After securing Champions League football for next season, Liverpool face an interesting summer of transfer activity.
A lot of people have suggested that the defence is the key area that needs strengthening, but I’m not necessarily that worried about it. Yes, Liverpool conceded a lot more goals than many of their nearest rivals last season, but I think that was an almost unavoidable product of their style—with the way they play, committing so many players forward, they were always going to leave themselves open at the back.
I also don’t think there are many better central defensive options out there than Mamadou Sakho, Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel so, if you keep hold of those three, the only addition you might want to make is a right-footed centre-back—because both Agger and Sakho are left-footed and it can sometimes leave the side slightly unbalanced.
Glen Johnson has another year to run on his contract, so the right-back position is not a massive concern, but they could do with adding an established left-back. I think Ashley Cole would be perfect for a year or so, giving Brendan Rodgers an experienced option as Jose Enrique continues his recovery from injury, while reducing the weight on Jon Flanagan.
Other than that, Liverpool require additional numbers more than anything; another central midfielder and a third striker are obvious areas of need, while another attacking midfielder would give them more options. It looks like Adam Lallana is a deal that is going to be done, and the Southampton playmaker would give Rodgers a different option to build around next season.
Liverpool really need a bigger squad because of the stresses and strains that Champions League involvement will bring. If you look at this season, Rodgers probably used only 15 or 16 players on a regular basis during their campaign, but that is something they will not be able to get away with next season.
The pattern of Wednesday-Sunday and Tuesday-Saturday matches really takes it out of you as a player and, for the manager, injuries and suspensions are more likely to accumulate as you pile on additional games.
This season Liverpool did not need the biggest squad because they were not involved in European competition and did not go far in either of the domestic cups.
If you look at Chelsea, for example, Jose Mourinho’s side played in 57 games this season: Liverpool only played in 43. You need at least a couple of extra players to cover that difference.
The crucial thing is that you buy players with the quality to enhance the squad, though. It’s not just extra bodies—they need to be able to contribute at the highest level as well.
That is why Liverpool might well sell before they start buying. I can see a number of fringe players—the likes of Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto—leaving this summer. I think there are big question marks around those two because they were bought last summer and had a good chance to establish themselves in a side that finished seventh the previous season. They failed to do that, as Rodgers increasingly looked to other options as the season went.
If you can’t get in a team that just finished seventh, how are you going to get into a team that just finished a close second in the Premier League?
Fabio Borini is in a slightly different situation. He has scored goals almost everywhere he has been—Swansea, Roma and now on loan at Sunderland—but he didn’t score last season at Liverpool.
It’s a different demand—scoring for a club like Sunderland is one thing, but scoring for Liverpool, where the pressure is greater and the scrutiny can be suffocating, is another.
He will have to be carefully thought about, though, because his first season at Liverpool was hampered by a shoulder injury and he perhaps warrants another chance. Then again, his transfer price is perhaps never going to be higher than it is now and, if Liverpool need to sell to supplement their transfer budget, then the club will probably never get a better chance to recoup the £7 million they paid for him.
Sunderland, presumably, will be very keen to sign him permanently, but Liverpool do need to have a third striking option behind Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge for next season. Ultimately, it might depend on the market; if there is a better option out there than Borini, then Liverpool should sell, but if not, he can be given the chance to support the two main strikers.
The big question of the summer is whether Liverpool can keep hold of Suarez.
If they do sell him then they are going to get an awful lot of money for him—so they would have to make sure they spend it more wisely than Tottenham did when they sold Gareth Bale last summer. But if there is no clause in his contract anymore, then it's hard to see anyone finding the money required to sign him.
He would be foolish to leave, though. It would be a bad, bad move. Right now, Suarez is at the perfect club for him, a club that gives him the freedom to express himself and the support to play his best football.
He is not going to get that at another club, and he is going to be in the Champions League next season, so why would he want to leave?