Strength in Depth for Liverpool in 2012

By Bill Farnham

(Note: by the time you read this, more moves might have taken place.  Such is the danger in posting a piece on transfer deadline day.)

Liverpool does not have the strength in depth to effectively challenge for the Premier League title this season.  There, I’ve said it.  No more beating around the bush or pretending otherwise.  It’s a fact.  If you disagree bless you, and I am not being sarcastic or disingenuous.  I’m not stopping there, however.  Liverpool does not have the strength in depth to contend for the top four this season.  Outrageous, eh?  Heresy, right?  What a load of bollocks, I hear you say… well, maybe not.  Let’s look at the situation in the cold hard light of a new Premier League campaign with the fourth manager in four seasons and an eighth place finish to hang LFC’s hat on.

Liverpool’s two most important offensive players have a tendency to miss a fair number of games.  During the 2010 Eredivisie season Luis Suarez bit another player on the shoulder during a match and was suspended for 2 games by Ajax (with the Royal Dutch Football Association later increasing the suspension to seven league games).  In 2011 Suarez was found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra by the English Football Association and was suspended for 8 games (just stating the facts, not passing judgement).  Barring any absences due to injury or tiredness (between the World Cup, Copa America, Olympics, and his professional commitments, Suarez has played more football over the last three years than anyone else I can name) it would seem to be a safe bet that Luis Suarez will miss some games this season.

Steven Gerrard, the other player of whom much will be asked from a creative and offensive standpoint this season (not to mention leadership), also has a tendency to miss a lot of games recently.
Let’s look at the numbers:

Season

2011

2010

2009

2008

Matches Started:

12

20

32

30

Substitute Appearances:

6

1

1

1

Minutes Played:

1,212

1,869

2,850

2,630

I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I think it is a risky idea to place a great deal of responsibility for the overall success of a team at the feet of an individual who might only be able to start in 20-25 league games (admit it – you’d be thrilled if Gerrard were able to start more than 20 league games this season.  I would be.) this season (going back even further shows that Gerrard averaged over 32 Premier League games per season from the 2001 season through the 2009 season, so while the last two seasons are clear outliers, Gerrard has a lot of miles on his legs and perhaps a trend is evident).  Unless Brendan Rogers has a plan to limit Gerrard’s minutes in much the same way that an American baseball pitcher might pitch towards an inning limit or a pitch count, it’s pretty much a given that Gerrard will get injured and miss double digit games this season.

The cover for Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel is far from being good enough for a team that expects to challenge for a spot in the top four.  I like Sebastian Coates, and he certainly has the pedigree to become a top center half, but he played a grand total of 484 minutes in the Premier League last season.  Right now he is a season (or maybe two) away from being a top flight center half, despite his performance in last weekend’s match against Manchester City.  As for Jamie Carragher, let’s say that I am enormously appreciative of all the things he has done in a Liverpool shirt in the past and leave it at that.  Martin Kelly certainly appears as though he could slot in nicely at center half, and the partnership of Coates and Kelly in the center of defense could be a very interesting option for Liverpool in the years to come, but Kelly is also penciled in as cover on the right for Glen Johnson on the right.  As it stands right now, Liverpool does not have a stand in at center half for big games should either Agger or Skrtel be unavailable, and that is problematic, especially for a team with top five ambitions.

If Pepe Reina misses any Premier League games this season, Liverpool could be in real trouble.  Seriously.  And I even watched the Hearts game.  Brad Jones played all of 64 minutes in the League last season.  Fabio Aurelio played more minutes than he did.  Fabio Aurelio.  Liverpool desperately needs a goalkeeper to provide backup for Reina, especially one that is capable of providing veteran leadership and playing in big games.  If any of Tottenham’s potential transfers go through, Brad Friedel might be an interesting option for the Reds to pursue.

Midfield is an area where Liverpool certainly has a large number of players to choose from; however this is clearly a case of quantity over quantity.  Jay Spearing, despite his marvelous work ethic and attitude, is just not good enough to be a consistent starter in the Premier League for a team with Champions League ambitions, and his loan move to Bolton looks like an appropriate piece of business.  Jonjo Shelvey, who put in a good shift against Manchester City, and Jordan Henderson both appear to have the skill set required to be serviceable first team/squad players for Liverpool, however they haven’t managed to put it all together yet, and neither is ready to become a regular starter.  The fact that Henderson was offered to Fulham in a potential deal for Clint Dempsey speaks volumes about his future options under Brendan Rogers.  Joe Allen, Steven Gerrad and Lucas Leiva are all clearly top shelf midfielders who could slot easily into most Premier League sides; however Gerrard has been inconsistent so far this season and Lucas is now out for 3 months with a thigh injury, leaving only Joe Allen’s metronomic passing consistency.  While Nuri Sahin may have lofty ambitions for Liverpool this season, the fact remains that he is new to the Premier League and has not played a single competitive match with Liverpool.  He will surely require a period of time to bed in.  Liverpool clearly needs another midfielder of Lucas/Gerrard/Allen quality, not just to cover for Gerrard when he gets injured, but to prevent other players from burning out.

Liverpool’s attack has more question marks remaining than any other part of the team.  With the news that Stewart Downing might be a fullback for the future under Brendan Rogers, the attacking corps seems to be composed of Raheem Sterling, Fabio Borini, and Luis Suarez, with Andy Carroll in some sort of substitute capacity.  Sterling, exciting as he is, can’t be counted on to play more than 20 – 25 league games at this point in his career, while Suarez (see above) has issues as well.  Fabio Borini has looked very lively and seems to have a professional attitude as well, but that leaves Andy Carroll, Joe Cole, and Bueller?  Bueller?  Bueller?  Out of our top choice front three, Suarez has the most experience at the club and he’s been at Anfield for fewer than two seasons.  Brendan Rogers must address the quality and depth in the attacking positions before the end of the transfer window if Liverpool is to challenge for a Champions League spot.

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One thought on “Strength in Depth for Liverpool in 2012

  1. Pingback: Liverpool 0-2 Arsenal – Rodgers Work In Progress Needs Patience | The Red Letter

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