Ranking and Grading Liverpool's Summer Signings Halfway Through Season
Having endured a disappointing sixth-placed finish in the Premier League in 2014/15 and failed to secure silverware despite reaching the semi-finals in the League Cup and the FA Cup, Liverpool looked to undergo an overhaul over the summer, as Brendan Rodgers prepared his side for a top-four push this season.
Out went Fabio Borini, Iago Aspas, Rickie Lambert and Sebastian Coates, as Rodgers looked to trim his squad of failing fringe players, while Raheem Sterling made a big-money move to Manchester City and Steven Gerrard led a group of stars to leave on the expiry of their contracts.
Andre Wisdom, Tiago Ilori, Luis Alberto, Mario Balotelli and Lazar Markovic were among those to leave the club on loan, with a seven-strong group coming in to bolster Rodgers' ranks for the new season.
Christian Benteke, Roberto Firmino, James Milner, Danny Ings, Adam Bogdan, Joe Gomez and Nathaniel Clyne were all brought in, but after backing their manager heavily over the summer, owners John W. Henry and Tom Werner delivered the fatal blow to an under-fire Rodgers just two months into the season, appointing Jurgen Klopp as his replacement.
Klopp is now tasked with meshing these new arrivals together with Liverpool's more establishing figures as he plots success in 2015/16 and beyond—but how have the Reds' summer signings fared so far?
Here we grade their output subjectively in terms of performances, consistency, influence and long-term potential, ranking each based on these findings, kicking things off with a flailing backup goalkeeper in Bogdan.
7. Adam Bogdan
Though a cost-effective replacement for the departing Brad Jones, Liverpool's move to sign Adam Bogdan on a free transfer last summer remains a bemusing one, with supporters questioning the club's goalkeeping ranks following a string of worrying performances from both Jones and Simon Mignolet in 2014/15.
Seeing out his contract with Championship side Bolton Wanderers, Bogdan was ostensibly signed to warm the bench while Mignolet continued to operate as Liverpool's No. 1.
But bar an impressive showing in the Reds' penalty-shootout win over Carlisle United in the League Cup in September, Bogdan has provided both Rodgers and Klopp with a dismal deputy between the sticks when called upon.
Bogdan's struggles were compounded as the Hungarian conceded direct from a corner in Liverpool's 2-2 draw at Exeter City in the FA Cup third round in January, while dropping the ball into the path of Nathan Ake in December's 3-0 defeat to Watford—his only appearance for the Reds in the Premier League—underlined his lack of quality.
Klopp's move to recall Danny Ward from his season-long loan with Aberdeen served as a death knell for Bogdan, who is now turning out for Liverpool's under-21s, and has been omitted from the German's revised squad for the knockout stages of the Europa League, as reported by the Mirror's Aaron Flanagan.
Bogdan was in line for a loan move to Ligue 1 side Stade de Reims in the January transfer window, as reported by Sky Sports (h/t the Express), and while the 28-year-old remained on Merseyside, a summer departure is highly likely.
6. Joe Gomez
Joe Gomez's move from Charlton Athletic's high-potential young defender to the latest big hope for Liverpool's defensive future was a surprising one, but the way in which the 18-year-old adapted to life on Merseyside was even more remarkable.
After impressing on the pre-season tour of the Far East and Australia, Gomez usurped Alberto Moreno to the role of Rodgers' first-choice left-back, making seven appearances for the Reds in the first months of the season, helping to keep three clean sheets including an impressive shutout against Arsenal.
But suffering an anterior cruciate ligament tear on duty with the England under-21s, Gomez's bright start was derailed.
Gomez is set to miss the rest of the season while he recovers, but discussing his lay-off with the Liverpool Echo's James Pearce in November, he revealed that he has been assured of a long-term role by Klopp:
When I came back the manager was waiting for me.
The first time I met him was when I’d just found out I’d done my ACL. He said if there was anything he could do for me and if I needed any help to speak to him.
He was telling me to stay positive and that he was happy to wait for me to get fit again. It was nice to hear that.
This is no doubt due to Klopp recognising Gomez's potential. The former Addicks youth is a strong, quick, intelligent defender capable of operating at left- and right-back, but should be pencilled in for a role at the heart of Liverpool's back line in the future; he is the epitome of the modern-day, ball-playing centre-back.
Due to his lack of appearances, we are only able to give Gomez an average grade here, but expect him to soar up the rankings when he makes his return in 2016.
5. Danny Ings
Like Gomez, Danny Ings is facing the rest of the season on the sidelines, having suffered the same injury as his young team-mate in the same week while on international duty with England.
As with Gomez, this left Liverpool in a difficult position, as the No. 28 had established himself as a firm favourite with the Anfield faithful—and a key player within Rodgers' attack.
In eight appearances for the Reds in 2015/16, the former Burnley man scored three goals; incredibly, the 23-year-old scored in every game he started as a centre-forward.
A versatile, hardworking, dynamic forward option, Ings also served as a left-winger, right-winger and a second striker under Rodgers, with his displays up front against Norwich City and Everton highlighting his value to the club.
Like Gomez, Ings will be pushing to prove to Klopp that he has a long-term role at the club, as he told the Telegraph's Sam Wallace days after his diagnosis:
These things do happen and it can be cruel but for me it is part of the game and this is when footballers really, really earn their money.
To go in earlier than everyone else and come home later than everyone else. To work as hard as you can and come back better.
