Category Archives: 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?
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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.

 

 

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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.

Breaking Down Liverpool’s January Transfer Window Business

Breaking Down Liverpool's January Transfer Window Business
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And then there were none.

After so many rumors, so many names and so many hopes, the January transfer window passed by without any signings at Liverpool, and Brendan Rodgers will be tackling the remaining fixtures of the 2013/14 Premier League season with the squad he had at his disposal when the campaign started in August.

Amidst their injury crisis, Liverpool needed to strengthen, not only to make up for their absentees, but to inject quality into the first team and to better equip themselves for what promises to be a tough fight to finish in the top four.

With no new arrivals at Anfield and a quintet of names to leave the club, either on a permanent basis or on loan, the Reds’ shortages and problems have been left by the hierarchy to the summer, when surely there will be questions asked again of the transfer policy.

But for now, what can we make of their past month?

Here’s a breakdown of Liverpool’s January activities, featuring exits, loans, near misses, and an analysis of their transfer approach. Let us know your thoughts below.

 

Exits: Adam Morgan

Exits: Adam Morgan
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Only one player departed Anfield on a permanent basis this January, and that was young striker Adam Morgan to Championship club Yeovil Town.

Morgan had already been at Yeovil since late November, of course, having joined them on loan with an option to make the deal permanent in January.

Long tipped as one of the most natural finishers to emerge from the Liverpool academy in years, Morgan had made three first-team appearances for the Reds, with his senior debut coming as a 90th-minute substitute in an August 2012 Europa League clash against Hearts.

But with the goal-scoring form and telepathic partnership enjoyed by Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, and the development of Fabio Borini on loan at Sunderland, Morgan’s path to the first team looked ever trickier, and a permanent departure probably always looked the likeliest outcome.

 

Loans: Tiago Ilori, Ryan McLaughlin, Michael Ngoo, Craig Roddan

Loans: Tiago Ilori, Ryan McLaughlin, Michael Ngoo, Craig Roddan
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

A total of four players went out on loan from Liverpool this January, but their long-term futures at the club may be in stark contrast after their temporary spells away from Anfield.

 

Tiago Ilori (Granada)

Having signed for Liverpool from Sporting Lisbon on deadline day last summer, Tiago Ilori joined La Liga side Granada on loan until the end of the season in January.

Highly regarded for his defensive capabilities and searing pace, Ilori failed to make a first-team appearance in his first six months with the Reds, which, given the injury crisis that struck the Liverpool central defence, was perhaps an indicator of his status as a player for the future.

A £7 million buy in the summer, Ilori now has the chance to justify his price tag and build up his senior-level match fitness at Granada. An important few months ahead of him.

 

Ryan McLaughlin (Barnsley)

While Ilori headed to Spanish shores, just like compatriot Suso, another defensive prospect joined Barnsley in the Championship.

Ryan McLaughlin made his first appearance for Liverpool in their 2012 summer tour of the USA, where he impressed against AS Roma legend Francesco Totti in a preseason friendly against the Serie A side.

Long tipped to be Liverpool’s next right-back for years to come and a potential heir to Glen Johnson down the right, McLaughlin now has a chance to show his ability week in, week out at Championship level and will be keen to impress any watching scouts from his parent club.

 

Michael Ngoo (Walsall)

While Ilori and McLaughlin are two hot prospects looking to gain first-team experience out on loan and force their way into the squad next season, two other loan departures will in all likelihood be the beginning of the end of their Liverpool careers.

Michael Ngoo, who scored four goals in the Scottish Premier League on loan at Hearts in 2013, joined League One side Walsall on loan this January, where he will be looking to pick himself up after an underwhelming spell at Yeovil Town was cut short earlier this season.

Like his reserve teammate Adam Morgan, Ngoo might not possess the required quality to star in a top-four-chasing Liverpool squad for seasons to come. If he impresses at Walsall, he might earn himself a permanent suitor come the end of his loan spell.

 

Craig Roddan (Accrington Stanley)

Young midfielder Craig Roddan joined Accrington Stanley on a month-long loan deal in January, which will also likely lead to a career continued outside of Anfield.

