Thursday, June 11, 2015

Why Liverpool’s Season Could Live or Die by Their Summer Transfer Activity

You can’t fault the optimism of the folk around Anfield Way, and you almost feel sorry for them in that their team promised so much last season but ultimately delivered so little.

Having been on the brink of their first top flight title in approximately 563 years in 2013/14, Liverpool fans could be forgiven for raising their expectations somewhat last term.

But their team failed to deliver, and now many of those same supporters are calling for a significant cull of the playing staff.

James Milner and Danny Ings have already been brought in but they can hardly be classed among the biggest summer deals. Will they be enough to bring back the good times to Merseyside and if not, what else do the club need to do?

Keep Your Sheet Clean

It’s fair to say that Simon Mignolet had a ‘mixed’ campaign, and even suffered the indignity of being dropped in favour of Brad Jones after a catalogue of errors.

He enjoyed a renaissance towards the end of the season however, and perhaps faith in him is now restored. Brendan Rodgers should look no further than the example of David De Gea, who was much maligned in his early days at Old Trafford following a string of gaffes. He’s now rated as one of the best keepers in the world.

A good stopper breeds confidence in his defenders, and judging by Liverpool’s defensive record their back four weren’t exactly enamoured by Mignolet’s presence. They conceded 48 goals in 38 Premier League games - more than Stoke and West Ham and one less than Swansea.

So if the Reds want to challenge for the title once again, something has to give. And the answer could come in the unlikely form of Chelsea’s Petr Cech. Jose Mourinho wouldn’t be best pleased at selling him to a rival, but as we know money talks in football and Cech himself would surely jump at the chance to be number one at a top six club.

Defend Better

The defensive unit of Liverpool could really do with a shake-up, as the defensive stats from last season testify. Put simply, the likes of Glen Johnson, Kolo Toure and Dejan Lovren aren’t title contending material.
So that trio could be shown the exit, as could Martin Skrtel – who has reportedly turned down an ‘unacceptable’ new contract. That show of loyalty is likely to go down as well with the Kop as being stuck in a broken lift with Piers Morgan.

If Rodgers is handed a transfer kitty then replacements aren’t too hard to source. Ezequiel Garay is a rock-solid centre half who enjoyed a fantastic World Cup with Argentina. He’s currently plying his trade with Zenit St Petersburg, where the money is good but the weather is not. Garay could surely be tempted to a move to the positively tropical climes of the North of England.

He could then tempt another Argentine, Nicolas Otamendi, to Anfield. He is being watched by a host of top European names after a powerful campaign for Valencia, and as a fellow World Cup winner offers the pedigree that Liverpool should be seeking.

West Ham left back Aaron Cresswell also caught the eye in his debut Premier League season. Solid defensively but offering some devilish crosses into the box too, he represents an exciting brand of modern full back play.

Replace Steven Gerrard

This is easier said than done of course: Steven Gerrard has been one of the finest players in Liverpool – and Premier League – history.

So how do you replace him? With great difficulty. Midfielders who can score goals, break up the play with crunching tackles and lead their team mates into battle are hard to come by.

And so significant investment would need to be made. The Juventus pair Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal are unlikely to want to play Europa League football, but perhaps the likes of Daniele De Rossi and Ilkay Gundogan could be tempted? Sami Khedira is a World Cup winner and, more importantly, available on a free.

Domestically, a midfield pairing of Morgan Schneiderlin and Gylfi Sigurdsson could do some damage. The former had one of the highest pass completion rates in the Premier League last season, and the latter created 10 goals and scored seven of his own. Teamed with the industrious Jordan Henderson, that could be some trio.

Find a Goalscorer....or Two

In the 2013/14 season, Liverpool scored 101 goals and finished in second place. In 2014/15, they scored 52 goals and finished in sixth. It doesn’t take a Professor Stephen Hawking to work out what has gone wrong there.

Losing Luis Suarez is going to affect any club team in the world badly; replacing him with Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli is, frankly, ludicrous. The ongoing injury problems of Daniel Sturridge don’t help either.

And so a goalscorer or two needs to be found to get Liverpool scoring 80+ a season again. And there are plenty of candidates: Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette bagged 27 goals last term, Porto’s Jackson Martinez 21, Sevilla’s Carlos Bacca 20. Closer to home there’s Christian Benteke with ten in his last ten games for Aston Villa, and Charlie Austin with 18 for relegated QPR.

There are options out there that won’t break the bank.

Wrap Daniel Sturridge in Cotton Wool

There’s a worry that Daniel Sturridge won’t have the chance to fulfil his incredible potential due to the injury problems that have plagued him throughout his young career to date.

He’s only made 44 starts for Liverpool in his three seasons at Anfield, and in that time he has plundered 35 goals. What a special part he could play in Liverpool’s – and England’s - future.

But he’s got to get fit of course, and then stay injury-free for the duration of the season. Because in the 2014/15 campaign he managed just seven Premier League starts, and his team mates clearly missed his presence and nose for goal.

Shape Shifters

Whether it’s 4-4-2, 3-4-3 or 3-5-2, or maybe even some kind of Frankenstein of all three, Rodgers has got to find a system that works – and stick with it.

He was too often guilty of switching things around when the chips were down, and it does his players no favours at all. In one game Emre Can occupied four different positions....

Take a look at Chelsea or Manchester City: they played the same formation throughout the season – never once chopping and changing regardless of the situation of the match.

Flexibility is one thing, but believing in your players and your tactics is quite another.

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