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Real Madrid, Gareth Bale and why it’s not just about the football

At the Santiago Bernabeu, the stage is literally set for what could be the unveiling of the world’s most-expensive footballer. Gareth Bale’s proposed move from Tottenham to Real Madrid has understandably monopolised recent back pages as fans await the conclusion of a transfer saga that has left many questioning the financial implications of the reported £85 million deal.

Aside from the moral qualms many have about such an astronomical figure, most fans have been left querying whether Bale is worth the record-breaking fee. The Welshman is a phenomenal footballer on a par with other Premier League heavyweights; Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. Yet these players aren’t nearly attracting the astronomical figures to their names as Bale. Robin van Persie, last season’s top goalscorer, was bought for a measly £22.5 million last year. One of the finest all-round English players of the last decade, Wayne Rooney, was only recently valued at a mere £25 million by Chelsea. Luis Suarez, scorer of 30 goals last season, has attracted massive offers from Arsenal but that famous 40 million and a one pound pales in comparison to the reported Bale fee.

The residing question then is this: what exactly are Madrid up to? Gareth Bale is undoubtedly a superb footballer. Not even the most ardent of Arsenal fans would question that. For club and country, the midfielder scored 31 goals last term. He single-handedly won games for his team in sublime fashion on more than a handful of occasions. These are facts that nobody can deny. They are also facts that fans of Manchester United (Rooney and van Persie) and Liverpool can boast of their stars yet no record transfer fee hangs over the heads of these players. Real Madrid president Florentine Perez obviously sees value in the Welshman and is willing to part with £85 million to prove it.

Real Madrid are no strangers to blockbuster signings. In 2001 it was Zinedine Zidane (a then world record £45.6 million). In 2009, it was Kaka (another world record of around £56m) and then Cristiano Ronaldo (yet another world record fee of £80 million). At a cheaper, but no less significant, level they signed David Beckham from Manchester United in 2003 for £24.5 million.

Real Madrid is unashamedly a brand and each of the players mentioned slotted perfectly into the on-going mission to solidify the Galácticos as the largest global brand in football. Through sponsorships and worldwide touring Madrid have become the most recognised football club on the planet.

Gareth Bale

With Beckham they acquired Europe’s most valuable sporting personality. From the very beginning of his Spanish adventure David Beckham was helping his new club recoup the money they had dished out on him – even his medical was sponsored by a health-care firm. Add this to multi-million pound Adidas deal to match Madrid’s and a merchandising agreement that reportedly had Beckham handing 50% of his personal sponsorship earnings to Madrid then it is safe to say that the Spanish giants have an idea of how to spend money to make money.

‘Brand Madrid’ seek players that are able to enhance not just their on-field success but also that off it. Jose Mourinho’s managerial credentials need no clarification yet he was considered surplus to requirements at Madrid as his controversial antics were just not in keeping with the angelic sheen of the nine-time European Cup winners. When Mourinho was seen to poke then Barcelona assistant Tito Vilanova in the eye the Spanish press called it ‘deplorable’. Not an image football’s biggest commercial club wished to convey.

Madrid were often linked to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez this summer, a player with statistics that at times outshine Bale’s, yet this interest never gathered any momentum and it can only be assumed that this is down to the tainted image of the Uruguayan. Like Mourinho, Suarez is capable of too much brand-damaging controversy to justify spending such amounts of money regardless of his talent.

Just a quick glance at Real Madrid’s history of signings provides a clearer picture of why they are willing to spend such an enormous amount on a clean-cut, fresh faced, superstar in the making. In Bale, Madrid have a young star in the making that they will be able to mould and shape to fit their own needs. In Madrid, Bale has a platform to expand his own brand. It was not so long that it was revealed Bale was attempting to trademark his heart-shaped goal celebration – he is clearly aware of the benefits of building his own brand beyond the game and the benefits of a Madrid move will not be lost on the 24-year-old.