With a host of established names ahead of him in the first team and a few hot prospects coming through the academy, Roddan’s days as a Liverpool player look numbered as he will surely prepare to leave the club without ever having made a first-team appearance for the Reds.

League Two football will be quite a few levels down from what he’s been used to at Anfield.

 

Near Misses: Mohamed Salah, Yevhen Konoplyanka

Near Misses: Mohamed Salah, Yevhen Konoplyanka
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For all the exits at the club, Liverpool’s January transfer window will be remembered for their much-publicized near misses that have caused consternation among Reds fans.

 

Mohamed Salah (FC Basel to Chelsea, £11 million)

Linked heavily with Liverpool before and during the first few weeks of the January window, Mohamed Salah is a pacy and exciting winger who would’ve added quality to Brendan Rodgers’ first team.

A protracted negotiation with FC Basel officials lasted two-and-a-half months, according to Salah’s agent Sascha Empacher via the Mirror, and ultimately ended in Chelsea snagging the Egyptian forward for around £13.5 million, with a down payment of £11 million, which Liverpool didn’t meet.

Rodgers has since stated that he was disappointed that Salah joined Chelsea and that the near miss was “difficult to take,” according to the Guardian. Yet another name missed out by the Reds to add to the high-profile summer contingent featuring Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Diego Costa and Willian.

 

Yevhen Konoplyanka (FC Dnipro)

Where the Liverpool hierarchy failed and dallied in their pursuit of Salah, they certainly didn’t in their subsequent approach for Yehven Konoplyanka of FC Dnipro, according to Rodgers via the Liverpool Echo.

This time, the player had passed a medical and agreed personal terms on deadline day, but the bottleneck was instead at the refusal of Dnipro’s owner to sign the relevant paperwork.

While Dnipro and Liverpool’s versions of the confusing saga predictably differ, the same Echo article states that they have seen paperwork confirming a full fee transfer more than two hours before the transfer deadline.

Unlike Salah, though, Konoplyanka didn’t end up moving to another club, and Rodgers has refused to rule out another approach for the Ukrainian winger this summer. Better luck next time?

 

Approach: Top-Heavy and Too Little, Too Late

Approach: Top-Heavy and Too Little, Too Late
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

From their near misses, we can observe that Liverpool’s top transfer priorities for January wasn’t to shore up their shaky defence or a thin midfield, but rather to strengthen up front: Both Salah and Konoplyanka are wingers that would have brought pace, dribbling, vision and goals from the flanks.

Whether this was because of Brendan Rodgers’ famous fondness for attacking football and desire to add to an already fearsome strikeforce, a curious lack of recognition of their need to reinforce a defence and midfield low on numbers and world-class quality, or simply a lack of available targets, we’ll never know.

But what we do know is that Liverpool took too long in securing their primary transfer targets, leaving Salah to opt for Chelsea and Konoplyanka to end up an opportunity missed.

The long time it took for Liverpool to negotiate with FC Basel led to frustration from Salah’s camp, while that in turn led to a late, late move for Konoplyanka that no doubt also frustrated the Dnipro hierarchy.

The result? A fruitless January transfer window that had promised so much but in the end delivered so little.

 

Conclusion: Massive Improvements Needed

Conclusion: Massive Improvements Needed
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In evaluating Liverpool’s transfer record, while taken in isolation this January was disappointing, we must give credit to the business done last summer and especially last January.

While it’s fair to say that the Reds’ transfer record during Brendan Rodgers’ time hasn’t been stellar, the unequivocal success of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, added to the encouraging signs shown by Simon Mignolet, Mamadou Sakho and at times Joe Allen, means that there is still the right eye for a player and a transfer fee somewhere in the upper echelons of the Anfield club.

The biggest ramification of an underwhelming and frustrating January transfer window has to be that Liverpool have to approach the season-end run-in with the same squad they’ve had all season, accounting for injury losses.

Now it’s down to Rodgers’ man and squad management to see Liverpool solidify their hold on their current fourth place.

If he does and the club are able to use the funds set aside for January transfers in the summer with Champions League football in their arsenal, then it could prove to be a winter well spent.

The flipside, though, is what’s worrying.

