Category Archives: Player analysis

Comparing Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling, Coutinho with Aguero, Dzeko, Silva, Nasri

A few things have changed since Premier League fans were debating between three of its all-star strike partnerships this season: David Moyes has failed to unlock the potential of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney, Alvaro Negredo has seen his starting place usurped at times by Edin Dzeko and we’ve come to recognise the brilliance of entire forward lines, not just that of two strikers.

And so these days, instead of choosing between Manchester United’s Van Persie and Rooney, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo, we’re now left to pick between the all-star attacking quartets of Liverpool and City.

Specifically: Suarez, Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho versus Aguero, Dzeko, David Silva and Samir Nasri.

As we look ahead to Sunday’s clash between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield—billed as a title decider—we’re not just considering the impact of the result on the title race, we’re also looking forward to seeing the league’s two most prolific attacks going at each other in what promises to be an open, exciting and pulsating match.

Here, we’ve compiled a fun comparison between the two forward lines across five categories—investment, potency, creativity, consistency and potential—before we arrive at our own conclusion on which is the better strike force. Enjoy and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Investment

Investment

Michael Steele/Getty Images

First, let’s compare how the strike forces were assembled and for what price.

 

Liverpool

Luis Suarez: £22.8 million, from Ajax Amsterdam.
Daniel Sturridge: £12 million, from Chelsea.
Raheem Sterling: £600,000 (potentially £5 million, depending on performances), from Queens Park Rangers.
Philippe Coutinho: £8.5 million, from Internazionale.

Total: £43.9 million (potentially £48.3 million).

 

Manchester City

Sergio Aguero: £38 million, from Atletico Madrid.
Edin Dzeko: £27 million, from Wolfsburg.
David Silva: £24 million, from Valencia.
Samir Nasri: £25 million, from Arsenal.

Total: £114 million.

 

Summary

In signing undervalued players with potential—Raheem Sterling is the standout purchase here, having signed for Liverpool aged just 15—Liverpool have made some shrewd acquisitions who have blossomed under the tutelage of Brendan Rodgers.

Coutinho and Sturridge in particular were players on the sidelines at their previous clubs who are starting to realise their full potential. Indeed, both players have transformed the club’s attacking fortunes since arriving at Anfield just over a year ago.

Manchester City, on the other hand, have opted to sign big, established names from leagues around Europe, fighting off stiff competition from top clubs to land their targets. In doing so, besides the initial outlay in terms of the transfer fees, all four players are on stellar wage packages, making them even more expensive as an overall financial investment.

That said, it’s hard to argue with their success at City—for it was Dzeko and Aguero who scored the two goals in injury time that won the club their first ever Premier League title in 2012.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

When it comes to initial investment, however, there was only ever going to be one clear winner here, a conclusion that might not have needed the above breakdown as justification. Liverpool win this round hands down.

 

Potency

Potency

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Attackers need to score goals. This category is all about league goals scored, and how important they are to their respective teams going forward.

 

Liverpool

Suarez: 29 goals in 28 games.
Sturridge: 20 goals in 25 games.
Sterling: Six goals in 28 games.
Coutinho: Four goals in 28 games.

Total: 59 goals this season.

 

Manchester City

Aguero: 15 goals in 17 games.
Dzeko: 11 goals in 24 games.
Silva: Six goals in 22 games.
Nasri: Five goals in 27 games.

Total: 37 goals this season.

 

Summary

In terms of just goal-scoring output this season, the above comparison might be a bit surprising for some, considering Liverpool and Manchester City are both flying high in the Premier League “goals for” column.

The combined total of 59 goals from Liverpool’s attacking quartet, out of their staggering total of 90, means that almost two-thirds of all the club’s goals have come from these four players. Add Steven Gerrard’s 13 to the mix and you have 80 per cent of all goals coming from five players.

Contrast that with City’s foursome, who have contributed just 37 goals out of their 84-goal total. Yaya Toure, who mainly operates as a central, box-to-box midfielder, is a glaring omission with his club-high haul of 18, while Alvaro Negredo has contributed a respectable return of nine thus far. Still, that’s just 76 per cent of all goals coming from six key players.

Injuries and squad options have had a large say as well—barring Daniel Sturridge’s mid-season injury, which deprived him of some game time, all of the Reds’ forwards have notched their goals in a 28-game season thus far. A quick glance at City’s shows the fewer games they have managed, in particular Sergio Aguero, who is still an injury doubt for Sunday’s clash.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

All of which means that, yes, Liverpool’s four forwards have the more impressive goal return, in terms of numbers and percentage of their club’s overall goals scored. It also means, however, that City have more options spread across the squad—which may yet be a deciding factor in where the Premier League trophy lands this May.

 

Creativity

Creativity

Paul Thomas/Getty Images

Now let’s see how they stack up in terms of creativity, which we’ll simplify into two categories: assists and chances created. (All statistics courtesy of Squawka.com.)

 

Liverpool

Suarez: 11 assists, 77 chances created.
Sturridge: Seven assists, 27 chances created.
Sterling: Three assists, 38 chances created.
Coutinho: Six assists, 51 chances created.

Total: 27 assists, 193 chances created.

 

Manchester City

Aguero: Five assists, 27 chances created.
Dzeko: One assist, 14 chances created.
Silva: Nine assists, 77 chances created.
Nasri: Five assists, 55 chances created.

Total: 20 assists, 173 chances created.

 

Summary

A close match, especially adjusting for the number of games played by each member here.

Suarez is the clear standout, both with the highest number of outright assists and with a chance creation record similar to that of a world-class playmaker like David Silva—which goes great lengths to show the phenomenal season that the Uruguayan striker is having.

When it comes to the supporting attackers, however, the numbers become more interesting. Despite having more games between them, Sterling and Coutinho only combine for 89 chances created, while Silva and Nasri have an impressive total of 132, which explains the dominant position City have held for most of the season in terms of total goals scored, and hints at what could have been for them had Aguero stayed fit for most of it.

 

Verdict: Tie

We had a hard time choosing a winner here, so we’re going for the easy option—a tie. If Aguero had stayed fit for the majority of the season and played in as many games as the rest of his attacking partners, City could well have won this category by a mile.

As it stands, though, both sides seem to have creativity bursting at the seams, which can only be a good thing ahead of Sunday’s match.

 

Consistency

Consistency

Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

Now for a category that is much harder to be backed purely by numbers and statistics. In evaluating consistency, we look for the contributions by the forwards on a week-to-week basis over the course of the season thus far.

 

Liverpool

It’s been an exhilarating campaign for the Reds, by almost all measures. At the base of it, their current first-placed position in the league table says it all—Liverpool have already overachieved this season.

Crucial to this excellent league performance has been Luis Suarez’s outstanding consistency. Despite missing his first five matches of the season through suspension, he has been an ever-present and even set a new record for league goals scored in one calendar month back in December. Daniel Sturridge carried the team on his back during Suarez’s early-season absence and stormed back to action after an injury layoff by scoring in eight matches in a row.

By the high standards he set for himself in the second half of the 2012/13 Premier League campaign, Coutinho has not quite performed to them this season. In contrast, this has very much been a breakout campaign for Raheem Sterling, who has cemented his place in the first team after a series of strong and mature displays since December.

 

Manchester City

Just as Suarez has set the bar for consistent excellence this year, Aguero has disappointed with his injury troubles. A league campaign that threatened to feature two genuinely world-class strikers running away in the scoring charts—much like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo do in La Liga—has now resulted in a one-sided affair.

That Manuel Pellegrini has rotated between Alvaro Negredo and Edin Dzeko means that there hasn’t been much consistency in terms of Aguero’s strike partner—Negredo’s skill set clearly complements Aguero well, but in Aguero’s absence, Negredo and Dzeko have yet to set the league on fire.

