The season has just passed the halfway mark and at long last some of Liverpool’s much maligned summer signings are starting to make their presence felt. The jury is still out on all of them, but at least some of the eight new recruits now seem to have settled in and are making a contribution. Lazar Markovic has been in fine form of late, Adam Lallana has caught the eye when he hasn’t been on the treatment table and in recent weeks Emre Can and Alberto Moreno have both forced their way into the side on a regular basis. Dejan Lovren and Mario Balotelli on the other hand…
Here’s a six-month assessment of Liverpool’s 2014 “boys of summer.” (Ratings on a scale of 1 – 10):
Local lad Lambert was supposed to be the “Plan B” option off the bench that the Reds lacked at times last season. The Chelsea defeat at Anfield was seen as the perfect example of why Liverpool needed a player like him. Rodgers had spoken very highly of the veteran forward in the past and on the surface it appeared a match made in heaven. Lambert would finally get to play for his boyhood club after spending most of his career in the lower leagues believing that the opportunity to pull on the Red shirt had passed him by, while Liverpool were getting an accomplished target man capable of scoring and creating goals while offering something vastly different to the other forwards at the club.
Don’t forget, Luis Suarez was still very much a Liverpool player when Lambert arrived. Sadly for Rickie the landscape changed dramatically as Suarez left, Daniel Sturridge got injured and Mario Balotelli flopped spectacularly. Suddenly, by default, Liverpool needed Lambert to be “Plan A,” which was never meant to be the case.
Having gotten off to a poor start in preseason (even missing a penalty, and he never misses penalties) his struggles continued once the real action began. He wasn’t playing well and neither were the team. It was a difficult situation and it became more than a little uncomfortable to watch at times. The “dream move” was fast becoming a nightmare, particularly as the Southampton side he left behind were doing so well and were — and indeed still are — looking down on Liverpool from a lofty position in the top three.
Eventually, he began to settle down and show a bit of form and he even scored a couple of goals when he was eventually given a run in the side. His lack of pace and mobility restricts Liverpool’s preferred style of play, however, and he was jettisoned in favour of a more mobile front line of Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho. The return of Sturridge will further reduce his opportunities to get on the field but perhaps returning to the “Plan B” role which he was signed for won’t do him any harm.
It’s hard to overstate just how disappointing Lovren has been thus far. Billed as the solution to Liverpool’s well-documented defensive problems, he’s merely added to them. The Croatian started the season badly and if anything has gotten worse as it’s gone on. His mere presence on the field makes supporters nervous at the moment, which is not what you’d expect from the most expensive defender in club history.
So what’s the problem? Well, his positioning has been suspect but that’s something that the coaching staff should really be able to straighten out. His confidence has no doubt been affected, too, but again, this is something that is fixable. Confidence will return once he gets a couple of good games under his belt. He just needs to calm down a little and stop making rash decisions. That’s been the biggest issue: decision-making. Lovren comes across as a player who is trying too hard to impress, constantly diving into tackles instead of keeping a cool head and staying on his feet.
As disappointing as he’s been so far, there’s time for him to turn it around and he shouldn’t be written off yet as players don’t suddenly become bad overnight. Lovren impressed at Southampton last year and has a good pedigree. The continued struggles of experienced, highly rated international defenders at Liverpool points to a wider issue, specifically coaching. Jamie Carragher recently stated that Lovren’s problems are “easily fixed.” The question is do Liverpool have the people to do it?
Rating: 3 (but the only way is up, surely?)
The German youngster can play, there’s no question of that. The dilemma for Rodgers is more about exactly where he should play, as Can’s versatility is such that he could probably fill any position except goalkeeper. Given the problems Liverpool have experienced between the sticks it may only be a matter of time before he’s given a run in goal!
Can has certainly shown flashes of promise and looks to have a bright future, but such versatility can often hinder as much as help a player. While it often means increased playing time (managers tend to love “jack of all trades” players), being moved from position to position can make it difficult to hold down a regular spot and the danger is you become a fill-in player. Carragher spent most of the early part of his career being shuffled around the field getting games wherever he could. He was usually in the side most weeks, but never regarded as a long-term first choice until eventually he found a home at centre-back.
That’s the role Can is filling at the moment and he’s looked quite impressive on the right of a back three. Perhaps in time that’s where he’ll end up permanently, but Rodgers recently said that Can’s preferred position is holding midfield. Given that’s a position of weakness for the Reds and Can has rarely been used there suggests he’s not yet ready for that responsibility or lacks the tactical discipline of someone like Lucas Leiva at the moment.
