In what was a largely disappointing campaign last season, there was no shortage of Liverpool players who failed to impress. Of course, there were extenuating circumstances to consider in many cases, but there is no doubt that some of the big-money signings under Brendan Rodgers are now under huge pressure to perform at the level expected of them. Whilst recent acquisitions such as Clyne and Firmino will also surely feel this weight of expectation too, their presence in new surroundings should grant them the time of at least another season after this one. The expected departure of Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini and José Enrique from Merseyside is the cause for the absence of these players who would otherwise have been included. As such, I have picked out the five Liverpool players who I feel have their Anfield fate riding on a knife edge over the coming months.
The Welsh string-puller was Brendan Rodgers’ first acquisition as Liverpool manager in the summer of 2012. Having worked with him at Swansea, the Northern Irishman was intent on retaining that relationship and made it evident that Allen was the man he wanted above any other, eventually securing his signature for £15 million. Quite a way to put pressure on the diminutive midfielder who; whilst receiving praise for his passing proficiency and overall game intelligence in Swansea’s first Premier League season, had a long way to go to be up to the standards required for a regular slot in Liverpool’s first team.
Amassing 72 appearances in the three years since, it is fair to say that Allen’s career at Anfield has not been a complete flop but there have certainly been some rough patches which looked at the time to signal his exit from Merseyside. Intermittent periods of regular first-team action have served to fill fans with hope that a permanent corner has been turned but whether through injury or loss of form, he soon found himself side-lined once more.
It must be said that Allen is not completely to blame for his lack of consistency at Anfield. Rodgers does seem intent on setting up some of his players out of position; sometimes inexplicably, and the 25 year old Welsh midfielder suffers from this more than others. His attributes lie firmly in the technical aspects of the game rather than physical prowess and so when deployed incorrectly, he can appear to let the match pass him by. Allen has the rather odd and also highly frustrating knack of either being quietly outstanding or acutely awful. Either way, the result is very rarely receiving any praise at Liverpool, whether deserved or not.
For him to prolong his career in the red shirt for longer than one more year, Rodgers must play his part and allow Allen to display the characteristics that justified his transfer in the first place. With equal measures of hard work and fortune, I can see the former Swansea midfielder adding the required variation to the otherwise energetic midfield axis of Henderson and Milner.
Heralded as the young dominant centre half to be the long-term partner at the back with Mamadou Sakho for years to come, Dejan Lovren suffered a pretty awful opening year to his life at Liverpool. The Croatian caught the eye of many admirers when plying his trade at Olympique Lyonnais in Ligue 1 and when Southampton became the club to initially bring him to English shores it was seen as something of a coup. His performances for the South coast club only served to add further weight to this opinion. The fact that only a few eyebrows were raised at the magnitude of his £20 million transfer fee is now sharply juxtaposed with the current viewing of the 26 year old.
Lovren started off fairly well, with his relative comfort in possession of the ball proving a stark contrast to the nervy Sakho. So much so in fact, that some seemed to be happy initially to overlook a couple of positional errors in defence leading to goals being conceded. However, when his confidence began to plummet and Liverpool’s results followed a matching trend, even his prior quality on the ball could not shadow the now apparent defensive frailties.
Perhaps one of the more damning assessments of his first season at Anfield was the prolonged presence of Emre Can in the Liverpool team as a right-sided centre half of the three at the heart of the defence. As impressive as the young German powerhouse was for much of the latter half of the campaign, it remains a damning assessment on Lovren’s fortunes.
If one individual incident was to sum up the Croatian’s first season on Merseyside, one need not look any further than Liverpool’s exit from the Europa League at the hands of Besiktas. With the match having gone to penalties, The Reds needed to score to stay in the competition when the responsibility was handed to Dejan Lovren. The inevitable script could not have been followed more closely as his effort from 12 yards was blazed hopelessly over the crossbar.
As Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers continue to strengthen significantly in attacking areas of the pitch, there has not been much guaranteed quality added to the spine of their defence. Is this a demonstration of faith to those who performed well below par here last season; namely Lovren, and will he be given one more chance to recapture the form that secured him a move to Anfield in the first place? It seems so and hopefully; as confidence builds up around him from strong characters such as Skrtel, Sakho and Mignolet, Dejan Lovren can bask in the reflected glaze of newly found confidence and rescue his fledgling Liverpool career.
The still youthful Lazar Markovic had a difficult first season in English football, with opportunities to impress in the first team not overly frequent but even so, he did not generally blow anyone away with performances to demand a sustained run in the side. In fact, it was not until a cold Tuesday night in December at Anfield that many fans saw even a glimpse of what the Serbian star had been signed for. Coming on at half time into what was turning into a miserable match for Liverpool, Markovic was able to perform in a brief cameo before a harsh dismissal halted the excitement and belief that he had brought to the occasion.
Although it had been brought to a disappointing and premature end, Markovic’s experience in Europe that night seemed to give him the surge of confidence that proved all-important. For a run of several games in the league and domestic cup after this, he finally appeared to be the real deal. The winger showed a refreshing willingness to take the opposing full-back on. His improved form was epitomised by an extravagant volley in the form of a kung-fu kick against Sunderland where he was only the thickness of a cross-bar away from adding to his opening goal in the game. For whatever reason, whether it was the necessary intensity of English football or something more ingrained, Markovic failed to maintain this level of belief in what seems to be his natural game.
