With the twin pillars of Premier League and Champions League to contend with this season, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers knew he needed to bolster his threadbare squad over the summer, with the Reds’ lack of depth undermining their assault on the title last term. The Irishman didn’t disappoint, signing no fewer than nine players for the club and swiftly reinvesting the fee commanded for Luis Suarez, but has the addition of bodies been worth the loss of the club’s most gifted footballer?
Rickie Lambert (£4m from Southampton)
With speculation over the future of Suarez at fever pitch even before the World Cup and his unfortunate encounter with Giorgio Chiellini, Rodgers realised the need to bring in cover up front for Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, with Iago Aspas clearly not up to the task. The summer cherry-picking of Southampton began with the acquisition of veteran striker Lambert for a discount fee. It made for a fairytale story for the new arrival, a boyhood Liverpudlian who bided his time in the lower reaches of English football before hitting the big time with the Saints. Two prolific Premier League seasons on the south coast persuaded Rodgers that he was an ideal signing for LFC.
Straight away it appeared to be very good business by last season’s runners-up. They were getting a proven scorer in this league and one who would undoubtedly be fully committed to the club he has adored since childhood, as well as addressing that need for another striker. Lambert, though, is in the autumn of his career and is more likely to be used as an impact substitute this term, his goal-poaching nature and six-foot-plus stature making him more of a target man than a roving forward. We are not likely to see a whole lot of him in the months ahead, although it is definitely encouraging to have him to call upon if a game needs changing with 20-25 minutes to go.
Adam Lallana (£25m from Southampton)
July began with another raid on Southampton, this time for their inspirational midfielder, the real driving force in the club’s rise from League One to top eight of the Premier League. His exquisite passing ability and keen eye for a few goals made him an ideal fit for Rodgers’ Liverpool, even if he didn’t stand out at England’s dismal World Cup. Considering his long-standing loyalty to the Saints, it would have taken something major for him to depart St Mary’s, so his decision to relocate to Merseyside clearly indicates that a player in the peak of his career intends to prove that he can shine at one of the country’s top clubs.
I was jubilant when I heard that Lallana was on his way to Liverpool. He had been consistently brilliant for Southampton ever since breaking into their first team in 2008-09 when the club was in turmoil and, despite showing that his talent deserved a bigger stage than League One, he was determined to help the Saints back into the top flight. He proved in two Premier League seasons that he is well cut out for football at the highest level and, after missing the start of the new campaign through injury, he should feature in the Reds’ next game at home to Aston Villa on 13 September. Even with the wealth of creative midfield options at Anfield, Lallana looks set to stand out.
Emre Can (£9.75m from Bayer Leverkusen)
The German midfielder of Turkish descent blossomed under ex-Liverpool legend Sami Hyypia at Bayer Leverkusen last season, featuring with distinction in a team that reached the last 16 of the Champions League. The highly-rated 20-year-old became Rodgers’ third summer signing in early July and, while perhaps not familiar to many English fans, observers of the Bundesliga realised that Liverpool were getting a hugely prodigious young talent.
Can is regarded as a defensive midfielder by trade, but he is not afraid to bomb further up the field to good effect. He has been compared in his adopted country to Michael Ballack and Bastian Schweinsteiger for his capability to carry out both attack-minded and safety-first midfield functions. His game time with Liverpool has thus far been sporadic, although he gave a fine account of himself in his substitute appearance at Tottenham on Sunday. His best days are yet to come and, with the possible glut of fixtures opening the door for squad rotation, Can should develop his game even further under the careful tutelage of Rodgers.
Lazar Markovic (£19.8m from Benfica)
The young Serbian was impressive in Benfica’s run to the Europa League final last season, only to miss the penalty shoot-out defeat to Sevilla through suspension, and Liverpool beat off other suitors to entice him to Merseyside. The 20-year-old’s considerable acceleration should make him well suited to the fast-paced nature of Premier League football and he appears to fit the profile of the type of player that Rodgers likes – a rough diamond to be moulded to measure and a lively, energetic footballer.
