Liverpool have been by far the Premier League‘s busiest club this summer, splashing out a whopping £89million on six first-team signings. And Brendan Rodgers has little interest in stopping there; the loan signing of Atletico Madrid’s Javier Manquillo was finalised this afternoon, whilst other targets, namely Sevilla left-back Alberto Moreno, will see the Reds’ spending easily exceed the £100million mark.
The prolific spending spree is justified by the departure of Luis Suarez to Barcelona, offsetting Liverpool’s outgoings by £75million, and the club’s return to the Champions League stage for the first time since 2010.
But has Rodgers spent wisely enough this summer? My concern being that the Ulsterman, instead of signing the calibre of talent to guarantee Liverpool a second successive European qualification, has fallen into the trap of bringing in squad players that will alleviate the inevitable burdens of Champions League football on the Reds’ domestic campaign.
Don’t get me wrong, Liverpool were sensational last season and the feeling on Merseyside is that the Anfield squad already has enough quality to effectively compete for a top four finish once again. Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge all came into their own last year and they’ll be expected to continue their development in similar eye-catching fashion next term.
But sustained momentum played a significant role in the Reds’ 2013/14 campaign, and it remains to be seen just how debasing Luis Suarez’ departure will be for the Liverpool first team. The 31-goal-12-assist striker was in some way responsible for nearly half of the Reds’ league goals last term and Rodgers has shied away from signing a direct replacement .
That mantle will be instead passed to Daniel Sturridge, whose 21 goals last season were only bettered in the Premier League by his strike-partner. Furthermore, Liverpool’s depth has undoubtedly improved this summer through the signings of Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Emre Can, Dejan Lovren, Javier Manquillo and Lazar Markovic, all of whom offer the Reds something different to what they had before.
Indeed, Rodgers’ sound-bite of the summer has been ‘multipurpose signings’ – flexible players who can adopt a variety of positions and roles. The Ulsterman is a manager who likes to tinker; he used seven different formations last season, experimenting with a back three at times and a midfield diamond. In that respect, Liverpool’s summer signings suit his management style well.
But none of these signings particularly improve upon what Rodgers already had at his disposal.
Adam Lallana for example, although a perfect fit for Liverpool’s attacking philosophy through his fluid playmaking style, is not a significantly better option than Philippe Coutinho, four years the England international’s junior, who made as many key passes per match (2) as Steven Gerrard last season. Raheem Sterling also put in a number of promising performances in the No.10 role.
Likewise, Rickie Lambert, although a sentimental and useful addition to the Anfield roster – furthermore at an incredibly reasonable cost of just £4million – as Trevor Francis has argued, in comparison to his many world-class predecessors, is not a Liverpool standard striker. Classy on the ball yet stocky and slow, he’s not a natural suitor to the breakneck-paced attacking style we witnessed from Liverpool last year.
The same can be said for Emre Can, Lazar Markovic and Javier Manquillo; all heralded young talents, but all requiring bedding in at Premier League level and none likely to immediately claim a first team place over Liverpool’s established names. The only real exception is Dejan Lovren, who admittedly, should plug up gaps in a Liverpool defence that conceded on average 1.3 goals per match last term.
The situation strikes glaring similarities with Tottenham’s £110million spend last summer. They too were compensating for a world-class entity joining a Spanish giant in Gareth Bale, and they too made seven first team signings, fearing how Europa League football might affect their Premier League campaign.
Barring Christian Eriksen however, none of the Lilywhites acquisitions from last summer have had a positive impact on the first team. The plights of Roberto Soldado and Erik Lamela can be put down to misfortune. But Spurs’ fatal flaw was making signings such as Nacer Chadli, Vlad Chiriches and Etienne Capoue, who offered no experience in the English game and merely beefed up an already inflated roster, rather than bringing any noteworthy improvement to the starting XI.
The failed transfer policy eventually cost two managers their jobs in Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood, and saw Tottenham finish disappointingly in 7th place.
Not that I’m suggesting Liverpool’s new signings will see them plummet down the league table. But I do hold concerns that Brendan Rodgers’ acquisitions have been made in a vacuum, rather than comparing with the Reds’ divisional rivals.
Arsenal for example have picked up Alexis Sanchez, a player whose blend of pace, goals and tiki-taka technique not only lends itself to the Gunners’ traditional style but furthermore offers them intrinsic penetration in attack. Chelsea have addressed their needs for a dependable goalscorer in Diego Costa and a creative midfielder in Cesc Fabregas. Manchester City are poised to sign centre-back Eliaquim Mangala, Everton have secured the permanent signature of Romelu Lukaku and Manchester United have resolved their midfield issues to some extent with the signing of Ander Herrera.
All of these signings significantly strengthen the starting XIs of their respective clubs. Liverpool on the other hand, despite being the only aforementioned side forced to part with key personnel this summer, have been so focused on squad building and long-term planning that one of their signings, Divock Origi, will be sent back on loan to selling club Lille next season, whilst three acquisitions are just twenty years of age.
There’s no question that Brendan Rodgers has improved the options available to him this summer and raised the overall quality of the Anfield squad. But in comparison to last season, their starting XI is intrinsically weaker.
With Liverpool’s chances of actually winning next season’s Champions League tournament exceptionally slim, adding depth to compensate for the burdens of European football, rather than making signings that would consolidate Liverpool’s position in the Premier League, feels like an incredibly futile enterprise. The Reds may have outspent their divisional rivals this summer, but the value-for-money, overall, has been poor.