Even on a brand-building level, Bale at such a price will still be seen as a gamble for Madrid. Unlike, Zidane, Kaka, Ronaldo or Beckham, he is not a pre-packaged global star just waiting to become a shirt-selling machine. He doesn’t yet transcend sport like, say, Beckham did. The more cynical of supporters will assume the long drawn-out pursuit of Bale by Madrid is merely a clever marketing ploy to allow the world time to catch up and get to know the world’s most expensive footballer-elect before the eventual finalities are complete.

Simply by being attached to such lucrative and high-profile transfers in recent history, Real Madrid have ensured their names in both the history books and newspapers all around the world; the Gareth Bale situation is no different. Madrid are being talked about by football fans and non-fans alike the world over, and that is just the way the like it as the brand continues to flourish with the latest star commodity preparing his keepy-up skills for the big Bernabeu reveal.

by Jack Poland

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Early wins provide Liverpool with an air of hope

With just two games gone, Liverpool find themselves in relatively unchartered territory – the top four. A position that will be resoundingly welcome to fans that have grown all too used to being mere onlookers to those around them enjoying the thrill of the Champions League.

Cynics will understandably be quick to roll out the old adage of ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint’ and that it is still early days. This is, indeed, worthy of note. Even with this impressive start, many – including the majority of Liverpool fans – won’t be too surprised to see the Reds miss out on that elusive fourth spot again come May. Those around them have quality that Liverpool can, on their day, certainly match – especially with the return of a certain number 7 – yet the depth of the Liverpool squad is criminally lacking in comparison to Champions League-spot rivals Spurs.

Early days, then, it certainly is, though most Liverpool fans by this point in recent seasons would have already lost any of the hope that pre-season perennially provides. The six points Liverpool have amassed in the last two games took two months last season, with their first win coming on September 29th.

Daniel Sturridge

Many will argue that Liverpool’s form is fairly irrelevant at such an early stage yet it is the fact that this early success has come at this stage that has left fans relieved and hopeful. Too many times have Liverpool looked back at games they could and should have won and rued the difference it made to the end-of-season standings. Too many recent domestic seasons have ended before they’ve even had a chance to start; that the Anfield club haven’t allowed that to happen this term is vital and will be welcomed with open arms by fans. If success isn’t on the bill then at least keep the fans thrilled and engaged until closing time. A season ending in March is far worse than one ending unsuccessfully in May.

Two 1-0 wins are perhaps not going to grab the headlines but they are games that Liverpool would have perhaps drawn or even lost last season, and it would take even the most stubborn of opposing fans to not see the signs of improvement. Liverpool fans checking the scores at Scores.co.uk will be pleasantly surprised by their positive start to the season as they are notorious slow starters.

Reds manager Brendan Rodgers must ensure that these improvements continue, as more are needed – be they filling gaps in the squad with new signings or ruthlessly finishing off teams when the chance arises. Losing out on the likes of Willian and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will hurt a club like Liverpool. History, stature and a global fanbase isn’t enough for players when Champions League football isn’t part of the package and at Liverpool, Champions League football should and must be included if they are to continue improving and maintain these elements that do, at times, attract the biggest names.

Two wins in two to begin the season has been greeted with justifiable joy around Anfield, though fans know it must continue and they will be hoping that, come this time next season, a flurry of similar wins will come with an air of expectation rather than a pleasant surprise.

Arsenal miss out on Higuain – Liverpool’s Suarez a gamble

A few weeks ago Gonzalo Higauin’s move from Real Madrid to Arsenal seemed to be set in stone, a case of mere formalities. But yesterday he completed a move to join Rafa Benitez at Napoli. Perhaps over a disagreement on how much Higuain was worth, communications between Arsenal and Real slowed and the Gunners turned their targets to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez. Where Higuain seemed to fit Arsenal character wise, Suarez seems the opposite. Not only is he an on and off field risk, but the chances of them actually signing him are much lower than they had of getting Higuain. But Arsenal’s ponderousness in the market this summer has seen all of the top available strikers already seal moves and it leaves them with near enough just Luis Suarez left to pursue. They’ve resisted the much easier to sign Higuain to go after the more expensive and more risky Suarez and even if they do get him, the gamble doesn’t end there.