The same applies for David Silva, who has shown flashes of brilliance at times this season and is rediscovering a good patch of form of late, but has also been beset by injuries. Samir Nasri is the flag-bearer for consistency in the City forward line this year, having shown a massive improvement in both attitude and attacking contribution since Roberto Mancini’s departure.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

Suarez’s performance levels this season are arguably enough to make Liverpool winners in this category on his own. Aguero might have run him close, given his outstanding record when fit at the start of the season, but his injuries have robbed City of any chance of coming close to the Reds here.

 

Potential

Potential

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Since there isn’t a set formula to calculate potential return—both in terms of attacking contribution over the coming years and indeed in the amount of money the clubs could receive if they decide to sell these players—we’ll simply consider the current age and go from there.

 

Liverpool

One of the many things that has stood out from Brendan Rodgers’ achievements this season is how young his squad currently is. The attacking quartet of Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling and Coutinho has an average age of just 22.75 years, which is both supremely encouraging from the club’s standpoint and also extremely exciting for the Premier League.

That Rodgers has gotten such a young team—don’t forget the relative youth of Simon Mignolet, Jon Flanagan, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson—to fire their way to the top of the Premier League is a big testament to his philosophy and vision at Anfield.

 

Manchester City

With an average age of 26.75 years, City’s forward line can be rightly regarded as entering its prime. That Aguero, aged just 25, has, when fit, run 27-year-old Suarez so close speaks volumes of the potential of the Argentinian striker, who still has a few years to go at the top level just yet.

The same can be said of Silva and Nasri, who have exhibited the tenacity to show that they can still perform at peak level for a few years still, but Dzeko’s status as the oldest among all contenders here, and the fact that his future at the club is still up in the air adds an element of instability.

 

Verdict: Liverpool

The four-year difference in average age is so considerable, it’s almost shocking to think what this Liverpool attack will be capable of in a few years’ time, when they collectively arrive at City’s level. That Liverpool signed all four of their forwards at prices arguably lower than market value also makes their potential resale value much higher than City’s from a profit margin standpoint.

 

Conclusion

Conclusion

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

From our verdicts across five categories here, Liverpool emerge as the clear winners in an attack-against-attack comparison with Manchester City.

They’ve signed their forwards at a relatively younger age, meaning that both the initial investment and the potential return are much higher, while their output and consistency are no doubt the more impressive of the two.

City come close in creativity, hinting that their season has been dampened by a very significant factor—the ongoing injury troubles of Sergio Aguero.

It’s intriguing to think how City would shape up here if Aguero had remained fit to complete a whole season—perhaps Pellegrini’s men would really be out of sight in the “goals for” column in the Premier League.

As it stands, however, it’s the 90-goal Reds hosting the 84-goal Blues at Anfield this Sunday. The imminent return of Sergio Aguero (per the Mirror), however, makes it that bit more interesting.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

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How Much Is Liverpool Forward Luis Suarez Worth Based on Form in 2014?

Nine matches to go in the 2013/14 Premier League campaign, and Liverpool are still on course for a top-four finish, which would see them return to the Champions League next season—and still in with a shout for the league title outright.

None of this would be possible without the contributions of Luis Suarez, who, despite all the proclamations of the Reds being a dynamic and interchanging team these days, remains one of their most important players.

After 25 goals and 10 assists—making him the leader of both charts in the Premier League—in 24 matches and a contract signed in December, Suarez has once again proven himself as indispensable and invaluable to the Anfield club.

Perhaps even more so than in previous campaign.

Back in December, we embarked on a challenging but interesting attempt to calculate Suarez’s worth in the transfer market then.

In light of Liverpool’s recently released financial results for the 2012-2013 financial year, let’s revisit this subject and try to work out how much Luis Suarez is now worth based on his current form—without any kind of insider access to the boardroom.

 

Transfer Fee and Wage Estimates

To get us started off, let’s return to our estimates in December regarding Luis Suarez’s transfer fee.

Assuming a basic financial amortization of his initial £22.7 million transfer fee (per BBC Sport) over the course of five-and-a-half years, which was the initial length of his contract signed in 2011, we arrive at an approximate annual cost of £4.13 million.

For the purposes of simpler calculation, let’s consider Suarez has been at Liverpool for 3.2 years, which means the as yet “unpaid” total amortization cost would be updated to £4.13 multiplied by 2.3, or £9.5 million.

Onto his wages, which we will only discuss in the present and future tenses, after his December extension.

Our wage calculations following his new contract in December 2013 are based on this BBC Sport article that claims Suarez is earning £160,000 a week until the end of the current season, and then £200,000 a week for the next four years. Simple arithmetic gets us to a total of £43.06 million over the rest of his new contract.

Our baseline estimated value of Luis Suarez, from just his transfer fee and wages, is thus £9.5 million plus £43.06 million, which gives us £52.56 million.

 

Possible Champions League Qualification

As it stands, Liverpool are placed second in the Premier League, and they look in ominous form as they approach the final couple of months of the season.

Our key underlying assumption is that the Reds will indeed finish in the top four, qualifying for Champions League football next term, which should also be the assumption behind Luis Suarez staying at Anfield in the first place.

Champions League qualification is known to have a wide range of commercial benefits, and this is an area where we will take the roughest of estimates of player bonuses based on club performance in both the Premier League and the Champions League.

Our best benchmark in terms of Premier League end-of-season payouts, assuming a fourth-place finish by Liverpool this May, is Arsenal’s from the 2012/13 season. According to the official Premier League website, Arsenal’s league payout for finishing fourth last season was £57.1 million.

A further assumption that Liverpool, having secured Champions League qualification, will make it into the group stages of next year’s competition, will take us to calculate possible payouts from participating in the group stages.

According to SportsBusinessDaily.com, all participants who made it into the Champions League proper were entitled to a minimum of €8.6 million, which translates to about £7.2 million.

As we noted in our December calculations, a minimum total of £64.3 million will probably arrive in Liverpool’s coffers just for making the Champions League group stages.

 

Liverpool’s Business and Commercial Performance

Our December estimates only took into account the potential sum that would come with making the Champions League group stages, and used it as a base to calculate a 5 percent performance bonus for Luis Suarez, one of Liverpool’s most important players.

This time around, however, we’re going to be a bit more ambitious, especially since the Liverpool Echo have also released the 2013 accounts Liverpool submitted to Companies House.

The increase in revenue from all sources is impressive, but for the purposes of calculations in the “current” context, we will exclude media and matchday revenues, since the 2012-13 financial year featured Europa League football, which Liverpool haven’t even been involved with this season.

The growth in commercial revenue, however, was staggering, and with the announcement of new sponsorship deals in the past few months, will only continue. Commercial revenue for the year ended May 31, 2013, was £97.7 million, more than a 50 percent increase over the previous 10 months, which landed £63.9 million. Spread the 10-month average over a period of 12 months, and the increase can be adjusted to roughly 27 percent, still a significant growth factor.

Our final assumption is if Liverpool continue in their current attacking style of football, coupled with the increased exposure of Champions League football, they will generate more interest off the field, which will lead to benefits both in terms of commercial sponsorships, as well as merchandise and image rights-related sales and advertising revenue.

Applying the same 27 percent year-on-year growth factor onto our performance bonus of 5 percent, to ensure that all staff are adequately compensated for their role in helping grow the Liverpool brand, we get a 6.35 percent bonus from the previously calculated Champions League-related payouts.

This gives Suarez 6.35 percent of £64.3 million, which amounts to £4.08 million.

 

Conclusion: £56.64 Million

Adding this performance bonus to our transfer and wages baseline, we get a total valuation of £56.64 million, which, compared with our December estimate of £56.1 million, is perhaps disappointingly close.

