Liverpool have had an excellent season under Brendan Rodgers and they will be keen to push on and improve for next year.
Their attractive passing football and impressive attacking profligacy have been lauded as much as their awful defending has been criticised. The rigours of competing on both domestic and continental fronts will be a challenge they must be set for as a top four finish will prove more difficult when playing two or three games a week, as their rivals Manchester City and Chelsea have done all season. Rio Ferdinand has alluded to this point by recently suggesting that Liverpool wouldn’t have finished where they had if they were competing in Europe this year.
An increase in depth without sacrificing quality will be essential and there are some changes which Rodgers will have to make in order to maintain their status as title challengers.
Simon Mignolet had an impressive debut for Liverpool but went on to have an altogether underwhelming season. In the absence of loaned-out Pepe Reina, Mignolet has done an okay job but he was always going to struggle with such an error-prone defence in front of him.
David Marshall has had an excellent season despite Cardiff having one of the worst defences in the league so it could be argued that Mignolet has under-performed. Recent reports suggest that Michel Vorm could be a potential summer target and back-up to Mignolet should Reina remain at Napoli.
Here is where the real problems begin for Liverpool. It’s difficult enough to add quality depth to a squad without much quality to start building from. Liverpool been extremely poor defensively this season and only managed 10 clean sheets all year. This is put into perspective when you consider that Crystal Palace and Norwich both managed 12 apiece.
They cannot rely on their ability to consistently outscore their opponents and even though a 6-3 victory against Cardiff may be entertaining, a top four team shouldn’t be consistently conceding so many goals against bottom-half teams.
The ever changing centre-backs have alternated between Martin Skrtel, Kolo Toure, Daniel Agger and Mamadou Sakho. Despite the changing faces they usually resemble a bumbling comedy double act. Some of the goals Liverpool have conceded this year have been genuinely comical, with Toure perhaps drawing the loudest laughs. Martin Skrtel demonstrated their defensive inadequacies in Liverpool’s final game of the season with his record-breaking fourth own goal in a single Premier League season.
Skrtel is at times a decent centre-back, however it is unlikely that both he and Agger can perform against the best Europe has to offer. Sakho has struggled for form and Toure is past his best. Returning loanee Tiago Llori is as of yet untested at Premier League level and cannot be relied upon beyond back-up duties.
Liverpool’s defensive frailties has naturally seen them linked with a multitude of defenders and at centre back they have been linked with Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Dejan Lovren and Steven Caulker. The promising Schalke defender Papadopoulos has been a long term target for Liverpool and could provide solidity for Rodgers for years to come.
Lovren and Caulker have both had very good seasons and it isn’t hard to imagine Lovren playing Champions League football nor is it hard to imagine Caulker fighting his way into the starting team. Any of these players would offer Rodgers veritable solidity and it is more than likely that at least one of them will be doing some Merseyside house-hunting this summer.
Rodgers has also had major issues with full backs this year. 18-year-old Jon Flanagan has had a breakthrough season with Liverpool and has featured on both sides as a full-back. He has developed hugely and benefitted from Jose Enrique’s injury hampered year. Enrique may regain his first team position when he recovers from the knee injury which has seen him look on from the stands since early November. However his injury has highlighted the need for depth at left-back.
Liverpool have been linked with Ryan Bertrand, Alberto Moreno, Marcus Rojo and more recently Ashley Cole.
Bertrand may be a more likely and somewhat easier acquisition as both Cole and Moreno have been linked with other clubs, most notably Monaco and Real Madrid respectively. Ashley Cole would provide obvious strength to Liverpool’s faltering back line, as a solid cameo towards the end of his season with Chelsea proved that he is as sharp as ever. However the fact that he will be available for free will surely have clubs clamouring for his signature.
At right back Glen Johnson is one of those players that people are divided on. Many would say he is the best option in his position for England but that really isn’t saying much. While good going forward he is definitely a liability defensively and arguably underserving of a place in a top four team.
Micah Richards has been linked with a move to Liverpool and could provide depth even if he has never proven himself as a consistent performer. However Arsenal are reportedly looking at the forgotten powerhouse too.
Good full-backs can be crucial to the success of a team. Frequently forgotten they will often work harder than any other position by bombing up the wings to provide support and haring back to defend. Who knows where Liverpool would have ended up this year if they had Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines as their full-backs? Investment is unquestionably needed!