Gonzalo Higuain is a world class striker. He has scored 107 goals in 187 games for Real Madrid. He’s proven himself over a much longer period in an elite league and the Champions League than the likes of Falcao, Cavani, Lewandowski and even Suarez and it was a surprise that he was initially only catching Arsenal’s eye. The price of £22m that was originally mooted was always going to be too low and it was suitably rejected by Real Madrid. It seems that when Madrid raised their price, and not just as was reported, because of the Cavani deal, Arsenal backed away. The recipients of £55m from PSG, Napoli then had the kind of money available to go out and sign Higuain themselves. After interest from Juventus had quietened down, suddenly only Napoli were competing for Higuain with Arsenal.

Gonzalo Higuaín

Whether or not Arsenal’s bid for Suarez was initially to try and ruffle Real Madrid’s feathers or not, they have ended up possibly competing against Real for the Uruguayan. Maybe that first bid was to hurry Real in to accepting their offer for Higuain, or maybe it was just an opening salvo in what has become a long drawn out chase. But either way, they’ve gotten themselves distracted with going for Suarez and the reason could be that he is encouraging it. When the offer first came in it was met with befuddlement. Suarez had said he wanted to leave Liverpool to get out of England, but when no serious interest from overseas showed itself, the offer from Arsenal suddenly appealed to him. Perhaps at this stage, what had started as a speculative approach suddenly became very serious for Arsenal. They must have persuaded themselves that they could get him for £40m on the understanding of a release clause and that he was willing to come to the club.

Once they’d come to this conclusion, and decided that they could justify paying the £40,000,001 they thought would get him, they’d laid down arms in the pursuit of Higuain. In the mean time, Higuain, perhaps alienated by Arsenal’s stance, had agreed a move to Napoli who were willing to pay Real Madrid the £32m they asked for. So now, with Higuain in Naples, and Liverpool saying they want £55m because the £40m clause didn’t mean they had to sell, Arsenal are in no man’s land.

Luis Suarez

Higuain is a predator of a striker, a natural and easy finisher who has thrived on the Real Madrid supply line over many years. He is a wonderful professional and team mate who doesn’t get involved in controversy, he just keeps his head down and scores goals. That is exactly what Arsenal needed coming in to this summer and why his possible signing was causing so much excitement. They’d have the man to put in the chances created by Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere. They’d have gotten that for £32m if they’d just given Real Madrid the money before Napoli sold Cavani.

Instead, they are now looking to pay £40m+ to even get a chance to negotiate with Suarez. Suarez, who is banned until October in the Premier League, is anything but a saint either on or off the pitch. He plays on the edge, and although this creates moments of unstoppable skill, pace and goals, it also means he is on the verge of self destruction at all times. I don’t need to list his various travails in England, but with a 10 match ban on his slate, he is one big explosion away from an even longer one.

Suarez is a more dynamic player than Higuain but that dynamism is going to cost a lot more to buy and comes with a huge amount of risk. Arsenal have gotten themselves in a tangle in the pursuit of Suarez, one that might not even end in success if Liverpool stand firm or Real Madrid match any offers, and they might end up buying themselves a beautiful nightmare.

Where do Liverpool need to strengthen this summer?

Liverpool have had a wretched record in the transfer market for the best part of four or five years, and it is because of this that they have lost their guaranteed Champions League qualification status. It makes this an important summer for Brendan Rodgers, who has been speaking of the need to add depth to the squad. The poor work in the markets in previous years has left Liverpool with a paper-thin but expensively assembled squad. There were some signs of better decision making with the January signings of Daniel Sturridge and especially Philippe Coutinho, so can Liverpool keep that up this summer and what do they need to do?

Liverpool have a strong first team but almost no depth. The problem is, depth is a hard thing to buy. Can Liverpool buy players of significant quality if they are just coming to push the first team? With the exception of the central defence, maybe left back and a possible Suarez shaped hole there isn’t a glaring weakness in the full strength side. Not one that can be addressed when not in the Champions League at least. The best way to build depth is through the youth system or by relegating previous purchases to depth status. But those previously bought players cost a stack of money so they are constantly chasing previous mistakes.