Markovic strikes me as a real gamble, though. Liverpool fans will recall the summer of 2010 when they signed a highly recommended Serbian midfielder called Milan Jovanovic, who was one of several Roy Hodgson purchases that flopped dismally at Anfield. The youngster also faces stiff competition for a place in the team given his role as an attacking midfielder, although Rodgers did not spend almost £20m on him to admire the scenery that Liverpool has to offer. It’s difficult to predict how he will fare at the Reds.
Dejan Lovren (£20m from Southampton)
It was no secret that Liverpool’s defensive frailties let them down at the worst possible time in 2013/14, so a commanding centre-back was bound to be among Rodgers’ priorities over the summer. He went to Southampton yet again to plunder Lovren, who in his sole season on the south coast was a smash hit for the Saints. Liverpool fans were aware of his danger at set pieces, too, after his winning goal at Anfield in the early weeks of 2013/14.
The Croat arrived on Merseyside with prior experience of both the Premier League and the Champions League, the latter gained during his time with Lyon. He is comfortable in possession of the ball, a trait that Rodgers very much likes, and takes charge at the heart of defence. Even though he is only in the door, he has not been afraid to bark instructions at his fellow defenders, and already Liverpool’s back four looks rather more steady with him as part of it. £20m is a substantial fee for a defender, but if it helps to plug the one gap that thwarted the Reds time and again last season, it will be a very worthwhile investment.
Divock Origi (£10m from Lille, on loan to Lille for this season)
The Belgian was practically unheard of prior to being selected in his country’s World Cup squad, but he suddenly became hot property after his exploits in Brazil, including a late winning goal against Russia in the group stage. The teenager signed for Liverpool at the end of July, but as part of the £10m deal he was immediately loaned back to Lille for the duration of the 2014/15 season.
It seemed a strange course of action on first hearing but on further reflection it appears to be the best option for all parties. Origi will get regular first team football, something that would have been hard to come by at Anfield, Lille get the services of a hugely gifted striker for another season and Liverpool will then have ownership of a much more rounded footballer for what is likely to seem a bargain fee.
Javier Manquillo (two-year loan from Atletico Madrid)
It wasn’t just at centre-back that Liverpool were ripe for the picking last season; the right side of defence was also mooted as a problem position for the Reds. Rodgers pulled off a fine coup by securing the services of 20-year-old Manquillo for a couple of seasons on loan from Atletico Madrid. In his first few games in a Liverpool shirt, the young Spaniard has already looked impressive. He has an adept positional sense, he reads the game brilliantly and he is sensible in his use of the ball. Even at his tender age, he already looks a far more accomplished wing-back than many other more experienced Premier League operators in a similar role.
The two-year loan also gives Liverpool the services of Manquillo for a lengthy enough spell of time for him to become a staple of the side and blossom as a player. Early indications are that Rodgers has got this one spot on.
Alberto Moreno (£12m from Sevilla)
Liverpool had been linked with the Spanish left-back for a considerable part of the summer before tying up a £12m deal on the opening day of the Premier League season. He didn’t make the most convincing debut in a red shirt, his lack of alertness being pounced upon by Stevan Jovetic for Man City’s first goal in a 3-1 win, but Moreno went some way to redeeming himself with his performance against Tottenham a week later, scoring a superb goal to round off a magnificent day for Liverpool after a 50-yard dash along the left wing.
Like Manquillo, one of the most encouraging facets of his game is his intelligence, particularly for a 22-year-old, as well as his sheer pace, which can be used to good effect for going forward as well as the vital tracking back. Even with Jose Enrique back to fitness, the left-back position looks like Moreno’s for the foreseeable future.
Mario Balotelli (£16m from AC Milan)
The most eye-catching of Liverpool’s nine summer signings was the very last one. For a young player, Balotelli has done quite a lot in his career, both good and bad. The less desirable aspects of his character have been well documented, and he can be incredibly frustrating when he saunters through games when not in the mood, but when he is on song, the Italian striker is almost unplayable. The reaction amongst Liverpool fans to his arrival has been highly enthusiastic, which would indicate recognition of his wonderful ability trumping his catalogue of misdemeanours.