The opening game of this summer’s pre-season campaign for the Merseyside club did provide reason to be optimistic for the 21 year old’s fortunes for the months ahead. Although the match in question was only against the relatively lowly opposition making the validity of his display difficult to judge, Markovic did look to be a real live wire during the first 45 minutes against the Thai Premier League All Stars. The Serbian grabbed a well-taken early goal and generally looking dangerous throughout. Interestingly he was deployed in a nominally more central role behind a pair of front-men and given freedom to roam across the line. Whilst this decision by Rodgers’ may have been dictated by other circumstances such as the availability of players in other positions, it may provide an intriguing experiment to see how well he can operate here in the Premier League.
He has been seen previously as almost exclusively an out-and-out wide player whether off the left or right, but never really considered as a rival for the position of Coutinho and now possibly Firmino too. I don’t see him displacing either of these Brazilian wizards in the first team any time soon, so hopefully he can translate the fleeting patches of exciting form into a more consistently dangerous role on the flanks. There is a great deal of competition in attacking areas of the pitch for Liverpool given the recent influx of acquisitions in these roles and so the Serbian flyer will not have an easy ride to earn a fixed first team place. Nevertheless, I believe that he has demonstrated the raw talent that he possesses both in his first year at Anfield and previously at Benfica and so should be retained for the future regardless of immediate impact.
Brought in to Anfield as just one of the incoming onslaught from St. Mary’s, Adam Lallana suffered something of a stop-start first season at Liverpool. He initially suffered the misfortune of picking up an injury in the opening weeks of pre-season, clearly hampering not only his short-term prospects but also leaving him in a continual state of catch-up. This is increasingly unhelpful for a new recruit at a club as they try to acclimatise to new surroundings. It was not to be the only niggle that the former Southampton midfielder suffered last season, each seeming to come at moments where he was just starting to establish himself as a permanent starter for Brendan Rodgers.
Following another summer of upheaval for the red half of Merseyside, it looks as though Lallana faces a serious fight to achieve his ambition of regular first team football. Whilst he no longer has to overcome Raheem Sterling, the multi-million addition of new number eleven Roberto Firmino is likely to close off one spot in the side. Rodgers would surely have not paid such a fee for a player he intends for the bench. Of course, there is the now talismanic Philippe Coutinho who made the role behind the striker his own during the course of the last campaign. Furthermore, squad members such as Ibe and Markovic provide stiff competition should Liverpool’s manager decide to employ tactics with wide players tasked with crossing from the by-line.
It seems as though Lallana is acutely aware of the recently reinforced necessity to perform. Liverpool’s number 20 has been in fairly scintillating form for The Reds in front of goal on their pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia. With a successful strike in each of the first two matches, Lallana has demonstrated the presence of a refined cutting edge which one new he possessed from his excellence at Southampton but may have feared had deserted him in a Liverpool shirt. Both goals were surprisingly similar to one another and displayed the basis of Lallana’s primary attributes.
Awareness and game intelligence were employed to achieve the pocket of space in the build-up play. Receiving a sharp pass into feet, his consistently top quality touch killed the pace of the ball immediately. Fine balance and the ability to drop his shoulder to send the defender the wrong way granted him the required yard of space in-field that crucially allowed the time to pick his spot past the despairing dive of the goalkeeper. Translating these attributes to the pressure cooker that is Premier League football at a club rich in heritage such as Liverpool is the true test but it has to be said that the signs so far are promising. In contrast to the last campaign, a complete and productive pre-season should pay dividends for his fortunes in the coming months.
When the pocket rocket was purchased from Sevilla for £12 million, it was hoped that Alberto Moreno would finally be the man to solve Liverpool’s left-back crisis that has been all too apparent since the decline of John Arne Riise. An extended period of courting before finally securing their man represented the faith that Brendan Rodgers and his transfer committee placed in the young Spaniard.
Early matches provided glimpses of the multiple skills in the armoury of Liverpool’s number 18. The most notable of these would widely be considered to be his marauding run from his own half against Tottenham Hotspur before powering a strike past the goalkeeper’s desperate grasp. However, in many of the subsequent games, defensive frailties and indecision at vital moments began to override the benefits he brought to the side. This opinion did seem to be reflected by Rodgers’ tactical choices during games. An all too common trend was his withdrawal from the action when the Northern Irishman needed to sacrifice someone in order to bring on an attacker to chase a goal.
In the preparation time for this upcoming season, the ex-Sevilla youngster has seen a surprising and somewhat disturbing lack of action. Youth team left-back Joe Maguire and right-sided defenders supposedly below him in the pecking order; Joe Gomez and Andre Wisdom, have been granted more minutes than the young Spaniard. Rodgers has since claimed that this was in fact down to an injury which Moreno was recovering from whilst on tour with the rest of the squad. This would be more reassuring had the timing not coincided with fairly widespread rumours of interest from Italian side A.S. Roma.
I hope that these suggestions of an £8 million transfer to the Serie A team do not materialise and Alberto Moreno can cement a role in Liverpool’s first team. Strengthening the current weaker aspects of his arsenal can help contribute to an offensive danger on the flank and an improved stability in defence.
Of these five players, who do you think is in most desperate of a successful season ahead? Or do you think that there is another in the first team picture whose Anfield future is at greater risk? Let us know in the comments or on twitter @TBRFootball .
Price Match! You won’t find retro shirts cheaper than at @CampoRetro http://bit.ly/1CSHHj7