However, considering that it’s only been three months since our previous calculation and that our estimate has already gone up by half a million pounds, this kind of growth rate could yet translate itself into bigger margins given another year or two.

It wasn’t so long ago—last summer, in fact—that Arsenal submitted a high-profile (and now widely mocked) £40-million-plus-£1 bid for Luis Suarez, which was derided at the time by Liverpool owner John W. Henry.

Back then, £40 million plus £1 was seen as a derisory amount for a player like Suarez. Three quarters of a season onward, perhaps £56.64 million will be considered shockingly low for such an important player to the Reds cause.

But of course, this is just a purely financial valuation of Luis Suarez, based on assumptions that might not ring true in the Liverpool boardroom.

Last time John W. Henry checked, football contracts “don’t seem to hold, and [Liverpool] took the position that [they’re] just not selling” (per the Guardian).

We have a sneaking suspicion that they will be holding this position for quite some time.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

Liverpool Transfers: Scouting Report on Reported Reds Target Juan Manuel Iturbe

Liverpool’s high-flying and top-scoring attack this season hasn’t stopped the rumours from flying in. The latest player to be linked with a move to Anfield this summer is Hellas Verona winger Juan Manuel Iturbe.

Jamie Sanderson of the Metro has credited Liverpool with an interest in the Argentine winger, who is currently enjoying an impressive campaign in Serie A on loan from FC Porto.

With five goals and two assists in 20 starts, Iturbe has attracted the attentions of many clubs around Europe—including Hellas, who are keen to make the loan switch permanent this summer.

Starting his career at Paraguayan club Cerro Porteno, he moved to the Portuguese giants in 2010, aged just 17. Prior to his season-long loan at Hellas, he spent six months on loan at Argentine club River Plate.

Just as we’ve done with Micah Richards and Isco earlier, let’s take a look at the pros and cons to Juan Manuel Iturbe’s potential signing, assess his potential role at Anfield and evaluate whether he’d be a good pickup for Brendan Rodgers.

 

Pros

Juan Manuel Iturbe has long been highly rated in South America. In fact, he earned his first senior cap for Paraguay as early as 2009, when he was just 16 years of age—but he has since declared his national allegiance to Argentina, given that his international debut didn’t count as a competitive match.

With a low centre of gravity, dangerous acceleration, skilful close control, deadly free-kick accuracy and a cool finish, Iturbe has been dubbed the “new Lionel Messi” for obvious reasons.

His pace and strength on the ball are excellent complements to his superb left foot, which has seen him fire in long-range rockets and spectacular finishes for Hellas this term. Another Messi-like trait is his tendency to pick up the ball from deep and run at opposition defences.

Still aged just 20, Iturbe has his best years ahead of him and would be an exciting addition to any squad looking for an explosive winger capable of conjuring moments of match-winning magic.

And if the Metro are to be believed and Iturbe is indeed valued at £15 million, he would most definitely be considered a good deal.

 

Cons

One of the most damning—and condescending—questions leveled Messi’s way is “can he do it on a cold, wet Tuesday night at Stoke?”

Iturbe, who has yet to establish himself at the top level in Europe and is only spending his first full campaign on European soil, will certainly need time to adapt to English football.

His diminutive stature—he’s just 5’6.5″—means that he will be at an instant physical disadvantage in the Premier League, though his stocky frame will go some way in making up for it.

His one-footedness also limits his attacking play to go via his left side, which makes his tendencies to cut in from the right wing slightly predictable. His preference for the spectacular means that he can be selfish on the ball and in the dribble, which makes him a frustrating individualist rather than a total team player.

 

Gabriele Maltinti/Getty ImagesPotential Role at Liverpool

With their high-profile (and ultimately unfruitful) pursuits of Mohamed Salah and Yevhen Konoplyanka in the January transfer window, it’s clear that Liverpool are still on the lookout for a goal-scoring winger.

Juan Manuel Iturbe will certainly provide pace, attacking thrust and goals from the wing, and he would slot into a young and exciting Liverpool attack that has already been firing on all cylinders this season.

Brendan Rodgers would still need to instill in Iturbe a work ethic that has been evident in the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling this season. Besides making his eye-catching contributions in attack, he would need to put his physicality to use as a first line of defence, harrying his opponents from the front.

In addition, in a team where collective play and responsibility reign king, Iturbe would need to shelve his selfish tendencies and improve his decision-making in the final third.

With Coutinho and Sterling forming a scintillating line behind Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, however, Rodgers would need to evaluate how he should best blood Iturbe in and not hamper the former duo’s impressive development at the same time.

 

Conclusion

On the face of it, Juan Manuel Iturbe would be a brilliant signing for Liverpool: If Rodgers can unlock his full potential, he would be an excellent addition to a side ready to challenge for Premier League honours and looking to make a splash in Europe again.

Anfield would also be the perfect platform for Iturbe to launch himself into the European spotlight and working with Brendan Rodgers, who is now widely renowned for his man management, will only improve his game.

But from Liverpool’s perspective, with a cohesive attacking unit in such fearsome form this season, Iturbe’s “rough diamond” status would add more inexperience to a forward line already young at its core, and his style of play may need extensive coaching to adapt to a team-first, pass-and-move approach.

As such, Liverpool should only consider Iturbe if Porto are indeed ready to let him go at a reasonable price—and they’re not known for selling their best prospects on the cheap.

Perhaps the money that they’d splash on Iturbe would be better served strengthening other areas of the squad for now—unless Rodgers can find a way to fit him into an already stacked Liverpool attack.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

5 Liverpool Academy Players Who Could Break Through Next Season

When England manager Roy Hodgson named five Liverpool players in his starting XI in last week’s friendly against Denmark, Reds boss Brendan Rodgers rightly took the plaudits for his work in developing homegrown talent at Anfield.

Indeed, the current Liverpool and England teams provide wonderful examples of Rodgers’ management: Raheem Sterling’s rise to prominence; Daniel Sturridge’s rapid evolution to become England’s deadliest striker; Jordan Henderson’s turnaround in form, confidence and stature.

As we continue to witness the current generation of English talent at Anfield, let’s also keep an eye on the future and on the good work that is being done at the Liverpool youth academy.

Here are five players from the Liverpool youth setup who could break through next season. Enjoy and let us know your picks.

 

Jordon Ibe

Jordon Ibe
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Our first name is someone who will be familiar among Liverpool fans—and, increasingly, Birmingham City supporters.

After making a cameo off the bench during Liverpool’s 5-1 rout of Arsenal in February, Jordon Ibe joined Championship side Birmingham on loan until the end of the season, per BBC Sport.

And according to the Daily Star, Ibe already made a good enough impression on Blues boss Lee Clark that he was sent on as a substitute in a 2-1 win at Blackpool just 24 hours after signing for Birmingham.

Blessed with pace, power, dribbling, tactical intelligence and an eye for goal, Ibe has a big chance to impress during his stint at Birmingham, and Brendan Rodgers will likely afford him further opportunities to catch the eye over preseason.

A look at Raheem Sterling’s exciting development already shows what could lie in store for Jordon Ibe next season.

 

Ryan McLaughlin

Ryan McLaughlin
Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Our next candidate is also out on loan in the Championship: Ryan McLaughlin joined Barnsley on loan in January, per BBC Sport, in an initial 28-day deal that was subsequently extended until the end of the season.

Currently sidelined with a hamstring problem, McLaughlin made a positive impression on his professional debut in January—coincidentally also against Blackpool—and will be looking to become a part of Barnsley’s starting XI in the months to come.