Balotelli had a quiet debut against Tottenham but still showed glimpses of what he can offer over the course of the season. He is the third big-name striker that Liverpool need should anything happen to Sturridge or Lambert while Origi is out on loan and he has shown that he can perform in the big competitions. Also, Rodgers would not have signed him if he didn’t think that the player could be moulded into the team to good effect, despite his rap sheet. A gamble, but one that has the potential to repay Liverpool in spades.
Liverpool’s summer additions consist of a right-back, centre-back, left-back, defensive midfielder, two attack-minded midfielders and three strikers (one gone out on loan). That is a very healthy spread across the pitch and, with the majority of players leaving the club surplus to requirements, gives the Reds some much-needed depth as they aim to juggle another bid for the Premier League title with a decent run in the Champions League.
Rodgers is now spoiled for choice in midfield and attack, as well as having two capable goalkeepers and a reassuring back four. There is still the question of where Liverpool can turn if their first-choice defenders fall victim to injury, while the manager will have a job on his hands trying to keep the plethora of midfielders happy. It also remains to be seen if they can compensate for the absence of Suarez, but the overall verdict on Liverpool’s transfer activity is that Rodgers has moved to address the areas of the squad that needed attention, as well as giving himself some welcome selection headaches, which makes a substantial change from previous years.
It’s crunch time for Stoke City under Paul Lambert
The next two months are crucial for the future of Stoke City.
There are only eight games left of the Premier League season and with Manchester City running away with the Premier League title the attention now turns to the race for survival.
Stoke City began the season celebrating their tenth consecutive year as a top-flight club and yet the campaign could ultimately culminate in relegation to the Sky Bet Championship.
The warning signs were there in the summer when star winger Marko Arnautovic forced through a transfer to West Ham United and claimed that the Potters ‘lacked ambition’, something that the club hierarchy strenuously denied before forcing Mark Hughes to be reliant on free transfers and loan signings.
The further departure of club stalwarts such as Jonathan Walters and Glen Whelan was also a loss in the dressing room and behind the scenes, if not necessarily on the pitch.
The campaign actually got off to a promising start as Stoke secured four points from their opening two home fixtures against Arsenal and Manchester United, but the wheels quickly began to fall off.
Hughes had opted to deploy a new look 3-4-3 formation and, despite some early success, it soon became apparent that the Potters did not have the personnel or quality to make the system work.
The sight of Mame Biram Diouf, a striker by trade, stranded as a wingback pretty much summarises the tactical naivety of Hughes and his unwillingness to revert to a back four, despite poor results, saw the club slip into the relegation zone.
Ultimately, it has been Stoke’s inability to defend that has underpinned their demise this season.
At one stage, the Potters had the unenviable record of possessing the worst defensive record of any club in the top flight of European football, whilst only West Ham United have conceded more goals or kept fewer clean sheets in the Premier League this season.
Mark Hughes was dismissed in late January after Stoke City had been knocked out of the FA Cup by fourth-tier Coventry City and were stranded in the Premier League relegation zone.
There is little doubt that the Potters were correct to part ways with the Welshman, although in hindsight the club hierarchy had remained too loyal for too long.
Stoke’s attempt to hire a successor was chaotic, disorganised and became something of a soap opera.
Gary Rowett was the first manager to publically turn down the job after being approached and was swiftly followed by Quique Sánchez Flores, who conducted a swift U-turn within twenty-four hours of reportedly agreeing to leave Espanyol, and Martin O’Neil.
Stoke supporters were eventually left with the uninspiring appointment of Paul Lambert who, quite clearly, was nobodies first choice for the role.
The former Aston Villa and Wolverhampton Wanderers boss has certainly had a positive impact since arriving in the final weeks of January and has undoubtedly made the team more organised and harder to beat.
