Brendan Rodgers moved to address the lack of attacking strength and depth during the January transfer window with the acquisitions of both Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho and with the club’s form improving since the arrival of the former Chelsea forward, the side appears to be moving in the right direction, but is there a worry that the squad now appears to be too top-heavy?
Before I start, let me just say that no, I am not Goldilocks, which is the trap I am in danger of falling into here but this is more a musing on what lies ahead in the future for the club with concerns to their attacking talent. Every man and their dog knew that Liverpool were desperately short of striking talent before January and horribly over-reliant on Luis Suarez to provide the main thrust of their intent and goals, but with Fabio Borini having returned from injury, rumours that Tom Ince is set to follow in the summer and that it is beginning to look increasingly unlikely that West Ham will fork out the £17m required to take Andy Carroll to Upton Park at the end of the season, has the reverse now happened and the club have too many players to choose from?
Strength in depth is what separates the good from the great and after losing 2-1 to Manchester United at Old Trafford last month, Rodgers had this to say on the difference between the two clubs: “We are 24 points behind Manchester United but we are not 24 points behind in quality. The difference is down to the squad. Once we close the gap in the squad I have great hope we will be able to challenge. Today’s an example of that.”
Every manager wants two players for every position and United serve as a prime case in point, but that doesn’t mean the players like it all that much and keeping them all happy is a tricky problem and one that Rodgers will not have dealt with until now. Up front they have Javier Hernandez, Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Danny Welbeck. In midfield when everyone is fully fit they can choose from Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley, Anderson, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Nick Powell and Phil Jones. When you take a closer look at Manchester City’s squad, it’s little wonder, both in terms of quality and the quantity of personnel that they currently sit nine points behind their rivals at the top of the Premier League.
Nevertheless, a knock-on effect of such a frightening strength in depth is that certain players, usually younger, less established ones can get left worryingly by the wayside, with Welbeck’s lack of first-team action this season somewhat stalling his development. Are Liverpool in danger of treading a very similar path?
It’s worth noting that Jonjo Shelvey, perhaps one of the brightest spots to take from the first six months this term, which left the club with just one recognised senior and fit striker in the squad, hasn’t started a game since the Boxing Day defeat away at Stoke 3-1, while Raheem Sterling hasn’t started any of the last three league outings. Both may appreciate the rest having shouldered the burden for so long, but their roles have already been reduced and that looks set to continue once Philippe Coutinho, comfortable in both their positions, has fully adapted and returns to full match fitness. Meanwhile, Oussama Assaidi has become a forgotten man and Suso has barely made an impact in the last month, hardly helped by Stewart Downing’s return to form.
The reliance on Suarez until January was further exacerbated by the club’s inability to bring in a replacement for Carroll in the summer, with moves for both Sturridge and Clint Dempsey falling through. Of course, once the England striker returns from his year-long loan spell away, a home will likely be found for him at Newcastle, but the injury that saw Fabio Borini sidelined for three months has also seen him fall way down the pecking order.
This has seen the 21-year-old forward, who only joined the club in the summer from Roma for a fee in the region of £9m, linked with a return to Fiorentina in Serie A recently. This led his agent, Marco De Marchi, to tell firenzeviola.it: “I have never been contacted by Fiorentina and I have nothing to suggest they are interested.Fabio is happy to play for Liverpool, one of the most prestigious clubs in the world, and is happy with his experience in the Premier League.
“A return to Italy? Fabio is 21 years old and has already changed teams five times. He is tied to Liverpool until 2017. If the reported interest from Fiorentina is true, then we should thank them as they are a club that has focused on the nurturing of young talent, but I haven’t discussed this with Fabio. He is just back from an injury and his season starts now. His mind is wholly focused on Liverpool.”
Nevertheless, despite the strong denial, can anyone really imagine a future where Borini is a key figure in this Liverpool side? The deal looked an odd one in the summer, with Rodgers simply seeking out players he has worked with before as some sort of comfort blanket and affirmation of his methods, but the youngster faces a real uphill battle to force his way into the starting eleven now and you sense he may have missed his window to establish himself already. That’s the thing with sides in transition, and as Gylfi Sigurdsson, another summer singing, has found to his cost at Tottenham this term, blink and you’ll miss your chance and become surplus to requirements.
While the deal to bring Tom Ince back from Blackpool never materialised last month due to Karl Oyston’s bizarrely strong demands considering his relatively weak negotiating position, he looks set to seal a permanent move at the end of the season when his contract expires and Liverpool will have picked up a promising player for absolutely nothing, which will swell the ranks even further.
Interestingly, with Jamie Carragher confirming his retirement at the end of the season now, Liverpool look short of talent and numbers at the back, when just a few months ago the complete opposite was true.
Keeping in mind Rodgers’ firm commitment to passing football and his 4-3-3 formation, with upwards of 10 players competing for three spots and the un-droppable Suarez and flourishing Sturridge in tow, the man at the helm faces some difficult choices in the summer ahead, for where he could once plead poverty, he know boasts an embarrassment of riches and keeping them all happy could prove more of a headache than it’s worth.