Having impressed against AS Roma legend Francesco Totti during Liverpool’s preseason tour of the USA in 2012, McLaughlin has had to bide his time in the reserve setup, but Barnsley will be a good test for the 19-year-old.

As Glen Johnson’s contract situation continues to be uncertain, McLaughlin could get a chance to stake his claim for a first-team place this summer.

 

Joao Carlos Teixeira

“I watched this kid a couple of years ago playing for Sporting Lisbon against Liverpool at Anfield in a youth game; I could see straight away he was the best player on the pitch.”

Steven Gerrard’s post-game praise for Joao Carlos Teixeira, via LiverpoolFC.com, after his debut in a 3-2 win over Fulham in February showed just how highly the Portuguese youngster is rated within the halls of Melwood and the corridors of Anfield.

It was Teixeira’s pass that led to Daniel Sturridge winning the match-winning penalty that Gerrard converted, and his appearance off the bench when the match was tied at 2-2 was a huge show of faith from Brendan Rodgers.

Since joining Liverpool from Sporting Lisbon, Teixeira initially struggled with a back injury, and a loan spell at League One side Brentford in 2013 ended early, making his recent rise in prominence all the more encouraging.

The Daily Mail has an in-depth profile of Teixeira: Expect him to be more involved in the first team in the closing months this season and step up his claim next season.

 

Jack Robinson

Jack Robinson
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Jack Robinson has spent the current season on loan at Blackpool, where he has been a fixture in Barry Ferguson’s first team and impressed both with his tenacious defending and with his contributions in attack.

Robinson was once Liverpool’s youngest ever player when he made his senior debut for Liverpool in May 2010 during Rafael Benitez’s final game in charge of the Reds—an indication of how highly he is rated at Anfield.

His encouraging form in the Championship this season suggests that he will be part of Brendan Rodgers’ squad in their coming preseason tour of the US, where he will be eager to force his way into first-team reckoning.

With Jose Enrique still a ways away from a return from injury and Aly Cissokho failing to impress after signing on loan from Valencia, the left-back spot could be up for grabs this summer, and Jack Robinson could be one of the candidates Rodgers considers.

He will have to work on his discipline though: His record of five yellow cards and three red cards in just 24 league games this season makes him somewhat of a defensive liability still.

 

Danny Ward

Danny Ward
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

Brendan Rodgers may be in the market for a goalkeeper this summer, but he might well have his next backup custodian in the Liverpool academy.

Danny Ward has been a fixture for the Liverpool under-21s this season, and has impressed with his all-roundedness in goal.

The Welsh youngster was a part of Liverpool’s squad during their summer US tour in 2012, and made his first appearance in a Red shirt when he came off the bench in their preseason friendly against Preston North End last summer.

As Brad Jones fails to impress as a No. 2 behind Simon Mignolet, Ward could be given extended time this coming summer to impress Rodgers ahead of the new campaign.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

Liverpool Transfers: Should Reds Go for Manchester City Defender Micah Richards?

Liverpool Transfers: Should Reds Go for Manchester City Defender Micah Richards?
Stu Forster/Getty Images

Liverpool might be flying high in their quest to secure Champions League football this season, but that hasn’t stopped the rumours from flying in. The latest player to be linked with a move to Anfield is Manchester City defender Micah Richards, according to Jamie Sanderson of the Metro.

While the Reds have been a free-scoring success up front and are now the Premier League’s top scorers, they are placed a disappointing 10th in the goals conceded column, exemplified by an inconsistent central defensive selection and some eye-catching mistakes.

Richards, a graduate from City’s youth academy, has long been linked with a move to Anfield but as he finds himself firmly down the pecking order both at right-back (to Pablo Zabaleta) and centre-back (to captain Vincent Kompany), this rumour has been revived again with the summer transfer window opening in a few months.

But would he be a good signing for Liverpool?

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons to Micah Richards’ potential signing, assess his proposed role at Anfield and evaluate whether he’d be a good pickup for Brendan Rodgers.

 

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Pros

It seems as if Richards has been around forever, yet the Manchester City man is only still 25 years of age.

Blessed with searing pace, a physical frame and dominant ability in the air, Richards burst onto the scene in 2005 as a 17-year-old and quickly gained national prominence as England’s most promising young defender.

Such was the impression he made that he was called up to the national team by Steve McClaren after just 28 professional club matches with City. When he made his first start in light of Gary Neville’s injury at right-back, he broke Rio Ferdinand’s record and became England’s youngest ever defender.

But it’s not just his defensive strength that has won him plenty of plaudits. His marauding runs down the right flank have been a prominent attacking outlet for City over the years, and his physicality means that he is a difficult opponent to come up against. His record of five assists in City’s title-winning season in 2011/12 was the joint most of any defender in the Premier League.

Capable of playing both as a central defender and on the right, Richards also brings leadership to the back four: When he captained City in 2007, he was only 19—their youngest ever captain—and he deputized for Kompany during the Belgian’s absence, again during the 2011/12 season.

 

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Cons

A picture of physicality, strength and fitness in his early years at City, Richards has not had the best of luck with injuries recently, with a hamstring problem his latest affliction.

Despite being an important part of their title-winning 2011/12 season, he made just seven Premier League appearances last term, and he has only played in two league games in the current campaign.

In his absence, Pablo Zabaleta, signed during the Mark Hughes era, has become a mainstay in the City first team and established himself as one of the best right-backs in England, making it ever harder for Richards to force his way back into the team.

As such, it’s been a while since Richards has enjoyed an extended run-out in City colours—but when he’s had a first-team opportunity, he has yet to show that he can recapture his pre-injury form.

In Martin Kelly, Liverpool already have a strikingly similar case: Both Kelly and Richards burst onto the scene as talented and complete young defenders, capable of playing both in the centre and on the right but injuries have stalled their striking potential and derailed their careers.

Would Brendan Rodgers, having seen first-hand Kelly’s troubles in making a successful comeback from injury, want a repeat?

 

Michael Regan/Getty Images

Potential Role at Liverpool

When it comes to ability, there’s no doubt that Richards has the talent to succeed at the highest level.

At just 25 years of age, he still has his best years as a defender ahead of him and at Liverpool there is just the right position for him to reestablish himself in the Premier League.

Martin Skrtel has reclaimed his position in the right side of Liverpool’s central defence, but he remains an inconsistent defensive option. Despite having improved his goals return this season, he has also made some alarming mistakes and shown weaknesses in his positioning and tackling.

With Mamadou Sakho seemingly Brendan Rodgers’ first-choice left-sided centre-back option, ahead of vice-captain Daniel Agger, there is a place for a young but established defender on his right.

Both Richards and Sakho’s versatility mean that they can fill in on the flanks in case of injury to their team-mates during a match and also crucially that Rodgers can change his formation to a 3-5-2 with ease and confidence.

 

Conclusion

Brendan Rodgers has carved a strong reputation as an excellent nurturer of talent, with the likes of DanielSturridge, Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling benefiting greatly from his man management.

A young English talent needing a platform to prove himself at the highest level, at a club where domestic talent and an exciting attacking ethos are prevalent? There could be no better club than Liverpool for Micah Richards at this stage of his career.

And given that his current contract runs out in the summer of 2015—and that, according to Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail, City may look to move him on given his unwillingness to sign a new deal—Richards could also be available for a lower fee.

The risk that Richards could yet go down Martin Kelly’s path means that any potential signing would be a gamble, but the chance to pick up one of England’s erstwhile hottest defensive talents on a bargain deal is surely too good to turn down.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

Scouting Report on Isco: Should Liverpool Go for the Real Madrid Midfielder?

Scouting Report on Isco: Should Liverpool Go for the Real Madrid Midfielder?
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

As Liverpool step up their challenge for the Champions League spots this season, rumors have started to surface, linking a host of names with a move to Anfield if they do finish in the top four.