The first issue for Liverpool to solve is the Luis Suarez situation. He has asked to leave and is a valuable asset to sell. If Liverpool can get Real Madrid to pay them £50m they will be very tempted to sell him. It seems increasingly likely that this will be the case so for the sake of argument lets assume that he is on his way, and treat him staying as a bonus for Liverpool.

Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool manager

If Suarez goes then Liverpool will only have Sturridge as a central striker unless they can’t sell Andy Carroll. Liverpool need to find some competition for him to push him to improve. Rodgers has committed to him as their future so they are unlikely to sign a David Villa or Mario Gomez. Soon to be incoming Iago Aspas can operate centrally but isn’t an ideal option due to his lack of size. Perhaps someone like Wilfried Bony of Vitesse Arnhem or even Demba Ba could be bought with a chance to compete to take the spot. That way they wouldn’t have to guarantee it to a new big name and relegate Sturridge to the bench or out wide. Rodgers also needs to get value from Fabio Borini considering he cost £10m

Liverpool had central defensive issues that will only get worse with Jamie Carragher’s retirement. Martin Skrtel, who has been linked with a move away, regressed badly last year and Daniel Agger looks worse when not partnered with a rugged organiser. They’ve signed Kolo Toure, but that isn’t going to get them in to the Champions League spots. Their first choice seems to be Schalke’s young Greek star Kyriakos Papadopoulos and he would be an excellent signing. Schalke are supposedly holding out for £18m for him but at just 21 he offers amazing potential. He’s big, strong, quick and a ferocious defender. He’s not afraid of getting vocal with more experienced teammates either. If Liverpool pocket £50m for Suarez and £12m for Carroll they can certainly afford this. They could then sell Skrtel and still have enough depth with Wisdom and Pearce.

Although he’s done decently enough, Jose Enrique could certainly be upgraded upon. Liverpool could steal a march on Man United and Chelsea by moving for Southampton’s Luke Shaw. Shaw would be given the chance to win the job from Enrique and establish himself as their left back of the future. They’ve got some OK young full backs but no one of Shaw’s calibre.

Liverpool are spending a lot of time adding attacking midfield options, and this has accelerated with doubts over Suarez. Aspas has been bought to play there, Luis Alberto seems to be arriving from Sevilla and Shakhtar’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan is being heavily linked, supposedly close to signing. Rodgers needs all of these tricky technical players to fully implement his system and give Gerrard and Lucas plenty of options to pass to. It’s much easier to rotate these players around in various competitions with Aspas and Luis Alberto battling for a spot next to Coutinho and Mkhitarayan in all likelihood. They’ve also got Downing and Borini to consider here. And then, what of Sterling, Shelvey and Ibe? Loans perhaps?

They may also consider some midfield depth with Lucas injury prone and Gerrard getting on in age. They paid over £30m to get Henderson and Allen so they need to get proper value out of them but neither inspires much confidence in Kopites.

It’s a tough summer for Liverpool. They’ve got a good team with few obvious weaknesses. They can’t afford and lack the Champions League football to attract to huge upgrades like a Cavani, Higuain or Sneijder, who are all gossip column regulars and it is hard to sign sufficient quality to just sit on the bench. This combined with a need to push their young players and lumbering themselves with expensively bought and maintained players from past windows who need game time gives Brendan Rodgers a tricky balancing act to pull off.

Liverpool to sign Iago Aspas – what can the Kop expect?

Liverpool are closing in on the capture of Spanish forward Iago Aspas from Celta Vigo, and unlike the Kolo Toure signing, this feels much more like a Brendan Rodgers move in the ilk of the Philippe Coutinho signing. For Celta Vigo Aspas played near enough as a striker which is represented in his goals tallies over the last few years. He scored 12 in La Liga this year, which was proceeded by a 23 goal season in the Segunda Division, which fired Celta to promotion.

