Liverpool FC: Squad Strength and Summer Transfer Needs
John Henry, the new owner of Liverpool FC, showed in his purchasing of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll that he means business.
He has demonstrated conclusively that he has no objection to putting his money where his mouth is when the team needs a player—arguably to too great an extent in the Carroll deal.
But as any Red Sox fan will tell you, the man is no idiot and no Abramovich. The club will be run like a business and players will be bought and sold for needs alone and not, as is the case at Chelsea, on the whims of an irrational and spoiled billionaire.
He will not spend gratuitously and unwisely and will seek where possible to rely on young players already in the squad rather than going out and buying in new blood. However, where a situation arises where a purchase is necessary, he will not go for the cheap option but rather pay the money required to bring in young, top quality players who can serve the club for years to come.
Bearing this philosophy in mind, I would like to take a look at what Liverpool need to do this summer to guarantee they have a competitive squad next season.
Pepe Reina must be kept at all costs.
Manchester United and Arsenal will again be in the market for a 'keeper this summer. There are a lot of decent young goalies available—De Gea, Lloris, Neuer, Akinfeev and Steeklenberg par example—but the simple fact is that none of them are proven in the Premier League and Pepe is. He is the best goalkeeper in the league, and it is only logical that Manchester United and Arsenal would want to sign him.
We cannot allow him to go. Having security between the sticks is of paramount importance as it allows the rest of the team to breathe easier. Nothing makes a defender more comfortable than an assured voice behind him from a player he knows will not make mistakes.
Finding good goalkeepers is often hard work. Consider that Liverpool have, in my lifetime, had Bruce Grobelaar, David James, Brad Friedel, Sander Westerveld, Chris Kirkland, Scott Carson, Jerzy Dudek and now Pepe Reina as the starting 'keeper at various intervals and basically every one of them bar Reina has been a dud.
Just look at Arsenal's travails and they're almost comical continued lack of a steady, reliable and talented keeper that has cost them points on more than a few occasions and ended up helping to cost them a league this year.
Finding that one man who can stop shots, claim crosses, initiate attacks, dominate his area and not switch his brain off at critical times is an extremely difficult task as there are very few on the market. A lot of teams—Tottenham for example—are forced to settle for keepers who are good most of the time but are prone to thee odd brain fart.
Liverpool have found the rare thing of a great keeper who stays great and who can at all times be depended on to be excellent. That is a rare commodity, and Liverpool cannot afford to sell it for any price.
As for backups, Brad Jones—currently on loan at Derby—is a decent keeper who could probably start for one of the smaller clubs in the league. While he is not world class, he is a capable deputy and a good young player.
Gulacsi, Hansen and Bouzanis are all young reserve guys. From what little I have heard and seen they seem decent enough, but the reality is that none of them are probably anywhere good enough to start for Liverpool FC.
Reina wants—and deserves—Champions League football, and this will make it tough to keep him if Manchester United or Arsenal come calling. But we must do everything we can to keep him regardless as he is a proven elite goalkeeper. This makes getting into the Champions League next year even more of a top priority.
If he is sold, the likely fee will be well over £20million—which is still a bargain for a player of his quality. None of the backups are good enough, in my view, to step in and fill Pepe's shoes so a replacement would need to be bought. Opinions on who the best young keeper in the world is are varied and all valid, but I personally would view David De Gea as the most talented and likely to succeed at a huge club like Liverpool, and so, if tragedy strikes and Pepe departs, it is De Gea that I would like to see take his place.
This is an area of need.
Jamie Carragher is a wonderful player and servant to the club, but he is getting old and doesn't have much time left at the highest level. He was never quick but is getting even slower now. While his positioning, intelligence, marshalling of the defence and commitment to the cause are all beyond reproach, it is a fact that he has never been a particularly skillful player, and he too often resorts to "agricultural" clearances rather than playing the ball out of defence.
Carra epitomizes everything good about the Liverpool mentality, but his growing years and the concordant devolution in his physical prowess are beginning to expose more and more of his basic weaknesses. I know it is a particularly difficult pill to swallow for Liverpool fans to criticize or question Carra, but it is time we started grooming his replacement.
Martin Skrtel is a fine defender when given a run in the team, but he has weaknesses, and much like Michael Dawson at Tottenham, he needs a more experienced and intelligent player beside him. Skrtel is great in the air but is prone to giving away silly free kicks, lacks pedigree on the ball, and oddly enough for a lad his size, is often given a hard time by big physical strikers like, for example, Didier Drogba. Having said all that, there is certainly the makings of a good player in him.
