Following the passing of the annual January transfer window, some thoughts turn to summer with regard to who Liverpool need, who they want, who they can afford and of course, who they can get.
The first name on most pairs of lips will of course be Thomas Ince. Fitting the “profile” of being young and English and seemingly wanting to move back to Anfield, Rodgers will likely make another move for him, armed with some funds from the likely sale of Andy Carroll.
However, given the recent arrival in attacking options with Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, the focus in strengthening the squad must now shift to reinforcing the defence.
During the past 18 months, the Reds have been rightly maligned for the failure to take chances and win games that they dominate in terms of both possession and chances created. By viewing the majority of Brendan’s buys to date (Sturridge, Coutinho, Borini, Assaidi), it’s clear that the manager identified this as the area of the team that needed the most attention.
Given the amount of focus on the misfiring attack, the defence has pretty much, until recently, managed to escape any such criticism. Looking through the entire defence, it could be argued that significant spending is needed to strengthen each position.
Due to his latest error costing 2 points against Man City at the weekend, many have added to calls for Pepe Reina to be sold. Looking back over the past few seasons, Reina has seen world-class players such as Torres, Alonso and Mascherano leave Liverpool to advance their careers and this appears to have had a profound affect on him. Aside from such well-publicised errors against Man City and in the early-season against Hearts, Reina’s kicking ability has also suffered. Previously assured with both feet, he’s often seen berating himself after sending first-time kicks out of play when he’s been able to take a touch.
To sum Reina up in one sentence: He doesn’t look happy. A move away from Anfield, probably back to Barcelona or Atletico Madrid may reinvigorate Pepe and see him push his competitors for the Spain #1 Jersey, Messrs Casillas and Valdes (both at their own crossroads) coming into World Cup season. While it appears accepted that Pepe will leave in the summer, he’ll obviously need to be replaced and given the failure of Brad Jones to inspire confidence, it may be that 2 goalkeepers end up coming in.
Possibly Liverpool’s strongest position in terms of numbers but still not without concerns. Glen Johnson is enjoying his best season in a red shirt; defensively he isn’t caught out of position as much and is as ever dangerous on his forward runs but what about cover for him?
No questions over his ability, but with his injury record, contract stand off and preference to play centre back, his future in the position and at the club remains to be seen.
Solid and consistent without being spectacular Appears assured in possession, strong, quick and disciplined but another centre back by trade. Is he malleable into a long-term full back or just a stop gap?
Impressive and fearless at first but with more appearances seemed to come more nerves and with them a bunch of reckless yellow cards and looking really out of his depth. At 20, a loan season to a newly-promoted team or a Championship team next term would give him much-needed first team game time.
On face value, centre back appears to be well-covered, with two 28-year old established internationals with 5 years at the club, the stalwart who would run through fire for the club and the youngster who has won honours at international level before the age of 21.
Delving deeper, the problems become more evident
Danny Wilson (why is he even getting a mention?)
Came to the club a full international and title-winner, never really seemed up for the fight to get into the team, so much so even appeared overweight during pre-season. He won’t be missed when his contract runs out in the summer.
Faced with an uphill task trying to dislodge those more experienced in front of him, Seb has had to wait patiently for his chances. When he has played, Coates has shown a lack of urgency, and despite his stature, appears easily intimidated and often bullied all to easily, especially against Oldham. With an eye on the World Cup, he’ll seek first team football and likely will move on in the summer.
Martin Skrtel & Daniel Agger
Good defenders on their day but great defenders? It was clear that when Rafa bought these he wanted to pair the fierce, strong in the tackle Slovak with the footballing, able to bring the ball forward Dane. This season, until Carragher was brought back into the fold, Agger and Skrtel seemed to be playing within themselves, as if knowing that their positions in the team were secure, regardless of how they played.
Despite having arguably his best season at Liverpool last term, Skrtel has often regressed into committing those rash challenges or trying to win those tackles that just aren’t winnable. With regard to Daniel, when people talk about his traits, usually defending isn’t the first that is mentioned. Daniel is “the new Alan Hansen”, he can bring the ball out of defence and has a good left foot and a great shot. While great attributes for any defender, surely the ability to defend should be first on any list when praising such players. Liverpool have seen better defenders in the past and should the tattooed twosome move on this summer, may see some better next season.
At 35, Jamie is the same age as Sami Hyypia when he was allowed to leave for Leverkusen. The same cannot be allowed to happen to the player who has played more times for Liverpool than all but one man. While like Sami, Jamie may not be able to play 40-50+ games a season, he is where he should be in the squad: 3rd – 4th choice and covering for injuries and loss of form to the first-choice centre backs. You know what you get with Jamie, 100% commitment, organisation and leadership of the defence (which should have been picked up from those above) but he is not without fault. Given the philosophy of Rodgers to be able to start moves from the back, Carra doesn’t represent a long-term option here. Never the most comfortable with the ball at his feet, he’s been seen many a time and oft in doing that little skip before hoofing it up the field and for this reason, above his age, he’ll never start many games under Rodgers. That said, Carragher still has a huge role to play in the dressing room and on the training pitch, before eventually moving into a coaching role within the club.
Since the departure of John Arne Riise, left back has represented a huge problem for Liverpool. Fabio Aurelio was a good defender but due to injury was never able to show his best form in a red shirt while players like Dossena and Insua were both clearly not up to the task of playing in the Premier League and have both long gone. Nevertheless, both were streets ahead of Paul Konchesky.
Although hampered by injuries this season, Enrique’s performances when he has played have gladly mirrored those from the early part of last season and not those after Christmas. He has been solid in defence and his attacking play has remained a strong part of his game, so much so that he was able to score his first Liverpool goal and only his 2nd in English football when being played as part of the front 3 early in the season. It is when the Spaniard has been injured that the problems at left back have been exposed again with the lack of quality, experienced, specialised cover has been found wanting.
When Jose is missing this actually represents the loss 2 attacking full backs. Glen Johnson has mostly been deployed to left back in Jose’s absence but doesn’t carry the same threat going forward on the left as he does on the right. In addition, there remains the task to replace England’s right back which only compromises the team in that position.
Good on the ball and with it comfortable in the attacking half, Jack has been found wanting when put under pressure on the back foot and as with Flanaghan, would probably benefit from regular first-team football.
Quite what the defence will look like next season is anyone’s guess, especially as there have been so few defenders linked with moves to Anfield but don’t be surprised if there are a number of comings and goings come this Summer.