The latest in the rumor mill is Real Madrid’s Isco, who is apparently a £37 million target for the Reds this summer if they secure Champions League qualification, according to Dave Filmer of the Metro.

As Steven Gerrard has moved deeper into a holding midfield position from his halcyon days as an all-conquering attacking midfielder, so rumors have persisted in linking Liverpool with a potential replacement.

Isco is now one of many names branded as a “potential long-term replacement” for Gerrard.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons to Isco’s potential signing, assess his potential role at Anfield and evaluate whether he’d be a good pickup for Brendan Rodgers.

 

 

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Pros

Those familiar with the Spanish football scene will know that Isco has been building a stellar reputation in recent years, and that he deserves every bit of the hype.

It’s been nothing but a meteoric rise to the top for Isco, who secured a £23 million transfer to the Santiago Bernabeu last summer from Malaga, where he had become an integral part of Manuel Pellegrini’s impressive side.

With 14 goals in 69 league games for Malaga, Isco showed that he was an all-rounded attacking midfielder with a productive goals output—and he won the Golden Boy award back in December 2012—and he has arguably improved on that this season with Real Madrid.

Isco notched an assist and scored a late winning goal on his debut against Real Betis and has already recorded seven goals in just 19 La Liga games for Carlo Ancelotti’s side this season.

Besides a calm finish, Isco also possesses a silky first touch, an excellent eye for a pass, and close dribbling skills, making him an archetypal No. 10.

It’s no surprise that Manchester City, having appointed Pellegrini to succeed Roberto Mancini, were heavily linked with him last summer before Real came in at last: He would’ve been an ideal playmaker in an all-star attacking side.

 

 

David Ramos/Getty Images

Cons

Given his outrageous talent and success thus far, it’s hard to see too many weaknesses in his game.

But his omission from Ancelotti’s first team in recent weeks is telling: He has yet to adapt to the change in Real Madrid’s formation from a 4-2-3-1, which he has traditionally excelled in, to a 4-3-3.

In his place, a straight front three of Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale have all been in good form, while LukaModric has become a star in the midfield behind them.

Even Ancelotti has acknowledged Isco’s troubles publicly. According to Goal.com, Ancelotti said that Isco “has been penalized slightly” by the change in formation, and that he is not happy to be on the substitute’s bench.

His inability to adapt to the 4-3-3 formation may be a cause for concern for Rodgers, who likes to adopt the same system in his dynamic Liverpool team.

Standing at 5’9”, Isco has spent his entire career in Spain and is a relative novice on the international stage: He’s only made two appearances for the Spanish senior team, and he may miss out on the flight to Brazil if he continues to sit on the sidelines for Real Madrid.

 

 

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Potential Role at Liverpool

Make no mistake: Isco is a world-class star in the making, and given the right environment, he could become one of the great attacking midfielders of his generation.

The question is, though, whether he would be a good signing for Liverpool.

That Isco has the ability to make an instant impact in the Premier League is almost certain: He has the pedigree and the raw talent to succeed even in a physical league, and his exciting performances in the first half of the season for Real Madrid are evidence enough that he could become a key player for the Reds.

However, a quick glance of his attributes and overall game means that he’s not an essential addition for Liverpool at this stage.

The reason? Philippe Coutinho.

In Coutinho, Liverpool have a bargain £8.5 million signing from last January, who has settled well into the side and developed his physical game as well.

Coutinho’s vision, turn of pace, passing skills and overall playing style are very similar to Isco’s. He has already established himself as a fan favorite and a potential long-term No. 10 in the eyes of Brendan Rodgers.

The only asset that Coutinho is still missing in comparison to Isco’s skill set is his finishing—but that could be honed and developed in the months to come.

At £37 million, Isco would cost more than four times Coutinho did for Liverpool, but play in essentially the same role. Isco would be the undoubted starter given his overall game and finishing ability, butCoutinho’s rise shouldn’t be ignored either.

 

Conclusion

Isco is a fine player, and it would be a major coup for Liverpool if they manage to secure his transfer from Real Madrid. (Of course, it would be a great achievement for them to finish in the top four in the first place.)

But at £37 million, he would not only represent their record signing, but also a potentially superfluous one, given the encouraging development that the Reds’ very own No. 10, Philippe Coutinho, has shown over the past year.

While Isco would be a brilliant signing and a massive statement of intent, we think that the significant funds that would be put to his transfer would be better used to address other deficiencies in the Liverpool squad.

Surely the defence and the defensive midfield areas are more deserving of major upgrades over the attack.

Isco, for now, should be a luxury and a premium to be targeted only if the rest of the squad is complete.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

Analyzing Liverpool’s Full-Backs: Options, Prospects and Areas to Strengthen

Analysing Liverpool's Full-Backs: Options, Prospects and Areas to Strengthen
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

For the past couple of months, Liverpool have been beset with injury problems, and the Reds’ current troubles at full-back are well documented.

Jon Flanagan has reestablished himself as a strong contender in Brendan Rodgers’ starting XI, while on-loan Aly Cissokho has picked up his form of late. Just as well, given that they are just about the only senior options Liverpool have at full-back.

A piece of good news before their Premier League match against Swansea City on Sunday is that regular right-back Glen Johnson is fit again, as confirmed by Rodgers via the Mirror, but the Reds have already been linked with summer moves for full-backs to address their shortages.

The Metro have linked Chelsea’s Ashley Cole with a move to Anfield this summer, while the Daily Star have suggested that Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna is on Rodgers’ radar—both players are out of contract this summer.

Let’s look at the full-back options currently available to Brendan Rodgers, their prospects at the club and whether Liverpool should look to strengthen. Enjoy and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Glen Johnson

Glen Johnson
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

It’s been a disappointing campaign for Glen Johnson so far, with the England international right-back performing nowhere near his peak levels for both club and country.

Only when Johnson was ruled out through injury in January did Brendan Rodgers reveal that he had been struggling with “a number of injuries” for a period of time, as per the Guardian.

On top form, Johnson is one of the best full-backs in the Premier League, providing width, pace and creativity from the flanks. His versatility means that at both right-back and left-back, he would place near the top in league rankings.

Premier League and Liverpool fans have long known what Johnson brings at his best. The only problem is that the 29-year-old’s contract runs out in 2015, and on a reported £110,000 a week, he faces an uncertain future at Anfield, according to the Liverpool Echo.

With Johnson set to return to the squad against Swansea this Sunday, he will not only give Rodgers another experienced option as Liverpool look to finish the season in the top four, but also look forward to convince his club that he’s worth a contract extension.

He has 12 Premier League games to show that he’s worth an extension and a continued place as the Reds’ starting right-back. Otherwise, Rodgers might have no option but to let him go in the summer before his asking price starts plummeting ahead of 2015.

 

Jose Enrique

Jose Enrique
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

First-choice left-back Jose Enrique has been a big loss for Liverpool this season. In his eight league games this season, he’s contributed two assists.

A pity for Brendan Rodgers, given that Enrique seemed to have found some consistency after an up-and-down campaign last season—and especially given Aly Cissokho’s own inconsistent form this season.

Since his injury in November, Enrique has been missing from first-team action and, according to the Liverpool Echo, has been sent to the United States for specialist advice on his knee problems.

Without a doubt, Enrique is Liverpool’s strongest left-back—though an in-form Glen Johnson would have something to say about that—but his decision-making and relative lack of finesse have also been obvious, which make his long-term first-team prospects under Rodgers far from certain.

If Enrique doesn’t step up his recovery—both physically and mentally—soon, he could well find himself out of the team come this summer, especially if Liverpool do secure Champions League football next season and they receive a decent offer for him.