However, Lambert has overseen just one win in seven fixtures, at a time when the club are desperate for points, despite having been handed a favourable run of fixtures that included Huddersfield Town, Watford, Brighton, Bournemouth, Southampton and Leicester City.
The 48-year-old will need to stimulate a dramatic improvement in results of The Potters are going to have any hope of avoiding the drop.
On paper, the current Stoke City squad consists of a core contingent of proven international players that should have the quality and experience to pull away from the relegation zone.
Jack Butland, who is vying to be England’s first choice goalkeeper, Kurt Zouma, one of the most highly rated young defenders in Europe, Joe Allen, a central midfielder of undoubted quality, and Swiss superstar Xherdan Shaqiri make up the spine of the starting eleven, whilst Moritz Bauer and Badou Ndiaye arrived in January to add further quality.
However, there is an obvious lack of creativity in the current squad and the responsibility for facilitating goal scoring opportunities rests solely on the shoulders of Shaqiri.
In addition to this, Stoke lack a proven goal scorer with Mame Biram Diouf (inconsistent), Peter Crouch (one dimensional) and Saido Berahino (who has yet to score in over two years) the only options at Paul Lambert’s disposal.
This imbalance in the squad has been reflected in recent results. Since Lambert’s arrival in late-January Stoke have lost just once in seven games, against the champions-elect Manchester City, and have kept three clean sheets in the process.
However, in the same period, they have only won once, in Lambert’s first match against Huddersfield Town, and have found the net just five times – three of which were provided by Shaqiri.
It is the lack of creativity and goals that is undermining any shoots of recovery at the Bet365 Stadium.
Everton (H), Arsenal (A), Tottenham (H), West Ham United (A), Burnley (H), Liverpool (A), Crystal Palace (H) and Swansea City (A).
Stoke City have a semi-difficult run of fixtures but there are certainly opportunities to accumulate points over the closing weeks of the season.
Home games against Everton, Crystal Palace and Swansea City are ‘must win’ based on the fact that the Potters have the worst away record in England, having won just once on their travels this campaign, but trips to Olympic Stadium and the Liberty Stadium could provide a chance to rectify that.
Fundamentally, if Stoke can get to the final two games of the season and still be in with a chance of securing safety then they will be relatively pleased. It could all come down to the last day of the season with a mouth-watering fixture against Swansea.
Will They Survive?
Although Paul Lambert has certainly had a positive impact since being appointed in late-January, making the team more organised and harder to beat, it is difficult to see where Stoke City will secure the three or four wins required to guarantee safety.
The Potters have won just six games all season and the lack of creativity throughout the side and the absence of a proven striker leaves you wondering where the goals are going to come from.
There is certainly still hope for Stoke supporters, but Lambert will need to facilitate a dramatic improvement in performances if he is to guide the club to safety.
It will be an achievement if he can get the Potters to the final two games of the season, against Crystal Palace and Swansea City, and still be in with a chance of surviving.
Paul Dummett’s Wales snub will please Newcastle United fans
The Welshman turned down an international call-up this week.
Paul Dummett has been one of the standout players for Newcastle United this season and his performances haven’t passed Ryan Giggs by.
The new Wales National Team manager has admitted that he has spoken to the left-back with a view to a return to the squad. The Chronicle reported the following quotes:
“I had a conversation with Paul Dummett, because he hasn’t been in the last few squads, and he just felt that it wasn’t the right time to come back.
“He wanted to concentrate on his Newcastle career which I have to respect, and we move on.
“He (Dummett) said that he wanted to concentrate on Newcastle’s relegation fight so I have to respect that at the moment. In the future we will wait and see.”
That will be music to the ears of Newcastle supporters and Rafa Benitez, as Dummett has emerged as a key player for the team since his return from injury.
This season in the Premier League, the Magpies have conceded only 13 times in the 12 matches that the 26-year-old has started.
That underlines how effective he has been and his importance to the team’s chances of staying in the top-flight.
