By James Watkins
For Liverpool, the January transfer talk and rumor-peddling began at precisely 12:01 a.m. following the close of the summer window. Many have spent the last four months clamoring for Ian Ayre and Co. to repair the damage done in the summer window. Veteran talents such as Craig Bellamy, Maxi Rodriguez and Dirk Kuyt were ushered out to make room for several promising – but unproven – young players.
All that talk has accelerated in recent weeks as January inches closer, particularly after Sunday’s match at West Ham. With Luis Suarez suspended, Liverpool’s depth problem reared its head as Jonjo Shelvey was thrown into a less than ideal forward role. Sure, the club reversed its glaring impotence through the middle portion of the game – a resurgence largely credited to tactical changes from Rodgers – but it was yet another reminder that Liverpool lacks any type of reliable depth up front.
Rodgers’ job has been made easier because of his willingness to bleed in youngsters like Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom. Even Joe Cole has proven to be serviceable in front of goal in his past two outings.
But when examining the changes made to bolster the squad this summer – a window in which most agreed that a proven forward ought to have been atop the shopping list – it’s easy to see how the club has struggled to grind out wins against resilient opposition. While performances in the Europa League have been largely positive, Premier League statistics remain the best tool to measure the impact of the summer signings at the season’s half-way point. Those statistics haven’t been very positive, and we’re left with the reality that none of the four arrivals have been significantly influential in the final third.
With 16 games and 1,415 minutes played, Joe Allen is far and away the signing who has seen the most time. In fact, only Martin Skrtel has played in more games across all competitions. Although he’s faded a bit in recent weeks, it’s frightening to imagine where the club would stand without him in the midfield. He’s been a shoo-in to the starting XI since August, and he became even more crucial when Lucas hobbled off early in the 1-1 draw against Manchester City.
Rodgers has praised his creativity and vision in the final third, but Allen has been forced to suppress any attacking impetus in favor of smart positioning as a holding midfielder. It’s one of the reasons that he boasts a passing accuracy of 90.8 percent.
We caught a glimpse of Joe Allen the attacker in Lucas’ return against Southampton, and it was a joy to behold. But whether it’s by design or necessity, Allen has been unable to influence Liverpool’s dearth of attacking options, creating just 15 chances over the first half of the season. Compared to Gerrard’s total of 43, it’s obvious that he’s been stifled for much of the season and forced into the role of destroyer rather than creator. However, with the return of Lucas, Joe Allen should be afforded a more advanced role where he can shine.
I’ll admit, I almost forgot about the 21-year-old transfer from Roma, who only managed to play five games before suffering a broken foot on international duty in Italy.
His statistics in that time leave something to be desired, with the lowest pass completion rate and fewest chances created of the summer signings given an extended run of games. There were glimpses of promise early in the season, and it’s impossible to accuse him of a lack of effort and energy up top. But too often he lacks vision and creativity to support Luis Suarez as the focal point of the club’s attack.
It will be interesting to see how if he’s able to impact the team in the second half of the season. Even if it’s just an extra body to take pressure off of 17-year-old Raheem Sterling, his return will hopefully have a positive affect. However, the early run-outs will have done little to convince supporters that he’s ready to carry the burden as Liverpool’s number two striker.
Nuri Şahin’s loan to Liverpool was one of the more extended and contentious transfer dealings of the summer, as the player’s commitment seemed to be oscillating between Liverpool and Arsenal almost by the day. In the end, it appeared that Rodgers’ relationship with Mourinho and whispers from fan-favorite Xabi Alonso were enough to bring the 20-year-old to Anfield.
Much like Borini, the jury is still out on Şahin. He saw an extended run of games through October and seemed to find his feet in a midfield trio with Allen and Gerrard. However, he’s also competing for the position in which the club has the greatest depth. Henderson, Shelvey and Suso have all rotated through that third spot in central midfield, and Lucas’ return means that Şahin is likely to find himself marginalized even further.
But after Joe Allen, he’s had the greatest impact of Liverpool’s remaining summer signings. With eight chances created and a pass completion percentage of 83 percent, he’s proven to be more than serviceable when called upon to perform. His discipline in the middle of the park is particularly impressive, topping Shelvey in tackles won (90 percent to 86.7 percent) and interceptions (14 to 3).
Unfortunately, a bloody nose forced him off early in Liverpool’s win over Udinese. He’ll likely continue to feature in the Europa League and see a handful of games in the Premier League, but he’s far from the type of creative influence Liverpool desperately need in the final third.
Liverpool surprised everyone by signing Oussama Assaidi seemingly out of nowhere. At the age of 24, he’s Liverpool’s oldest summer signing, but the Moroccan international has seen just 54 minutes of action in the Premier League this season. In that time, his impact has been marginal, at best, attempting just 18 passes and creating zero chances in attack. He’s been confident and clever in his handful of appearances in Europe, but he obviously lacks the experience necessary to force his way into Rodgers’ squad.
With several players already ahead of Assaidi on the depth chart – and Borini set to return in January – it would be surprising to see him make up much ground heading into the second half of the season. And if Liverpool does in fact bolster the attack in the upcoming transfer window, any new arrival would marginalize him even further.