 

Jon Flanagan

Jon Flanagan
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Since making his debut and initially impressing with a string of encouraging performances under Kenny Dalglish back in 2011, Jon Flanagan had dropped off the radar and didn’t look to have much of a future at Anfield.

So it’s full credit to him that he’s worked his way back into the Liverpool first team, more than two years since his last real opportunity.

In Enrique’s absence and with Cissokho showing poor form previously, Flanagan defied his critics and proved to be a more than able stand-in at left-back with a series of enterprising displays. He even opened his account with a sweet strike against Tottenham Hotspur in December’s 5-0 demolition at White Hart Lane.

Flanagan’s form has been such that Brendan Rodgers has even claimed, via Sky Sports, that the young full-back deserves a chance with the England national team.

But while Flanagan has work rate, dedication and positional discipline in his locker, he lacks the speed and technique that are so important to a flying full-back in Rodgers’ system, and his crossing still leaves much to be desired.

So unless Flanagan works on his attacking game, as much as he has done to resurrect his Liverpool career, he won’t be a permanent fixture in the side just yet.

 

Aly Cissokho

Aly Cissokho
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

When Jon Flanagan sat out of the first team after the Christmas period due to injury, Liverpool fans would’ve been forgiven for fearing the worst, especially down the Reds’ left flank.

But Aly Cissokho rose to the occasion with some solid performances at left-back, proving to be an important member of the defence, particularly at a time where their central defensive options were both limited and unconvincing.

Having said publicly that he’d like to make his season-long loan deal from Valencia permanent—according to ESPNFC—Cissokho has come a long way from his early season horror shows, but still lacks the attacking nous and defensive consistency to become a long-term member of the squad.

While Cissokho’s Anfield future is still up in the air, Rodgers will be looking at bringing in more quality to his left-back spot.

 

Martin Kelly

Martin Kelly
Michael Regan/Getty Images

When Martin Kelly made his first start for Liverpool in the Champions League against Olympique Lyonnais back in 2009, he had the world at his feet. The then-19-year-old showed the strength, pace and defensive ability that suggested he’d become Liverpool’s next great right-back.

Then injuries started taking their toll. A slew of serious injuries have restricted Kelly’s first-team appearances for Liverpool, as he’s only played 62 games for his hometown club, and only 33 of them have come in the Premier League.

And as he continues to fight his way back to full fitness after each passing injury, he has seemed to take ever longer to recover and recapture his top form, which, considering his potential and natural ability, is a real shame from Liverpool’s point of view.

As Jon Flanagan has stepped up his claim for a first-team place under Brendan Rodgers—and in the process even fighting his way into national-team contention—Kelly has been left on the sidelines and only thrown on as an additional defensive option from the substitute’s bench on occasion.

He will face a crucial few months in his career, and if things don’t pick up for him by the summer, he looks likely to be on his way out of the club—even if on loan initially—which would present yet another case of a promising career curtailed by injuries.

 

Andre Wisdom

Andre Wisdom
Ben Hoskins/Getty Images

Last season’s lack of squad depth meant that Brendan Rodgers integrated three impressive youngsters into his first team in the first few months of the campaign.

Out of Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom, only the former has been playing for Liverpool a year on, as Suso and Andre Wisdom have had to bide their time with first-team chances out on loan.

Wisdom, who has joined Championship side Derby County on loan for the season, had played most of his first-team games for Liverpool as a right-back, but had emerged from the academy ranks as a centre-back.

For Steve McClaren’s side this season, Wisdom has played mostly on the right side of defence and has impressed as Derby have risen to third place in the Championship so far.

Brendan Rodgers and his management team will have been keeping an eye on Wisdom’s progress at Derby and looking forward to giving him a run-out with the first team over preseason this summer.

He remains an interesting prospect for the Reds’ right flank but still has plenty of work to do before he can become a fixture in a Champions League-chasing team.

 

Jack Robinson

Jack Robinson
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Much like Wisdom, Jack Robinson has been impressing on loan in the Championship. He’s made 25 league appearances for Blackpool, notching an assist in the process.

His overall performance levels have been decent enough to link to rumors of a midseason return to Liverpool, which ultimately didn’t materialize.

Strong in the tackle, quick off the traps and intelligent in his positioning, Robinson was once the youngest player to ever have played a first-team game for the Reds, and as such is clearly highly regarded at Anfield.

With five yellow cards and three reds this season, however, Robinson’s disciplinary record has been patchy at best and is something he needs to work on ahead of a summer return to Liverpool.

While Robinson doesn’t seem like forcing himself into Brendan Rodgers’ first team immediately next season, he might become Liverpool’s backup left-back if he enjoys a productive preseason.

 

Ryan McLaughlin

Ryan McLaughlin
Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Another Liverpool loanee tipped for a bright future at Anfield is Ryan McLaughlin, who joined Championship side Barnsley in January and made his professional debut against Robinson’s Blackpool.

Rated as a Glen Johnson-type attacking right-back, McLaughlin has long been slated for a bright future with the Reds, and if his two league appearances for Barnsley thus far are any indication, he may find himself a valuable squad member for Brendan Rodgers next season.

 

Conclusion

Conclusion
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

While Liverpool have strength in numbers—when fully fit, of course—what they lack is medium- to long-term quality.

Glen Johnson’s hefty wages mean that his future at Anfield is uncertain, while Jose Enrique doesn’t seem to have the fine technique that Rodgers demands from his players. Jon Flanagan’s work rate is admirable, but he seems to lack the genuine quality to remain a long-term first-team option.

Martin Kelly’s injuries have set him back a few years, and despite the ravings at Ryan McLaughlin’s future, he has yet to kick a ball in anger for Liverpool’s first team.

Whether or not Liverpool make the top four come the end of the 2013/14 Premier League season, full-back, currently one of their weakest areas of the field, is surely a priority area for Brendan Rodgers this summer.

Right-back or left-back, there will be more than a few names bandied about in the Anfield boardroom. Ian Ayre will have to deliver this time.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

How Daniel Sturridge Ranks Alongside the Premier League’s 10 Best Strikers

How Daniel Sturridge Ranks Alongside the Premier League's 10 Best Strikers
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Ahead of Liverpool’s FA Cup fifth-round clash with Arsenal on Sunday, Brendan Rodgers has been praising Daniel Sturridge’s red-hot goalscoring form for the Reds of late.

According to James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo, Rodgers has said that Sturridge’s “best is yet to come,” while also ranking Sturridge’s finishing ability as on a par with fellow Liverpool striker Luis Suarez as the best in the league.

Having scored in eight consecutive games for Liverpool, Sturridge’s finishing has been a joy to behold this season, but how exactly does he rank alongside the Premier League’s best?

Here are our 10 best strikers in the Premier League, featuring Daniel Sturridge. Enjoy and make your picks in the comments below.

 

10. Loic Remy

10. Loic Remy
Stu Forster/Getty Images

With 11 goals and two assists in 21 league games for Newcastle United so far this season, it’s safe to say that Loic Remy has enjoyed a fine campaign on loan from Queens Park Rangers.

It wasn’t so long that he himself was linked with Newcastle—January 2013, in fact—but he opted to join Harry Redknapp’s ultimately failed attempt to save QPR from relegation.

Newcastle haven’t exactly been active in the transfer market in recent windows, but Remy will go down as one of their finest strikers in recent history.

 

9. Romelu Lukaku

9. Romelu Lukaku
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Sometimes a striker’s importance isn’t fully appreciated until he becomes injured.

Sure, Steven Naismith has put in hard-working shift after hard-working shift for Roberto Martinez in recent weeks—and he’s even scored a few—but now we’re beginning to see how sorely Everton miss Romelu Lukaku.

