LFC: Facts of Life in the Summer Transfer Window

As the end of the Premier League season approaches, and as Liverpool are left with nothing to play for but pride in what has been a dismal league campaign; the focus of all those at the football club has turned to the summer transfer window. With glaring holes in the back four, holding midfield, and a lack of consistent quality, ever-ready within the current squad depth – Liverpool have a lot of work to do despite signing talent in Philippe Coutinho & Daniel Sturridge in January.

To go forward, often we must look back, and the same can be said for LFC who have felt the heat after 3 awful summer transfer windows, that have resulted in world class players being replaced by those who are mediocre in comparison. Alonso. Arbeloa. Mascherano. Benayoun. Kuyt. Torres. Rodriguez. Meireles. Aurellio. Babel: have won 64 major honors between them. Add in the retirement of Sami Hyppia, who won 12 honors throughout his career, and that number goes up to 76 trophies leaving Liverpool since 2009.

Their replacements by comparison in Aquilani, Jovanovic, Poulson, Konchesky, Downing, Henderson, Carroll, Coates, Allen, and Borini have a combined trophy tally of only 27.Ten trophies come from Christian Poulson who won 5 trophies with Sevilla in 2007. Eight of that number comes from Milan Jovanovic, whom won 6 trophies in the Belgian Pro League during his time with Standard Liege & R.S.C. Anderlecht.

If Liverpool’s 2012 League Cup win and Christian Poulson’s tally are excluded, only 4 trophies can be claimed from Europe’s top 5 leagues between 10 players.

The opposite can be said for the first group of players who collected a staggering 53 of 76 trophies within Europe’s top 5 leagues. Alonso, Torres, and Arbeloa have won a World Cup and are twice European Champions with Spain. Javier Mascherano was a part of Barcelona’s incredible quintuple in the 2011 season. With the exception of Maxi Rodriguez & Fabio Aurellio who have gone home to their respective countries in South America – all of that group of players are still striving for the highest standard at some of the best football clubs in the world.

Coupled with the inevitable aging of Steven Gerrard & Jamie Carragher, it’s easy to see how Liverpool has suffered its recent decline.

There has been much talk about how Liverpool went from Champions League semi finalists and 4 points from a Premier League title to 8th place 2 years later. A failed ownership. A managerial turnstile. A poor scouting network. Sure. But the failure to replace top talent is the real reason that Liverpool have suffered while new rivals have emerged in Tottenham and Manchester City. The validity of this argument is proved with Chelsea who have had 7 managers since 2007, but have won the Premier League, FA Cup, Champions League since then, despite having their fair share of controversy.

The players are the petrol. They power the engine that fills stadiums, pockets, and hearts. It’s players that Liverpool need to reach the pinnacle of the game once again, not speeches, tv specials, or second chances. You cannot replace proven players of world class caliber with unproven players that are merely have the potential to be great. Perhaps, in years past, this was true. But in a football climate currently dominated by money and short attention spans – keeping up is everything.

Liverpool are at a disadvantage compared to other top European clubs. They play in the Barclay’s Premier League where the competition for Champions League places has truly been whittled down to 1 open spot. Manchester United will qualify as long as Fergie is breathing. They win games before a ball is kicked, much like Liverpool did in the 70s and 80s. Chelsea have too much money to fail for more than one season, Roman Abramovich sees to that. The only hope for football purists is that he gets bored soon and sells the club – this may only happen if he goes through the remaining 4 managers in Europe he hasn’t driven from CFC, and would actually want to deal with him. Manchester City have more money than fathomable, they aren’t going away unless FIFA actually enforces FIFA Financial Fair Play – which seems to only apply to poor clubs who don’t pay their wages in the first place.

