Several strikers have been repeatedly mentioned as possible targets for the Reds in the January window, including Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Theo Walcott, however, at this point all the talk is mere rumour and speculation, and it remains a mystery just who exactly Liverpool’s transfer targets will prove to be.
After offloading Andy Carroll to West Ham United on transfer deadline day and failing to bring Clint Dempsey to Anfield as a replacement, Liverpool’s attacking options looked, on paper, scant at best. Since then, Raheem Sterling has emerged as a first team regular in the front three, alongside Suso, with Luis Suarez in the central role. Suarez’s all round form has been magnificent; he’s bagged 11 goals in all competitions so far and 8 in the Premier League, as well as creating a chance every 31 minutes.
Sterling has been a revelation and adds pace and trickery to the attacking trio, however his youth sometimes affects his decision-making in the final third and, although he’s registered 1 Premier League goal, it’s unrealistic to rely on the 17 year old as a regular goalscorer just yet. Suso has been thrust into the first team, usually playing on the right of the front three, for the most part due to Fabio Borini’s foot injury. The Italian hasn’t enjoyed the best of starts to his Anfield career and still faces the best part of six weeks on the sidelines.
Borini was signed for his clever movement and eye for goal; his role is to make clever runs in behind Suarez, into the space vacated by defenders tracking the Uruguayan. Suso is being deployed in a similar role, however, that’s not the young man’s game and, despite not doing badly for a young player suddenly pushed into the limelight, he doesn’t look quite ready for the first team and in any case isn’t going to chip in with too many goals as yet.
Liverpool need a striker or, to put it better, more attacking options. Suarez has nailed down that central role, the false nine position (as it’s alluded to these days), that has been made famous by Barcelona and Spain over the last six years or so. For me, there’s no better player in the Premier League to play that role. Suarez is quick, fantastically sharp and intelligent, skilful, has great vision, is incredibly hard working and has the twin abilities to both score goals and create chances in every game that he plays. Brendan Rodger’s mentioned him in the same breath as Lionel Messi recently and, in my opinion, there’s no other footballer in the modern game that Suarez can be legitimately compared to.
There are differences of course; that Messi is deadlier and more composed in front of goal is the most obvious difference between the two. However, if you look at the way the two of them play the game, their dribbling prowess, the way they both drop deep and get involved with setting up chances, their ability to see things that other players can’t and to always be three or four steps ahead mentally of the players around them, and the fear that the pair of them instil in opposition defenders, then the similarities really come into focus.
So where are Liverpool now? The Reds obviously need goals, someone to take the burden off Luis Suarez who, at the moment, is creator and scorer of most of Liverpool’s goals. Lucas Leiva is set for a return to first team action, hopefully by the end of the month. His return should allow Gerrard to be moved to the apex of the midfield three or into the front three; a move which will lift the pressure from Suso’s shoulders and should pay dividends in terms of scoring goals. Gerrard has only two goals to his name so far this season; although he plays well in a holding role, Gerrard is unquestionably one of the Reds’ most lethal finishers and it’s hard to accept that Liverpool are getting the best out of him when he’s not scoring goals. Take the Newcastle game for example; Jonjo Shelvey had three gilt edged chances after coming on as a substitute for Suso. Not to put too fine a point on things but if one of those chances had fallen to Gerrard, Liverpool would likely have won the game.
Pushing Gerrard forward, along with having the added bonus of Lucas back in the team and a fully fit Glen Johnson should strengthen the Reds quite considerably, however, even once Borini returns to full fitness, Brendan Rodgers will still need more potency up front. Klaas Jan Huntelaar has been touted as a possible target for the Reds. The Dutch striker scored 48 goals in 47 starts last term and has started this season in the same rich vein of form.
Huntelaar played with Suarez at Ajax and the pair enjoyed a prolific partnership before the pair went their separate ways. So, is a reunion on the cards? Well, we’ll have to wait and see. Huntelaar’s contract runs out at the end of the season and, as such, rumours are abound that he’ll be available on a cut price deal in January – however it’s not cut and dried that he’ll leave Schalke.
Although there have been many reports that Huntelaar is desperate to come to England and ply his trade in the Premier League, the truth is he may just be after a huge new contract with his current club. Huntelaar is 29 and as such this will be his last major contract, he’ll want to make sure he gets as much as he can out of it. Schalke currently sit second in the Bundesliga and, after emerging unbeaten against Arsenal, look set to make the knock-out stages of the Champions’ League; will he really want to leave them? If he does, will he want to move to Liverpool? Will the Reds meet his wage demands? All kinds of questions are abound and according to Bild, a German newspaper that is quite reliable in its Bundesliga knowledge, Schalke are set to offer the Dutchman a bank-breaking new deal in the coming weeks.
Theo Walcott is another name that has emerged as top of the list of rumoured LFC targets. Walcott was apparently close to joining the Reds under Kenny Dalglish, and was reportedly still a target for Brendan Rodgers in the summer. His contract situation with Arsenal has been well documented and he will be a free agent in the summer. The Gunners stance has been somewhat odd because, for my money, they can’t really afford to lose him. A bit part player left on the bench for the most part this season, Walcott has impressed when called upon, scoring a hat-trick in the League Cup win over Reading and notching in the 2-2 draw away at Schalke. Walcott is a Liverpool fan and it’s thought a move to Anfield would please him. However, he’s thought to be asking Arsenal for wages of £100,000 a week and I wonder if Liverpool would be prepared to offer him that.
Walcott would be another good acquisition. He offers real, genuine, lightening pace, the kind of which LFC don’t possess, even in the case of Raheem Sterling, who is quick. Walcott’s job would be to run into the spaces behind Suarez and stretch defences whilst linking the play and providing the third prong of a fluid, pacey attacking trio. There has been criticism of Walcott’s inconsistency at Arsenal but, for me, he’s never really fitted into Arsene Wenger’s side. Rodgers’s Liverpool may well prove to be a better fit for Walcott to realise his huge potential, especially when you consider he’s approaching the peak of his career.
Both of these players may prefer to play centrally in an old fashioned system – Huntelaar because it’s where he’s always played and Walcott because he’s repeatedly called on Wenger to move him inside. However in Rodgers’s fluid system with Suarez playing the false nine role, it may not be a problem fitting either one of them in. Huntelaar has played with Suarez before and the pair could likely find their roles together quite easily. Walcott would likely play from the right but in a much more narrow sense than he has done during his time at Arsenal. He’ll constantly be asked to make runs in behind the defence, rather than hugging the touchline in a more traditional wide role.
To conclude, I’d take either of Walcott and Huntelaar (assuming that FSG won’t stretch to both, something I may be wrong about). Both bring excellent attributes in their own right and both offer Brendan Rodgers’s Liverpool elements which they lack at the moment. It seems to me more likely that Walcott will be available as it’s beginning to look like he’s burning his bridges at Arsenal, however, this is football and the only certain thing is that nothing ever is. If truth be told, we don’t even know if these two players are legitimate targets. What we do know though, is that Rodgers will be making additions in January, with the primary focus on adding goals so, if the Reds can still be in touch with the top four come the end of the Christmas schedule, fans can look forward rip roaring run-in.
You can catch up with Neil on Twitter @Neil1980 or on his blog http://itsallinthegameblog.wordpress.com/
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