He has been celebrated and vilified in almost equal measure, but Luis Suarez’ seemingly imminent exit to Barcelona has the potential to cause a bigger headache for Brendan Rodgers than he experienced when trying to offload Stewart Downing. Replacing a star player is always difficult but is doable; just ask Arsene Wenger, he does it every year, but finding a way to survive without a talisman who scored 31 times in 33 games and scooped both of last season’s individual honours is a different ball game entirely. Indeed, Liverpool’s predicament is almost identical to that of Daniel Levy last summer, who had almost £100 million to replace Gareth Bale. Whether the Anfield outfit wisely reinvest the Suarez money or follow Spurs into squandering obscene amounts of cash on the likes of Erik Lamela and Roberto Soldado is completely in their hands, but given their recent summer transfer dealings this is hardly reassuring.
Although suggestions that Suarez’ departure might actually be beneficial and help Liverpool ‘play like more of a team’ can be dismissed as simply delusional (would Real Madrid really be better off if Cristiano Ronaldo left the club?), his exit could provide Brendan Rodgers the opportunity to really put into place the 4-3-3 system he clearly favours. After wisely and pragmatically utilising both 3-5-2 and a 4-4-2 diamond in order to accommodate the talents of both Suarez and £12 million revelation Daniel Sturridge, the former’s departure allows Rodgers to build his side around the latter and revert to packing the midfield with three passing players. It seems likely that the Liverpool side starting next season could see a midfield trio of Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen, particularly against the better sides, or perhaps Adam Lallana or Philippe Coutinho replacing Allen to maintain Liverpool’s attacking freedom from last season. Either way, it makes sense for Rodgers to continue with Sturridge as the only top class striker at the club, allowing the Suarez money to be spent in other areas. Given the England man’s injury record though, around £10-15 million does need to be spent on a player such as Loic Remy or Wilfried Bony, strikers who, along with Ricky Lambert, can serve as a credible alternative to Sturridge and enable Liverpool to fight on all fronts. The signing of youngster Divock Origi seems to be close, but the arrival of the 19-year-old doesn’t negate the need for a Remy-like player, as the Belgian will need time to adapt to the Premier League both on and off the pitch.
“It makes sense for Rodgers to continue with Sturridge as the only top class striker at the club, allowing the Suarez money to be spent in other area”
While the need to replace Suarez like-for-like may not be that pressing, a large chunk of his transfer fee does need to be spent on the marquee signing of someone who can play all across the front line and possesses a fair amount of pace and flair. Alexis Sanchez’ fluidity and goal threat would have been perfect, but he seems to have chosen the Manchester City development squad, also known as Arsenal, instead of Rodgers’ side. Names such as Antoine Griezmann have been suggested and the Real Sociedad man would be a good and viable option, but it seems like the Reds have their sights fixed on 20-year-old Lazar Markovic from Benfica. An exceptionally pacey player with a huge amount of potential, should the Serbian international improve his attitude in training in a similar way to Raheem Sterling’s progression, a £20 million fee could seem a snip. In the short term however, Markovic is a major risk. The signing of an established creative player who can turn a game on its head is Liverpool’s most important of the summer; fail to find the right man and the attack that flourished so much last season could find itself looking slightly toothless.
Liverpool’s most clear weakness last season was their defence, and when you’re forced to play John Flanagan out of position for half a season it’s easy to see why. The 21-year-old coped admirably, but a lack of depth in the full back areas combined with error after error from experienced centre backs ultimately meant that Liverpool feel agonisingly short of a first league title in 24 years. A new left back is the priority in order to provide both cover and competition for Jose Enrique, but numerous links with Ryan Bertrand won’t exactly be a comfort to the Anfield faithful. Instead, Brendan Rodgers should emulate Manchester United’s big money capture of Luke Shaw and stump up the required £20 million for Seville’s Alberto Moreno, a highly promising talent who can provide a long-term solution in that area. Daniel Agger has been on the wane for a while and looks likely to depart, leaving the need for a purchase of a right-footed centre back to displace Martin Skrtel from the side and partner Mamadou Sakho. Dejan Lovren is the much mooted option, but at the obscene price of £20 million it is hard to see that he would actually be an improvement on Skrtel. Steven Caulker would also be such a backwards step, and it would be much more worthwhile for Fenway Sports Group to add another few million to the Lovren bid and use it to try and snare someone like Mats Hummels, who has proven Champions League quality. Another defensive-minded midfielder could also be beneficial if Lucas does leave the club.
“Liverpool’s most clear weakness last season was their defence. Error after error mean that Liverpool fell agonisingly short of a first league title in 24 years”
While identifying the type of players Liverpool need isn’t that difficult, there is a growing fear among supporters that the club might ‘do a Spurs’ with the Suarez money; buying overpriced and overrated talent that won’t have an immediate impact. Indeed, a particularly apt comment after the Spurs debacle was that you can’t replace an iPhone by buying a watch, a camera, a torch, a satnav and a Nokia. Replacing star players like Suarez and Bale like-for-like is impossible, but behaving like a child in a sweet shop when reinvesting their transfer fee will get you nowhere fast either. Buying players like Ricky Lambert and Adam Lallana signifies that Liverpool are keen to avoid an excessive influx of foreign talent, but the warning signs are there that they may end up with several young and overpriced players who won’t be able to make an immediate Champions League level contribution.
Brendan Rodgers’ record in the transfer market, particularly in the summer, is patchy. For every Philippe Coutinho there has been a Fabio Borini, and in recent years the wider club hierarchy have largely proved themselves average negotiators and talent-spotters at best. The Bale story remains a cautionary tale for Rodgers, and Liverpool fans do have a right to be concerned. At the end of the day though, who’s to say that the man who masterminded a second place finish with Victor Moses and Iago Aspas as the only viable options from the bench won’t achieve the same heroics again?