Soto Kygriakos deserves immense credit for his improvements this season. He has shown himself to be a very good no-nonsense center back who is great in the air and organizes the defense very well. Having said that, Soto has a glaring weakness—he is far too slow. While Sami Hyypia was able to compensate for his reducing pace through his positional sense, Sami was one in a million, and Soto just isn't of the same quality. He has proven this season he is a good player when asked to deal with physical strikers, but against someone with even average pace who plays off his shoulder, Soto is a pure liability.
Daniel Agger is an excellent footballer who is great against any and all types of striker, is composed and gifted on the ball, reads the play well and has excellent recovery pace. But he is also injured consistently, and it does take him a while to play himself into form. If he could get fit and stay fit, he would be spoken of in the same terms as Vidic and Luiz, but at the moment, his injury record makes him too unreliable to depend on.
Danny Wilson looked like a good player when he was signed, but he has had no time at all in the team, and this worries me. With Liverpool's injury strife this year, I would have expected to see more of Wilson, and his lack of football would raise doubts as to whether he is inspiring confidence behind the scenes. He is maybe going to get a chance coming toward the end of the season, and hopefully, he shows us something special, but at the moment, the jury is out.
Martin Kelly is, I think, a center back at heart, and I will therefore discuss him in this section. Basically...he's very good, He is quick, tough, a good defender, clever, strong and good on the ball. And he is Liverpool through and through. He could be the longterm replacement to Carragher.
In conclusion, and not to stretch a point, while we are fairly OK at the position depth wise, we have a worrying lack of pace at center back. We also have a problem in that Carra's time is running out, Agger is perennially hurt and Skrtel is a bit of an idiot. We need a new, classy and reliable center back to carry us into the future.
This is perhaps the most obvious area of need in the entire squad.
Currently, Liverpool are starting an 18-year-old at full back with a 17-year-old on the bench. Now don't get me wrong—I have been more than impressed with both Flanagan and Robinson—but in reality, this is unacceptable at Premier League level and is utterly unfair to the two young men who have been thrust in far too soon. While they have played well to this point and risen to the task, they could just as easily have been shocking. That would have nothing to do with their abilities and everything to do with their age and inexperience but could have ended up adversely affecting them for the rest of their careers.
Even now, if one of them were to be ripped apart by an older, savvier winger, it would undermine totally any confidence he had accrued and could forever damage his mentality. World football is littered with the carcases of promising players who were thrown in too deep too soon. It is a terrible thing that a so-called top class team had to take such a risk with the future of two promising youngsters and ought be prevented from ever happening again.
Johnson looked abysmal at times at right back this season and has some glaring defensive deficiencies, but he looks far more solid on the left hand side where his attacking instincts are curtailed somewhat and he is forced to focus on his defending. Overall, he has been disappointing, but he is still the best full back in the squad at the moment. Injuries are a worry with him though and especially when he is one of our very few seasoned full backs.
Fabio Aurelio is a really and truly top-notch left back with great instincts, a calm demeanor, composure on the ball and a sweet left foot. But, he is injured constantly, and the fact is, very simply, he is not worth having in the squad if he can't be kept fit.
Konchesky is a dud who should never have been signed and should never be let wear the jersey again.
Insua is a decent left back who we could be doing with having in the team a the moment, I do not know why he was loaned out, but it was a big mistake by the previous management to let this promising youngster leave the squad in a position where depth was such an issue.
We can probably cope at center back for another year. Kygriakos is a problem, and Carra is getting on, but we are not made of money, and we do have some promising youngsters coming through so I imagine the owners will try and maintain the status quo at the position this summer, with only maybe Soto leaving us. Having said that, some young fresh blood would be no bad thing, and some pace would be a great addition.
Three options at this position are Simon Kjaer at Wolfsburg and either of the Borussia Dortmund pairing of Nevin Subotic or Mats Hummels. All of these lads are fine young defenders who do all the simple things well and have good athleticism. They could probably all be obtained for around £10 - £15 million and would be great additions. However, we must assume that there will not be a boat full of cash available, and we'll probably have to live with what we have at center back for now.
Full back is however an area of extreme need. We are too prone to injuries here, and we are far too thin in squad depth. Aurelio may be let go this summer, but that should be counteracted by the re-addition of Emiliano Insua. It is my view that we need at least two more full backs. We need a top notch starting left back, and we need another squad player who we can plug in and rely on if injuries occur.
Bayern Munich seem to have sown up the signature of Coentrao, and I can only pray the notion of paying £10 million for Jose Enrique is a joke, but the Colombian Pablo Armero looks willing and highly capable. I would personally also love to see the reacquisition of John Arne Riise as he is a good, vastly experienced defender who still has some good years in his legs, knows the club and the league, would not be very expensive and can be relied on to give 110 percent for the cause.
