The demise of Liverpool FC has been one of the main talking points during the latter half of 2014. Their leaky defensive line from last season has only worsened and with the sale of Luis Suarez and enforced absence of Daniel Sturridge, goals to haul them out of tough spots have been hard to come by. For the vast majority of this campaign, only Sterling has remained from the SASAS trio that drove The Reds on to such heights last year.
A recent upturn in form has coincided with a switch of system to a 3-4-3 with Sterling predominantly operating in a withdrawn role at the centre of the attack. The positivity is much needed, but several problems remain unsolved and delving into the transfer market in the January window will be vital in Liverpool’s push for Champions League qualification. Not only are purchases required, but I believe that their cause will also be furthered by the sale of some of the squad; both to supply the necessary funds and to send a ruthless message.
A crucial factor for potential additions is that they hit the ground running. The Reds’ slow start to the campaign has left them without the luxury of allowing new players the time to bed in. With top 4 rivals such as Manchester United and Southampton almost certain to add quality to their respective squads in the coming weeks, Liverpool cannot afford to lose further ground in the qualifying race for Champions League football next season. Arrivals from other Premier League sides are likely to be the safest bet for both footballing and language reasons.
While world stars such as Mats Hummels and Gonzalo Higuain would improve any side, it is highly unlikely that their current career path would pass through Anfield. Therefore, the players listed below are those that I believe are realistic; both in terms of transfer fee and the attraction that Liverpool currently hold as a side without a seat at Europe’s top table for the next six months at least.
With the summer recall of Thibaut Courtois to Chelsea’s ranks, Petr Cech was always going to face an uphill battle to retain his place as the number one at Stamford Bridge. The Belgian giant had a magnificent season at the spine of a title-winning Atlértico side in 2014 and responded instantly to José Mourinho handing him the first opportunity to impress this season. Still incredibly youthful for a goalkeeper, he has not looked back and as such, the long-standing Chelsea stalwart has found playing time severely limited.
This situation at Stamford Bridge could not be more convenient for Liverpool as they lurch from one defensive howler to another. Chinks in Simon Mignolet’s armour were exposed last season, but it is not until this campaign got underway that his demise really started to take hold. Regularly misjudging crosses and generally poor distribution of the ball are not favourable attributes for a ‘keeper, but as the weight of ridicule became heavier on his shoulders with each passing week, Mignolet’s form has only worsened.
Only a fortunate reprieve in the form of an injured Australian thigh has led to a route back to the Liverpool goal after being dropped for an ‘indefinite period’, but the acquisition of Cech would be a perfect one if it could be pulled off. The Czech stopper has been a top Premier League goalkeeper for a decade and despite a horrific neck injury several seasons ago, possesses a commanding presence that so often vanishes with Mignolet between the sticks. Whether José Mourinho can be persuaded to sanction the transfer of a club servant; either on a permanent or temporary basis, to a Premier League rival remains to be seen. However, it is quite possibly the position above all others that needs most work so in my opinion, if there is an opportunity to secure Cech, they should pull out all the stops.
The Aston Villa defender has produced some solid displays this season to continue on from a highly impressive league campaign last time out. Under Louis Van Gaal at the World Cup in Brazil, Vlaar played stoically as part of a back four or three, and with the recent formation switch under Rodgers, this tactical understanding is important.
Another advantage that the no-nonsense centre-half holds is that his contract runs out in six months, thus decreasing his market value. His purchase suddenly becomes a great deal more affordable but it does come with an inevitable clamour for his signature. Should Liverpool possess sufficient appeal for the Dutchman, then the experienced defender would become an important part of shoring up The Reds’ defence. Despite the signing of Dejan Lovren; a top performer for Southampton last season, problems at the back have only worsened. The natural leadership and rugged approach that the 29 year old brings to his side is exactly what is required at Anfield, giving the confidence to gifted players further up-field to work their magic.