He’s followed up his breakout season with West Bromwich Albion last year with nine goals and five assists in 2013/14, spearheading the Blues’ charge for the top four.

Martinez will be anxiously looking forward to the day he has Lukaku back in first-team contention.

 

8. Olivier Giroud

8. Olivier Giroud
Clive Mason/Getty Images

He may have gone slightly off the boil lately—much like Arsenal as a whole—but 10 goals and six assists in 24 league games have been a more-than-decent return for Olivier Giroud.

As Mesut Ozil and Giroud come in for increasing criticism in recent weeks, one thing to note is that Giroud’s style of play—to hold the ball up and bring others into the attack—isn’t exactly the same brand of physical, direct and explosive play that Cristiano Ronaldo provided as an outlet for Ozil’s passes.

Still, Giroud’s excellent team play, work ethic and all-roundedness—not to mention a silky-smooth first touch—make him one of the finest Premier League strikers around, if not entirely the best fit for the Gunners.

 

7. Emmanuel Adebayor

7. Emmanuel Adebayor
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Emmanuel Adebayor’s moody tendencies are often played up by the media, but when he’s on form, he offers attributes that few other strikers in the league do.

His pace, strength on the ball and clinical finishing have yielded eight goals in his last 10 Premier League games since Tim Sherwood took over from Andre Villas-Boas, helping to propel Tottenham Hotspur up the table and keep them in contention for a Champions League spot.

This revealing article by the Guardian’s David Hytner may help explain the Adebayor enigma and why there’s still life in the 29-year-old dog yet.

 

6. Alvaro Negredo

6. Alvaro Negredo
Stu Forster/Getty Images

When it comes to Manchester City and strikers, Sergio Aguero will always dominate the discussions, but his strike partner Alvaro Negredo deserves more than a mention as well.

Powerful and quick, with a strong finish and a good eye for a pass, Negredo embodies the perfect Premier League target-man striker. And with nine goals and three assists so far, he has become Manuel Pellegrini’s first-choice strike partner for Aguero.

With a full league campaign under his belt—and hopefully a fully-fit Aguero by his side—Negredo’s best Premier League years in a Manchester City shirt could well be ahead of him.

 

5. Wayne Rooney

5. Wayne Rooney
Michael Regan/Getty Images

It’s easy to see why Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie frequently feature in the debate about the Premier League’s top strike partnerships: After all, they provide two different skillsets and are perfect complements for each other.

And even with his move to a more withdrawn, deep-lying forward position—at times to central midfield as well—it’s not as if Rooney’s ability to contribute to Manchester United’s attacks has waned.

Nine goals and nine assists in 21 games represent an impressive return, especially in a Red Devils side struggling to really take off under David Moyes.

 

4. Robin van Persie

4. Robin Van Persie
Michael Regan/Getty Images

And it’s exactly because of Manchester United’s inconsistent form this season that Robin van Persie is only in fourth place on this list.

Last year, he would probably have edged Luis Suarez in a similar list—and indeed, van Persie did finish ahead of Suarez for the Premier League Golden Boot.

What van Persie currently lacks in team form, he more than makes up with his clinical finishing and breathtaking technique. He’s scored 10 goals and notched two assists in just 15 league games this season.

 

3. Daniel Sturridge

3. Daniel Sturridge
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Our cover hero Daniel Sturridge comes in at third place on our list here, behind the two main picks for the Premier League’s best striker.

Put simply, Sturridge has enjoyed a phenomenal campaign by any Premier League standards: 16 goals and four assists in just 18 games, including seven in his last seven league appearances.

Since moving to Liverpool, Sturridge has matured and taken his game to the next level, becoming one of the league’s deadliest finishers. Scarily for the Premier League, at 24 years of age, his best is yet to come.

 

2. Sergio Aguero

2. Sergio Aguero
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Fifteen goals and five assists in just 17 games: One can only imagine what Sergio Aguero’s Premier League haul this season would be had he remained fit for the entire campaign.

Nonetheless, Aguero’s enjoyed a renaissance under Pellegrini’s tutelage. Once again he looks the complete striker he seemed to have become in Manchester City’s title-winning 2011/2012 campaign, before his form dipped amid injuries.

As a striker, Aguero has it all: searing pace, rapid acceleration, incredible strength and deadly finishing. But still, he’ll need to rid himself of injuries before he can claim to be the Premier League’s best striker.

 

1. Luis Suarez

1. Luis Suarez
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

That title deservedly goes to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, who set a record of most goals ever scored in a Premier League month with 10 in December, and currently has 23 goals and eight assists this season—despite missing the first five games due to suspension.

A profligate finisher when he first arrived at Anfield, Suarez has improved massively every year and has become one of the best forwards in all of world football, never mind the Premier League.

He’s added the direct free-kick to his arsenal of abilities, while his relentless off-the-ball work and pressing mean he offers so much more to Liverpool than just his goals and assists.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

5 Transfer Targets Liverpool Must Land to Keep Them in Top Four Contention

Twenty days into the January transfer window, and no new signing has been strongly rumored to be close to a switch to Liverpool, much less seen at Anfield.

Given the momentum that the Reds have regained following the tough Christmas period, Liverpool fans would be forgiven for waiting anxiously for new signings to strengthen Brendan Rodgers’ squad to face the business end to the Premier League season.

Not that there haven’t been any rumors of player transfers, though: Almost no day passes without a new name surfacing, which has prompted even more discussion and debate about which players Liverpool should really be looking at.

After club owner John W. Henry flew into Merseyside and witnessed a frustrating 2-2 home draw with Aston Villa on Saturday, perhaps the need for further reinforcements has become more pressing than ever, if they are to achieve their ambitions of returning to the Champions League.

Here are five transfer targets that Liverpool must look to land this January to keep them in top-four contention for the rest of the season. Let us know your picks and views in the comments below.

 

Mohamed Salah

Hi-res-165540380-mohamed-salah-of-fc-basel-is-tackled-by-jan-vertonghen_crop_650
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Not necessarily the most urgent need on the pitch by any stretch of the imagination, but FC Basel’s Mohamed Salah represents a winger who can break open defences with his pace and contribute goals from the midfield area.

After incessant rumors linking Salah with a switch to Anfield almost all winter, Chris Bascombe of the Telegraph reported yesterday that Liverpool may finally be ready to launch a formal bid for the Egyptian winger.

With Daniel Sturridge returning to the side following an injury layoff, a current forward line featuring Luis Suarez, Sturridge and Raheem Sterling has goals, pace and dribbling in abundance, but Philippe Coutinho, who arrived last January, hasn’t found his top form for the Reds this season.

If Salah could be another source of match-winners to Anfield, he could turn out to be an important signing for Liverpool this January.

 

Antonio Candreva

Hi-res-184441965-antonio-candreva-of-italy-in-action-during-the-fifa_crop_650
Claudio Villa/Getty Images

A recent new name linked with a move to Anfield is Lazio’s Antonio Candreva, who, according to Charles Perrin of the Express, is reportedly in the middle of a £7 million co-ownership tug-of-war between Lazio and Udinese.

That Candreva is linked with a move to Liverpool is somewhat surprising: The Premier League hasn’t enjoyed a good track record with Italian midfielders, and the Reds have only recently rid themselves of a big-money transfer failure in Alberto Aquilani.

But Candreva might bring something that Aquilani was never known for: pace, stamina and work rate, on top of some much-needed composure and passing ability in the midfield.

Equally comfortable in the center of midfield and on the wing, Candreva would bring an assured presence to Rodgers’ midfield amid the recent experimentations of Steven Gerrard in a holding role and the recent injury to Lucas, sustained against Aston Villa on Saturday.

