The need for January reinforcements at Liverpool is even more obvious now than it was on September 1 when the transfer window slammed shut with Clint Dempsey’s nose pressed up against the glass, but whilst the world, their wife and their extended family knows that Brendan Rodgers needs to increase his attacking options in the first month of 2013, is it as simple as that?
Perhaps the Reds boss will use January to look at other areas of his team too, but which of those areas does he need to strengthen? Here is a position-by-position look at just what the Liverpool manager could be thinking.
Pepe Reina hasn’t been at his outstanding best for the past couple of years, but although he has been the subject of more than a few transfer rumours over the campaign, he is still realistically the best that Liverpool can do at the moment.
Too many of his potential replacements—with Birmingham City’s Jack Butland and Hannover’s Ron-Robert Zieler the most recent two mentioned (via Daily Mail)—simply don’t bring the kind of experience that this evolving team sorely needs, and with Rodgers refuting suggestions that he is looking to ship out the Spaniard (ESPN) there appears to be little to the "Reina Out" rumours—and nor should there be.
With Brad Jones providing dutiful backup (until the summer at least) and the likes of Peter Gulacsi and Danny Ward at the club, this is a position that Liverpool are well stocked and can ignore in January in favour of more pressing matters.
Luis Suarez aside, there is a strong argument that Glen Johnson has been Liverpool’s best player of the season, and there is simply no reason for Rodgers to be looking to replace a man he has bracketed alongside Daniel Alves.
The England man had a spell on the left of the Liverpool defence but with the improved form of Jose Enrique seeing him shifted back to the right, the pair will look to kick on and nail down its preferred positions in the side in the second half of the season.
Enrique has responded brilliantly to early criticism from Rodgers (Liverpool Daily Post), with his brief spell moving up to the left of midfield proving a successful tactic from the manager as he sought to improve the Spaniard’s confidence when raiding from left-back. The early signs are promising.
With Johnson and Enrique as his first choices, Rodgers has youthful promise in the positions in Andre Wisdom and Jack Robinson, whilst Jon Flanagan is always willing to be called upon and Martin Kelly might be back from injury before the end of the season.
Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing can also fill in in the positions but both look better suited elsewhere—Henderson in midfield and Downing at another club. If he goes in January then a backup left-back may be targeted given Enrique’s injury problems, but that could wait until the summer.
So much talk about Daniel Agger comes with the prefix "if he can stay fit," but with the Dane enjoying personal record-breaking runs in the first team and having signed a contract extension in October, then replacements for him aren’t needed or encouraged.
The same can be said of Agger’s defensive partner, Martin Skrtel, as the pair’s partnership grows stronger and stronger. With Jamie Carragher, Sebastian Coates and Wisdom around to provide cover and options should Rodgers switch formation, this is another position that Liverpool are well-stocked going into the New Year.
However Coates might benefit from a loan spell, and if Rodgers decides to ship him out then he could look to speed up a move for Feyenoord’s 20-year-old captain Stefan de Vrij, a potential summer target.
The return from injury of Lucas Leiva against Southampton at the start of this month was welcomed by everyone connected to Liverpool, as the Reds simply don’t have an operator of his quality to call upon when he’s not there.
Joe Allen is still learning the position and you get the sense that Rodgers prefers to see him, Henderson and Nuri Sahin further forward, meaning that along with a prayer mat to ask for Lucas’s continued fitness the Liverpool boss could do with specialised backup for his Brazilian international.
Whether he’ll get that in January is up for debate though. He has enough square pegs to fill that round hole for now and is likely to have to make do with that setup until the summer.
Surely the most overstocked of Liverpool’s departments, it is Rodgers’ task to turn midfield quantity into quality over his Liverpool reign. He would be wise not to run before he can walk though.
With Steven Gerrard and Allen his preferred two in front of Lucas, and Henderson, Suso, Jonjo Shelvey and Sahin around—the latter for the time being at least—then maybe Rodgers would be wiser to hold fire and look at the situation again in the summer when the Reds will surely look to add a goal-scoring midfielder to their ranks.
For now the likes of Gerrard, Shelvey and Suso are the most likely source of strikes from here, and that doesn’t look like changing as Rodgers initially seeks strength in other areas. A loan move similar to Sahin’s could pay off next season though, and Liverpool will surely be on the lookout for one.
This is the big one. A failure from Rodgers and Fenway Sports Group to add at least one player here could well condemn the Reds to the mid-table position they currently find themselves in.
The trouble is that two of the men they’d want to fill the problem position don’t want to play there, with both Theo Walcott and Daniel Sturridge apparently seeing themselves as centre-forwards.
What is clear is that Raheem Sterling needs help out wide to avoid the risk of burnout, Suso’s development is better suited to the centre, Fabio Borini is injured, Oussama Assaidi is promising but raw, Enrique is a left-back, Downing’s confidence looks shot, and Joe Cole is still Joe Cole—however hard he tries.
What should be even clearer is that none of those players named in that paragraph can be relied upon to get you a goal—Cole’s goal at West Ham made it three between them in the Premier League this season—and it is improving Liverpool’s goal output and linking with Suarez from these areas that should absolutely be Rodgers’ No. 1 priority from the moment that Big Ben heralds the start of the New Year.
One, preferably two, of these players need to be added as soon as possible.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s a simple mantra but a true one in the case of Suarez.
The Uruguayan has scored goals for fun as the central figure in Rodgers’ attacking trio this season and so shifting him into one of the wide positions to make way for a supposed world-class forward might not make as much sense as it originally seems to on paper.
Of course the Reds need more reinforcements and backup for Suarez than just Borini and emergency forward Shelvey, but any incoming attacker is likely to fit a similar bill to the Italian or be one who is capable of playing in the wide positions too.
The prospect of a world star arriving at Anfield is exciting but it looks a forlorn hope at present, but that doesn’t mean that a promising—most likely young—forward won’t be added to the squad.
That is after all Rodgers' remit, for now anyway.