Another Aston Villa player who could improve Liverpool’s fortunes is midfielder Fabian Delph; touted by some as a long-term successor to the Steven Gerrard role at Liverpool. There is a long road ahead to reach that stature of course, but it is certainly not beyond his grasp. Delph is in a similar situation to club-mate Ron Vlaar; also only having 6 months of his contract remaining at the Midlands side. Indeed both have intimated that they have desires to leave and do not intend to sign an extension. Should both players be part of the same deal, a fee of £15 million has been rumoured. Should this play out, I believe it would be terrific business especially when you consider the fees paid out for Joe Allen and Mario Balotelli over the last couple of seasons.
Villa’s recent England debutant has a magnificent engine in order to keep up a high tempo from first minute to last, and a partnership with fellow Three Lion Jordan Henderson would be quite a display of running power. By combining this with his natural dribbling ability, Delph can be found in a deep-lying position one minute, before charging into the penalty area a few seconds later. Goals deriving from play like this have become something of a trademark and his eye for the spectacular has drawn praise from near and afar.
Fabian Delph does possess a wild streak when it comes to landing the odd dangerous tackle, brought to the public’s attention again recently with a straight red card against Manchester United. This would have to be tempered and toned down by Rodgers in order for Delph to prove a success at Anfield for seasons to come, but should not be eliminated completely. Wayne Rooney and Diego Costa are prime examples of top stars who have a swashbuckling disregard for opponents when victory is on the line, and living on the limit gives them the edge over their rivals. Finding the right balance; something which Rodgers has proven he has the capacity for, could bring Fabian Delph’s overall game on leaps and bounds.
If Petr Cech does indeed arrive at Anfield, then his supreme knowledge of the requirements to be a top class Premier League goalkeeper could prove invaluable to the long-term development of Simon Mignolet. At 26, the Belgian still has time on his side and his shot-stopping attributes are not in doubt.
Brad Jones on the other hand is a renowned number two, and seems to be content with this state of affairs. The former Middlesborough stopper’s best years are behind him and in my opinion, does not provide a significant upgrade compared to Mignolet in terms of his command of the penalty box. I believe that Mignolet and Cech could form a positive pairing; each with the desire to push the other and strive for improvement. This has never seemed to have been Brad Jones’ prerogative and is the opposite mentality to the one which Brendan Rodgers should seek to harbour amongst his squad.
Therefore, not only because Jones would become third choice and without a serious look-in at first team action upon Petr Cech’s arrival, but his departure could signal that genuine and consistent contribution is required for a place in the Anfield changing room.
An audible intake of breath is commonplace in the Anfield crowd when Glen Johnson is in possession of the ball. While this used to be in anticipation of a direct attack down the flank or a shot on goal, it is now in fear that he will dally on the ball and land his side in deep water. Whether it is as a result of continual uncertainty over his contract at Liverpool or just a general loss of self-belief, Johnson’s fall from grace as a marauding full-back has been astounding.
Before a recent groin injury sidelined him for a few weeks, he had held a regular place in the side even through matches against the big teams. His versatility in defence is indeed valuable to the squad as a whole, but the risk of an error far outweighs this in my view.
After a fractured start to life at Liverpool, Javier Manquillo seems to have eliminated the majority of the mistakes in his game from right-back and his youthful exuberance allows him to make up ground on attackers when necessary. To coincide with this, the return from injury of one of last season’s surprise packages; Jon Flanagan, is not too far away. He too can play on either side of the defence and is far more reliable than Glen Johnson. Furthermore, Alberto Moreno is rapidly becoming a fan favourite with his energetic approach, lung-busting sprints, and even the ability to break into the box and pick up a goal.
With six months remaining on his current Liverpool deal and an extension seeming all the more unlikely with each passing week, Rodgers should look to move Johnson on in this window. The Reds have a decent blend of youth and experience in the full-back positions and as he does not have a future at the club in my opinion, the England defender may well have played his last game in a Liverpool shirt.