 

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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Picking a Premier League Best XI Team of the Season so Far

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Alex Livesey/Getty Images

It’s January, which means, besides the opening of the winter transfer window, the halfway point in the 2013/14 Premier League season is here. This is where we can look back and evaluate how the campaign has gone thus far.

With 20 games played by each team, we’ve witnessed a scintillating title race and an intriguing battle for the European places, while the permutations towards the bottom of the table mean that the relegation fight will only intensify in the months to come.

Given the quality that has been on show in England’s top flight this season, it’s one of the toughest mid-season tasks in recent years to pick a team of the season 20 games in—but we’ll do it all the same.

Here’s our Premier League team of the 2013/14 season so far, in a 4-3-1-2 formation and complete with a seven-man bench. Enjoy and let us know your picks in the comments below.

 

All statistics have come from Premierleague.com unless otherwise stated.

 

Goalkeeper: Wojciech Szczesny

With 39 goals scored and 18 conceded, Arsenal are the third-highest scoring team in the Premier League and boast the meanest defensive record in the top flight. It’s no wonder that Arsenal will approach round 21 in top spot, with 45 points on board.

A key part of their season has been Wojciech Szczesny, who has rediscovered his precocious form with a series of outstanding performances in the Arsenal goal.

A total of 61 saves this season has been augmented by nine clean sheets—the league’s highest tally—as Szczesny picked himself up from an inconsistent season last year to establish himself as one of the Premier League’s very finest goalkeepers.

 

Right-Back: Seamus Coleman

Such has been the success and aesthetic pleasure of Roberto Martinez’s Everton side this season that we’ve opted for no fewer than three of his players in our team of the season thus far.

Starting with Seamus Coleman, who, lest we forget, was signed from Irish club Sligo Rovers in 2009 for just £60,000.

He’s been a key part of Martinez’s system at Goodison Park, bombing down the right flank with total joy and in the process becoming the best right-back in the league.

He’s already scored five league goals this season. Don’t be surprised if he’s entered double figures by the time May rolls around.

 

Left-Back: Leighton Baines

On the opposite flank at Everton is Leighton Baines, who has continued his impressive form from last season with an excellent six months so far and just shades Southampton’s Luke Shaw to this position.

Baines’ runs from the back and world-class deliveries from both his crosses and set pieces make him a threat to any opponent, and he has even usurped long-time fixture Ashley Cole in the England national setup.

He’s scored three goals so far, making it eight in total for both full-backs in just 20 league games. No wonder Everton are flying high.

 

Center-Back: Per Mertesacker

If there’s ever a picture of composure, leadership, technique and anticipation at the Emirates Stadium, it’ll be of Per Mertesacker, who has been a rock in central defence for Arsene Wenger this season.

After an initial settling-in period, Mertesacker has grown into one of the finest defenders in the Premier League, striking up an impressive partnership with Laurent Koscielny and assuming the Gunners captaincy in the absence of Thomas Vermaelen and Mikel Arteta.

A key component in Arsenal’s league-leading defence, Mertesacker has also scored two goals in the league this year and makes up for his lack of pace by an outstanding reading of the game and impeccable positioning.

 

Center-Back: Dejan Lovren

Before Southampton’s season started unraveling, Mauricio Pochettino’s side were considered strong contenders for Europe and, at one point, even the top four.

Their brand of pressing, attacking football has attracted many a neutral observer and won plaudits for their impressive play, but equally noteworthy was their watertight backline, which until the end of November had conceded the fewest goals out of all 20 Premier League teams.

A towering young defender signed from Olympique Lyonnais in the summer, Lovren has been an ever-present in the Saints defence and has provided a classy blend of physicality, tackling, composure and technique.

 

Central Midfielder: Aaron Ramsey

There are few stories this Premier League season as heartwarming as Aaron Ramsey’s resurgence in the Arsenal midfield.

After a horrific leg injury in 2010, there were fears that Ramsey’s career would never reach the heights that his precocious talents had promised, but this season he has answered his critics in style.

With a barnstorming eight goals and six assists in just 18 league games, Ramsey has risen to the fold and become Arsenal’s midfield engine. His much improved passing, movement and finishing has been a joy to behold in a bewitching Gunners team capable of scintillating football.

