Liverpool have seemingly lined up their first transfer moves for the January window nice and early after news broke that the signings of Chelsea forward Daniel Sturridge and Blackpool winger Tom Ince were all but complete.
The Reds have been seriously lacking in final-third options this season and Brendan Rodgers looks to have identified the two players who can provide more firepower for his team, with the BBC claiming the deals could be sealed in the opening days of next month.
Sturridge has been a fringe player for Chelsea this season with Fernando Torres the preferred central striker and Juan Mata excelling in the attacker's role from the right.
Ince is a former Liverpool youth player who appeared once for the Reds in his first spell at the club before moving to Blackpool a year-and-a-half ago after his contract ran down.
The report indicates that the Reds will pay a total of around £18 million for the two, with two-thirds of that cost going on the Sturridge deal.
Times reporter Rory Smith previously indicated that the double deal was on the cards:
As I suspect most newspapers will be reporting tomorrow, #LFC should announce Sturridge+Ince in the first couple of days of Jan. Deals done.— Rory Smith (@RorySmithTimes) December 18, 2012
Here we take a look at why these two signings will benefit Liverpool and if the manager was right to identify them as future Reds.
Liverpool's current final-third options in the senior squad consist of Luis Suarez, Fabio Borini, Raheem Sterling, Stewart Downing, Joe Cole, Suso and Oussama Assaidi.
Of those, only Suarez and Borini are able to play centrally and be comfortable, which meant the Reds had to bring in at least one player who could cover that area of the pitch.
In saying that, there was nothing to suggest Liverpool had to bring in an out-and-out traditional No. 9. Suarez has excelled in the central role with plenty of freedom to work his magic the width of the pitch; what the Reds have lacked is support in the central areas from those either side and behind him.
What both Ince and Sturridge will bring to Liverpool is their ability to attack the central areas, especially inside the penalty box when coming infield from wider starting areas.
In essence what the dual signing will provide Liverpool with is an entirely new partnership in attack for the Uruguayan forward; Sturridge from the right and Ince from the left allows both players to cut in on their stronger foot when heading toward goal.
Goals, goals, goals.
More than anything, what Brendan Rodgers needs to do in January—what he knew he needed to do in summer—is to add goals to the current squad.
Suarez is the only player to even get close to double figures this season and Liverpool need at least one new player to come in and be capable of scoring eight or nine goals over the second half of the season in the Premier League.
Daniel Sturridge is entirely capable of doing so, while Ince will also provide a goal threat.
On the Blackpool wide attacker, since leaving Liverpool he has scored 20 goals in 56 Championship matches for the Tangerines. Of course the standard is lower than in the Premier League, but Ince has proven he knows the way to goal and after 18 months of solid first-team football is a far better player than when he left the Reds.
Ince is also in great form this season; he has scored a third of all Blackpool's league goals with 13 strikes, including seven in his last nine league games.
Sturridge is sometimes criticised for not scoring the goals he should do if he sees himself as a "striker," but is this a fair assumption?
A closer examination says perhaps not.
This season Sturridge has scored one league goal from seven games, but only one of these appearances came as a starter. Last season he tallied 11 in 30 matches, of which 28 he started.
His total Premier League record reads 94 games and 26 goals, good enough for a goal every 3.6 games—but since so many of his games have been as a substitute or playing only part of the match, is this an accurate representation of his abilities?
He has scored 25 goals in that time—or one goal every 171 minutes, which is better than the ratio of a goal every two games.
If Sturridge brings that kind of consistency to Liverpool and is a regular starter, you can expect him to hit around 20 goals per season without any problems.
The BBC report on the two players quotes the expected prices of each:
England forward Sturridge, 23, will cost in the region of £12m. Ince ... will move back for £6m.
How do those finances stack up for Liverpool?
In the case of Tom Ince, much has been said about his cost compared to when the Reds let him go for just £250,000 18 months ago. However the ball was rather more in the player's corner than the club's at the time as his contract had run down and he was unwilling to commit his future to the Reds without first-team football.
A steep price then to pay for his education, but the Reds may not actually pay quite as high a price as the quoted £6 million.
As per the Liverpool Echo, part of the deal to take Ince to Blackpool originally included a 35 percent sell-on clause, whereby Liverpool would receive a hefty portion of any transfer fee that Ince moved for.
Since he is seemingly returning to Liverpool, the Reds will be entitled to a sizable discount on the England Under-21 player. The sum of £4 million is almost a starting point for many talented youngsters these days, and if Ince is any kind of success he will be seen as a real bargain signing.
Compare to Aaron Ramsey, Gareth Bale, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Nick Powell—all left lower-league clubs for the Premier League for much larger sums of money.
Sturridge is of course more expensive at £12 million, but for a forward who has been capped four times by England it is again not an unrealistic or overly expensive addition.
Comparisons to the Andy Carroll price tag are unnecessary as that deal was an aberration brought about by the cost of selling Fernando Torres, but deals for Steven Fletcher (£12 million), Darren Bent (£19 million) or even Victor Moses (£10 million) show that the price of Sturridge could actually be another good piece of business by the club.
Without details of contract length and salary, it is difficult to make a judgement over just how much value Liverpool should be getting from their new boys anyway, but in principle both seem like sound investments.
Brendan Rodgers has been working since his first day at the club on not only bringing in players to suit his style and system, but on making the squad a younger one.
As he told the BBC, Rodgers prefers to utilise youngsters whenever given the opportunity.
I have an inherent belief in young players. They have to have the talent and the personality. A young player will run through a barbed wire fence for you. An older player will look for a hole in the fence.
Ince and Sturridge will further lower the age of the attacking side of the team, in contrast to last year when the likes of Craig Bellamy and Dirk Kuyt were involved.
Adding those two to the likes of Raheem Sterling certainly gives Liverpool a youthful-looking attack, though Suarez, at age 25, is hardly an old-timer despite being a relative veteran in the squad.
Liverpool have lacked a little bit of killer instinct in the final third and perhaps the young and hungry Sturridge, with something to prove still, will be in particular a good remedy to this problem.
Two in then, any more to come?
The arrivals of Ince and Sturridge will probably signal an end to any lingering pursuits that Liverpool had of Arsenal's contract rebel Theo Walcott, though up until the past 24 hours the Gunner was still being linked with a move to Anfield.
With January a notoriously tough time to get many players in because of time constraints, it could well be that all Liverpool's business—incoming, at least—is wrapped up in the first week.
The club still require a top-class left-back and arguably another creative midfielder, especially if or when Nuri Sahin returns to Real Madrid, but these deals will likely have to wait for the summer.
More goals in the team could be exactly what tips the balance for the Reds in picking up enough wins to propel them into the top six, which, despite last weekend's defeat against Aston Villa, remains only five points away, with the top four a further two points higher.
It is not inconceivable that the Reds would mount a second-half challenge for these spots, though a big improvement in home form is required.
As for outgoing players, Joe Cole looks to be the most likely Red to leave.
He already struggles for a place on the bench, appearing as sub only five times in the league this term, and two more wide attackers in the squad will negate his impact on the team considerably.
Stewart Downing is another in jeopardy having been told he can leave the club, but his ability to play at full-back might make him a squad player worth keeping until the summer—though expect him to also leave if an offer of around £8 million is forthcoming.
Statistical data from WhoScored.com and EPLindex.com. Financial data from TransferMarkt.co.uk