder who can play in either the defensive or central midfield positions. In this way, he immediately moves up to second in the depth chart behind Lucas in holding role. Further, he jumps up to first in the central role being contested by Jonjo Shelvey and Jordan Henderson.
As a defensive midfielder, Allen is notable for his composure, tackling ability, and lack of egotism. He rarely pushes for the long ball unless a forward run is absolutely screaming for it.
As a central midfielder, Allen has a pass completion rate of over 90 percent last season. He is also accountable to the point that Gerrard can push forward with more regularity knowing he has such an able partner.
Where he lacks is in the last creative flourish often required to turn possession for its own sake into something meaningful on the score sheet. The greats at his position, guys like Pirlo, Xavi and Modric have the ability. They lull you into a false sense of security then cut the back line apart with one moment of genius.
Only time will tell whether or not Allen becomes that guy. If not, he is still a solid midfielder and a huge improvement on alternative personnel. However, should he fail to develop in that way, it is likely that the top four will remain that much more elusive.
To that end, there is cause for optimism. Those who tuned into the Olympics saw Tom Cleverley, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen put on an absolute show in possessive football. With just one EPL season under his belt, Liverpool’s Welshman did not look out of place for a minute.
The future is very bright.
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All in all, Rodgers only failing in the transfer window to date has been the lack of deals concluded.
Quality comes first. But depth is an imperative given the grueling schedule Liverpool faces. With five out and two in, Anfield has fewer options than it did a year ago.
Yet perhaps it is too early to make that judgement call. For now, as fans we can all take solace in the fact that at least up until this point, the rebuild is headed in a positive direction.
Potential and youth are both being put on a pedestal. Perhaps someone in the boardroom knows a thing or two about assembling a top club.