Should Brendan Rodgers and FSG decide to cut their losses on Mario Balotelli, it is almost certain that they will not receive a fee anywhere close to the £16 million they shelled out for him in the summer. Even considering this financial implication, it has become fairly obvious that the former Manchester City cult hero just doesn’t suit the high tempo and pressing style of play that brought success last season and has been rekindled in recent matches.
Rodgers has said as much himself in a recent interview; warning the Italian to expect time on the sidelines. On the subject of Balotelli, Rodgers has also added that “We have seen it’s not really his game (to press defenders and run). Working with him for the period of time he’s been here, we have seen that he’s probably someone who’s better in and around the box. So that level of intensity and pressing isn’t part of his game.” Hardly encouraging words for a big money signing.
It is a damning inditement that he is sitting on the bench while Liverpool play on without a striker are on the pitch. Another summer acquisition; but only for a quarter of Balotelli’s fee, does at least provide a genuine ‘Plan B’. Rickie Lambert grafts and chases up front even when isolated; a trait that is far from frequently displayed by the enigmatic Italian. Allowing Balotelli to leave on loan would not be a wise decision in my opinion as Liverpool would probably be landed with the majority of his wages, therefore a permanent departure to pastures new should be the preferred choice.
After shock international call is Antonee Robinson a future Everton star
The defender has been in good form for Bolton Wanderers this season.
Bolton Wanderers have recently seen one of their players called up to international duty for the first time. Antonee Robinson has been included in the senior USA squad for the upcoming fixture against Paraguay
The left-back was born in Milton Keynes but his father is from New York state so qualifies for the USMNT. Robinson has previously played for the USA under-18 side and received a call-up to the under-20s but this is his first senior call.
For Everton fans, it will be a sign of the excellent work he has been putting in with the Championship strugglers. Robinson is on a season long loan at the Macron Stadium from Everton.
The 20-year-old has been a revelation for the Trotters, performing brilliantly and featuring in 26 league games this campaign. Despite recently losing his place to the more experienced Andrew Taylor it has been an excellent campaign for Robinson.
Everton must be keeping track of his development, especially considering that left-back is a position that they need to improve.
This season has seen Cuco Martina play out of position to fill the role. Leighton Baines is still an excellent operator, as he is shown since his return from injury. The issue however is that Baines seems to be picking up injuries on far to regular a basis for Everton’s liking.
Robinson therefore could be the answer on the long-term. There has been talk of Everton diving into the transfer market to fill the role but in the 20-year-old the Toffees have a potential long-term replacement.
Everton have a long history of bringing through young talent and at the moment have a queue of youngsters knocking at the first-team door.
One of those players is Robinson. Considering the problem area that is left-back, it should not be ruled out that Robinson is a potential solution to Everton’s positional trouble.
Tieumoue Bakayoko disappoints again for Chelsea against Leicester City
The Frenchman looked to struggle against his FA Cup opponents.
Tieumoue Bakayoko was one of the big-name signings for Chelsea during the summer as the club tried to push on under Antonio Conte after their Premier League triumph.
The Frenchman had been a standout player for AS Monaco during their surprise Ligue 1 winning campaign and cost the Blues a reported £40 million.
Although they are one of the richest clubs in the world, that remains a big spend and they would have been expecting a first-team ready player.
That hasn’t been the case as Bakayoko has struggled to adapt to English football and has found himself sidelined for Danny Drinkwater on several occasions.
The England international is an experienced Premier League player, but he was brought in to provide cover. It is a worry that he has been performing better than the player brought in to partner N’Golo Kante.
Chelsea managed to qualify for the semi-final of the FA Cup with an extra-time victory over Leicester City. However, Bakayoko was underwhelming once again after being brought back into the starting eleven.
He lasted until half-time before being replaced by Cesc Fabregas. During the first half, the Blues were too predictable in central midfield as neither player offered creativity from deep.
Wilfred Ndidi was arguably the best player in that area of the pitch as he dominated Bakayoko and Kante for the first-half.
The summer signing from Monaco was booked just before the break and didn’t re-emerge for the second-half. It was another disappointing performance from him as he failed to take the opportunity provided by Antonio Conte.