There’s a lot to like about the Spanish youngster but he doesn’t look like someone who has a long-term future at the club. He’s on a two-year loan and has not shown enough yet for fans to be clamouring for that deal to be made permanent. He’s enthusiastic and a tenacious defender, but has limitations going forward and doesn’t seem a particularly good fit for how Rodgers ideally likes his full-backs to play.
Manquillo has seen a considerable amount of playing time due to the long-term absence of Jon Flanagan and various injuries to Glen Johnson, but with both on the comeback trail he’s unlikely to feature much over the next few months. Was it really worth paying a loan fee to bring him in when Andre Wisdom could have filled that role at least as well if not better?
He was billed as “Jordy Alba lite” when he was snapped up from Sevilla, but Moreno’s been somewhat of a disappointment so far. It’s not that he’s been bad, he’s shown it in flashes and clearly there’s talent there, but he’s been inconsistent and at times defensively poor (costly mistakes at Man City and Newcastle spring to mind), which has resulted in him being in and out of the side.
Admittedly he set the bar high with that wonderful goal against Spurs in just his second game and it would be unfair to expect that every week, but for a player as quick and talented as he is, more is expected in the attack. That said, he’s still young and it’s fair to believe he will go on to be a success at Anfield. Moreno could really kick on in the second half of this season, especially as this 3-4-2-1 system appears to suit him perfectly.
The injury he picked up in preseason was a massive blow to Liverpool going into the new season. Lallana was the player Rodgers coveted above all others last summer, so to lose him for six weeks without him having even kicked a ball must have been hugely disappointing. When he did return, it appeared that Rodgers did not know where to use him, or whether to use him at all. It was all rather strange, he was either played out wide or he was on the bench. Despite looking lively when selected, Lallana often found himself struggling to get into the side and it is only in recent weeks that Rodgers has been able to find a system which allows both Lallana and Coutinho to get on the pitch at the same time and to both play central with licence to roam.
It was working a treat too until Lallana picked up another injury. This time it was not serious and he’s due back shortly, which is important for the Reds as he has been the most successful of the summer recruits to this point, with the high point being a dazzling two-goal performance against Swansea recently.
“Super Mario” is a likeable character and I’d love nothing more than for him to be a success at Anfield. Unfortunately, two goals in six months — neither of which came in the Premier League — tells its own story. That is a pitiful return for a player of his cost, salary and reputation. Unlike fellow two-goal forward Lambert, Balotelli wasn’t signed as a “Plan B” and he didn’t come cheap. Expectations of him were much higher and he’s failed to deliver. Quite spectacularly in fact.
It simply hasn’t worked out so far and it appears highly unlikely that will change, especially as it’s clear that Rodgers just doesn’t fancy him at all (and probably never did, if truth be told). There is still one small glimmer of hope for the Italian though: the impending return of Sturridge. Balotelli has not been able to cut it as a lone frontman, but he did appear to click immediately with Sturridge in the one game they played as a pair (his debut at White Hart Lane). To paraphrase a line from “Dumb & Dumber”: It may only be one in a million, but yes, I’m telling you there’s a chance!
Rating: 3 (sorry, Mario)
In the early part of the season he looked the worst of the summer recruits by some distance. In recent weeks he’s looked the best. It’s been quite the transformation for the 20-year-old Serb, who has gone from looking terrified to try anything to a player who looks a real menace full of pace and purpose. There probably wasn’t one specific moment that transformed him — it was probably more a case of him gradually adjusting to the pace of the game and what is required of him . But the change in formation has certainly worked to his advantage as, perhaps surprisingly, he’s proven to be a very accomplished wing-back in this new system.
That wasn’t the role he was bought for of course, but it’s one he looks very comfortable in and he provides a real threat regardless of whether he’s used on the left or the right. Perhaps even more surprising is how well he’s done defensively. He’s diligent in his defensive duties, whether that be tracking runners or winning headers, and his brilliant performance at Sunderland last weekend has whetted the appetite of fans who want to see if he can continue to build on it.
Rating: 6.5 (but climbing fast)
Despite the teething troubles of many of the new signings and the long-term injury to Sturridge, Liverpool still find themselves well in the hunt for a place in the top four. If even half of the players listed above can improve on their grades in the second half of the season there’s every reason to believe Liverpool can still enjoy a relatively successful season.
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