Ings should have no worries there, as he is perfectly placed to excel under Klopp, with the German favouring industrious, intelligent attackers.
4. Christian Benteke
Spending £32.5 million to sign Benteke from Aston Villa in July, Rodgers looked to address his side's attacking problems, with Balotelli, Lambert, Borini and Daniel Sturridge all struggling to perform with any consistency in 2014/15 due to issues with form and fitness.
Having sanctioned a significant outlay for the Belgian, Rodgers remoulded his forward line to accommodate his new No. 9.
Per the club's official website, the Ulsterman said in August:
His hold-up play is outstanding, he’s got a wonderful touch for a big guy and you saw that this evening [against Bournemouth]. He can help the ball on to areas, he can take the ball in, control and switch the game, his touch is good and you see him linking and combining.
In my time here, that’s never really happened and the ball’s come in and maybe been cleared out, but because of his physicality and contact, he keeps the ball alive in a dangerous area of the field.
That will really help and once the players get used to seeing and working with that, it’ll offer us more opportunities to score goals.
It gives us a different dimension to our game, whilst looking to retain that philosophy to move the ball and get fluency. That will come and grow over the coming months.
As the now-departed Rodgers told beIN SPORTS (h/t the Liverpool Echo) at the beginning of February, he sees Benteke as a complete centre-forward akin to Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski.
The 25-year-old has shown flashes of quality in his 29 appearances for the club so far, and with seven strikes to his name, he stands as Liverpool's leading goalscorer for the season.
But while he has contributed decisive goals against the likes of Leicester City and Sunderland this season, the very qualities that Rodgers highlighted—his strength and hold-up play—have seen the striker jar with Liverpool's overall attacking landscape, something that has seen him demoted under Klopp.
It is impossible to ignore Benteke's goals this season, but with the Belgian unlikely to forge a long-term future at the club having shown little progression under Klopp so far, it is also impossible to award him a high grade at this stage.
3. James Milner
"James Milner has been absolutely exceptional," Rodgers told reporters including the Press Association (h/t This is Anfield) in August, just under two months after his free-transfer move from Manchester City.
"You know he is a good player but you don’t realise how good he is until he comes into your club."
Boasting a wealth of experience having made his Premier League debut as a 16-year-old for Leeds United in 2002, and going on to turn out for Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Manchester City over a 13-season spell, winning the league title twice, signing Milner was seen as a coup for the Reds.
Named the club's vice-captain shortly after his arrival, Milner was appointed as a leader for Rodgers' side, and has continued his duties since Klopp's appointment—regularly operating as captain, with Jordan Henderson missing through injury.
Milner has scored four goals and assisted on five in 26 appearances for the Reds so far, including influential displays against Villa in September and in January's 5-4 win over Norwich City.
He is a dependable midfield presence and has performed reasonably in his time on Merseyside so far, but there are question marks over his overall quality.
As one of Liverpool's highest-earning players, according to the Guardian's Andy Hunter, Milner should be performing above an average level, and while he sits above Benteke, Ings, Gomez and Bogdan in our ranking, this is largely due to circumstance, and his long-term role at the club remains to be seen.
2. Nathaniel Clyne
Since the departures of Steve Finnan and Alvaro Arbeloa, and the steady decline of Glen Johnson, right-back had been a long-term problem position for Liverpool.
Last season, Rodgers experimented with both Javier Manquillo and Emre Can as deputies to Johnson, but with Manquillo's two-season loan terminated at the midway point last summer, Can primed for a long-term role in midfield and Johnson leaving for Stoke City on the expiry of his contract, Liverpool needed a solution.
Since his move to St. Mary's from Crystal Palace in 2012, Clyne had underlined his ability as a strong defensive full-back and a diligent attacking outlet down the right flank, and he can consider himself a contender for the role of first-choice right-back in Roy Hodgson's England squad.
The 24-year-old has seamlessly translated this form to Liverpool and has maintained a steady level of form throughout his time on Merseyside so far—he has played more minutes (2,921) than any other outfield player at the club so far this season.
What keeps Clyne from the top spot—and a grade higher than a B—is a lack of cutting edge.
He is a consistently high-quality performer, and exactly what Liverpool needed at right-back, but he is not outstanding.
1. Roberto Firmino
It has taken Roberto Firmino six months to settle at Liverpool, but now that he's a regular fixture within Klopp's starting lineup, the Brazilian is beginning to show why the club were willing to sanction a fee of up to £29 million to secure his services.
Having made the move from Hoffenheim to Merseyside, Firmino provides the Reds with a tenacious, fleet-footed forward option, and the versatility shown under Klopp so far suggests he could thrive in a number of roles.
Currently leading the line for the German in the absence of Sturridge, Ings and Divock Origi, and Benteke's continued struggle for form, Firmino has excelled.
The 24-year-old has scored five goals and assisted on four in nine appearances as a centre-forward for Liverpool, with his top-level performances in victories over Manchester City and Norwich, and January's 3-3 draw with Arsenal, proving his quality.
That Firmino stood out as one of Liverpool's better performers in an otherwise abject display away to Leicester at the beginning of February underlines his enduring value to Klopp's squad.
While Clyne may have provided Liverpool with more stability since his move last summer, Firmino takes our No. 1 spot as he is a more influential figure with a higher ceiling—he will be a star at Anfield in the future.
Statistics via Transfermarkt.co.uk.