During the match, Bakayoko had a tackle success rate of 33% and he failed to make a single key pass to influence proceedings in the attacking half.
It was obvious that he was lacking in confidence as he often chose the simple pass and wasn’t as aggressive as the Leicester midfield players that he was competing with.
As the season has progressed, central midfield has emerged as an area of weakness for Chelsea. They often play with two defensive-minded midfielders and that makes them predictable to play against.
Last season, Nemanja Matic was more dynamic in central areas and he wasn’t afraid to step into the attacking half to contribute to attacks. The decision to sell him to a rival club now looks a huge mistake as the Blues are less effective in the middle of the park.
It was hoped that Ross Barkley would provide more energy to that position, but he has struggled with injuries since moving to Stamford Bridge. Chelsea have a difficult task to save their season, as they must finish in the top four and lift the FA Cup to restore pride.
Bakayoko needs to have a strong end to his season if he is to prove himself worthy of another chance next season. There is likely to be a new manager at Stamford Bridge with Antonio Conte’s position looking more untenable by the day.
A managerial change will lead to a squad overhaul and the 23-year-old will be one of the first to go. He doesn’t offer anything different to Kante and his compatriot is far superior in every area.
His most ardent supporters will allude to his inexperience and suggest that he needs to be given more time. However, when watching him against the 21-year-old Ndidi, it became clear that he isn’t good enough for a club like Chelsea. He was outclassed and outbattled by his younger opponent.
Since Roman Abramovich bought the club, there have been several mistakes made in the transfer market. The decision to sell Matic and sign Bakayoko was another.
Junior Stanislas winner cliches Premier League survival for Bournemouth
The Cherries came from behind to beat West Brom on Saturday.
Bournemouth fought back from 1-0 down to secure a vital three points against West Bromwich Albion, as they took a huge step towards Premier League survival.
It wasn’t the best performance from the Cherries, but one player to standout was Junior Stanislas. The winger has been in good form during recent weeks and scored the winning goal on Saturday with a superb free-kick from range.
The 28-year-old is reaching the peak years of his career and he will want to be a regular starter in the top-flight. Bournemouth are a good fit for him, as there are no superstars and the team is greater than the sum of its parts. There are sprinklings of quality throughout and Stanislas is one of the players that can produce moments of brilliance on the pitch.
During the second half of the season, he has been one of the key attacking elements for Bournemouth. He has scored four goals in his last seven Premier League matches, but the one on Saturday was the most important of those as it was directly responsible for the win.
There were only minutes remaining and the chance came from a free-kick that was a long way out. Stanislas showed great confidence to take a shot and the resulting goal will go down as one of the best in his career to date.
The overall performance from Stanislas was a positive one, as he worked hard and contributed in both halves of the pitch from the left wing. The 28-year-old completed two dribbles and made one key pass during the contest, while his pass completion rate was 80%.
He was effective in possession and rarely gave the ball away, which aided the team’s attacking play. In addition to his goal, the winger offered a threat for the entire game and had four attempts on goal. This was the joint-most of any player on the pitch.
Eddie Howe demands total commitment from his players and everyone is expected to contribute to the defensive effort. Stanislas certainly did that on Saturday as he completed both of his attempted tackles. It is important for the wingers to work back and help their full-backs in a 4-4-2 formation. Both Stanislas and Jordon Ibe did their bit for the team.
With their victory over West Brom, Bournemouth moved into the top ten of the Premier League and sit on 36 points. That should put an end to their relegation worries, as they are eight points clear of the bottom three with only seven matches left to play. Although the Cherries have been in the top-flight for three seasons now, it remains a huge achievement to stay in the division given the size of the club.
The success has been due to the team spirit and players stepping up to the highest level. Stanislas is a great example of that, as he has spent the majority of his career in the Football League. He helped Bournemouth get promoted and has continued to improve since the club arrived in the Premier League. Now he is one of the Cherries’ best players and moments like his goal on Saturday reflect that.
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