That leaves a single place for Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham & whoever else is having a good season to fight over in order to be in Europe’s premier club competition. At the risk of sounding like a spoiled, whiney child: it’s not fair. But it’s reality. So Liverpool, like all Premier League clubs have to deal with it. Lucky for Liverpool, LFC is an established club. We have a fan base that will never go away, therefore guaranteed revenue. We have a history that will always attract quality players, so we don’t have to deal with the rollercoaster of relegation. Liverpool fans by nature are always looking up at a golden sky, and our club being the best again is always on our minds. We’ve only began to look down again as others around us cast their shadow. With Tottenham, Manchester City, and Chelsea annually acting on ambition, spending millions on players at the drop of the hat; Liverpool will have to sign talent on integrity, and get rid of players who do not perform.

Xabi Alonso and Christian Eriksen are two players everyone wants at Anfield next season. If Eriksen doesn’t arrive, predict a riot, because there will be one from Liverpool fans across the globe. Ian Ayre & co should be doing whatever they can to sign the talented want-away Ajax star. If Xabi Alonso came back to Liverpool, he would be welcomed with open arms. Liverpool is craving consistency above all else, and no one can ever doubt Xabi Alonso’s quality. He is often the very first name on Jose Mourinho’s team sheet at Madrid, as he was for Liverpool, and the same can be said for La Seleccion. Alonso manages the game from the first whistle to the last, and controls the ebb and flow of momentum in a way that is worthy of the FIFA World XI.

After sorting out the attack in January, and hopefully the midfield with the aforementioned players – Liverpool also desperately need to plug the gaps in defense. Far too many goals have been let in from simple defensive errors. An errand backpass. A missed marking assignment from open play and set pieces. A simple offside trap squandered, resulting in a 1 v 1 with the keeper, which many teams have finished against Liverpool this campaign.

There is a strong argument that the midfield is not offering the back four the kind of protection they need to be solid throughout. This is also glaringly apparent when playing with two wingbacks in Glen Johnson & Jose Enrique. When a player sees number 3 or number 2 storming up in front of them, they should instinctively know that there are only two players behind them to defend a swift counter attack. Other than set pieces, Liverpool have conceded a majority of goals this season from counter attacking play, against the games’ momentum.

Martin Skrtel has repaid the signing of a new long term deal at Anfield by, quite frankly, playing awful. This is worrying as he was Liverpool’s player of the season in 2012. He seems to have lost some pace, but has also made some glaring errors in defense. Bad mistakes. Poor on set pieces. Holding players onside. He’s cost us more goals than anyone, resulting in Jamie Carragher being restored to a starting centre back role. Skrtel isn’t the only one. Carragher is aging, and has lost that half step that has allowed him to make tackles of legend in the past. His lack of playing time early on in the season has seen him have to shake off some of the rust. Daniel Agger has been average all year. He has been healthy. He has been better than Skrtel, but Agger is not on form, and Liverpool desperately need him to be excellent at the moment. Coates is missing. Apart from hanging out with Lucas and Luis Suarez – he’s only made 10 total appearances in four competitions this season. Only three of those games have come in the league.

Some would argue that apart from a quality goalkeeper, an ultra reliable centre back is the rarest commodity in the game. Spurs have benefited from signing Jan Vertonghen in the summer; he has easily been their best player apart from Gareth Bale. Spurs have always scored goals, but they also conceded them until this season. Liverpool will truly be ruing a missed opportunity in not signing that player, especially as Spurs will look on to qualify for the Champions League next season, appeasing the player’s ambition. Without some miracle, Liverpool will not be able to say the same.

I am not afraid to admit that I haven’t had time to do the research on which quality centre back Liverpool should sign next season. I’m not just going to throw names out there everyone else is saying. I don’t believe in that sort of compromising of integrity, if I suggest someone, then I believe the club should sign them tomorrow. What I will say, is that whoever we sign must have three qualities. They have to have pace – Brendan Rodgers style leave us open on the counter attack. We need a centre back that’s able to recover. Martin Skrtel can’t do that, neither can Jamie Carragher, or Coates – it’s a main reason we’ve been conceding goals this year. It’s not enough for only Agger to be able to keep pace with a striker because Enrique and Johnson are halfway up the pitch.