 

Martin Montoya

Hi-res-460775975-martin-montoya-of-fc-barcelona-duels-for-the-ball-with_crop_650
David Ramos/Getty Images

Besides the midfield, another priority for Liverpool this January has to be in defence.

The centre-back situation is currently embarrassingly chaotic as Martin Skrtel and Kolo Toure just can’t seem to stop leaking goals, but with Mamadou Sakho and Daniel Agger to return, the more pressing need lies in the full-back area.

Glen Johnson has exhibited a disappointing and alarming decline in form this season, while Aly Cissokho’s constantly underwhelming performances are not helped by Jose Enrique’s continued absence.

The solution? A soon-to-be out-of-contract Martin Montoya of Barcelona, who has been strongly linked with the Reds. According to Liam Prenderville of the Mirror though, Montoya seems content to stay at Camp Nou and wait for a new deal.

Ian Ayre and Co. must act fast to secure a player who would be an excellent versatile defender to join the Liverpool ranks.

 

Fernando Reges

Hi-res-455184977-fernando-reges-of-fc-porto-competes-for-the-ball-with_crop_650
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Given Lucas’ injury on Saturday—he left Anfield on crutches, according to the Express—and a lack of true defensive options in the Reds midfield, it’s the defensive midfield area that they truly need to strengthen.

A name that’s been thrown around is Fernando Reges of FC Porto, who, according to Ben Jefferson of the Express, has piqued the interest of Brendan Rodgers and his management team.

Considering that he will be out of contract in the summer and that his rumored extension agreement may just be a transfer tactic, Reges would be far too good a signing to pass up on.

He would bring pace, power, stamina, excellent tackling and short passing skills to the Liverpool midfield that has been short of a strong defensive presence this season, and would be an instant upgrade in the starting XI.

 

Yann M’Vila

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Ian Walton/Getty Images

But if the Reds do miss out on Fernando Reges, all would be forgiven if the midfielder signed instead would be Yann M’Vila of Rubin Kazan.

As we discussed in our scout report on M’Vila last week, he would bring a complete package of strength, stamina, power and pace, allied with composure and ball-playing technique.

Given his history of off-field controversies, he does bring with him some baggage, but if he performs to his potential, M’Vila could anchor the Reds midfield for years to come and establish himself as one of the premier midfielders in all of Europe.

The latest rumor from the Mirror is that Brendan Rodgers is now considering a loan move for M’Vila first, before signing him on a permanent deal in the summer.

Whichever path both player and potential manager choose to go down, if Liverpool were to sign just one player to instantly make a splash this January, it would have to be Yann M’Vila.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

Scouting Report on Reported Liverpool Target Yann M’Vila

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Ian Walton/Getty ImagesA week and a half into the January transfer window, Liverpool are still on the lookout for a potential new signing. The latest player to be linked with a move to Anfield is Rubin Kazan midfielder Yann M’Vila, according to the Liverpool Echo.

This news comes on the back of M’Vila’s agent announcing, via the Metro, that the French midfielder “dreams” of playing in the Premier League.

Perhaps it comes as no surprise either, given that he showed up at the Merseyside derby at Goodison Park in November to support his friend, Reds defender Mamadou Sakho, as reported by the Daily Mail.

A precocious midfield talent during his days at Rennes, M’Vila was embroiled in a series of controversial antics off the pitch, and in the beginning of 2013, he moved to Russia to continue his career.

Just as we’ve done with Konstantinos Mitroglou and Martin Montoya earlier, let’s take a look at the pros and cons to Yann M’Vila’s potential signing, assess his potential role at Anfield and evaluate whether he’d be a good pickup for Brendan Rodgers.

Mike Hewitt/Getty ImagesPros

Those familiar with Ligue 1 a few seasons back will know of Yann M’Vila as one of the most highly rated midfield talents in French football in his generation during his three-and-a-half seasons at Rennes.

As this Squawka report suggests, M’Vila might not have lost much of his ability despite a fall in reputation with his move to Russia: His passing statistics as of November 2013 were stellar (88 percent accuracy and a total of 770 passes in 14 league games), and his comfort playing in a passing-dominant midfield would suit Liverpool to the ground.

Curiously, given his ball-playing technique and composure, M’Vila is most known as a strong defensive anchorman thanks to his physical strength, athleticism and incredible stamina. His distribution and positioning also makes him a perfect shield in front of the back four.

With his talent, it’s no surprise that former French international Marcel Desailly claimed that he had the potential to become better than Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira, according to the Daily Mail. His coach at Rennes, Frederic Antonetti, has afforded him further praise: “He reads the game like Claude Makelele, has the presence of Patrick Vieira and can pass the ball like Yaya Toure.” (c/o FIFA.com)

 

Cons

Given his abilities and reputation as a hot midfield prospect for France—he made 22 appearances for the national team, scoring one goal, in the space of just two years—it seems strange to see Yann M’Vila plying his trade in the Russian Premier League with Rubin Kazan.

But his career has been derailed by the aforementioned off-field troubles, the most noteworthy of which was an unauthorized night out while on international duty with the French under-21 team, as reported by BBC Sport, which saw him banned from the France national team in November 2012.

He had previously been given a warning following his snub of then-national team coach Laurent Blanc after his substitution in the quarterfinal against Spain in June 2012, according to BBC Sport.

And before his incidents with the French national setup, he also landed himself in hot water with the authorities in May 2012 after an altercation with a 17-year-old boy near his home, as reported by the Metro.

On the field, M’Vila isn’t the most prolific midfielder either: He has only scored two career league goals, both when he plied his trade for Rennes, for whom he played 126 times in Ligue 1.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty ImagesPotential Role at Liverpool

Judging from his playing attributes, Yann M’Vila would bring a complete midfield package to Anfield and should walk straight into Brendan Rodgers’ starting XI.

Comfortable both in central midfield and in a deeper defensive midfield role, M’Vila would be an instant upgrade over the likes of Lucas Leiva at Anfield, and he would form a complete midfield triumvirate with the equally energetic Jordan Henderson and one of Joe Allen and Steven Gerrard.

M’Vila’s pace, strength and positional awareness would help the Reds greatly, given that their midfield has been exposed by dynamic and explosive oppositions, such as Chelsea, Arsenal and Southampton.

Rodgers’ ideal midfield system for Liverpool has all three midfielders relentlessly moving and applying pressure to their opponents, moving the ball at pace and comfortably with short passing to open up the opposition. M’Vila would slot in seamlessly to this blueprint.

At just 23 years of age, M’Vila has his best years ahead of him. If Rodgers’ track record with Daniel Sturridge and fellow January signing Philippe Coutinho reflects anything, it’s that the current Reds boss has the ability to motivate players whose careers have perhaps stagnated and unlock their full potential.

As such, not only would M’Vila be a quality signing for Liverpool, but they’d also represent the ideal destination for him to resurrect his career and establish himself as one of the best midfielders in his generation.

 

Conclusion

From our analysis of his strengths and potential role at Liverpool, it’s clear to see that we strongly recommend Yann M’Vila as a Liverpool signing.

In fact, given his attributes and potential ability, as well as what the Reds midfield currently lacks, we’d even go as far as to say that M’Vila should be a priority in the eyes of the Liverpool management.

That his development has been curtailed due to a series of off-field troubles is well-known, but that Rodgers has the man management techniques to bring the best out of a troubled young player is also highly regarded at Anfield. We only have to see Raheem Sterling’s recent improvement after almost a year of off-field distractions to recognize the work Rodgers is doing behind the scenes.

As such, we have every reason to believe that he would be able to do the same with M’Vila, who may well go on to realize his immense potential.

It’s a tantalizing possibility and a mouthwatering prospect: Liverpool should go all-out for Yann M’Vila, who might still have the world at his feet.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.