The transfer window is a time of hope, disappointment, outrage and expectancy for football fans. Liverpool fans have come to eye transfer windows suspiciously, fearing a lack of activity and overspending on ‘panic buys’ in equal measure. The Andy Carroll misadventure and failure to sign a striker last summer remain fresh in the memory despite the excellent additions of Philipe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge in January, so Kopites went into this window highly strung.
Brendan Rodgers had said he wanted to get his business done early, and duly acquired Simon Mignolet, Kolo Toure, Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas, but the consensus was that these were players bought to provide competition, rather than strengthen the first eleven.
Failed attempts to sign Henrikh Mkhitaryan, then Diego Costa, and finally Willian left many Liverpool fans enraged, before the deadline day signings of Mamadou Sakho, Tiago Ilori and Victor Moses made them look just a little bit silly, but what of Liverpool’s summer transfer business overall, and what to the players acquired add to the squad? Here’s my summary of Liverpool’s eight transfer signings this summer.
It’s impossible to write about the arrival of Simon Mignolet without mentioning the now on loan at Napoli Pepe Reina. For the first few years of Reina’s Liverpool career, he was undoubtedly on of the world’s very best keepers, up there with Gianluigi Buffon, Petr Čech and his compatriot, Iker Casillas. He won the Premier League Golden Glove award three seasons running from 05-06 until 07-08 while keeping a remarkable 57 clean sheets.
At his best, Reina was an all-round goalkeeper with ball-control and distribution as good as many outfield players. It’s difficult to say what caused Reina’s drop-off in form. Did the departures of manager Rafa Benitez and teammates Alonso, Mascherano and Torres unsettle him? Or perhaps having played at the top end of football since a very young age for a goalkeeper he just didn’t have the desire to be at his best in a struggling team? Either way, Reina’s shot-stopping suffered and he gained weight, which slows a keeper’s reactions.
At his lowest point during the start of Rodgers’ tenure, Reina seemed to only ever make the very easiest of saves, and costly mistakes were too regular for a team trying to get back into the Champions League. Some fans are still struggling to come to terms with it, but Brendan Rodgers showed courage and ruthlessness by shipping out a fan-favourite for the good of the team, and Simon Mignolet has already proved he can win the team points in a way Reina was no-longer doing with a penalty save and a string of impressive stops in his first three Premier League games.
At just 25, Mignolet is young in goalkeeper years, but he exudes a calm steady character that reminds me of Sami Hyypia. He isn’t a loud, charismatic type like a Carragher or Reina, but a squad needs a blend of mentalities. Mignolet has a degree in political science from the University of Leuven, and seems like a thoughtful guy who will be able to improve tactical aspects of his game.
In a team building from the back with either defenders or midfielders coming deep to receive the ball, the keeper doesn’t actually need fantastic distribution. What he does need is decent ball control when receiving back-passes, and although Mignolet doesn’t have the touch of Reina, he’s proved that he is capable of using his feet. After some early wobbles against Stoke he has looked increasingly self-assured, and with three clean sheets already, the £9m Rodgers spent on Mignolet is already looking like shrewd business.
With Jamie Carragher departing a squad already in need of a character boost, Rodgers knew he needed to bring at least one genuine leader to the club. In Kolo Toure, he didn’t only get a player with bags of experience, he got one with experience in playing with a high defensive line; a key aspect of Rodgers’ philosophy.
At Arsenal, Toure was part of the ‘Invincibles” team that went a whole season without tasting defeat while rarely leaving their opponents’ halves, so he’s arguably the most experienced defender in the league when it comes to playing high up the pitch.
Toure also took a keen interest in the development of younger players when at Arsenal, so with such a young squad with several young defenders coming through, Big Kolo is an ideal veteran player to help them develop.
That isn’t to say he doesn’t have a lot to offer himself, though. Before picking up a groin injury against Notts County Toure had arguably been Liverpool’s best player, dominating the back-line and acting as the fulcrum of the side; imbuing it with the passion and enthusiasm that had been sorely lacking.
Now that Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori have been added Liverpool have a genuine depth of quality in the centre-back positions and Toure’s presence in the squad means that a minimum performance level has been set. We know the level he is capable of, so anyone ousting him has to at least match it, giving Liverpool excellent competition for places at the back.
Liverpool’s biggest signing of the summer comes courtesy of the extreme wealth and surplus of talent at PSG. Just a couple of years ago Mamadou Sakho was PSG’s club captain having first captained the team at the age of 17. He is still considered a potential future captain of the French national team so it is no surprise that many PSG fans have been left outraged by the decision to sell Sakho, much like Inter fans were when Coutinho was allowed to join Liverpool.
The 23-year-old defender is athletic, powerful and wins everything in the air, making him the perfect foil for Daniel Agger’s more cultured on-the-ball style. Like Agger, however, Sakho is far more comfortable on the left side of a centre-back partnership, so unless Rodgers plans to drop his newly appointed vice-captain, Sakho might have to start his career away from his favoured position. In his time at PSG Sakho also played at left back, and, on occasion, as a defensive midfielder, so as well as more competition in the middle he adds cover elsewhere.
Having left PSG to gain first team football and with 15 caps for France already, however, it’s unlikely that Sakho would want to wait too long before cementing a place at the heart of Liverpool’s defence. Rodgers may choose to rotate his defenders depending on the opposition, using the players more comfortable on the ball (Agger, Ilori) against lower opposition when we want to play high up the pitch, and the more combative options (Toure, Sakho) when facing stronger teams likely to pose more of an attacking threat. Daniel Agger going another full season without injury is unlikely, so it may be a case of Sakho taking his chance when it comes and forcing the manager to keep picking him.
