There are the transfers that shock because you didn’t think they were possible – Torres to Chelsea for £50m. And there are those that shock by virtue of their sheer size – Bale to Real Madrid for £86m. But every now and again a transfer shocks because it’s just plain bizarre.
Rickie Lambert’s move from Southampton to Liverpool was one of those that came straight out of left-field. Lallana was the one who had been expected to make that move, and many believed Luke Shaw would already be a Manchester United player by now. Callum Chambers, Morgan Schneiderlin and Jay Rodriguez all appeared to be more likely to leave Southampton before Lambert, and yet the reality is that Liverpool saw fit to make Lambert their first signing of the season for £4m.
There is no obvious logic to the Rickie Lambert transfer – so let’s try and find some hidden reasoning.
Unfortunately for Liverpool fans, the first point that must be considered is that Suarez may be leaving the club in the summer. The Uruguayan has made it clear that he would consider it a dream come true to play for Real Madrid and it looks increasingly likely that the current European Champions will seek to bring that fantasy to fruition.
Lambert may be a lot of things, but an adequate replacement for Suarez he is not. However, Lambert’s signing must be considered in the context of the greater demands that will be put on Liverpool’s squad next season given that they will be competing in the Champions League. Lambert, in this way, could add depth. But if Liverpool do end up selling Suarez to Real Madrid, then it’s clear that they will still need to bring in another striker again.
Signing Lambert also gives Liverpool the option of varying their play more. The most obvious way in which Lambert differs from the strikers that club already has is through his ability in the air. The former Southampton forward won 41% of his aerial duels last season – more than twice as much as Daniel Sturridge managed with a rate of 17.5% and still considerably more than the 26.5% that Luis Suarez won.
While Liverpool fans may not like the idea of their team playing a more direct game next season, there’s certainly nothing wrong with having the option. The team could have done with a ‘Plan B’ in their 0-2 home defeat to Chelsea and they are likely to find more teams defending in a similar manner against them next season.
The worrying thing about the signing of Lambert, and more so the reported £25m bid for Lallana, is that neither player’s strengths align with what made Liverpool so good last season. The pace and trickery of their forwards and the speed at which the team launched counter-attacks was stunning. Lambert and Lallana are both technically gifted players but neither carry out their work at the kind of speed that Liverpool did over the previous year.
Rodgers has already proved himself to be undaunted by change – he’s ditched the possession-based philosophy that had served him so well at Swansea and consistently experimented with different formations even following Liverpool victories – and so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that he’s determined to continue this theme of evolution.
However, it’s hard not to also feel a certain amount of a ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ attitude. It’s also hard not to feel underwhelmed by the first transfer of summer in which the club were supposed to make a big step forward.
If Rodgers has taught us anything yet, it should be not to question his decisions. However, the manager is certainly pushing this to the limits with the signing of Lambert. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how Rodgers intends to integrate the slower forward into his team’s pace-orientated game.