 

Central Midfielder: Yaya Toure

Alongside the rejuvenated Ramsey, we’ll have perennial performer Yaya Toure, who surely now belongs in a class of his own as the complete midfielder.

We must also recognize the excellent work of Toure’s midfield colleague Fernandinho and credit his role in Toure’s consistently impressive form this season, but 10 goals in just 19 games speaks for itself: Toure, erstwhile known as a defensive midfielder, is now one of the league’s most devastating attacking forces from the middle.

An enviable concoction of power, pace, technique and finishing, Toure leads Manchester City from defence into attack in the blink of an eye, and has also added a deadly direct free kick to his dizzying arsenal of tricks. He already has four goals just from free kicks this season.

 

Central Midfielder: Ross Barkley

Our third and final Evertonian is Ross Barkley, who at just 20 years of age may just be England’s finest talent of his generation and has enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top this season.

His precocious talents have been given center stage by Roberto Martinez, who has made him a key cog in a purring Blues machine. Barkley has responded in kind and has taken the opportunity to establish himself as a genuinely exciting prospect who has almost everything in his locker.

Barkley is power, pace, explosiveness, creativity and finishing rolled into one young package, and has the swagger on the pitch to become a possible Everton and England captain in the future.

 

Attacking Midfielder: Wayne Rooney

Ahead of Barkley is his predecessor both in terms of club and stature, Wayne Rooney.

With strong rumors of a falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson and of a request to leave Manchester United towards the end of last season, Rooney was also strongly linked with a move to Chelsea over the summer.

Despite all the controversies and negative publicity before ultimately staying put at Old Trafford, Rooney has reinvented himself in an attacking midfield role this season supporting United’s main strikers.

As a result, his goals tally has dipped—albeit not by much, as he’s still scored nine goals in 17 games—but his influence in the team has greatly increased. His nine assists tell just part of the story: Rooney is now the indispensable player that makes Manchester United tick.

 

Striker: Sergio Aguero

Who’s the best player in the Premier League, Sergio Aguero or Luis Suarez?

The best part of picking a team of the (half-) season is that we can pick both and pair them up with each other, so our team will have the league’s two best players.

So let’s start with Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero, who has recaptured his form from their 2011/12 Premier League-winning campaign with 13 league goals and four assists in just 15 games thus far.

He’s been a constant in Manuel Pellegrini’s team as the Chilean manager has rotated to find the right partner for him. In Alvaro Negredo, Aguero has the perfect foil. Small wonder that they are now known as one of the league’s best strike partnerships.

A fit and firing Sergio Aguero at the tip of a peerless City machine makes for a wonderful spectacle. If Aguero and his colleagues continue their fine work this season, they might just go all the way.

 

Striker: Luis Suarez

Notice that we mentioned Aguero and Negredo as one of the Premier League’s best strike partnerships. The other? None other than Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge.

Sturridge misses out on our lineup (and bench) entirely due an injury that ruled him out in December, and so we’ll round out our starting XI with the surely undisputed player of the half-season thus far, Luis Suarez.

And Suarez deserves all the plaudits. Anyone with 20 goals after 20 league games would be regarded as a striker on top of his game, but Suarez has scored that same amount despite missing the first five games of the season due to his suspension for biting Branislav Ivanovic last season.

His four-goal salvo against Norwich City in December showed us all just what this mercurial Uruguayan is all about: technique, finesse, unpredictability, finishing and a fondness for the outrageous.

Now that Suarez has seemed to buckle down and sort out his on-field attitude, he has matured into one of the very best in the world. We Premier League fans are lucky to witness a master of his craft in his prime.

 

The Bench

Simon Mignolet: With 65 saves made all season and having won his team valuable points courtesy of his brilliant shot-stopping, Mignolet has been an inspired capture for Liverpool.

Laurent Koscielny: If Mertesacker makes it into our starting XI, surely his regular partner can’t be too far away. Koscielny has been outstanding in an impressive overall season for Arsenal.

Curtis Davies: Our only pick outside of the Premier League top nine (yes, that’s a thing now). Davies’ form and leadership of the Hull City defence will see him go down as one of the best signings of the 2013/14 campaign.