They have to be able to contain, and tackle without fouling. It’s a given. However, if you look at the goals Liverpool have been conceding this year, defensive positioning has been dismal. Despite no new players adding to the back four, the chemistry between Agger, Skrtel, Carragher, Johnson, and Enrique has been terrible. Martin Kelly’s injury has had a big impact, because he’s a consistent player that offers another option. It is rumored that he may be given Jamie Carragher’s iconic number 23 next season. A lot of missed tackles have resulted in the defense being caught out, and an opposing team gaining an advantage on the break.

The most important quality of any footballer is their decision making ability. It only takes one second to win or lose a game, and the stakes aren’t any higher than at the centre back position. Go left, go right, push up, move back, risk a yellow card – or not. By nature, defenders are at a disadvantage, because they are continually reacting to the opposition with no room for expression. Attackers are the creative ones, defenders try to crush their muse. Often the center defenders are the smartest players on the pitch because usually they are facing opposition who are better on the ball, and faster. Being intelligent is their only advantage, other than brute strength; if a player relies on the later they will concede fouls, earn cards, get sent off, and plateau their level of football before the elite level. Liverpool need to find themselves an elite centre back, or one who has the mental and physical discipline to keep pace with the Premier League.

The lack of being able to build through midfield, and dominate the center of the pitch, coupled with gaps in Liverpool’s defense see them losing against West Brom, Swansea, Stoke, Aston Villa, Oldham, and Southampton. Drawing games instead of winning, after conceding poor goals. All the while, dominating possession in every match played so far this season. Another glaring factor is Liverpool also aren’t physically dominant, in a physically dominant league.

Some teams get by in the Premier League on their physicality alone, being able to run 90 minutes, go shoulder to shoulder, win headers, and create space by shielding and using their bodies, etc. Liverpool have the youngest squad in the Premier League with an average age of just over 23; at one point at the start of the season, 5 teenagers were rotating in and out of the starting squad. Players like Joe Allen, Suso, and Sterling are still growing into their bodies. Andre Wisdom has really only become a beast of man-child in the last year, and is also working on body control, along with Henderson. Being able to deal with 90 minutes of physical play is something that Liverpool has struggled with all season.

Liverpool will never settle for 8th place, or 5th really. Fourth is a consolation prize for a club that will always want to win the league. We came close in 2009, but after that our quality of play has sadly dissipated. What happened? We did not replace our star players, and our rivals have become stronger. This has resulted in poor league form.

The key is players. The last two seasons have been an opportunity to reflect on what has made us so strong in the past. The quality of players is everything in football. Very rarely is there a player who has their best game every single game. Liverpool want players whose average game is still better than almost anyone else. The only way to get back to that point is to win games. The only way to win games is to plug holes. The only way to plug holes in the grind of a 4 competition, 9 months season, is to sign great players – the cycle begins again. Liverpool have a chance this summer to change their cycle; if we spend the money, and sign the quality of players the club needs to qualify for the Champions League outright – LFC will start a cycle of domination once again.

SCOUTING REPORT: Luke Shaw - Southampton

It’s well known. The academy at Southampton Football Club must be doing something right. Theo Walcott & Alex Oxaide-Chamberlain precede young Luke Shaw as the next big thing to come out of the Saints youth academy recently. Seventeen year old Shaw is very impressive, so far showing great ball control at a fast pace, poise in tight situations and a strong resolve and dedication to deal with the physicality of the premier league.

Talent coming up from the youth system, and going on to wear white at Wembley, are a bright spot in an otherwise bleak modern era so far at Southampton, after having been previously relegated from the Premier League in 2005. Before that time Southampton enjoy 27 successive seasons in england’s top flight.

