Assessing Liverpool's Needs in the Transfer Window
Liverpool has been an intriguing team to watch thus far into 2012.
The Brendan Rodgers era is fully underway. That has meant a number of things.
First, transfer fees and past standing have not hold the clout they used to in terms of getting players into the starting lineup.
Some big-money signings like Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing are relegated to the bench. Others, such as Andy Carroll and Charlie Adam did not even make it that far.
Second, the new regime has met with an influx of youth. The likes of Raheem Sterling, Andre Wisdom, Jonjo Shelvey and Suso, among others, have seen their stars catapult into prominence under the Northern Irishman.
Finally, as promised, the team has decided to sink or swim with the new tactical philosophy. That decision has resulted in stunning football at times. At others, it has been frustrating watching the first team struggle as they go through the inevitable growing pains.
All considered, the results are ambiguous but improving. In addition, a few stars have been born.
Yet in the end, I still think this January will be a busy one for the Reds. Here's a look at each position in terms of depth and possible signings.
Whoever you prefer, two solid goalkeepers is more than enough at a time when there is a considerable dearth of options elsewhere.
For now, Pepe Reina is, in theory, the starter. Behind him, the Aussie Brad Jones waits in the wings after a slew of promising performances.
No matter how it shakes out, at the very least, a capable keeper will occupy the sticks at Anfield.
With Doni returning as of this week, do not expect changes any time soon.
The fullback position is an intriguing one. Glen Johnson is an unquestioned starter.
Behind him, both Jose Enrique and Andre Wisdom are strong options.
You also have to consider that Martin Kelly will return sooner or later. Where he fits in remains to be seen.
Next, you have a set of youngsters in Jon Flanagan and Jack Robinson who aspire for more playing time.
Finally, there is Stewart Downing, who scored in the Europa League from the post of left wing back.
The situation is anything if not confusing. That said, Rodgers appears covered in terms of depth and quality options.
The starters on Merseyside remain unquestioned.
Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel are world-class. They will start the big games given good health.
After that, things get a bit murkier.
First, there is the aging Jamie Carragher and his depreciating situation. As the veteran gets older, he seems to be transforming more and more from a one-time starter into a quasi-coach/team leader. Rodgers may get a few more performances out of the legend, but his best days are clearly behind him.
Next, there is Sebasian Coates. The Uruguayan has impressed yet appears immature at times. It is not entirely certain whether or not management is ready to put their full faith in Coates as a third-choice defender.
There is also Martin Kelly, who can fill in when he returns from injury.
The youth setup boasts the likes of Danny Wilson, whose performances have not been good enough by all accounts.
Thus, there may be a need for one discount signing to provide cover. Here would be my pick:
Possible Signing: Ryan Shawcross
If Liverpool sign a young player like Kyriakos Papadopoulos from FC Schalke, they arguably get a project player.
The talent and promise is there, but he would still have to adjust to the English game. In this way, he would be a pretty close complement early on to Coates.
More senior options such as Benedikt Howedes, also of FC Schalke, I ignored because of the financials. While Howedes is undeniably a great player, he may be more than is necessary.
The big German would require a large transfer fee. This is questionable at a time when money is in short supply. Further, he will expect the kind of regular playing time not necessarily available at Liverpool.
Thus, I think it makes sense to go after a low-cost English option. The kind of defender who can slot in easily without a major learning curve.
Ryan Shawcross fits that profile. He may never be among the world's best, but he fits the bill given Liverpool's current situation. Presumably, Shawcross could come in and start the cup matches right away. He would also offer Coates competition for league minutes over the long haul.
The midfield is Rodgers' greatest area of depth.
In the defensive role, Joe Allen starts with Jordan Henderson as his understudy. When Lucas returns, he too will compete for minutes.
In the more central slot, Steven Gerrard gets the nod. Allen and Henderson can also slot in here, as can Nuri Sahin when necessary.
In the attacking role, Nuri Sahin seems to be the starter for now. That said, Jonjo Shelvey is available as a strong backup option.
Should Liverpool look to make outlays in this area, it only makes sense if they get a world-class option that makes an immediate impact. Here are a few options.