Now, before you worry that his signing will forbear Luis Suarez’s departure, it is important that Liverpool fans shouldn’t expect to see him playing as a striker in England. At 5ft 9in he is far too small to play as the lone striker in Rodger’s 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 system in the Premier League. Quite apart from the presence of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge in situ, his talents wouldn’t be maximised as a striker. Instead, he should form part of a very fluid attacking four with the aforementioned strikers and Philippe Coutinho. Presumably this would be with Sturridge up front most of the time with almost total roaming license for the other three.

Iago Aspas

Aspas’ main strengths are his pace, movement, finishing and inventiveness. This is not dissimilar to Suarez or Coutinho. In their base formation, he may well find himself starting in one of the wider positions to allow Suarez or even more likely, Coutinho, to operate in the ‘number 10’ position behind the central striker. This would even work if they do sell Suarez, as Rodgers will no doubt have his eye on a replacement. Either way, it will give Liverpool a buzzing, moving trio behind Sturridge, who will be able to hang around the box and on the last shoulder of the defenders looking for through balls.

Last season, Liverpool’s attack really surged in to life with the January arrival of Coutinho. He immediately got on to the same wavelength as Suarez and at times they looked to be forging a potentially devastating partnership. The problem for Liverpool, and why they suffered several 0-0s, is that this only gave them a central threat unless one of them wondered out wide. Stewart Downing has lost what little pace he had, Suso and Raheem Sterling are very raw and Jordan Henderson is best used in a three-man midfield. It meant that they always had a weakness in one of the attacking spots, and if teams focused their defensive structures towards stopping Suarez, Liverpool suffered. Aspas will give teams something else to think about because he will be a flurry of movement at pace, the two things defenders hate most in an opponent.

The other extra dimension is his finishing ability. Too often the goalscoring burden fell on Suarez last season. Sturridge is a frustrating finisher, equally capable of scoring with all three shots on goal or missing with ten. Coutinho looks capable of reaching double figures if played centrally and now they can add the goals of Aspas. Between them, all of the various options Rodgers used on the right of the attacking trident last year couldn’t muster up double figures, barely even five. Now, they are adding a forward who scored 12 goals in the more tactical La Liga in a team in which he was pretty much the sole attacking threat. At Liverpool, he will initially be seen as the fourth threat; the unknown. This could allow him more space and freedom as the defensive attention is elsewhere.

Aspas should bring goals, intelligence, movement and pace to the Liverpool attack and looks an ideal accomplice to Coutinho, Suarez and Sturridge. He has more than a little Juan Mata to his game, so if he settles in perhaps instead of having the ‘Three Amigos’ at Chelsea, we could be talking about a new ‘Fab Four’ on Merseyside.

Brendan Rodgers needs to target a better run in cup competitions at Liverpool next season

As the dust settled on Brendan Rodgers’ first season in charge at Anfield, the general consensus was that progress had been made.

The Reds finished one place higher than their 2011/12 finish with nine points more than they had accumulated. Rodgers also boosted the Reds’ goal difference by as many as 21, as his side racked up 71 goals, despite playing until January with just one recognised senior striker in the shape of Luis Suarez at the club.

Since the turn of the year results have markedly improved, as well as performances, with Rodgers’ preferred formation giving them a fluent attacking trio, which played its part in romps against Wigan Athletic (4-0), Swansea City (5-0), Newcastle United (6-0), Norwich City (5-0), and Sunderland (3-0).

Brendan Rodgers

Since Rodgers was able to begin adding to his depleted attacking numbers, the Reds have played 17 games, winning eight and losing just three. The most damaging part of their post-New Year run in has been six draws, with the stalemates against Reading and West Ham United particularly galling.

The signings of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho have given the Reds an extra dimension to their attack, meaning they are not as overly reliant on Suarez as they were in the dark days of winter.

Former striker John Aldridge spoke glowingly of their impact at the club, claiming that the window had been the most fruitful one since he was signed alongside Peter Beardsley and John Barnes nearly a quarter of a century ago.

