After another disappointing weekend defeat, I decided to take a closer look at just how far Liverpool may be from having a title-challenging team from as early as next season. This seemed appropriate, as (with the current absences), the team that lost on Saturday was the best available on the day. This article is not to play "Championship Manager" or any such thing, but rather look at where may need strengthening, as I fully expect Comolli & Dalglish to have preferences in mind already.
There were some mitigating factors last weekend, such as Liverpool's current injury list, particularly in defense, which wasn't helped by two more in the first twenty-five minutes. There was also Referee Atkinson doing his best to get me to actually agree with Alex Ferguson on something for the first time ever. Still, Liverpool was poor, period. Even with the absences, that team should have been able to beat WBA.
A worrying stat from this season is that Liverpool has only taken 3/15 points against the three promoted teams (Newcastle, WBA & Blackpool). This is the worst of any of the top-six teams. On the other hand, we've taken 10/15 against Manchester United, Chelsea & Arsenal. Digest those for yourself.
So, what's needed for next season? Starting in the back; once Reina stays, we'll have the best GK in the league, with one or both of Gulacsi or Hansen as backup. Other than the wages, there's no reason for Jones to be kept (for our sake or his). If Reina goes however, that will be the biggest hole to fill. Let's hope Comolli is looking at same-standard options, but mostly, let's hope Dalglish convinces Reina to stay.
In defense, for all the criticism they've gotten this season over form and/or injuries, we should realistically expect Agger, Skrtel, Carragher & Johnson to be the experienced carry-overs, along with Kelly & Wilson as the U21 squad regulars. That should leave room for three experienced additions, including at least two specialist Left Backs.
From the current club players on loan, we can expect Konchesky to go, and probably Darby and Kyrgiakos too. Has Insua improved enough to return is a question for Dalglish. One of the required two left Backs could theoretically be Aurelio, but we know the attendant risks with that.
At Midfield, the experienced carry-overs will be Gerrard, Meireles, Lucas & Spearing, with Shelvy being the only sure U21 squad regular. The center therefore seems stocked (whether well-stocked or not is another question). Poulsen will probably go, with Maxi & Cole as maybes.
There is an obvious absence of wide experience, so that will be the priority (at least two), with names such as Young, Johnson or even Adam in the fray. While I may be in the minority, I still have hope for Cole, and the club still owns Aquilani, who I would not be averse to having back, but they and/or Dalglish may have other ideas.
There should also be room for a couple of other U21's to get regular squad time in the Cup competitions. This is the most promising area, with the likes of Suso, Sterling, Coady, Ince & Amoo all possibilities, along with high priced options like Hazard.
Up front is where the Club is probably most comfortable for the first time in a long time. Carroll, Suarez & Kuyt as the three main forward options, with Pacheco as U21 cover. Pacheco had an excellent start to his spell with Norwich, and many of us hope that it's with a view to bringing him back for next season, rather than selling him. As a strong proponent for Dalglish's return since last year, I'll not criticize anything he does this season, but Pacheco's lack of any game-time while he was here was confusing.
Eccleston is another U21 option, but Ngog will be 22 going into next season and it may be in his and the club's best interest if he went somewhere he can get regular game time.
So, that's about a half-dozen bodies needed; not what one would call major surgery, but the club needs smart purchases, even if there is more money to be spent this time.