Which areas does Brendan Rodgers need to strengthen this summer?
Even the most ardent Liverpool fan could not have expected this season to have played out as well as it has done. After a promising; if mistake-ridden, start to his tenure as Liverpool, the signs were undeniably good but a great deal of progress was required to even maintain a concerted challenge for a top four finish. Indeed, securing Champions League football at Anfield was the primary realistic aim when the first ball was kicked in August. Anything more was the stuff of dreams.
But ever since then, Liverpool under Rodgers have gone from strength to strength at a breath-taking rate. In the first few games without Suarez available for selection, they adopted a more pragmatic approach with several 1-0 victories in succession. However, few could have foreseen the transformation into the fast-passing, free-scoring title contenders that they would become.
Regardless of whether the Reds do go on to lift the trophy in May, the season can be regarded as a complete success and continuing the progress next year should be the main objective. In order to achieve this, there are several additions and alterations that need to be made to the squad to cope with an increased number of games that the Champions League demands.
In order to produce more consistent displays, the primary point of concern would have to be the defence. After a flurry of clean sheets at the start of the term, the defending has been less than convincing on multiple occasions. Enrique wasn’t at his best before suffering a season-ending injury, Touré is too mistake-prone, and Cissokho reminds me far too much of the legendary Djimi Traoré. With Johnson’s contract situation far from sorted, bringing in at least one top class full-back is essential. As great as young Flanagan has been, you have to believe that his form will dip at some stage, and in any case, more quality cover is required.
In a perfect world, I would love to see them sign Luke Shaw but I can’t see that deal realistically going through. I foresee Brendan scouring La Liga to find a relatively unknown left-back with the potential to shape them into his footballing philosophy. Wisdom’s form has been promising at Derby County while on loan and I can only hope that a full pre-season will give Martin Kelly’s career the boost it needs. The utility man from Barcelona; Adriano, has been rumoured but I think Rodgers would prefer a more youthful feel to his signings.
As Agger and Skrtel age slightly further, centre-half should also be a position looked at over summer. I imagine Kolo Touré will leave and with Sakho undoubtedly seen as a long-term option, Denmark’s talismanic captain may see first-team opportunities becoming increasingly limited. Personally I would love to see him stay but he may be gently pushed out of the exit door. Tiago Ilori; currently on loan at Spanish outfit Granada, is highly regarded at Anfield and will probably be hoping for more of a chance next season. If funds are felt to be better spent in better areas, an experienced head to help the dressing room might be the prime choice.
It would perhaps be prudent to start considering a long-term replacement for Steven Gerrard if that is not what Rodgers has in mind for Henderson. The former Sunderland man has come on leaps and bounds this season, adding quality to his lung-busting style. Either way, quality cover is needed in the middle of the park with Lucas still having to manage niggles all too frequently. Someone of the ilk of Fernando from Porto or Yann M’Vila would be just what is needed.
Coutinho’s creativity is vital to the fluidity of the team as he provides the necessary link-up to the attack. Hopefully the returning Suso can combine with Luis Alberto to give other options. This area is not one to be greatly concerned with I believe, assuming Rodgers sees enough from the aforementioned Spaniards in the early part of the season.
The forward line is probably what has defined Liverpool’s success this year as the SAS have been unplayable on more occasions than not. Sterling’s contribution should also not be undervalued. However, if you look below these three, there is a frightening lack of depth and quality. The loan move of Moses has not been a success, and the same has to be said about Iago Aspas.
The good news is that both Assaidi and Borini have shown more of what they are about whilst on loan. Should Rodgers ever want to play a formation incorporating width, they currently do not possess the personnel to carry this out successfully I believe. Can Assaidi solve this? Probably not. So a permanent replacement here is probably best. With Champions League football at Anfield returning next season, hopefully players of the ability of Antoine Griezemann and El Shaaraway could be attracted.
Rodgers clearly admires Aspas’ attitude; repeatedly praising his work ethic in training but Liverpool need a bit more from a front man now. Depending on the funds available, a £20 million forward could be just what is required to maintain a challenge on multiple fronts. With Benfica’s Rodrigo rumoured recently, it could be that they begin next season with attacking options of Suarez, Sturridge, Rodrigo and Borini to push for glory at home and in Europe.
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