“Over time there was real improvement and that was partly due to Liverpool having their best transfer window we’ve had for a very long time,” Aldridge said in his Liverpool Echo column.

“It was probably the best [window] we’ve had since 1987 when John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and myself joined Liverpool.

“Sturridge has really impressed me with his pace and power and his scoring record is excellent. I don’t want to put too much expectation on Coutinho but he is a very special player.”

With a summer transfer window as successful as the winter one, Rodgers will be in a position to realistically challenge for a Champions League place next season. It is a theory club captain Steven Gerrard subscribes to.

Gerrard told the club’s official website: “The football in general that we’ve shown since January, I think we’ve shown Champions League form so I’m very optimistic for next season.

“It’s down to us players to continue what we’ve done in the last couple of months, take that into next season and try to improve. Other teams are going to make signings, strengthen and improve – we need to make sure that we do as well.”

However, for all the progress in the Premier League, there is the lingering disappointment of their weak exit from both domestic cups.

Under Kenny Dalglish last season, the Reds visited Wembley three times, winning the League Cup and finishing as runners up to Chelsea in the FA Cup.

Liverpool were labelled a ‘Cup Team’ from certain sections under ‘King’ Kenny, and their prowess in knockout competitions was certainly impressive. In contrast Rodgers’ side relinquished their League Cup crown by being outclassed 3-1 by his former side Swansea at Anfield on October 31.

Oldham celebrate win over Liverpool

If the defeat to the Swans was dispiriting then the debacle at Oldham Athletic in January left fans seething.

Rodgers fielded a team that contained Suarez, Sturridge and Fabio Borini but the side were bullied by a swashbuckling performance from striker Matt Smith – who walked away with two goals and the Man of the Match award.

The result was undoubtedly the low point of Rodgers’ reign, and something that should be forcefully addressed next season.

Challenging for the lucrative Champions League spots is a prerequisite for the Liverpool manager, a return to the competition that they were such as force in from 2005-2009 is the best way to eventually get the club on solid ground to challenge for the Premier League title.

However, in the wake of some criticism of Arsenal for their celebrations after qualifying fourth, despite failing to lift a trophy for the eight season running, Rodgers will have been made acutely aware of the importance of a cup run.

Tottenham’s Bale, Liverpool’s Suarez and Manchester United’s Van Persie – but where is Swansea’s Michu?

The nominees for the Premier League Player of the Year award have been named, with a notable absence amongst the six candidates. All the discussion about the accolade have rightly focussed on Tottenham’s Gareth Bale, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Manchester United’s Robin van Persie, however the addition of Juan Mata, Michael Carrick and Eden Hazard leaves me scratching my head that a certain Spaniard missed out.

I am not saying that Michu of Swansea City should be awarded the Premier League Player of the Year awaed, however the versatile attacker has had a fantastic debut season in England and was certainly great value for a nomination. It will boil down to Bale, Suarez or Van Persie, however Michu’s excellent season should have been acknowledged with a nomination.

Michu

Carrick has long been the unsung worker in the United midfield, and is only now being recognised for the tireless work he puts in and the range of passing he brings to the soon-to-be champions. Juan Mata has grown in stature this season and deserves his place in the six. The ex-Valencia playmaker has been superb throughout the season and will play a key role in Chelsea’s attempts to forge a Premier League title challenge next season. Hazard at times has shown brilliance, especially towards the start of the season, however I feel he has not done enough to warrant a place on the shortlist.

It is unfortunate that bargain £2 million buy Michu is not included. He has netted 21 times in all competitions for Michael Laudrup’s men, 17 in the league, and been a figurehead in the Liberty Stadium side overcoming the often tricky second season to become a well-established Premier League side. He also played his part in the club winning the Capital One Cup, the first major trophy in the Welsh club’s history.

Michu was never going to be the Player of the Year, but a nomination would have been just reward for a cracking debut campaign. The fact that he plays for one of the less glamorous sides in the division has clearly worked against him, the powers that be should have widened their net to include the likes of the Spaniard in their shortlist.

