Liverpool ready to build on Luis Suarez legacy
Liverpool, available at a market-leading 12/1 price to lift the Premier League, have made a huge statement of intent this summer by adding eight signings, with at least two more expected to arrive at Anfield before the transfer window slams shut.
However, all the excitement over incoming players is masking one prominent problem; the lack of a world class replacement for departed superstar striker Luis Suarez. The controversial Uruguayan almost single-handedly kept the Reds snapping at the heels of fellow title contenders Chelsea and Manchester City last term, netting a stunning 31 league goals in 33 games, and providing 12 assists.
Recent history suggests Liverpool will pay the price for cashing in on their most-prized asset. Tottenham also took the scatter-gun approach to recruitment last term, as they fumbled with the funds provided to them by Gareth Bale’s sale to Real Madrid, breaking their transfer record three times that summer.
The results were disappointing for Spurs, with their raft of new, costly acquisitions failing to replicate the influence and threat of Bale between them, and Liverpool fans will likely worry they are awaiting the same fate.
Reds boss Brendan Rodgers has already rebuffed accusations that Liverpool have been behaving like a kid in a candy shop, insisting they have added quality over quantity.
Speaking recently, Rodgers insisted the Merseyside team were not ‘doing a Spurs’: “It’s a different club and different vision we have here. At Liverpool there’s a strategy behind what we are doing…We had always earmarked in the summer to bring in a number of players.”
Strength in depth is a must for the Anfield side to cope with the added rigours of Champions League football in the upcoming season. So, on the surface it is difficult to argue against the number of additions Rodgers has made.
Last term, Liverpool relied on their goal scoring prowess to keep them challenging for the title. The Merseyside team’s performance in their own penalty box left a lot to be desired, however, and the Reds cannot afford to leak 51 league goals again.
Rodgers seems to have addressed this with former Southampton centre half Dejan Lovren arriving to bolster the defence, with the Croatian an instant upgrade on current options Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel.
At full back, weak link Glen Johnson may find himself usurped in the pecking order by new addition Javi Manquillo. The Spanish star is only on loan from parent club Atletico Madrid, but will be given the chance to prove he can be a long term solution to the Reds’ defensive woes.
Left back Luis Enrique could also find himself fighting for selection if Rodgers manages to lure long-term target Alberto Moreno to Anfield. With versatile academy product Jon Flanagan also competing for a starting spot, Liverpool certainly have a deeper pool of options available.
In midfield and offence, meanwhile, the Reds have stayed true to their emphasis on youth. Starlets Emre Can, Lazar Markovic, Divock Origi and Kevin Stewart have all been snapped up for, according to reported fees, a combined total close to the tune of £40m.
Rodgers has done well with the youth prospects available to him so far, elevating youngsters Philipe Coutinho, Flanagan, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge into top performers for his side. However, perhaps that significant outlay could have been spent on a direct replacement for Suarez, with the fledgling stars added afterwards.
Belgian striker Origi will stay at former club Lille on loan this term, and it is unlikely the talented £20m man Markovic will transform into a magician overnight. The Serbian attacker has a modest goal record of seven last term, suggesting he will not be matching Suarez’s impressive offensive contributions, at least numbers-wise, immediately.
A failed move for QPR and France forward Loic Remy could be a blessing in disguise, with Liverpool back on the market for another senior striker. Long-mooted options such as Wilfried Bony will not keep Champions League opponents awake at night, or quicken the pulses of the Kop, with a marquee signing required to give Liverpool a boost.
Whilst it is never a good idea to make prestige buys just for signings sake, without one, Sturridge faces the pressure of being the lead man after just one prolific campaign, in his role as understudy and foil to Suarez.
Sterling and Lambert have both dazzled so far in pre-season but it would be unfair to expect the youngster and the veteran to shoulder the burden of Liverpool’s Suarez-shaped hole. Likewise, Gerrard should be fresher after retiring from international football, but aged 34, his powers will inevitably wane.
Radamel Falcao would be an excellent if relatively short-term stop gap up front, with his record of 199 goals in 302 outings speaking for itself. Recently linked to Liverpool in a loan deal, the Colombian hitman would be a signing that could potentially make the difference between top four or a trophy, and is odds-on at 8/11 to transfer to Anfield before the window closes.
Rodgers must bear in mind that whilst his squad has been significantly weakened, Premier League rivals such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United have all strengthened. The Gunners have welcomed World Cup star Alexis Sanchez, whilst the Blues have drafted in Spain duo Cesc Fabregas and Diego Costa.
Whilst bitter rivals United have made no superstar signings, they have brought in much needed reinforcements and already boast the game-changing trio of Juan Mata, Robin van Perise and Wayne Rooney, which leaves Liverpool firmly in the shade.
Reds fans can point to the eternal egg Alan Hansen has on his face for once daring to suggest the Red Devils would not win anything with kids. However, it is a vastly different game now, with fans, media and owners demanding instant results.
United themselves once faced questions over where the goals would come from, after off-loading leading scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2006. A certain Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up to the plate then, but it would be too naïve of Rodgers to be hoping one of his young recruits can reach that level.
If Liverpool fail to nab a big-name, though, it may play into Rodgers’ hands. Last term saw the Reds rise above the sum of their parts, due to the careful implementation of a system which allowed even limited players to thrive.
Without the distractions of a big-name ego, and with Adam Lallana as their most expensive summer signing, Liverpool may be able to capitalise on the team spirit and organisation that saw them enjoy a renaissance. At 9/4 to be top north west club in the upcoming campaign, perhaps Rodgers can transform his side’s weakness into a strength.