You just knew that it was bound to happen, given Liverpool’s current fortunes.
What began as a striking problem—with the loaning out of Andy Carroll succeeding the departures of Dirk Kuyt and Craig Bellamy—has now become a full-blown crisis, as Liverpool are reduced to a single established striker, after Fabio Borini broke a bone in his foot this week whilst on international duty.
At least the general perception is that it is a crisis, one precipitated and compounded by Liverpool’s inability to acquire another proven top-level front-man during the summer window.
Borini’s absence certainly won’t help. It was clear to see that though the 21-year-old Italian failed to offer much in the way of goals during his few and, often, brief appearances, he has looked like a live-wire during matches.
Additionally, he has already proven himself at a similarly high level in the Italian Serie A with Roma, where he netted 12 times in 29 caps in all competitions. Liverpool will surely miss the backup he offers.
However, the fact remains that Borini has endured a relatively stagnant start to his Anfield career, so it’s yet to be seen just how much the industrious forward—who has been described as more of a workhorse than a goal-getter—will be missed.
With Liverpool’s current style of fluent football and young crop of hungry upstarts, fans of the club needn’t feel like a rapid downfall will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Brendan Rodgers has already shown that he is willing to give the youngsters from the academy a chance. When they’ve come in, many have taken their opportunity with both arms.
In Raheem Sterling, the Merseysiders have a fast, skillful forward who is still only 17. Suso looks comfortable on the ball and creative in the mould of a David Silva, whilst Andre Wisdom—a 19-year-old centre-back filling in at right-back—looks like a starter for years to come.
The question, then, is why can’t Liverpool utilise more from the font of talent in their youth ranks in order to fill the void?
Like a clairvoyant—or, at least, like a man who has a wealth of ideas for any given circumstance—Rodgers had somewhat anticipated this state of affairs early into his Liverpool stewardship, handing first-team debuts, and thus the resulting experience of being around the first-team setup, to several of the club’s teenage strikers.
Adam Morgan was the first, a prolific striker at the U18 level, where he scored 21 times, finishing that season as top goalscorer in the league two years ago.
Since then, he has moved onto the reserves, where he continue to shows promise; promise that Brendan Rodgers immediately identified upon his arrival.
Subsequently, Morgan was handed his first-team debut during the preseason tour in the US, where he scored his first senior goal against Toronto FC. Since then, he continues to show promise and remains fervently within Rodgers’ thoughts.
With his natural ability to find the net, Morgan could prove valuable for the foreseeable future.
Morgan isn’t the only striker in the academy sides displaying promise—the tall, imposing Michael Ngoo or the squat, pacey academy recruit Samed Yesil offer further options.
Ngoo has been on the books at Liverpool for some time now but has been—slightly oddly, in my opinion—overlooked in terms of first-team appearances. He seems to have desirable attributes: strength, plus the ability to hold the ball up. Of five reserve matches played this season, he has scored three and assisted once, so he has a goalscoring instinct, too.
Just by looking at him, one feels that the 6’4'' Englishman wouldn’t look out of place against the sizable players of the Premiership.
18-year-old Samed Yesil, on the other hand, has been thrown headfirst into the rigours of the first team, following his £1 million acquisition from Sami Hyypia’s Bayer Leverkusen.
The German has shown his quality predominantly on the international stage, where he was prolific at U17 level and continued his goal-a-game ratio into the U19s.
Having been included him on the bench a few times, Rodgers started Yesil against West Brom in the Capital One Cup. He put in an ideal competitive-debut performance and probably should have capped it off with a goal.
His style of play is reminiscent of Michael Owen. Remind me again what age he took the scene by storm?
Maybe there is too much emphasis being placed on having an out-and-out striker in teams these days. It’s an advantage, for sure, but considering Liverpool’s style of controlling long periods of possession and concerted pressure, they will be capable of fashioning several goalscoring opportunities nonetheless.
Spain went through the majority of the Euro Championship without playing a striker because of their belief in a similar philosophy.
Liverpool have forwards; they play three-up, which will allow them to have plenty of support in attack. If they can get those forwards scoring—the likes of Sterling, Suso, Downing or Assaidi—then will Borini’s absence still be detrimental? Not so much.
Many Liverpool fans I’ve talked to don’t seem bitterly disappointed at the Borini mishap—not that they wish ill of the man, but they believe that Liverpool still have enough firepower to cope with the situation.
Look beyond the forwards and strikers, and you have a team full of players with a goal threat.
On numerous occasions, fans have discussed the possibility of partnering Suarez with the Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard in attack, because they know—with evidence spanning many years—that he will chip in with goals.
Already this season, Jonjo Shelvey has three goals to his name, whilst Liverpool’s loanee Nuri Sahin has an incredible three goals and three assists in just eight short caps, having never played a full 90 minutes for Liverpool.
Even further down, in the defensive line, Agger and Skrtel always worry opposition defences from set pieces.
They now have backup in the form of Wisdom, who has that amazing leap that got him his first senior goal against Young Boys in the Europa League.
And last, but certainly not least amongst the starters, there’s Glen Johnson, whose proclivity for the occasional screamer of a goal goes hand-in-hand with his attacking prowess.
So, you see, we may have to rephrase Liverpool’s current predicament, especially considering the lack of an impact Borini has made.
Yes, it’s a “crisis” because Liverpool now have one proven goalscorer, but there are several alternatives that suggest that we all may be jumping the gun a little.
The real test of Liverpool’s resolve will come if Suarez incurs an injury or suspension. Till then, Liverpool will continue to plug away, in an attempt to turn their good performances into better results.
Still, it’s probably best that FSG and Rodgers move fast and shrewdly in January to get in some reinforcements, as the Liverpool manager is fast running out of fall-back plans.
If Plan Z—as I’ve mapped out—fails to work as hoped, then January may already be too late to salvage a successful season for the club.