LIVERPOOL FC have signed Daniel Sturridge already this January, but it could be argued that Brendan Rodgers has been adding to his squad all season long. By offering several youth players opportunities to play regularly in the first team and perhaps more impressively, extracting acceptable performance levels from the likes of Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Jose Enrique, Liverpool’s manager has given himself additional options in his squad.
Now with the January transfer window open and several key players nearing full fitness again, Liverpool’s match day squads should begin to look that bit stronger and crucially, as a result of the increased competition, so should their first eleven.
Sturridge has finally arrived from Chelsea and with Fabio Borini close to a return, Liverpool will finally have some long overdue options in attack. Instead of relying on teenagers Suso and Sterling to supplement the threat of Luis Suarez up front, the club now has a batch of forwards who offer versatility, quality and a variety of attributes. With the recent upturn in Stewart Downing’s form, Rodgers has six players (seven if you include Oussama Assaidi) vying for the three forward positions in his team.
Borini, Suarez, Sterling, Downing, Suso and Sturridge (and Assaidi) may not compare with the talent on offer in Manchester or at Stamford Bridge, but it does at least have some depth as well as potential and quality. Outside of the mercurial Suarez, there probably isn’t a guaranteed starter in that group at present.
All the attacking players at the club will need to be on their toes day in day out and grasp the opportunities that they are presented with. If not, they now know that someone else will be waiting in the wings to take their shirt. As stated, it isn’t the perfect set of forwards, but it is an encouraging one.
All bar Downing, are young and have scope to improve. All except Downing again, are capable of playing either centrally or from the flanks. That gives Rodgers the luxury of being able to not only rotate on a game by game basis, but also on the pitch during matches. Interchanging of positions between Sterling, Suarez and Sturridge for example would be an exciting prospect that would add another dimension to Liverpool’s attacking play.
Depth is also key. If Luis Suarez is unavailable in a few weeks time, it would likely be Fabio Borini (an Italian international) or Daniel Sturridge (an England international with Champions League experience) who would deputise for the Uruguayan rather than the likes of Adam Morgan or Samed Yesil who, no disrespect intended, simply aren’t of the required quality at this moment in time.
Another attacking player may yet arrive at Anfield (Tom Ince seems likely) but if not, at least Liverpool head into the new year with a group of forwards that can give their manager some genuine selection headaches for the first time.
In central midfield, it is a similar story for the Reds. No additions have been made thus far, but the return of Lucas Leiva and the emergence of Jordan Henderson from the Anfield shadows mean that Brendan Rodgers has less need to be overly reliant on Joe Allen and Steven Gerrard these days. Lucas’ reintegration into the side has allowed a previously exhausted looking Allen to rest up and has also given Steven Gerrard a little more confidence to get forward and belatedly offer a goal threat again.
Perhaps Jordan Henderson’s marked improvement is just as significant. Henderson’s performances recently have added a much needed dynamism to Liverpool’s midfield. He may not look like an £18m footballer yet, but he no longer resembles a fish out of water as he did on the right wing so many times last season.
His play is noticeably more assertive, his passing more positive and his pressing relentless. It is to be hoped that he can continue his progression and really kick on and become the player that Kenny Dalglish hoped he’d signed last summer. He has certainly displayed the commitment and desire to so and Liverpool are reaping the benefits right now.
Rodgers has given indications that he sees a natural play-making ‘number 10’ as a requirement for his squad going forward but concedes that, given the finances of the club, that is more likely to occur in the future rather than in this transfer window.
Having said that, taking into account Henderson’s improvement and Lucas’ return, Brendan Rodgers now has Gerrard, Allen, Henderson, Lucas and Shelvey scrapping for game time. The balance in central midfield hasn’t been perfected yet this season and now Rodgers must find it. At least he has plenty of options at his disposal.
While the recent injury to Jose Enrique is a blow, Andre Wisdom and Stewart Downing at least offer viable alternatives in the full back area to compliment the ever outstanding Glen Johnson. Neither Downing nor Wisdom would have immediately come to mind as deputies for Enrique at the season’s beginning but, again, Rodgers’ ability to improve the level of an underachieving player (as well as redeploying him in an unfamiliar role) and his desire to push youth prospects in at the deep end have benefited the competition and cover within the ranks.
Wisdom played at full-back in midweek against Sunderland after being given a prolonged spell out of the first eleven. The teenager had a tough time in the Merseyside derby and wisely, his manager recognised the need to give the teenager some games out of the team. He was only able to do this after his first choice left back Jose Enrique had regained his form and Stewart Downing had shown that he can also fill in, in defence.
It was Rodgers’ decision to switch the roles of Enrique and Downing that seemed to facilitate an upturn in form for both. Not only did it provide Liverpool with two players who can now fill two positions each, it also improved both players’ performances in their natural stations and for that Rodgers deserves credit.
Rodgers did admit in a recent interview with live4liverpool.com that he may seek to bring in an additional left sided player to add further cover for that side, but the Reds do have decent strength in depth across the back line otherwise. Agger, Johnson and Skrtel pick themselves these days as does a fit Enrique. With Wisdom, Downing, Carragher and Coates all also available to fill in and Martin Kelly recovering from a terrible knee injury, Rodgers’ options both at present and in the future look relatively assured in this area.
Brendan Rodgers has a squad that is still a long way from complete or even one that sufficiently fits his footballing image, but as Liverpool enter 2013, the group at least seems to be moving in the right direction.
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