Fabio Borini’s Liverpool career over before it has started?

Liverpool are under a transitional period under Brendan Rodgers, with new players arriving at Anfield and a push to get back into the top four reckoning. One such player brought to Merseyside in an attempt to bring back the glory days was Fabio Borini, the highly rated Italy international. However, after poor form and repeated injuries, will the Reds look to cut their losses this summer?

The 21-year-old looked like an astute signing when Rodgers brought him to England in the summer. The Northern Irish boss had worked with Borini at Swansea in a successful period in Championship football, and since then the forward was making waves in his homeland. A solid season for Roma returned nine Serie A goals and a claim for inclusion in the Azzurri national team.

Fabio Borini

With solid goalscoring records at age-grade level for Italy at under-19 and 21 levels, Borini looked to have all the attributes to make him a hit at Liverpool. However, the Kop were not impressed by their new striker at the start of the campaign, with Liverpool relying on Luis Suarez as a solitary outlet to bring goals.

Since then two long-term injuries have kept Borini out of action and on the treatment table. However, a Liverpool squad that looked devoid of attacking options at the start of the campaign is now sufficiently bolstered. With the additions of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge in January and the emergence of Suso and Raheem Sterling, the Reds have more offensive impetus than at the start of 2012/13. Andy Carroll is also out on loan at West Ham and could yet return.

With this in mind there is every chance that even if Borini does get himself fit before the end of the season, he will struggle to command a starting place in the side. With Rodgers surely looking to bolster his squad further in the summer, a question mark hangs over Borini’s head. With players of superior quality in his squad, the Northern Irish manager may feel that the Italian has simply not worked out and would benefit from a move back to his homeland.

Player of the Year: Manchester United’s Van Persie, Tottenham’s Bale or Liverpool’s Suarez?

Conventional wisdom says that the award for Player of the Year in the Premier League will be a three-way duel between the trio of Luis Suarez, Robin van Persie and Gareth Bale.

Paul Gorst takes a look at the pros and cons for each, as the season reaches its final quarter.

Robin van Persie: Manchester United

When Manchester United lost the Premier League title on goal difference to their bitter local rivals Manchester City last season, Sir Alex Ferguson simply decided to go and buy the top striker in the league. There was no deep-rooted analytical thinking behind the transfer other than the fact that Robin van Persie guarantees goals. His strikes have gone a long way to virtually ensuring that the title will return to Old Trafford in May.

Robin van Persie

The Dutch striker has helped himself to 19 goals in the Premier League this season and none were more important than his match-winning free-kick against City in the closing stages of the 3-2 win at the Etihad Stadium back in December. The former Arsenal man has 23 goals in all competitions and has usurped Wayne Rooney as the star man at Old Trafford.

It is also easy to forget that this is Van Persie’s first year at United, after making the switch from the Emirates Stadium for around £25m last summer. It feels as though RVP has been playing for the Red Devils for seasons and the way he has adapted to playing for one of the biggest clubs in the world has been seamless.

However, Van Persie has not scored since the win over Everton back on February 10 and has now gone 10 games without a goal. Will those stats count against him when the voting is decided?

Gareth Bale: Tottenham Hotspur

Gareth Bale is undoubtedly the man of the moment in the Premier League. The flying Welshman has helped himself to 10 goals in the last nine games for Tottenham Hotspur and is the side’s leading scorer with 16 goals in the Premier League.

Gareth Bale

The former Southampton man has also lit up the league with some memorable strikes such as his last minute wonder-strike to win the game against West Ham United last month, and his goal against Norwich City, which started with a run from his own half before he stabbed it beyond goalkeeper John Ruddy at the edge of the box, in January.

Bale’s form is such that he is even being compared by some, including team-mate Michael Dawson, to La Liga superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The comparisons to the planet’s two best players are somewhat misguided certainly, but the fact that he is drawing such evaluations is proof at least, of superb form.

