By Hari Sethi
WITH the last remnants of Christmas indulgence finally vacating our previously packed fridges, peoples’ focus now turns to 2014 and the promise and hope only a new year can bring.
A new year is treated by many as a new slate, a blank canvas on which to paint broad strokes of ambition and an opportunity to build upon our successes, whilst acknowledging and righting our wrongs.
All across the world people gaze longingly towards a new year, with the promise of an unwritten future providing the most potent form of hopefulness imaginable
Football fans are well accustomed to such an intoxicating elixir, with the New Year serving to replenish the seemingly endless stocks of aspiration and often-irrational desire, which help to sustain the average supporter.
For Brendan Rodgers’ side, 2013 is a year that can be reflected on with fondness, summed up with one word that has long eluded the club in recent years, that word being progress.
After a difficult first 6 months, during which Rodgers battled to instil his philosophy upon a young team not entirely suited to the football he demanded of them, 2013 has provided bountiful evidence that his Anfield outfit are finally heading in the right direction.
Scoring an impressive tally of 86 goals and racking up 20 wins, Liverpool have begun to re-establish themselves as a team that is very much in the reckoning for the Premier League’s top four; as Rodgers would say, they’re in the ‘conversation.’
Yet despite topping the table for Christmas, the Reds suffered consecutive defeats for the first time during the Irishman’s tenure and fond themselves entering 2014 in fifth place.
LFC’s performance against City has rightly garnered praise from sections of the footballing media, with the visitors outplaying the formidable home side, only to come away empty handed.
However, the loss to Chelsea revealed Liverpool’s squad to be severely lacking in depth, with a series of injuries finally taking their toll on a talented, yet overworked first XI. Both defeats also served to emphasise exactly where the team needs improvements if it’s truly to be considered a competitor for not just the CL places, but the title itself.
Mention the January window and club spokesmen across the country are all likely to reach for one of the following stock phrases:
“It’s a notoriously tough window January.”
“It’s not easy to get the right players in January.”
“It’s not easy to get value for money in January.”
Yet despite the perception of the January window as one where both value and talent are difficult to attain, the business Liverpool do in the first month of 2014 could considerably boost their CL ambitions and possibly provide an even greater award.
The introduction of the club’s new transfer committee saw Liverpool pull off a remarkably successful window in January 2013, with the acquisitions of Phillipe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge spurring the reds on to a strong finish.
Should LFC be able to replicate the success of last January’s business, the club would receive a significant shot of adrenaline in its pursuit of elite European football next season.
Given that Liverpool will likely have around £25-30m to spend in January, should the right targets become available, below are the positions that Rodgers should look to prioritise.
A Foolproof Fullback
With Jose Enrique’s knee surgery ruling him out for a prolonged period of the season and loanee Aly Cissokho failing to impress, Rodgers has been forced to try a number of different combinations at LB this season.
Whilst local youngster Jon Flanagan (a natural RB) has contributed with determined if unspectacular performances in the position, the style of football Rodgers aspires to requires a more effective attacking threat from its fullbacks.
With Johnson’s recent struggles for any semblance of form, Liverpool currently find themselves with fullbacks that despite offering outlets in advanced positions up the pitch, have little end product or attacking threat.
Martin Montoya – FC Barcelona
The 22-year-old Spanish RB has yet to sign an extension at Barcelona and thus has numerous clubs monitoring his situation like vultures. With reports stating Ian Ayre has already made the club’s formal interest known, should Montoya become a viable target, the Reds are likely to pounce.
However, given the player’s increasing appearances in Tata Martino’s side this season, it’s highly likely that the talented youngster will prove impossible to prise from the Camp Nou.
Since Liverpool lost their Argentinean destroyer to Barcelona in 2010 their midfield has never been the same.
Despite Lucas’ form in 2011 showcasing a player that could potentially fill the midfield void, his performances since returning from his ACL injury have been consistently insufficient.
Though Lucas is still capable of harrying lower league opposition into errors, the Brazilian has lost what little pace he did have and no longer has the energy to compete with more dynamic midfields. As a result, Liverpool’s defence doesn’t receive the protection it requires to fully realise Rodgers’ style of play and is therefore alarmingly susceptible to the counter and surging runs of opposing AM’s.
To truly compete in games against elite opposition, Liverpool require an heir to Mascherano’s still vacant midfield throne. A physically dominant and dynamic defensive midfielder, who is able to both shield the defence and enable the Red’s attacking midfielders to press forward without fear of repercussion.
Rodgers’ team is also suffering from a lack of height, with Coutinho, Allen, Sterling and Lucas all under 6ft. Whilst this doesn’t impair their ability to form a cohesive midfield unit, added height would presumably enable Sakho to become the free man from set pieces, allowing him to focus purely on attacking the ball, something Hyypia did so effectively.
Of all the positions Liverpool could look to improve upon in January, a defensive midfielder is by far the most important, as should the Red’s acquire the right player, it would enhance both their attacking and defensive capabilities.
Yann M’Vila – FC Rubin Kazan
Spotted in the away end at Goodison Park for November’s Merseyside derby, rumours of Liverpool’s interest in the M’Vila have many fans excited.
Along with Mahmadou Sakho the 23yr old defensive midfielder was heralded as one of France’s biggest talents only a few years ago, but a series of off field disciplinary issues saw the troubled star head to Russian club Rubin Kazan in January 2013.
Unlike typical midfield destroyers, M’Vila is a surprisingly efficient passer of the ball and most effective when deployed in a double pivot.
Though the Frenchman’s long passing is impressive, he thrives off short, and simple distribution of the ball to a team’s more creative outlets. Calm in possession, yet disciplined and focussed in his defensive duties, M’Vila seems the perfect choice to partner the likes of Allen, Coutinho and Henderson in the Red’s midfield.
A Stevie for the future
With Liverpool’s talismanic midfielder coming towards the end of his career, Gerrard has seemingly accepted that his role in the team will now be as a deep lying playmaker.
Although the Huyton born midfielder has taken to his new responsibilities with admirable determination, many still believe that Gerrard’s true talents as an attacking threat are being wasted as a result.
With Gerrard still capable of thirty-minute cameos that showcase his infamous ability to surge forward and take the game to an opposition’s defence, Rodgers may yet deploy his captain in a more familiar position, should he acquire suitable midfield reinforcements.
Despite his career having not yet reached its expiry date, Liverpool have already begun to identify targets deemed worthy of replicating their aging captain’s role within the team.
Summer target Henrikh Mkhitaryan seemed a perfect fit; an attacking midfielder, whose goals and assists had made him one of the emerging talents in Europe.
And although Liverpool eventually lost out to Dortmund in their pursuit of Mkhitaryan, the fact that the club had targeted the Armenian conveyed that the Red’s were pursuing the correct profile of player for the future of their midfield.
Julian Draxler – FC Schalke 04
Just 20-years old, Draxler is one of the most promising midfielders Germany has produced in recent years, with his strong dribbling, shooting and ball control making him one of the most eye catching young talents in the Bundesliga.
Though he is capable of playing anywhere across the midfield, Draxler has been utilised more centrally since the departure of Lewis Holtby and has begun to display a consistency is his ability to provide assists and goals.
Schalke have already resisted an approach from Dortmund for their prized possession and it’s unlikely that any team without CL football would stand a chance in a pursuit of the talented young midfielder.
However, should Liverpool finish the season strongly, a move for Draxler would be a serious statement of intent and could potentially make replacing Steven Gerrard, considerably less painful.