Simply in need of spell away from Liverpool FC?
When the dust settles on this season for Liverpool, the underlying positive to take from what has been a campaign of undoubted progress, continually undermined by individual error, is that the club has welcomed a whole wealth of new, young squad options. But do some of them require a spell away first to truly get the experience required to play consistently for the club at the top level?
Manager Brendan Rodgers discussed the futures of Suso and Raheem Sterling in recent weeks, with possible loan moves mooted, before later dismissing that he would allow them to leave the club at this stage of the term and with such a small squad to work with, they remain well within his thoughts for selection, but it’s certainly a path he would be wise to consider in the summer.
Sterling has been the main breakthrough this year, even if his form has inevitably tailed off after the turn of the year due to the mental and physical fatigue suffered by one so young playing in the top flight and quickly becoming a relied upon member of the first-team. Alongside the raw England winger there is also Suso, Jack Robinson, Conor Coady, Andre Wisdom, Jon Flanagan and the more experienced heads of Jonjo Shelvey and Sebastian Coates to ponder.
Rodgers has already targeted a busy summer of transfer activity ahead, despite concerns that the club’s rising debt could have an impact on his operating budget, telling reporters last week: “It is quality we are after now, not quantity. We see the impact of Coutinho, and Sturridge’s quality, in January. That’s what we’re looking for. If we bring in another three or four players of that quality, add that to what we have got, then we have got a strong squad that can compete.”
Straight away, someone like Wisdom for example is facing a tough ask to play as much next season as he has done this one; with Martin Kelly set to return from injury soon, and the retirement of Jamie Carragher imminent, defensive reinforcements are going to be right at the top of the priority list, with quality full-back cover for Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique an absolute must. He may well be kept around the squad again, but whether he’ll be relied upon in the same manner is doubtful. This then has a knock-on effect on those even further down the pecking order such as Flanagan and Robinson (currently on loan at Wolves).
Elsewhere, the struggles of Coates have not gone unnoticed and his name on the team sheet is invariably met with a series of nervous glances and frank exchanges about his ability among the club’s fans. For such a tall centre-back, it’s remarkable how poor he is in the air, possessing no real great leap to get above his marker, while his lack of pace and turning circle akin to a small cruise liner mark him out as a player desperately short on confidence and in dire need of more first-team football to acclimatise to the top flight.
This is a catch-22 situation, though, because he has been so poor when he’s been called upon this season that playing him and getting him up to speed is a huge risk in itself, even when you consider Martin Skrtel’s quite frankly appalling form since the turn of the year. Deciding his future at the end of the season is a real head-scratcher for Rodgers, because should they let him go out on loan to another top flight side to get more playing time, an option I’d like to see pursued, then factoring in Skrtel’s likely exit and Carragher’s retirement, that’s three centre-backs the club need to move for now. In one window, finding the right players for the right money, that could be a stretch too far, but they must not let what is a clearly talented player with an international pedigree become the next Gabriel Paletta.
Then there’s midfielder Jonjo Shelvey, once upon a time the leader in the engine room on Europa League nights before being made a scapegoat for the Boxing Day defeat to Stoke. He’s regressed in recent months due to being marginalised in such a fashion and he looked understandably under-cooked during the defeat against West Brom when he started last. He’s not a player that you can just throw in, he needs a run of games to get up to speed, but with Joe Allen, Jordan Henderson and Lucas Leiva all jostling for position as it is, it may be beneficial in the long-term to see him somewhere else for a few months.
The main provision of any of the club’s talented brood of youngsters leaving should be that they are loaned out to Premier League clubs. As Robinson will have surmised from his loan spell at Wolves, a side currently fighting for survival with a clueless manager at the helm down at the bottom of the Championship, that sort of football, while it might prepare you for a lower-league career, doesn’t exactly give you a sound footing in what top level football is about; the playing styles are completely different, the approach and the quality make it a pointless move for a serious prospect.
Of the players to really break through into the starting eleven at times this season, Sterling and Shelvey all have a part to play next term, but Suso, Wisdom and Coates could maybe do with more miles on the clock before they come back and try and force their way into the starting eleven. There is no exact science to loaning young players out, as Arsenal will have found out with Ryo Miyaichi at Bolton and Wigan, but giving them more of a chance to develop instead of simply warming the bench and training can only serve both them and the club better in the long-term.