by Fortune Achonna @Fortuneachonna
After Tuesday’s battering of Everton by Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers made another statement of Liverpool’s intention to sign a major player before the transfer window ends on Friday.
That player turned out to be none other Ukrainian wing wizard Yevhen Konoplyanka and BitBet.com and many online sports betting had us as favourites of signing him.
It seemed strange that Liverpool would target another attacking player after the way their attackers have performed this season.
After 23 games Liverpool have scored a scintillating 57 goals, only Manchester City have scored more and the nearest to Liverpool’s tally is Arsenal on 45 – a full 12 goals behind Liverpool.
In the above picture, it is a shame Coutinho is not in shot because together with Sterling, Suarez and Sturridge, they have terrorized defences with their combination of: skill, pace, creativity, shooting accuracy and an unnerving work rate to go with it.
Of the 57 goals they have scored in the Premier League, the aforementioned four have scored 41, have assisted 14 of them and have created many more chances too.
Indeed, when it comes to chances created, as per WhoScored, Suarez leads the way with 2.9 (the second highest total in the Premier League); Coutinho is fourth for Liverpool with 1.8 and Raheem Sterling fifth with 1.4.
When it comes to dribbles per game, Suarez again leads the way with 2.8 (fifth highest in the league); Sterling is second (eighth in the league) with 2.2; Coutinho is third (fourteenth in the league) with 1.9 and Sturridge is fourth for Liverpool (22nd in the league) with 1.7 dribbles per game.
Nonetheless, despite the numbers produced it is quite understandable why Rodgers wants to strengthen his attacking options. Liverpool are fourth in the table for a reason, they have failed to put away teams at vital periods of the season; Coutinho and Sterling are a major reason for that.
Indeed, for all the creative talents Coutinho and Sterling possess, only a small percentage of that has transferred into goals and assists. However, to relegate them for this would be dangerous to their progression as young players and would be a slight on all the efforts they have put in.
It speaks volumes particularly for Coutinho’s potential that despite by and large enduring an average season, he is still regularly occurring in the lists for highest dribbles per game and chances created.
This is because his game intelligence is second to none. He is able to create space for himself, pull defenders out of position and is generally a nuisance for the opposition.
The ultimate proof of this is the fact Coutinho ranks third highest in the Premier League when it comes to shots per game (3.6). It is even more telling that Coutinho is the only midfielder in the top six and that he is ahead of team mate Daniel Sturridge who ranks fourth with 3.5 shots per game.
The only problem he is having this season is that he has unable to connect or finish off the good work he has created through his movement. Far too often he has over-hit his passes or in regards to shooting, gone clear only to hit a tame shot straight at the goalkeeper.
In December, fellow Brazilian Sandro compared Coutinho to footballing legend and fellow Brazilian Ronaldinho. Although the comparison was a tad far-fetched, Coutinho bears similarities in terms of playing style and growth. At the age of 21, Coutinho is similar to the inconsistent Ronaldinho who frequently frustrated at PSG.
As for Sterling, he astounded many people last season as the then plucky 17 year old stood his ground amongst the big boys. This season, he is more than standing his ground, he is beginning to blow away the opposition. Sterling has now firmly established himself as one of the best wingers in the Premier League and it is frightening that at the age of 19, he can still improve.
Like Coutinho, Sterling’s improvement will come from an increased goal output. Against Everton yesterday, Sterling squandered a good one on one effort after Sturridge put him through on goal. Albeit Sterling was later flagged for a foul, he did not know that when shooting. He also missed similar chances against West Ham earlier in the season. If Sterling can develop a steely resolve in front of goal, he and Liverpool will reap the benefits.
This is very similar to Cristiano Ronaldo’s troubles early on in his Manchester United career. Yet despite his troubles, Sir Alex Ferguson kept faith with Ronaldo.
Now many will argue that Brendan Rodgers needs to do the same with Coutinho and Sterling or risk them stagnating the way Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips did at Chelsea.
This takes on a more profound message when realizing another addition would completely cease the progression of Jordan Ibe and Suso (who is currently on loan at Almeria.
Suso has had a very productive season for Almeria. He has scored twice and assisted his team mates six times. The numbers he has produced are even more startling considering Almeria are fighting relegation.
Certainly from this season’s form, Suso is ready to come back to Liverpool and fight for a first team place. He does not need another person blocking his progression.
However, as we saw against Everton in the midweek fixture, Coutinho took on a more central role and went on to have his most dominant in red shirt since the Newcastle fixture last season.
It cannot be a coincidence that Coutinho put in his best performance of the season away from the left wing. His lack of pace hinders him on the wing and considering Rodgers went in for Mohamed Salah and then Konoplyanka – two speed merchants, it appears apparent should a winger come in, it will not be at the expense of Coutinho.
The same cannot be said of Sterling; should a winger come in, he is the player most likely to be benched. But at the age of 19, that should not bother him too much. As we saw last season, after a strong first half of the season, Sterling went off the boil and was afforded a resting period. He came back to regular football in December and has made a remarkable improvement. Another spell on the bench would enable him to reflect on his weaknesses and gain some much needed rest – we all know how burn out affected Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler’s careers. In fact, should Liverpool qualify for the Champions League, there will be plenty of chances for Sterling in rotation.
Unfortunately, should Liverpool invest in a winger in the summer transfer, it seems Suso and Jordan Ibe will draw the short stick. Perhaps a tad unfair given the duo’s progress; however as Liverpool attempt to reach the summit of the Premier League, harsh decisions have to be made.
The reality is Konoplyanaka has the ready made skills to take Liverpool to the next level. His tally of 3 goals and two assists in 5 Europa League games are numbers Liverpool’s current wingers have needed half a season to achieve. Furthermore, he has also registered 3.8 dribbles and shots per match. These stats – higher than any of Liverpool’s current wingers – only serve to highlight how much of an improvement Konoplyanka is on Coutinho, Ibe, Sterling, Suso.
To finally answer the question: Do Liverpool really need another attacker? No. If fourth is the extent of their ambition then the current team is fine. However, to challenge for the title, Liverpool will need an improvement on the wings. If Liverpool qualify for the Champions League this season, they will have to make Konoplyanka a priority in summer.
*Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.
** For more on Liverpool visit: http://www.scooponthecity.com/liverpool.html