Possible Signings: Christian Eriksen and Isco
The two names listed are world-class options that fit the Rodgers system ideally.
They are technical playmakers with a great eye for the field.
Isco, 20, may come cheaply from a Malaga side in dire financial straits. He fits the FSG mold of young talents with high upside. Presumably, he could play both attacking midfield as well as on the wings.
Eriksen is being touted as the next Pirlo/Modric type midfield maestro. If Liverpool feels that he lives up to the hype, maybe they can find room for him.
The challenge here is twofold. One, does the club have enough money to keep spending on midfielders? Second, will players of this caliber pass on Champions League suitors for the Europa League football on offer at Anfield?
Both remain to be seen. However, should they come, they present exciting options for the Reds.
The quality on the wings is in the eye of the beholder.
Raheem Sterling, 17, and Suso, 19, have emerged as breakout stars. Their potential is clear for all to see.
Not to be outdone, Oussama Assaidi is starting to come into his own on the flank. The Herenveen signing has a low center of gravity and tremendous speed. Expect him to improve as the year goes on.
Although injured, Fabio Borini will make his return. His early performances have not been overwhelming, yet the Italian clearly has the manager's full support. He will get the benefit of the doubt for this reason.
Stewart Downing, Joe Cole and Jose Enrique have also made sporadic appearances in lesser competitions. Their long-term utility remains to be seen.
Finally, should Liverpool sign a top striker, Luis Suarez may get pushed out wide. Some (including myself) would argue that this is his best position. A lot has to happen before we can have that conversation, though.
Thus, there are a number of options. However, the need for more goals is clear. Waiting on each youngster to grow into their roles in turn may require patience unavailable in the Kop.
If they goes this way, here are some choices for senior management:
Possible Signings on the Wing
The good news is, there is no shortage of up-and-coming wingers both in England and abroad.
Theo Walcott, Arsenal
Walctott's on-again, off-again contract saga with the Gunners has left a perceived window of opportunity. Rodgers has not been shy in expressing his interest in the speedster.
Daniel Sturridge, Chelsea
Talks broke down this summer when Liverpool wanted a loan deal, while Chelsea pushed on for a permanent move. Sturridge showed great promise at the Olympics this summer. He also has the added dimension of being both a striker and possible winger.
Whether or not he can deliver the number of goals the Reds need up front right away is unclear.
Dries Mertens, PSV
The Dutch international is apparently Rodgers' fall back in the event that one of the aforementioned two names fall through. Mertens offers speed and ability at a comparative discount of £12 million.
Lewis Holtby, FC Schalke
Holtby has a bright future ahead and is considered one of Germany's future top talents. Convincing him to leave the Bundesliga will be tough. That said, his contract is up in the summer, meaning the German outfit may opt to sell the flanker before he is available on a free transfer.
Patrick Herrmann, Borussia Monchengladbach
Marco Reus got all the attention last year, yet Herrmann also played his part in 'Gladbach's surprising season. He will not be kept secret for much longer. Liverpool would be wise to make a move now.
Luis Suarez is tied for third in the league with six goals thus far into the Premier League campaign.
The Uruguayan is controversial and profligate, yet undoubtedly talented. Liverpool seem to rise and fall with his relative finishing ability on the day.
There are many that say he is better suited for a modified center-forward/winger role in support of a more traditional striker.
For now, that is impossible. The only cover at striker is Samed Yesil, 19, who has not made many appearances of note yet for the Reds. He looks to be more of a long-term project for the club.
Thus, the greatest need seems to be here. What follows is a few last options at the position.
Possible Signings at Striker
The largest need remains a proven goalscorer. However, FSG will want the "proven" element to be relative.
Do not expect Liverpool to sign someone 26-plus anytime soon. That clashes with the club's new-found philosophy of buying young.
Main options: Leandro Damiao, Alexandre Pato, Tomas Muller, Edinson Cavani
All of the above will be expensive and likely out of Liverpool's price range. Yet these are the guys that could make the kind of immediate impact the Reds need.
If they can bring in some of the aforementioned options coupled with continued growth, Liverpool may be a scary proposition headed into 2013.