The 23-year-old has netted 23 times for Spurs in all competitions this campaign. However, with Bale grabbing 10 in his last nine, that means that he was marooned on a fairly respectable, if not outstanding total of 13 goals before his wonderful effort against the Canaries back on January 30.

With the voting papers being sent out in February, has Bale done enough to convince that he should be awarded the title?

Luis Suarez: Liverpool

Luis Suarez has been the outstanding player for Liverpool this season and currently tops the Premier League scoring charts with 22 goals for the Reds.

Luis Suarez

Suarez was Liverpool’s top scorer last season, but has taken his exploits up a level this term with some breathtaking performances for Brendan Rodgers’ side. Suarez’s feats are all the more impressive when you equate in the fact that he was the Reds’ only recognised striker from September to January, when the club failed to sign a replacement for the loaned-out Andy Carroll and Italian forward Fabio Borini suffered a foot injury whilst on international duty.

The Uruguayan has toiled away admirably this season and is not only a supremely talented footballer; the former Ajax man is one of the hardest working forwards in the Premier League, which is a trait that does not go unnoticed by fans at Anfield.

Suarez has found himself playing slightly out of position since the arrival of Daniel Sturridge in January, but the tactical switch has not dulled his goal threat as the striker has helped himself to 13 goals in his last 13 games for the Reds, and has 29 in all competitions this season.

Unlike Van Persie, Suarez is operating in a team that has struggled this season during Rodgers’ first campaign in the Anfield dugout, yet he has still managed to top the goalscoring charts heading into mid-March, and will probably be the first Premier League player to reach 30 goals this season.

The forward is not as revered around the rest of England as he is in Liverpool however, with admissions of diving leaving a sour taste, and the race-row with Patrice Evra in 2011 still fresh in some minds.

Suarez’s simulation has unfairly been highlighted against Gareth Bale’s, who been booked four times this season for diving compared to Suarez’s one, but will this affect his chances when the votes are cast?

Liverpool – an added spark in the race for the Premier League top four

Over recent seasons it has been predominantly five main teams fighting it out for the top four places in the Premier League. Manchester United, City and Chelsea have ambitions of winning the division, while north London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal battle each other for the fourth place and Champions League qualification.

Admittedly Newcastle were a result or two short of breaking into this tight-knit group last term, and Everton are now aiming higher this season. However, a real shot in the arm to the Premier League’s top-four race could be the seemingly rejuvenated Liverpool.

Since the Merseyside club dropped out of top-four contention in 2009-10 with a seventh placed finish, virtually at no time have the Reds looked like they have the quality or consistency to challenge for Champions League qualification; until now. With Brendan Rodgers’ principles starting to be adopted by the playing staff, slowly but surely, Liverpool are starting to look like a side that could play in Europe’s top tournament once more.

Liverpool celebrate

Since the start of the Premier League in 1992-93 until the 2009-10 season, the Reds finished in the top four 12 times out of 17. A club with such a massive fanbase, triumphant history and 18 top-flight title wins under its belt has expectation to live up to, especially amongst the Kop faithful.

Inconsistency is still not totally eradicated from Liverpool’s game, but results and performances are starting to look up. In seventh place currently and nine points behind fourth-placed Spurs, having played a game more, it will be a big ask for the Anfield side to make the Champions League qualification places this term, but not impossible. However, come next season the club will look to breach the top four.

Given the quality of players at the Reds disposal it is not inconceivable that they should be in the running for the top four. In Daniel Sturridge they have a proven goalscorer, Luis Suarez possibly the best striker in the land and Raheem Sterling a diamond in the rough. Add to this the potential of Philippe Coutinho, enterprise of Lucas Leiva and experience of Steven Gerrard. With a more-solid looking rearguard and the limitation of individual errors from Pepe Reina, Liverpool have the potential to be as good as they have been in years.

The 49 goals they have scored in the Premier League this term is more than Manchester City and Tottenham; the club is seemingly on the up and if another quality signing or two is added in the summer, Brendan Rodgers’ men will look to start better in 2013-14 and challenge for a place amongst the big boys.

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