Liverpool: Why Poor Signings Will Kill Off Our Title Challenge
Following their 4-3 victory over Swansea on Sunday there has been renewed talk that Liverpool may be well placed to mount a late charge for a first league title in 24 years. Manager Brendan Rodgers has played down talk that his side can overhaul the three teams above them before the end of the season but the opinions of the fans appear to differ somewhat.
Those wishing to dispute the Red’s title hopes have been pointing mainly to a leaky defence which has kept just one clean sheet in their last seven league games and features, on a regular basis -apparently not as a joke/dare/bet – Kolo Toure, Aly Cissokho and Martin Skrtel, a man for whom wrestling an opponent to the ground often takes priority over looking where the ball might be.
In all honesty this defensive frailty is probably more down to the fact that Liverpool’s normal anchor-man in midfield, Lucas, has been missing with injury since January. Steven Gerrard has acclimatised well in a deeper role as the Brazilian’s deputy but at 33 years of age with younger, faster midfielders streaking past him ,at times, it’s clear that it is not his natural role.
But even with the return of Lucas and other important defensive players like Glen Johnson and Mamadou Sakho, Liverpool’s squad is far from ready to leapfrog Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea.
The first choice front six are scoring plenty right now but when things aren’t going to plan, and if Rodgers wants to make an attacking change his options are few and far between.
In the past four games the only attacking players to make an appearance from the bench have been Victor Moses for 10 minutes against Swansea, debutant Joao Carlos Teixeira against Fulham and four minutes of Iago Aspas in the 5-1 rout of Arsenal.
This lack of game-changing substitutions is not necessarily Rodgers’ fault – I can confirm he does not have a Daniel Sturridge clone hidden away on the bench – the options simply aren’t there. A combination of underwhelming, mid-range signings over the summer and complete inaction in the January window has left Rodgers woefully short of depth in attacking areas and in many ways it is incredibly lucky that sometimes inconsistent players like Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho have managed to sustain such impressive form over the past few months. Imagine if Sterling had gone off the boil as he did towards the end of last season and the beginning of this. Would we be seeing either Moses or Aspas completing the front three? Does Coutinho get shifted wide where he rarely affects the game in the same way he does in central areas with Joe Allen coming into the middle?
Neither scenario will fill many Reds fans with confidence.
Maybe the club would have stepped up their efforts to ensure that the deal for Yevhen Konoplyanka was sealed before the closing of the transfer window but a long list of missed targets under managing director Ian Ayre suggests otherwise.
No, Rodgers has done extremely well to continue coaxing such excellent performances out of his forwards but it is the poor planning which saw Luis Alberto, Tiago Ilori and Aspas (498 Premier League minutes played combined between them so far) join for a combined £22m this summer which will ultimately let Liverpool down in their hunt for the title.
That money could have been spent on one or two proven attacking players who could have made the difference in games like the 1-1 draw at West Brom when Sturridge, Suarez and co. struggled to break down a stubborn Baggies defence. Instead two young players who Rodgers clearly feels aren’t ready to make a significant impact on the first team right now were brought in – Alberto and Ilori have made no league starts between them while Ilori was shipped out on loan to Granada in January –as well as one, Aspas, who at 25 years of age had just one season of top-flight football under his belt.
By contrast the three squad’s which they now find themselves competing with at the top of the table have vastly superior squads with genuinely game changing options on the bench. If Chelsea are struggling to break down an opponent they have Frank Lampard, Andre Schurrle and Liverpool target Mohamed Salah on the bench. It is the same case for City. Sergio Aguero’s injured? Alvaro Negredo’s not firing? Let’s throw on Edin Dzeko or Stevan Jovetic.
Even Arsenal can turn to players like Serge Gnabry and Lukas Podolski who are not first team regulars but can genuinely expect them to have an impact. And this is with long term injuries to Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott.
Yes, these teams do also have European ties to consider and in City and Arsenal’s case domestic cup encounters, but any advantage that Liverpool might gain from their lack of knock-out action will be more than eliminated by their embarrassing lack of squad depth.
If Brendan Rodgers finds himself needing a goal in the second half of a tricky trip to St Mary’s this Saturday don’t be surprised if the only changes he makes are Allen for a tired Coutinho or a five minute Moses cameo and certainly don’t be surprised if that doesn’t yield a goal.