This time last week our summer transfer business looked to be well and truly at its end. Seven new faces had already been brought in and, for once, the tabloids had gone very quiet – with only the highly speculative dross on Adama Traore from Barcelona left for us talk about – as exemplified by the predictably hopeful Metro.
What we should have foreseen is that with Brendan Rodgers now having the strongest squad – in terms of depth – that he’s ever had during his time at Liverpool, that someone was going to be left out against Stoke City on Sunday, and that someone was unlikely to be particularly happy about it.
That someone proved to be Lucas Leiva – although it’s worth noting that Lazar Markovic and Mamadou Sakho were also left on the sidelines – and his exclusion has prompted an incredible amount of discussion on his future.
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The bottom line of it all appears to be – the player is no longer considered an important member of the squad, as he was back in January when we refused to sell him to Inter Milan, despite reports regularly emerging to the contrary (via talkSPORT).
This doesn’t mean that he’s specifically for sale – as some have suggested – but more that we are open to the possibility of selling him, should an offer in the region of £8m arrive, as the Daily Mail has explained.
All of this means that the Liverpool transfer committee will be asking themselves a couple of important questions between now and the window closing. The first is – do we let him go, unless he specifically asks to leave? And the second is – if he does go, are we a body short in midfield?
Let’s start with the first. Lucas is our longest serving senior player, having been with the club since 2007. He has always conducted himself in a thoroughly professional manner and has worked hard over the last eight seasons to prove his critics, those that said he wasn’t good enough for this level, wrong.
For the most part, he has succeeded. He has made almost 300 appearances for us in all competitions – something you simply wouldn’t do for Liverpool Football Club if you didn’t have a huge amount of quality – and has always been a reliable performer. Add in the fact that he’s the squad’s only natural holding player and that his experience could prove invaluable to increasingly youthful squad, and you can start to see the value in keeping him around.
However, money talks, and getting his wages off the books and a decent transfer fee in our pockets could be too good to turn down – especially when we consider how little he is likely to play over the next year.
Moving onto the second, assuming he either asks to leave or is voluntarily sold, do we need a like-for-like replacement? Do we need Asier Illarramendi or any other player already tipped to come in (via Daily Mirror)?
The answer, almost certainly, is no. On Sunday, Brendan Rodgers employed a 4-2-3-1 formation with Jordan Henderson the deepest lying of the midfield players and James Milner ahead of him. When this was switched to 4-3-3 in the second-half, Emre Can came into the hole and allowed Henderson to push further forward.
Can did an excellent job of protecting the back four and played a key role in the Reds going on to win the game, suggesting that he’d be more than capable of doing the job on a consistent basis – continuing his transformation from an emergency defender into the powerful midfielder we hoped we’d signed last summer.
We’ve also got Joe Allen to come back, who despite the consistent criticism, is three years Lucas’ junior and has proved on international duty with Wales that he’s capable of more than what he has shown so far in a Liverpool shirt – he deserves another chance to impress us this season.
With Rodgers unlikely to ever employ more than three of these players at one time, it’s hard to see where Lucas’ chances are going to come. Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana are also capable of dropping back into the midfield when required – and with so many players trying to fit into that front three – including the returning Daniel Sturridge – the competition for places in the attacking six is going to be incredibly fierce.
Therefore, if we were to improve our squad in one area before now and the closing of the transfer window at the end of the month, Rodgers would do best to consider something else – something out wide. While it’s rare for us to play with natural wingers, we’ve seen first hand what someone like Jordon Ibe is capable of when he’s allowed to hug the touchline and cut inside at the right moment.
Against Stoke, when we started with Ibe on the right, we lacked a man causing the same problems on the opposite flank. Coutinho and Lallana both wanted to come inside far too often and they were often left stumbling over each other in the number ten role – so much so, that only when the latter was withdrawn mid-way through the second-half was the Brazilian at his scintillating best.
It was a huge opportunity for us to miss – Glen Johnson playing against us at right-back and we had no one to really get at him down that side. This allowed Stoke to gang up on Ibe, knowing that the ball was far more likely to come down their left, and his powerful runs became less and less effective as the game wore on as a result.
A designated wide-man to compliment both Ibe and potential target man Christian Benteke would give us a totally different option. Like the two players that shared the role at the Britannia, both Sturridge and Markovic could also occupy the position on the left-hand side of our front three, but neither would be enthralled with the prospect of playing there regularly.
So what’s the solution, knowing as we do that any further signing would only be a bit-part player, as Lucas is for us at this current moment in time? Traore would, ironically, have been someone I’d have welcomed to the role – although it now looks as if he’s set to join Aston Villa instead (via The Telegraph).
There are options in the academy as well – such as Sheyi Ojo, now on loan at Wolves, and Harry Wilson – but there doesn’t appear to be anyone on the same sort of level as Ibe, who could come in and make an immediate impact.
So, something for Rodgers and co to mull over during the next two-and-a-half-weeks. If Lucas does go, and someone else comes in, then let it not be another holding player – someone who will either grow equally frustrated on the sidelines or further slow Can’s development – let it be a player unlike anything we already have, who can make a difference when the correct situation arises.
Glen Harrington – Empire of the Kop – @GlenH1992