Grading Liverpool's Transfer Activity
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.