The past summer’s transfer window left a lot to be desired for Liverpool fans, as the club shipped out a plethora of established stars in an attempt to streamline the squad and trim down the wage bill, but failed to adequately replace them – particularly in the attacking areas - with younger, cheaper players that fit in with FSG’s transfer policy. Under the radar, however, was the £2.5m signing of Oussama Assaidi, a relatively unknown Moroccan winger from Heerenveen who has impressed in the few appearances he has made so far.
It was a slow start for Assaidi; he came to the club in poor physical condition and was fasting for Ramadan, so he didn’t feature for the first team until the end of September. Since then he has been forced to make do with starts in the cups with the second string as Rodgers has attempted to balance his depleted squad between all three competitions. He put in a few man-of-the-match performances against Young Boys and West Brom, and continued to shine whenever given the opportunity, but has since been forced to play second fiddle to Raheem Sterling and a resurgent José Enrique.
Still yet to make a start in the Premier League, he could provide that spark that Liverpool have been lacking in the final third. Rodgers’ hesitancy to throw Assaidi in to league action is, in theory, understandable; the English game is much more physically demanding than Dutch league, and it will take time for him to improve his fitness to a level where he can influence a game for a full ninety minutes. But, given the gaffer’s willingness to give the youngsters a chance, Assaidi’s continued exclusion from league line-ups is somewhat peculiar given his form in the cups.
Assaidi is quick, extremely skilful and good with both feet; if he gets the opportunity to run at an opposing full back, more often than not he will show him a clean set of heels. Whilst Luis Suarez’s main strength is not staying in the penalty area waiting to convert crosses, thus meaning that playing with two wingers may not help get the best out of him, Assaidi and Sterling are more than just wide men; they are capable of coming inside and influencing they play. Having those two threatening down the flanks will mean teams cannot just focus on limiting Suarez – clubs know he is our only potent attacking threat.
His goalscoring record in the Eredivisie was very impressive for a wide player, averaging a goal every three games and, whilst he is yet to score for Liverpool, he has proven to be a capable goalscorer, something Liverpool sorely lack since the departures of Craig Bellamy, Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez in the summer. A look back at the goals he scored for Heerenveen highlight his ability to score all different types of goals; he is just as capable of smashing one in from outside the box than he is running on beyond the forwards to slot one past the 'keeper.
Enrique is confident and back in form and, whilst he’s been effective playing a more advanced role recently, he and Johnson rampaging forward from the full back spots would provide an extra attacking option, whilst also allowing us to fit our best players in to our starting eleven. Suso has been dropped from the starting eleven of late despite playing well, but his strengths suit playing a more central role, so his qualities are negated out wide. The same applies to Jonjo Shelvey and Steven Gerrard, who have recently had spells in games of late playing the right forward role to minimal effect.
He is used to playing in an attacking 4-3-3 formation, so should have no problem fitting in if he's given a chance. Plus, he has, for the most part, started in a weakened side where he is often our most dangerous attacking player. If he plays in a side where teams focus on shutting down other players, he should have ample opportunity to impress. With Lucas back in the side, providing a defensive steel in midfield that has been lacking in recent months, Rodgers can afford to be more ambitious with him team selection knowing the midfield will have more control over the game.
The stage is set for Assaidi to prove himself to be one of the bargains of the season, and provide an attacking spark that Liverpool have lacked in the Premier League this season.