Flanagan looks like a fine prospect, but I am not sold on Jack Robinson at all. I understand he is very young, but he appeared to me to be short on pace and slightly complacent. I think a loan move might do him good.
We are in pretty good shape in central midfield.
Lucas Leiva was long bemoaned as a dud and a poor signing, but this season, he has shaken off the shackles of mediocrity and made himself one of the stand-out holding midfielders in the EPL. He is not quick, but he positions himself well, wins tackles with minimal fuss and drama, passes sensibly and accurately and gets forward well when required. He is a very, very good player and we are lucky to have him. His performance rises for all big games, and his recent displays against Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal were thoroughly exceptional. He is, in my view, our player of the season.
Jay Spearing is also a holding type midfielder although he seems to be able to drive forward a bit more frequently than Lucas and as such provides a good foil for the more reserved but savvier Brazilian. It is early days with Spearing, but he seems mature and capable, has grabbed his opportunity this season with both hands and looks like a real prospect for the future. His recent displays alongside Lucas have been extremely encouraging.
Steven Gerrard is a top class player—our best by a mile and possibly the best in the league—but this season has been a write off for him. He was in poor form at the start of the season—symptomatic of the overall malaise that had gripped the club—and since the Dalglish revolution, he has been mainly injured. Regardless he is still a world class player and we will be much better off next season when he is fully fit and hopefully back to something like his best.
A deeper issue exists here though in that he is aging and will need replacing in the next few seasons. It might well be advisable for management to buy in a player now to learn from the master when he is still capable of playing at a high level, as I am fairly adamant the long-term replacement for Captain Fantastic is not in the squad at the moment.
Raul Meireles is in my view a central player, so I will discuss him here. He has been a good signing who scored some important goals for the team. He gets forward well, links the play between midfield and the strikers effectively and is not afraid to get stuck into tackles in midfield. His runs to the edge of the box are excellent, and if another advanced winger/attacking midfielder were to be brought into play, it would likely free him up a bit more and give him more room to be creative.
Certainly, his best displays have been when there were wing-backs or another dynamic midfielder like Gerrard on the field, and hopefully, that will be a regular occurrence next season. While I think he was a good signing and was worth the money we paid for him, I am not like some other fans quite ready to proclaim him a genius. He still loses the ball too much and needs to work on this before he can be truly viewed as a top-class player.
Jonjo Shelvey is another promising youngster. He certainly looks like he has the skills, and he certainly isn't shy, but I am less impressed by Shelvey than most seem to be. He seems a little brainless to me, but he is still young. Hopefully he will continue to develop next season.
Aquilani is probably done at Liverpool. While there is this ongoing debate about his price, I think a deal with Juve will eventually get done. I must say I find that very disappointing. Aquaman is a top player and showed a lot of promise last year. I do not know why he wasn't ever given a real chance in the team instead of being shunned and loaned, but it bothers me. Now Hodgson is gone, Dalglish could try and rebuild the bridge, and I can't help wondering whether, if we took him back now fully fit and confident, he would turn out to be £20 million well spent. He is a great player, and he is still young, and I really think we should reach out to him.
Poulsen cost £4.5 million. Konchesky cost around £3.5 million. Rafa Van Der Vaart cost spurs £8 million. Poulsen + Konchesky = Van Der Vaart. Anybody else feel sick?
Maxi Rodriguez has shown enough in the last few games to justify staying in the red for another season. While he was at times abject at the start of the year, he is a talented player who links up well and is a willing worker. He lacks top class pace, he is often anonymous in games, and at times, his carelessness on the ball is Luis Garcia-esque, but this all pales in comparison to his greatest attribute—he is a goal threat.
He scores from rebounds and deflections and tap-ins because he gets himself into the box instinctively and supports the front players. This can't be taught, but in a Liverpool team, that will so rely upon Suarez and others feeding off the hold up play of Andy Carroll; it is extremely important. He is a very good player to have in the squad.
The rest of them are shocking, not to put too fine a point on it. Jovanovic and Cole have been awful and need to be shown the door.
Rahim Sterling looks promising from the youth team, and I would like to see him get more of a chance in the first team squad.
The fact that we have had strikers and central midfielder's occupying one or both of the wide roles consistently says it all and more. So far, as I am concerned, Maxi is our only natural wide player worth keeping and even he is probably nothing more than a squad player in a league winning standard of team. We need wingers. Badly.
We seem in my view to be stacked in central midfield.
We have a great blend of youth, experience and talent. We have goals, creativity and defensive awareness. All in all, we should be very happy. I would like to see Aquilani back as I don't think any team can afford to pass up a player of his caliber, but that is unlikely. Also we need to start thinking about Stevie G's successor as he isn't getting any younger.
