What Liverpool Have Gotten Right and Wrong This Transfer Window
To call this summer eventful for Liverpool gives too much credit to the word. In truth, you cannot encapsulate it that simply.
The last few months have been promising but also disappointing and, at times, embarrassing.
The club have taken giant steps forward. A clear strategy is emerging, a cohesive theme has emerged. At last this "project" we have heard so much about is taking shape.
But there have also been steps back.
The Reds have had to come to grips with the fact that theirs is no longer a first-tier brand in world football. And learning that lesson has been ugly.
The badge has essentially been dragged through the mud and we have all watched in slow-motion dismay.
Yet, the most painful daggers are the ones that come from the back. Luis Suarez would do Shakespeare proud with his Brutus turn this summer.
In a bit of sad irony, the man who wants to leave because of the club's lack of ambition (among other reasons) has probably done more to tarnish the franchise's image and diminish its ability to make signings.
He wants to leave because the club will not make bigger signings—yet the club cannot make bigger signings, in part because as long as Suarez makes Liverpool look like a selling club, everyone will view them that way.
Thus, it is instructive to look at how we got here. The tale of two summers has been a (sigh) eventful one. Perhaps it is best to deconstruct the path to present, bit by bit.
Should the Club Have Sold Pepe Reina?
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This summer was about two things: making quality signings and avoiding any tarnish to the Liverpool brand.
Liverpool are going through shock therapy right now. While that's going on and you are waiting for the dust to settle, there is no reason to continue paying high wages to a lame-duck goalkeeper.
If Reina had stayed, it would have made Liverpool look like a stepping-stone club. His exit also showed that Liverpool are willing to make decisive action when necessary.
Have Liverpool Done Enough to Address Problems in Midfield?
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I see the Liverpool midfield as follows:
Steven Gerrard plays the creative central role with Joe Allen as his backup. Gerrard is getting old and Allen has to prove he can handle the spotlight. But, for now, the personnel is good enough to be going on with.
The defensive midfield post consists of Lucas Leiva. He has no viable backup. And he has an injury history. Furthermore, even as a starter, it's debatable whether or not he is a top-four quality midfielder.
Lucas is a technically savvy player when he is at his best but he does not intimidate like a Nigel De Jong or Javier Mascherano. There has to be that steel somewhere in the lineup and the Reds don't have it.
Considering all that, it was shocking to see the likes of Etienne Capoue and Luiz Gustavo both go for less than £17 million. Both players could have pressed Lucas for minutes or at the very least served as a strong reserve.
The attacking midfield role also could have used an addition. Jordan Henderson serves as a hard-working backup with potential but the starting berth is more complicated.
Without any summer transfer coming in, Phillipe Coutinho is forced into that role.
That brings up two problems. First, Coutinho is arguably better from the left. Second, when Liverpool run up against physical competition, it is easy to see them getting pushed around.
Gerrard is 33, Lucas is slight for a defensive midfielder and Coutinho is small for any position.
It is easy to conceive a top club pushing that threesome around. Rodgers has to have more flexibility in the middle of the park to combat that eventuality.
Have Rodgers and Co. Aptly Handled the Suarez Situation?
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What I would give to have the last two months of the Luis Suarez drama back.
He is irritating, reckless and daft, and he hurts the brand every time he opens his mouth. But he's also the best player in the league alongside Gareth Bale when he stops talking and starts playing.
Liverpool had to keep him.
If they had sold Suarez, it would have signaled that Liverpool are a selling club. If they sold him to Arsenal, the top four would have been out of the question before the campaign had even started.
To remain competitive—and to remain viable—FSG had to retain its best player.
It has been agonizing to watch the soap opera play out but there was little alternative.
Have Enough Signings Been Made in Defense?
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In my estimation, Liverpool had four key needs in defense going into this summer.
First, they needed a left-back to push Jose Enrique for minutes and ideally replace him.
