Looking back on a very mixed season, I’ve 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 article is not to play “Football Manager” or any such thing, but rather to look at where the squad may need strengthening, as I’m sure we’ve all heard today that the club has signed 15 year old Alex O’Hanlon from St. Kevins Boys Club in Dublin, described as “an excellent full-back, and hopefully he might turn out like Gareth Bale” by St. Kevins club secretary Brendan Bermingham, Alex O’Hanlon turned down the advances of Manchester United and Arsenal, and he’s also spent time with both Real Madrid and Chelsea.
So, what’s needed for next season? Starting at the back; once, and if Pepe Reina stays, we’ll still have the best keeper in the league, with one or both of Péter Gulácsi or Martin Hansen as backup. Other than the wages, there’s no reason for Brad Jones to be stay. If Reina goes however, that will be the biggest hole to fill. So let’s hope Damien Comolli is looking at same-standard options, but mostly, let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope Kenny Dalglish convinces Reina to stay.
In Defense, for all the criticism they received early on this season over form and injuries, we should realistically expect Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Jamie Carragher, Fábio Aurelio and Glen Johnson to be the experienced first choices, along with Martin Kelly, Jack Robinson, Danny Wilson and John Flanagan as the U21 squad regulars. That should leave room for three experienced additions, including at least two specialist left-backs, possibly Newcastle United’s Jose Enrique and Everton’s Leighton Baines, as for centre-backs, maybe Blackburn Rovers teenager Phil Jones or Bolton Wanderers centre-back Gary Cahill could fit the bill.
From the current club players on loan, we can probably expect Paul Konchesky to sign for Nottingham Forest, and probably Stephen Darby to go to Notts County. I think we’ll see Sotirios Kyrgiakos leave too. Has Emiliano Insua improved enough to return is a question for Dalglish!
At Midfield, the experienced first choices will be Steven Gerrard, Raul Meireles, Lucas Leiva, Jay Spearing and Maxi Rodriguez, with Jonjo Shelvy being the only sure U21 squad regular. The center therefore seems stocked, whether well-stocked or not is another question. Christian Poulsen will probably go, along with Joe Cole.
There is an obvious absence of experienced wide players, so that has to be the priority, with names such as Aston Villa’s Ashley Young or Stewart Downing, Manchester City’s Adam Johnson, Wigan Athletics Charles N’Zogbia or even Blackpool’s Charlie Adam in the fray. While I may be in the minority, I still have hope for Joe Cole to come good, and the club still owns Alberto Aquilani, who I would not be averse to having back, but then 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 Raheem Sterling, Suso, Conor Coady, Thomas Ince and David Amoo all possibilities, along with high priced options like Lille’s Eden Hazard.
Up front is where the Club is probably most comfortable for the first time in a long time. Andy Carroll, Luis Suárez and Dirk Kuyt as the three main forward options, with Daniel Pacheco as U21 cover. Pacheco had excellent couple of months with Norwich City, 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 very confusing. Nathan Eccleston is another U21 option, but David N’gog 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 half a dozen new players needed; not a major overhaul, but the club needs to make smart purchases, even if there is more money to be spent this time.