Could a second loan move revitalise Lazar Markovic's Liverpool career?
The summer of 2014 could well go down as the worst in Liverpool’s illustrious history.
The club had just finished second in the Premier League, missing out on the title in heartbreaking fashion after a slip up against Chelsea lost them the top spot that eleven consecutive victories had previously given them. The title was all but gone by the time they played Crystal Palace eight days later, but the Reds were dead and buried after throwing away a 3-0 lead to the rampant Eagles.
Still, the club had finished second in an exciting flurry of 101 goals and perhaps the most lethal partnership in Premier League history. Excitement was building that the Reds would go one better the season following and secure a first title since 1990.
That did not happen. First of all, Luis Suarez departed. A £65 million exit that was virtually ratified when he bit Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup. The experienced Daniel Agger was inexplicably allowed to return to Denmark on a free transfer. Daniel Sturridge picked up an early injury and barely recovered that season.
Rodgers’ answer to these issues was far from perfect. Eight new faces arrived (excluding Divock Origi, who returned to Lille on loan) for a total of over £100 million. Of those eight, three were unmitigated disasters; Rickie Lambert barely played, Javier Manquillo never looked like a good enough right-back, and the less said about the £16 million spent on Mario Balotelli the better. Alberto Moreno is still at the club but about as popular as a hamstring tear.
Adam Lallana and Emre Can have done well, without being world class, and Dejan Lovren has eventually grown into a decent defender, but is nowhere near consistent enough to warrant the £20 million spent on him.
Then, there’s Lazar Markovic. Currently, he fits into the category of flops. One season, spent mostly on the bench or out of position at right wing-back allowed the Serb to show promise without real quality. Last term, he was loaned to Fenerbahce, where he spent much of the season out injured, failing to make a real impact.
Jurgen Klopp is undecided on the player, and has chosen to send him on loan to Sporting Lisbon, securing a reunification with former boss Jorge Jesus, in order to assess whether Markovic is good enough to make it at Anfield.
Although early indications suggest that Markovic’s career on Merseyside may be over, there are plenty of factors to consider that might indicate this move is really just a temporary switch.
For a start, Markovic is still only 22. The improvement he showed at Benfica as a teenager was remarkable, and he became an important member of the squad that reached the Europa League final in 2014, although he didn’t play in the penalty shoot-out defeat to Sevilla. At this point, he was considered one of the most talented young attackers in European football, and Liverpool shelled out £20 million to see off the challenge of other clubs for his services. That talent is still there, and there is plenty of time to develop it.
Still, his time at Anfield did little to suggest that he was going to live up to the billing. 19 Premier League appearances yielded just two goals. Playing at wing-back wasn’t too helpful in the short term (he scored one of his goals in the single game he played in a front three against Spurs), but Raheem Sterling was looking far more impressive at an even younger age at this time. Markovic just didn’t shine, and still hasn’t made much of an impression on the fans.
There are also questions about how well suited he is to Jurgen Klopp’s style. Markovic has lightning pace, which does fit in with the German’s philosophy, as Sadio Mane has brutally shown opposing defenders in his first handful of Liverpool games, but is Markovic really good enough to have the same sort of impact. He doesn’t quite have the power or the finishing finesse of Mane. As a back-up, he could do a job, but his first team prospects look very limited.
In short, Markovic must return to Portugal and prove to the watching Liverpool management that he still possesses the same ability and potential that he had when he was at Benfica. Markovic is still a talented boy, and could turn into a real star, but he will need a stellar loan spell with Sporting to force his way back into the first team picture. This is a big season for the Serb.
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