By Ernie Fox
Let’s make this short and sweet, last season we weren’t good enough, simple as that. It wasn’t an issue of too many games or the squad lacking depth, when it came to the big games – the ones we had to win – we fell badly short of the standard required. To put it blunt, our first eleven wasn’t good enough.
As a result, this summer is vital for the future of the club in retaining a position amongst the country’s top sides or risk sliding into the abyss of mid-table obscurity. In my opinion there are four essential signings we need to have made this transfer window to enhance the starting eleven, four positions where we need to invest in genuine quality if we are to stand any chance of competing for a Champions League spot.
What we don’t want to do is make the mistake of previous years by bringing in so many potential first team players that the squad takes the majority of the season to find any sort of cohesion. Forget about additional youngsters like Joe Gomez who have been brought in at a young age to learn the Liverpool philosophy and culture, but with regards the first team squad we need to improve but too many changes in too short space of time will be completely counter productive.
So let’s be realistic, there are probably a number of positions we could improve on, maybe get a better goalkeeper or centre back, but what do we need to prioritise? You can’t expect us to sign 11 world class players in one summer transfer window, so below are the positions we need to fill to make this season a success; and judging from our transactions so far, how successful we have been in doing just that.
Last season we were desperately short of a decent attacking right back for our flat back four, it became so desperate that we ended up reverting to a back three using Emre Can in defence. This had a small level of success but was soon found out with many teams able to exploit our lack of width and when Can was moved to right back to reintroduce a flat back four, things fell apart. To return to a four we need full backs who are comfortable in possession enough to bring the ball forwards and set up a quick flowing attack, we’re not talking about hammering the ball over the top for the runs of Sturridge or Origi, but short, crisp passing into the midfield and then providing support on the wings to stretch the opposition.
The Solution: Nathaniel Clyne. He certainly fits the bill, great young right back, possibly the best Englishman in that position at present. He can tackle, will enable Can to move back to his preferred central midfield role, and also has the pace to provide additional width to the midfield when we’re in possession. Clyne seems to be an ideal signing.
What can I say more than we lost Steven Gerrard? The season before last, Henderson and Gerrard formed an awesome midfield partnership which dominated games thanks to their tireless work rate and technical attributes. Last year that partnership failed to have the same impact, but it was a clear indication that on Gerrard’s departure we needed a similarly hard-working player to cover the sort of ground Gerrard was covering in his prime. I’m not saying a direct replacement for Gerrard, because that would be unrealistic as he was so much more than just a central midfielder, but that position in itself needs filling as a priority or we will find ourselves being overrun in the centre of the park again.
The Solution: James Milner. He’s no Steven Gerrard, but who is? Milner is a decent passer providing a reliable and consistent work rate. He is also decent at set pieces which was one of the areas in which we were so strong the season before last. Milner has vast amounts of experience which we certainly need in the middle with so many youngsters likely to be fielded in the first 11 and FSG will be very pleased with the transfer fee (or lack of). There is also Emre Can, possibly the true successor to Steven Gerrard, but having only experienced one season of English football he might not be quite ready to take on that mantle just yet.
We have Coutinho, who every year seems to be getting better, but in the Premier League you can’t expect one player to work his magic throughout the entire season. There are too many teams who are willing to close down the game, get men behind the ball and see the match out for a goalless draw. Coutinho needs support from other members of the team to provide a creative outlet otherwise he will simply be marked out of each game. With Liverpool expecting to challenge for a top four spot at very least and Rodgers’ emphasis on attacking football, the impetus will be on us to open up the game and create chances, and for that we will need those types of players with genuine quality and a mind for opening up defences with a quick touch or well timed through ball.
The Solution: Roberto Firmino. He provides everything Liverpool fans have been calling out for. He has pace, great control and the ability to shoot from distance. Firmino was a big money signing who has all the attributes to fit into Rodgers’ staring eleven, he’s not scared of putting his foot into a tackle either, but most importantly he offers an additional danger upfront; defenders will have to make a decision whether stay tight on him or allow him space. With both Brazilian team mates pulling the strings across the front line we will definitely create chances.
This is the one which will have us talking for the remainder of the transfer window. It is no secret that Liverpool did not score enough goals last season, not only did we lack goals, but also the threat of scoring. We were completely toothless upfront leaving opponents feeling so confident in their ability to defend against us that they were able to press further forward and put us under pressure. Some might say this is the most significant of the four positions that needed filling, yet it is the one that remains unresolved. We need a focal point for our attacks, some one who can be relied upon to put away the chances provided by the rest of the team, but also someone to apply pressure on the opposition defenders, to create a space between the midfield and defence for the likes of Coutinho and Firmino to work their magic.
The Solution: ??? A number of players have been linked to this vacancy, but most seem either aspirational or simply made up. The press seem almost obsessed with Christian Benteke, however my experience tells me that when a transfer saga extends to such a length as that which has accompanied the Villa front man, then it rarely results in a successful transfer. The truth is that we don’t want to sign the wrong player, just look to last summer when a last minute purchase of Mario Balotelli resulted in nothing but disappointment therefore perhaps it is worth the wait if we get the right man.
Or perhaps in the eyes of FSG we already have our striker. Danny Ings and Divock Origi will be both be joining Daniel Sturridge (injuries allowing) in the Liverpool forward line next season, perhaps the board and Brendan Rodgers believe that is enough. With three quick and bright, young strikers providing an outlet for the Brazilian play-makers, perhaps one of them will find sufficient form in front of goal to make the position his own. It would be a brave move from Rodgers, because a repeat of last season will surely see his reign at Anfield brought to an end, so I would have expected one final big bid for a front man to get the fans excited and grab the goals that were badly missed last term.
There is the other possibility that Rodgers doesn’t feel he needs an out and out centre forward, that there are enough goals amongst the midfield and attacking players as a team that they don’t need to rely on one individual. I believe that at the top level in the modern game there is more to attacking than simply being able to score goals, and at times do question the validity of certain claims of teams who claim they need a goalscorer.
Maybe he is right, perhaps the responsibility of scoring can be spread across the team, it would certainly make for a high level of entertainment if it works; it would be almost impossible for teams to defend against if we don’t just have one focal point to our attack but a whole host of potential goalscorers in the first eleven – maybe that is wishful thinking. But one thing is for certain, this position will make or break the reign of Brendan Rodgers. He could have the team playing the most exciting and attacking football in the league, but if we are unable to convert those chances into goals then it will only end in failure and that will inevitably by blamed on his failure to fill this one position.
Written by Ernie Fox