Second, they required a reserve centre-back who shows more adaptability to the English game than Sebastian Coates.
Third, if Martin Skrtel is not the guy, then the club have to go out and find a new starter.
Finally, someone had to replace Jamie Carragher as both a defender and locker-room leader.
Ian Ayre has gone one for four.
Kolo Toure is a great signing, given the lack of transfer fee, and he brings solid experience, knowing how to win the league.
However, by all accounts, nothing has been done to rectify the situation in the centre of defense.
Skrtel is not on Rodgers' short list. The manager also seems to prefer Martin Kelly out wide.
Tiago Ilori looked like the guy to replace Coates early on. Kyriakos Papadopoulos was the name on everyone's lips to replace Skrtel.
With the start of the season two days away, neither transfer has come to pass.
As it stands, the defense looks like the world's most predictable Achilles' heel waiting to happen.
Have Liverpool Signed the Right Players?
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Answer: Yes and No
Toure, Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto and Simon Mignolet are all promising signings.
They add depth to the squad. They fit the profile of a Brendan Rodgers-style player.
All four signings also help replace an ever-growing list of sales this offseason.
However, none of these guys are "marquee" players to show the rest of the world that Liverpool mean business. And none of these players solve long-term problems in defense.
In short, yes, these are great value deals. But if Liverpool want to achieve their Champions League goal, these signings are not enough by themselves.
Does the Club Still Need a Marquee Signing?
Liverpool's lack of a big-name acquisition is not for the want of trying.
The club went after Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Diego Costa with big-money bids. Unfortunately, they fell short.
However, they cannot stop trying. It's not just about the talent a player like that would bring to Anfield.
Marquee acquisitions are equal parts symbolic and practical. Rodgers needs more skill to compete. Ian Ayre needs a big name to help him with future deals and to attract more big names.
It is imperative that someone "big" be brought in. Whether that player is Christian Eriksen, Willian or someone completely different remains to be seen.
Have the Right Players Been Sold?
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Jay Spearing and Jonjo Shelvey are good players who will have great careers on mid-table rosters. They wore the badge with pride and should be wished all the best. They were not, however, top four caliber guys.
Andy Carroll was a casualty of the system. The coaching change spelled his end.
Pepe Reina's departure has already been covered.
Stewart Downing became surplus to requirements once Raheem Sterling grew, Aspas was signed and Jordan Ibe emerged. He simply does not provide enough on the scoresheet to warrant a starting place at his age.
Add Oussama Assaidi and Martin Skrtel to that list in what time remains this summer and it's a job well done by senior management.
Are the Reds Ready to Challenge for the Top Four?
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I think Liverpool will battle with Arsenal for 5th place.
Arsenal have money to burn so who knows what they will look like by August 31? Liverpool will probably make some more signings as well.
But the four in front of them look too strong.
Manchester United won the league last year. A repeat may not be in the cards but it is hard to see David Moyes let the club drop four places in the table.
Chelsea just brought in arguably the best manager in the game. They have more money invested in players out on loan than you might see in the starting 11 on opening day at Anfield.
Manchester City have finally found a method to their madness. Manuel Pellegrini sets up as a great manager. Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo all look like great signings. They might be the team to beat out of the gates.
The Gareth Bale sage is equally important for them as a club. What better way to show you are a team for the future than to ignore the largest transfer bid in history?
Finally, Daniel Levy has gone out and addressed just about every need. Paulinho was a steal and so is Etienne Capoue at the figure being discussed. Roberto Soldado might have been overpriced but he is the starting striker for Spain, after all. And do not overlook the quiet acquisition of Nacer Chadli.
If the Spurs get anyone else, they might push even higher than fourth.
Some will say that all the coaching turnover in England gives Liverpool a window. I hope it does. But when you look at the moves made on Merseyside compared to those of potential rivals, the window appears a small one.
But that's why they play the matches. All this is speculation until things kick off on the Saturday.