If we had some money spare and got a chance at signing a good youngster like Ander Herrera from Zaragoza, we should jump on it as a move to bear fruit in the future. But for the here and now, we are more than OK.
On the wings, it is a different story.
We need natural wingers badly. Aside from Maxi, the cupboard is currently bare. It makes me long for the glory days of Ryan Babel and Jermaine Pennant. Well...not quite...but you catch my drift.
Ashley Young won't be cheap, but he has finally convinced me he is top class and as such think he would be money well spent. Stuart Downing also looks probable, however, he is not world class and would, in my opinion, be a nothing addition to the squad. Sylvain Marveaux looks a likely addition, and he seems to be a decent if unspectacular player.
Even if we got two of the lads mentioned above, think we need another top class wide man who we can trust to get to the by-line consistently. Remember that we paid £35 million for Andy Carroll, and we need wingers of a high caliber to get our money's worth out of him. I really rate Jesus Navas.
He has had his homesickness issues, but I think the welcoming nature of Liverpool as a city and Dalglish as a man would be ideal to help him fit in. He is lightning fast, has great feet and crosses like a dream. And he gets in the box. We should buy him at any price, in my opinion.
I must admit to be stumped when thinking about other possible options who I rate highly and are likely to be attainable. Any suggestions?
Luis Suarez. I just can't get enough.
Basically he is the best player in the League by a mile, and we have unearthed a superstar. He is undefendable—a worker with unreal movement and speed, a great motor, wonderful vision, silky skills and a cool head in front of goal. Brilliant and only going to get better. Fernando who?
Andy Carroll should not have his price tag held against him. We overpaid for him without a doubt, but he is still a young man with fantastic physical attributes and no shortage of skill. He needs time to learn and develop those skills, but regardless of price, he is a fine player with a bright future. He allows us add a new dimension to our game and should be a key man for years to come.
Dirk Kuyt is a striker who has been a victim of his own talents. So hard working and energetic is Dirk that he has been asked to fill a gap on the right wing instead of playing up front. He has played it well, but nobody who has watched him in the last 15 games and seen how clinical he has been could argue that he is a wide man.
He is a striker—and a good one too. He appears to be hitting form, and this bodes well for next season. Who knows...after all the justifying of his price by pointing at his work rate, he may actually turn out to be the 20-goal a season player we thought we bought in the first place.
David Ngog is a willing worker and has good size and pace, but he is unreliable in front of goal and doesn't know how to play off the shoulder. Not good enough for Liverpool but not a bad player. We could get £3-£4 million for him from a lesser side like Wigan, Wolves or Everton.
We're well off up front too. We have three players who can get us goals and cause endless problems for defenses.
We could use a fourth striker just to add to the rotation and play in Cup matches. As he would not be getting much game time, we could try and sign an older guy who we know is savvy and lethal in front of goal. A bid for Raul or—heaven forgive me—Ruud Van Nistelrooy might not be a bad idea. I understand that this is not in keeping with the general Henry philosophy, but signing an experienced striker of a high class level could end up being a great investment in the future of Suarez and Carroll as both of them could end up learning a lot.
And of course every team should be in the market for top youngsters. Its not strictly necessary, but if there is cash to spend, a young striker is always a wise investment. Romelu Lukaku is likely Chelsea bound, but he could be worth a look if the money wasn't too high. Also, Phillippe Coutinho at Inter looks like a great prospect and would be a great project for the future of the club
Long live the King.
Considering the start of this season, the weaknesses in the squad, the previous mismanagement of the good players and the overall malaise that he inherited, for any manger to turn Liverpool in the space of a few matches into this type of side is beyond belief. Kenny Dalglish has been simply magnificent.
As I write this, it is a Saturday night. Tomorrow, Liverpool face Tottenham, and I expect we will beat them out the park. When's the last time a Liverpool fan could have that much confidence in the team?
Also, special mention has to go to Steve Clarke who is a great man to have in the dressing room. He is the type of coach players immediately respect and respond to. Plenty of credit must go to him for his role in Liverpool's turnaround.
In short, we have a great management team in place. At last.
We need money to buy new players.
Our current form and performance level should not fool anyone. Our squad is paper thin, and we are risking a lot on some unproven, and even worse, some proven to be average, players. Fresh blood especially at fullback and on the wings is vital.
Having said that, we have a strong nucleus. We have strength, tenacity, guile and goals. We have tremendously talented players who play as a team and understand the importance of working for each other. We have star quality but without star ego's. We have a lot to build on.
With this management and the mentality they have installed, along with the players we have and the form they are in, we are well fixed for the future. If we get the money the owners have promised to make necessary improvements, and we cut away the deadwod that is holding us back, we could definitely make a title push next year.
So far as I can see, Utd are merely keeping our perch warm for us,