Realising the essential futility of trying to replace Luis Suarez—among a handful of truly world-class attackers playing at this moment in time—with a like-for-like signing, Liverpool have instead spent this summer looking to add a collection of attacking talents.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers will be hoping the new attackers will replace the departed Uruguayan’s individual brilliance as a collective.
In the short-term, for example, Rickie Lambert will be tasked with replacing much of Suarez’s goalscoring, while Lazar Markovic and Adam Lallana should offer a great deal of the industry and creativity that much of Suarez’s game was based on.
Over time, Divock Origi should be added to the mix (as Lambert begins to decline), while 20-year-old Markovic will hopefully evolve as a multi-dimensional threat as he matures.
While nothing is guaranteed, Rodgers has a number of options as he looks to fashion an attack that can be as effective as it was last season, even without its talisman.
In defence, it appears creating options is a similar priority for Rodgers. Having already addressed his central resources with the signing of Dejan Lovren, on Friday it was widely reported (an example here, from Chris Wheeler in the Daily Mail) that Liverpool had made a breakthrough in negotiations for both Alberto Moreno and Javier Manquillo, two young Spanish full-backs with great potential.
Rodgers seemed to acknowledge as much, saying on Thursday that he was still keen to add to his squad in a couple of areas.
"We still have some positions that we want to fill within the squad so that by the end of August we have a strong group of players to go forward with," Rodgers said, per The Independent. "We've still got some business to do.”
He added: “We've brought in specific players for specific roles, players that have the profile of how we work.
"A lot of the players that have come in, the transition has been very smooth and that should make the adjustment that bit easier.”
After addressing his attacking options as much as possible, it is now the defence that needs attention, and those full-back positions arguably stand out as the one obvious “problem” area remaining within the squad.
Rodgers is in a difficult position in that regard. He has competent, relatively reliable performers in both positions, but it is doubtful he has even one player in either position of the pedigree required to win the title.
Glen Johnson, for example, is a similarly threatening attacker as Manchester City’s Pablo Zabaleta, but nowhere near as reliable a defender (Bacary Sagna, meanwhile, is an infinitely better “back-up” than anything Rodgers can call upon).
At left-back, meanwhile, Rodgers has a choice between Jose Enrique and Jon Flanagan—one returning after almost a year on the sidelines, the other a natural right-footer still learning his way in the game.
Adding Moreno and Manquillo to that mix would change that dynamic for the better.
Moreno, at 22 and already in possession of three international caps, would seem ready to take on the first-choice left-back spot almost immediately, with Jose Enrique a more than adequate back-up option. (The ex-Newcastle man could be sold before the window closes, of course, but interested clubs may need to see evidence of his full recovery from injury first.)
Manquillo, meanwhile, would be a great back-up to Johnson in the short-term—and a more defensively sound one at that. With his deal reportedly a two-year loan, he could move into the starting role at the start of next season if Johnson, whose expensive contract expires next summer, does not reach new terms with the club.
Flanagan’s versatility means he could cover at either full-back position, perhaps deputising in the initial months where Moreno and Manquillo might need a little more time to fully adapt to a new league and new surroundings.
With Champions League football this season, Rodgers will have to rotate his options regularly to maintain a high standard of performances, meaning even if Enrique is not sold, all players will get a reasonable amount of first-team football in the early part of the new campaign.
While that planning is brilliant in theory, the reality does not always work out that way.
While having an abundance of attacking options is often great (although Liverpool's attack thrived partly due to consistent selection last term), the idea is that in defence it is generally beneficial if you have a clear first-choice selection who are familiar with working together as a unit.
While an eventual back four can be predicted—Moreno, Mamadou Sakho, Lovren, Johnson, one might presume—in the early part of the season it is possible only Johnson will feel confident that he is first-choice.
Beyond that, the players may find themselves swapped in and out, with Rodgers understandably needing a few months to work out which players and systems work best together (it is worth remembering that few necessarily expected Jordan Henderson to be Steven Gerrard’s regular midfield partner last season, but that quickly emerged as the best combination available).
Nevertheless, adding Moreno and Manquillo would address Liverpool’s remaining areas of need, finally turning attention from recruitment (although not necessarily ending it) toward team selection and fostering a feeling of cohesion.
If replacing Suarez was always likely to be an incredibly difficult task, only putting the various new pieces in place will reveal how successful Rodgers and Liverpool have been in that regard.
With selection battles all over the pitch, it would seem likely there is a recipe for success somewhere in there. Equally, however, it could take some time to find it.
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