Liverpool’s midfield is a tricky one. With Rodgers’ preferred 4-4-2 diamond formation he relies heavily on an attacking playmaker and equally on a defensively minded midfielder. Philippe Coutinho has had what many would describe as an underwhelming season, however he has certainly improved as the campaign has progressed.
Adam Lallana has recently been linked with an Anfield switch and Liverpool fans would be delighted to see him offer selection issues for Rodgers. There is no lack of young creative talent on the Anfield books with Suso and Luis Alberto both promising young attacking midfielders. However Liverpool will be in Europe next year and slightly more experienced players are essential.
In terms of central and defensively-minded midfielders, Rodgers is not short of options with Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva, Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen to pick from. Henderson and Gerrard have been impressive going forward and defensively for Liverpool this season however the latter simply won’t be able for selection for multiple games in a week as he reaches the end of his career.
Realistically there are areas of the squad needing more urgent attention and Rodgers could do worse that having Lucas and Allen as back-up. However they could risk being sold to make way for the potential arrival of Emre Can.
Similar to Flanagan, Raheem Sterling has had a breakthrough season with some truly excellent performances prompting many to claim he should be starting in Roy Hodgson’s World Cup XI. Whether that is true or not he has impressed at Anfield this year and deserves a place in a team competing in Europe.
Loanee Victor Moses made very few appearances for Liverpool as the season progressed and with his departure Sterling will be the only recognised winger left. Therefore Rodgers will undoubtedly be looking at wide options this summer and the club have subsequently been linked with a host of names who would fulfil that need.
As well as Lallana, they have been linked with Yevhen Konoplyanka, Antoine Griezmann, James Milner, Xherdan Shaqiri and Alexis Sanchez.
Ukraine national and relative unknown Konoplyanka has been repeatedly linked with a move to Liverpool and would certainly add to Rodgers’ wide options should the move go ahead.
Griezmann has been impressing for La Liga side Real Sociedad for a number of years now and has earned a spot in France's World Cup squad. Now it seems that the big boys are finally set to swoop in with Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester United all showing interest in the Frenchman.
Shaqiri has found playing time hard to come by at Bayern Munich and a move to Liverpool could suit him perfectly. Both players would definitely add potency and width to Liverpool’s attack and add quality to a position in great need of it.
Milner has impressed during his irregular cameos at City this year and his label of utility man could be shrugged off as he would certainly feature more regularly at Anfield. Manuel Pellegrini probably won’t want to lose his handyman but Milner may feel his career would flourish once more should he depart the Etihad.
Sanchez obviously stands out amongst these targets as his quality is both undeniable and world-renowned. The Chilean had another good season with Barcelona and Liverpool could do with a winger with the ability to score and provide regularly.
This is perhaps the one area which has no need, nor room for improvement. In fact Rodgers may have a fight on his hands keeping the talismanic and PFA Player of the Year Luis Suarez at Anfield.
Real Madrid have been linked with Suarez in recent weeks and worldwide interest in the Uruguayan is understandable after an incredible season for Liverpool in which he ended top scorer. However Suarez is reportedly happy at Anfield and the support shown to him by both the club and the fans in recent times of unrest will more than likely be repaid by his commitment.
Similarly Daniel Sturridge may attract interest after an amazing season which has all but guaranteed his place in England’s starting XI and seen his inclusion beside strike partner Suarez in the Team of the Year. Sturridge was rescued from obscurity at Chelsea and has really made a name for himself with Liverpool. Any potential interest shouldn’t be an issue for Liverpool fans.
Further depth may be required as injuries dictate with Iago Aspas seemingly not cut out for the Premier League. Fabio Borini could return to perform as a back-up striker following a very good loan spell with Sunderland although the inevitable interest in his services may be tempting for Rodgers.
Wilfried Bony and Barcelona's Pedro have been mentioned as potential targets for Liverpool however despite the obvious quality of the latter in particular, I feel that their focus, and more importantly, their transfer funds, should be directed towards strengthening their defence.
Should Rodgers utilise his reportedly large transfer budget in signing Lovren, Papadopoulos, Cole, Can, Lallana and Sanchez, he would have a side which could genuinely compete both domestically and continentally.
The likelihood of Liverpool being able to sign even half of those is questionable, but if a left-back, at least one centre back and a winger/ attacking midfielder aren’t signed, the Reds' lack of quality and depth will show and they will inevitably struggle next season.
Rodgers really should focus on remodelling his defence and will need to prioritise his summer signings as such. After all what use is champion race-horse with an overweight jockey slowing it down?
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