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It’s not everyday you say a 17 year old oozes class, but the desire to do well comes off Shaw in waves. He seems like an everyday lad who just plays his football, but it’s easy to see that Shaw is someone who would one day like to see himself as one the best in the world. That’s the kind of attitude that gets rewarded the most and the most often in football.

No matter what happens to Southampton by the end of the season, it’s sure that Luke Shaw will be a Premier League player. Quiet speculation looms, Liverpool, Man Utd, and Arsenal are shuffling together funds. Shaw could be another piece to the puzzle.

Unlike most players which previously may have found themselves in a similar position, Shaw has many options that will help him grow on & off the pitch. Liverpool, Arsenal, and Man Utd are all brimming with english talent.

Arsenal, which is heavily known for it’s youth policy under Arsene Wenger, would add Shaw to maturing Wilshire, Kieran Gibbs, and Alex Oxaide-Chamberlain. It is still too early in Shaw’s professional career to tell if he will be a midfielder or defender, but he could help solidify the core of Arsenal’s side.

At Old Trafford, Shaw will have the opportunity to link up with the likes of established England international Wayne Rooney, and other england teammates in Tom Cleverley, Chris Smalling, Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones. However, playing time may be harder to come by as Man Utd look to bolster their back line in the summer, and no player gets guarantees under Ferguson.

Shaw’s other option would be to link up with Captain Steven Gerrard at Liverpool, which is also once again boasting top British talent. Jordan Henderson is seeming more impressive with every passing week, as Brendan Rodgers continues grooming his young players. Andre Wisdom, Raheem Sterling, Jonjo Shelvey, and Martin Kelly have been impressive under Rodgers. Liverpool has the youngest side in the premier league and the club is currently enjoying a transition period which has allowed many players to grow quickly. Shaw would come in already having the experience of playing regularly in a premier league season.

Some out there are calling Shaw the ‘next’ Gareth Bale, as his physicality, blistering pace and ability to control the ball are well developed at his age. He has the opportunity to play with the next Steven Gerrard and the real one if he plays for Liverpool.

All three clubs will probably enquire about the services of Luke Shaw as one of the first items on their agenda this summer. All three have questions in defense, and all three have more the achieve.

Manchester United at still dominant in the Fergie era, but it’s easy to seem their weakness at the back by conceding uncharacteristic goals the last two seasons. This doesn’t seem to deter them too much from being at the top of the table. This looks unlikely to change until Fergie stops mashing his gum in the dugout of Old Trafford.

Arsenal need to spend this summer to prove to their supporters them want to compete. With no guarantees of Champions League football next season, a lot of what Arsenal’s transfer policy wont be established until May. What is clear is that Arsenal fans are hungry for the silverware that’s just over the horizon. Luke Shaw might be another piece to get them there, but some Arsenal supporters are tired of waiting for young men to blossom.

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Liverpool are in just as a precarious situation as Arsenal, as they have failed to qualify for the Champions League since 2009. An entire rebuilding of the squad, which will result in only Reina, Gerrard and Lucas remaining from the Benitez era, may offer Shaw more opportunities to impress than perhaps with another team. If Liverpool qualify for the Champions League, they will surely look for more experienced players, but Anfield has always seen value in the type of attitude Shaw displays on the pitch. Liverpool tends to be a place where players are remembered for doing the big things right all the time, and the spectacular right on the occasion. Then, there are also the legends who are spectacular on their own.

It is almost a certainty Shaw will go if Southampton are relegated, as is usually the case with stand out players in a relegation side. He’s loyal to the club, but the Saints could be looking to secure their own financial future with Shaw’s sale. Shaw seems like an intelligent young man who is very mindful of the length of his career. He’s starting to carve a name out for himself. The future of English football looks bright, it’s been said before, but with a new generation playing alongside the most skilled players in the world. Britons never looked more poised for greatness. Look out world football for England & Southampton’s Luke Shaw.