Some fans may find it hard to get excited about a defender when what they want it a big name ‘marquee’ signing, but make no mistake; Sakho is one of the finest young defensive talents in world football, and his signing for Liverpool represents a big coup for the club.
If Mamadou Sakho is the typically robust, ultra-competitive centreback, Ilori is the stereotypically graceful, ball-playing equivalent. Tall, elegant, good on the ball and super-quick, Tiago Ilori reminds me of Rio Ferdinand in his pomp. Rumour has it that he was the quickest player in Sporting Lisbon’s squad, which means he too is well suited to playing in a side with a high defensive line; his pace allowing him to recover quickly should the offside-trap be sprung.
Like Sakho, he is another who can play in more than one position, sometimes featuring as a right back, but his natural position is on the right side of central defense. His playing style is similar to that if Daniel Agger, except that he is significantly quicker, so it might be that he’d be better paired with either Sakho or Toure, in order to get the right balance of style and strength.
At just 20-years-old, Ilori was perhaps signed with one eye on the future, but he’s certainly a player with something to offer right away, and if Martin Skrtel were to leave, he’d become a reliable back-up both at centre-back and right-back.
As one of two loan signings, Aly Cissokho is a player who arrives with a point to prove. Having impressed at FC Porto, Cissokho was on the verge of joining AC Milan before the move collapsed when he failed a medical. Instead he joined Lyon, and three years later moved on to Valencia for just a third of what the French club had paid for him.
So like Daniel Sturridge, Philipe Coutinho and Kolo Toure, Aly Cissokho is a somewhat opportunistic acquisition; a player at a low ebb in his career looking to prove he is as good as the hype once suggested. If his loan goes well, he will at best strengthen Liverpool’s left back position and at the very worst provide genuine competition for Jose Enrique, who already looks cajoled into fighting for his place. And should he fail to find his previous form, Liverpool can send him back to Valencia without having made a significant financial investment.
Cissokho is also capable of laying as a defensive wing-back, or second full-back, as he did when coming on against Villa late on, so he also gives Rodgers another tactical option when we need to be defensively solid. Adept at getting up and down the left flank, Cissokho is quick, strong and judging by his reaction when injured early in his first start against Notts County, comes to Liverpool determined to make his loan a success.
Luis Alberto is another who has been brought in with one eye on the future, but who is capable of contributing right away. Alberto spent last season on loan at Barcelona B from Seville so that the Catalan club could take a look at him but ultimately decided against signing him permanently. Alberto had done well at Barca B, scoring 11 goals in 38 games, so there’s no shame in being passed on by a club with a flow of incredible talent.
So far, Rodgers has used Alberto in a deeper role to that he played in Spain, where he was utilised as a No. 10 or as a left-sided attacker, but the Liverpool manager did compare him to Coutinho when bringing him in, suggesting he may be seen as a playmaker long-term.
For now, Alberto will need to add some intensity to his game to have an impact in the Premier League. He isn’t the quickest player, but he is intelligent and adaptable, and adds depth to an otherwise thin midfield roster.
Iago Aspas is a player who I had doubts about after watching him in preseason. His movement is good, and he is a tricky, clever player, but my concern was that he lacked the physicality and presence required to make a mark in England’s top league. Three games into the season, those concerns remain, as Aspas has worked hard but failed to properly take hold of the games, existing mostly on the periphery of the action.
Thus far, Aspas has been played almost as a false 9, starting centrally but dropping deep into pockets of space and drifting wide into the channels. Against Manchester United he covered a lot of ground, but also struggled to get and retain possession of the ball before eventually being replaced by Raheem Sterling.
My suspicion is that Aspas might be more effective starting from a wide position where the play is less crowded. There is no doubt Aspas has talent. His goals kept Celta Vigo in La Liga last season, and Valencia were also interested in signing him before he opted to move to Merseyside.
When Luis Suarez returns and Coutinho moves into the centre, Aspas might benefit from more attention being given to those two by defences, leaving him to ghost into space unnoticed. For now, Aspas could do with is a goal to help him feel settled and confident.
Another loan signing, Victor Moses has joined Liverpool for the season in order to play first team football and show that he has what it takes to play for a top club. Like Daniel Sturridge, Moses struggled to cement a place in the first team at Chelsea, although he did get a decent run as Rafa Benitez saved the London club’s season.
Suarez, Coutinho and Sturridge give the Liverpool attack an abundance of skillful dribbling and creativity, but they aren’t especially known for is their physicality. Suarez gets stuck in, Coutinho has come to terms with the rough and tumble of the Premier League, and Sturridge is a tall guy and no pushover, but none are Hulk-like in their physicality. Victor Moses is. He is a good dribbler and can score goals, but most importantly he will add power to Liverpool’s attack.
Many fans have been left disappointed that his loan doesn’t include a clause to make the deal permanent, but with the cornucopia of attacking options at Chelsea’s disposal, he’d have to have an exceptional season for Chelsea to want to take him back. What they might do is choose to sell him elsewhere if he integrates well into a Liverpool side and if the club have a good season, but if that does turn out to be the case it will still be a double-edged sword.
Moses won’t be guaranteed a starting place, and will have to prove himself a better option than Henderson and Aspas to start games when Suarez returns, but as with much of Liverpool’s transfer business this summer, he provides extra competition in what looks an increasingly competitive squad.