Although he may not be the most exciting player to watch, Dummett is very good at carrying out a role for the team and it is no surprise that he has become one of Benitez’s most trusted lieutenants.
The Spanish manager enjoys to coach players that listen and carry out his instructions to the letter and his left-back certainly fits under that description.
A quick look at the stats shows how rounded Dummett is as a defender.
He averages 2.83 ball recoveries, 0.78 blocks and 6.85 clearances per ninety minutes. Meanwhile, he is very good in the air as shown by his aerial duels win rate of 57.41%.
He was once a scapegoat for Newcastle supporters and the focus of anger when things weren’t going well. The reason for that was his lack of technical skill, which would make him stand out on the pitch.
However, that side of his game has developed and he is now serviceable in possession. Dummett isn’t going to be cutting sides open with his attacking threat down the left, but he understands his own limitations and that has seen him improve as a player.
The 26-year-old has been part of Wales squads in the past, but he has only played once for his country and his lack of game-time may be a reason why he stepped away from the international arena.
Last summer, Newcastle issued a statement to explain why Dummett withdrew from the squad for the World Cup qualifier against Serbia, which featured the following quote:
“After a gruelling campaign with the Magpies, in which he played through the pain barrier on several occasions, 25-year-old Dummett is keen to recharge his batteries and spend time with his family and friends in order to ensure he is at peak form and fitness for his hometown team’s return to the Premier League and what promises to be a big campaign for both him and the club.
“He has been supported in his decision by Newcastle boss Rafa Benítez.
“However, Dummett – who has represented his country from youth level all the way to the senior team – has not closed the door on his international career and hopes to represent the Dragons again in the future.”
It is clear that Newcastle is the priority for Dummett, but it is interesting that he refused to close the door on Wales last summer.
A managerial change since then may lead to further opportunities for the left-back and it is easy to see why Giggs has already reached out to him.
The Newcastle full-back has developed into a Premier League calibre player under Benitez and he will offer an upgrade on the options currently in the Wales squad.
For him, as a player, it may be beneficial to play international football and gain experience at the highest level. Although he didn’t agree to come back at this time, it would be a surprise if he doesn’t return to the fold in the near future. Both parties would benefit from that.
Salif Sane is the centre-back Everton must sign in the summer
The Senegal defender has been in fine form for Hannover 96 this season.
Salif Sane may not be a player well known to many fans in England, but this season he has emerged as a superstar in German football.
The 27-year-old has been in incredible form for Hannover 96 this season. According to the stats aggregator, WhoScored, Sane is rated as the second-best player in the Bundesliga, with only Bayern Munich’s James Rodriguez ahead of him.
His form should surely have caught the eye of Everton.
The Toffees have had a torrid time defensively this season.
Ashley Williams has been in awful form and has lost the backing of fans with his recent red card versus Burnley.
Michael Keane has struggled to replicate his Burnley form at Goodison Park.
Phil Jagielka’s age is catching up with him whilst Mason Holgate has been erratic.
The less said about loan signing Eliaquim Mangala the better. With Ramiro Funes Mori sidelined for most of the campaign, Everton have leaked goals.
Sane could be the perfect plug.
The Senegal defender, who came through the ranks at Bordeaux and later Nancy, is exactly what Everton need.
Sane is a no-nonsense defender whose main aim is to keep out goals. Defending is his first priority.
One area of his game where he is imperious is in the air. Not many players beat the 6ft 5 ins powerhouse in an aerial battle.
This season has been a breakthrough campaign for Sane.
This summer he will be in the Senegal squad at the World Cup in Russia, with plenty expected of a side containing the likes of Sadio Mane and Keita Balde Diao.
Sane would join his international colleague Idrissa Gana Gueye at Everton and would arrive more than capable of finally steadying the ship in Everton’s woefully inept defensive unit.
If not Sane, then someone else, but it is fair to say not many players in Everton’s price-range would be able to have the impact the Senegal defender might if given the chance.
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