Suarez has every right to leave Liverpool – but future stars mustn’t get the opportunity

By Jack Poland

As the increasingly tiresome Luis Suarez transfer saga barrels its way through gossip columns on a daily basis, many Liverpool fans are justifiably concerned about going into next season without their divisive, yet undeniably gifted, forward. Absurd digressions aside, Luis Suarez was phenomenal last season – lighting up even the drabbest of games with his hypnotic dribbling and markedly improved finishing, managing 23 goals in total.

Suarez himself has added his voice to the rumours on so many occasions, that even the self-styled spokesman of all things football Dave Whelan may soon be asking the Uruguayan to pipe down. The lure of Real Madrid and the endless chastisement from the British media are just two of the reasons Suarez has given for considering his future. To the Reds fans though, such explanations are irrelevant. For all the fans care, his prime reason for leaving could be his disappointment with the abomination that is the new away kit – as long as he is not in a Liverpool shirt come the end of his suspension it will certainly be seen as a huge loss and fans will simply learn to move on.

The problem Liverpool supporters may be slowly beginning to learn however, and something that manager Brendan Rodgers must address, is the emerging pattern of star players moving on without having made a lasting impression in terms of honours. One suspects Suarez’s real reason for looking elsewhere lies in his warranted belief that, as a world-class player, he belongs in a world-class team that is challenging for trophies – an explanation that fans, with a heavy heart, must accept. If their star man is to leave this summer, a priority for Rodgers must surely be to not allow a player to be able to use the same rationale in the future. What Liverpool fans wouldn’t give to lay the blame for the departure of a player on the manager (Rafa Benitez – Xabi Alonso to Madrid) or even the player himself (Steven Gerrard almost – 2005) rather than the performances of their team.

Luis Suarez

When Fernando Torres left Anfield for Chelsea, the pain that came with it for Liverpool fans was short lived with the arrival of Suarez from Ajax. The transition was seamless yet the relief merely masked the heavy reliance on their star men. In Torres and Suarez, Liverpool have had the enviable fortune of boasting two 20-goals-a-season strikers amongst their arsenal yet have only managed to win a League Cup since the signing of Torres in July 2007.

If, or when, Suarez departs, the main objective for Brendan Rodgers and managing director Ian Ayre must be to use the vast sum that would come with the transfer to buy players that contribute to the talent that is slowly merging at Anfield in Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge. The reasonably priced signing of Spanish forward Iago Aspas and the potentially canny decision to sign Ivorian stalwart Kolo Toure on a free must surely be welcomed despite those expecting a £40m marquee signing should Suarez depart. A quick glance to the claret and blue section of East London should serve as a reminder that panic buying after the loss of a influential player isn’t always the most sensible option.

In the absence of Suarez through suspension Liverpool began to look like a team enjoying their football, scoring 12 in their last five league games, and although the loss of such a quality player would be a blow, the solution may not necessarily lie in a like-for-like big money signing. In disregarding other needed improvements in the squad they may well deprive themselves of a genuine chance to build a squad capable of qualifying for the Champions League.  Rodgers has to ensure that the likes of Coutinho and Sturridge contribute to the success of the club rather than let them be harvested for two or three seasons just for a Champions League team to prise them away as the endless cycle continues.

As pre-season approaches, Liverpool find themselves in a rare position of stability as many around them go through substantial transitions, and it would hurt fans if this current transfer saga knocks any effort to capitalise on this off course – a hurt that would last far longer than any felt with the loss of Luis Suarez.

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.

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.

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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