Liverpool will certainly be active in the transfer market during the summer window, and one of the positions they are expected to try and strengthen is left-back.
Jose Enrique has seen his form and fitness fluctuate wildly this season, having a spell out of the team before also playing on the wing before finally finding his feet in defence again.
The first of the transfer rumours are now starting to circulate, with Valencia's Aly Cissokho mentioned as a possible target for manager Brendan Rodgers (via ESPN).
Cissokho made his name at Porto before earning a big-money move to French side Lyon, and has been playing for Valencia since the start of the season. The left-back himself appears to be open to the idea of another move:
I've never hidden the fact that the English league is the one that attracts me the most. It's pleasing to see my name linked to Liverpool. They're a great club, and not just anyone can wear that shirt. But it's still just an article in a newspaper.
Interesting comments, though perhaps admitting he used to be a Manchester United supporter in the same interview might not have been the wisest move!
But would the one-cap France international be a good signing for Liverpool? Would he be an upgrade over Jose Enrique, or merely offer a similar level of competition for the incumbent at Anfield?
All About the Value
Jose Enrique cost Liverpool around £6 million when he signed from Newcastle United almost two years ago. He is now 27 years of age, certainly at his peak in terms of how good he is likely to be technically and physically, and therefore can be considered as someone the club should look to replace.
He is inexperienced in top-level European football and, despite showing much improved form over the last two months, has basically offered six months of good form from his 20 months at the club.
Cissokho cost Valencia around £5 million in the summer of 2012 and retains a market value of about the same amount now. Whether Valencia would let him leave for what they signed him for is another matter; with another three years left on his contract they have grounds to demand a higher fee.
He is now 25 years of age but turns 26 shortly into the new season, meaning he is only a year and a half younger than Jose Enrique.
In terms of European experience, he far outweighs Jose Enrique despite being younger. From his previous clubs and now at Valencia, he has amassed 40 appearances in the UEFA Champions League and has won a league title with Porto.
While Liverpool's full-backs are expected to contribute heavily to the transition, buildup and attacking phases of play, it's no good pretending that they don't have to defend at all.
The physical nature of their game—pace, stamina, power—is of paramount importance because they must be able to cope with getting up and down the pitch all game long.
In that regard, both Jose Enrique and Cissokho comfortably achieve the required level, though Cissokho is more agile than the Spaniard. Jose Enrique probably has better acceleration, though this is subjective and can change on a weekly basis according to fitness levels and tempo of the game.
Statistically, there is not much difference between the two in league play.
|League play statistics||Jose Enrique||Aly Cissokho|
|Matches played||19 (16 starts)||15 (13 starts)|
|Tackles per game||2.4||1.9|
|Interceptions per game||1.2||1.3|
|Clearances per game||1.5||3.3|
|Dribbled past by other players||5||2|
Enrique certainly gets involved more in direct duels against his opponents, preferring to use his upper-body strength to see off wingers and forwards. Cissokho at Valencia is part of what is at times a rather conservative back four, which may explain his higher rate of clearances.
Liverpool don't tend to give up too much possession to the opposition, which also contributes to Jose Enrique needing to make fewer clearances.
There is not necessarily too much to separate the two full-backs from statistics, and visibly watching them in action they do share similar traits—certainly in this area, there is not much evidence to suggest Cissokho would be a significant upgrade on Jose Enrique.
As mentioned, the full-backs are expected to play high up the field in Brendan Rodgers' system, making it imperative that they are comfortable in possession and can contribute to a fast-flowing game.
Crossing is no longer that vital an attribute to take into account for the wide players as Liverpool do not heavily utilise this method of attack. The preference is to turn inside, play shorter passes into midfield and break forward again into the space down the flank.
Cissokho has the better pass completion rate (81 percent vs. 76) but Jose Enrique sees the ball far more often in the Reds' retention-first approach. Whether Cissokho would maintain his impressive percentages in keeping hold of the ball if he was asked to contribute far more frequently—Jose Enrique sees the ball 60 percent more on average—is open to debate.
At Porto and later at Lyon, Cissokho made his name as a left-back who could break forward very quickly, even with the ball at his feet, and stretch opposition defences by forcing the play high up the pitch.
This season at Valencia, possibly because of adapting to a new team (with a new manager) and a new league, he has not looked anywhere near as comfortable doing this and has seemed far more conservative and withdrawn.
It is unclear whether this is due to tactical instruction or his own lack of comfort, but since this is probably the area where Jose Enrique excels most, again we must question the logic of seeing Cissokho as an upgrade.
Who should be Liverpool's starting left-back next season?
Cissokho has been a very good attacking left-back who, at earlier stages in his career, has looked like he could become an excellent one, perhaps one of the best in Europe.
However he has not quite managed to make that step up, whether because the move to Valencia came at just the wrong time in his career or simply because he peaked earlier than was expected.
Right now, given the relative ages and values of the players, and what they have achieved in their careers vs. the ability they've shown this season, it does not seem as though Cissokho would be enough of a significant upgrade on Jose Enrique to justify signing him.
Liverpool should look at other options around Europe if they are looking for an immediate first-team player, possibly including Filipe Luis, Bastian Oczipka or Davide Santon. For a younger prospect, Gotoku Sakai or Luke Shaw might be excellent additions—and would allow Jack Robinson to leave on loan for the entire season next term, which he needs.
Statistical data from WhoScored.com