Fernandinho: The other half of Manchester City’s central midfield, Fernandinho has been an unsung hero setting the platform for Yaya Toure to shine. But with his recent flurry of goals, he’s slowly becoming quite the big deal himself.

Eden Hazard: Is this the season Eden Hazard finally realizes his massive potential and becomes a major player on the European stage? If he can keep up his recent fine form, Chelsea could have a world star on their hands.

Oscar: This man has single-handedly kept Juan Mata out of the Chelsea first team. Week in, week out, he continues to show why he has Jose Mourinho’s complete faith. That should suffice.

Olivier Giroud: His goal-scoring run might have dried up, but Giroud beats off competition from Loic Remy and Romelu Lukaku due to his status as an integral part, both as creator and finisher, of Arsenal’s brilliant attacking football. A complete forward.

 

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

5 Keys to a Successful January Transfer Window for Liverpool

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Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Last January, Liverpool got their winter transfer window off to a strong start, having finalized the signing of Daniel Sturridge from Chelsea on the second day of the window.

This time last year, their new signing had already made his debut against Mansfield Town in the FA Cup and had already scored his first goal in Liverpool colors. The following weekend, Sturridge came on as a half-time substitute and scored against Manchester United.

It’s not just Liverpool; it seems that the Premier League in general has been slow to take action this January. The Telegraph’s list, via John Ley, of ins and outs in England’s top flight shows just how slow business has been for Premier League clubs so far.

But there is still plenty of time left for Liverpool to enjoy a successful January transfer window. Here are five guiding principles that will allow them to do just that.

 

Don’t Disrupt the Current Momentum

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The impressive evolution of this Reds side in the past year shows that Brendan Rodgers has been molding the team as a unit with a shared philosophy in mind, and this has been particularly obvious in the last couple of months, which has seen a plethora of goals scored at Anfield.

As such, while hunting for players and potential signings, Rodgers and his management team would do well to keep in mind Liverpool’s fine form of late and take care not to introduce too many distractions or disruptions to the first team.

The goalscoring streak of Luis Suarez and pre-injury form of Daniel Sturridge mean that the forward line doesn’t have any pressing need for reinforcements, and given Raheem Sterling’s recent excellence, Rodgers has no need for a big revolution up front.

A strong squad option who could improve the starting XI would be great; any target would probably fare better than Victor Moses, who has been nothing short of abject in recent months.

The midfield and the defence obviously have problems to address, but given the lack of available options in the market in January anyway, Rodgers should only go for established players who would be able to settle into Liverpool’s game relatively quickly and easily, for stability’s sake.

 

Target Potential Cut-Price Options and Loans

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As such, cut-price options—especially those whose contracts are expiring at the end of this season—and loans should be particularly attractive to Rodgers and Co., who presumably will have cost in mind when they look for signings this January.

When it comes to players who will be out of contract in six months, Rodgers could either go in strong with a pre-contract offer that factors any potential transfer fee into the wage packages to secure a signing for next season, or he could tempt their current clubs into selling for a fee.

For players who remain important to their team and would likely command a high asking price despite the risk of leaving on a free in six months, such as Paris Saint-Germain’s Blaise Matuidi, the former option seems more desirable.

While any pre-contract agreement wouldn’t—and shouldn’t—be leaked publicly soon, the January window, with the benefit of hindsight, will be looked upon as a very productive one if such players have been pre-signed.

For players whose contract situations don’t look like they might be resolved soon, like Barcelona’s Martin Montoya, via Alex Richards of Mirror Football, the latter option above may be enough to secure a move.

There is also the possibility of loan deals, which would take advantage of the uncertain first-team statuses of many established players at big clubs around Europe. A loan deal would allow them to get valuable playing time at Anfield, and if an option to buy can be agreed, a promise of a permanent move at the end of the short-term arrangement is possible.

Our dream January transfer scenario for Liverpool is thus a combination of both.

 

Quality, Not Quantity

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By now, it’s probably a tired cliche, especially when associated with transfer windows, but still, it bears repeating: Instead of strengthening in numbers, Liverpool should look for real quality that can improve their first team.

We only need to look at Sunderland’s group of disastrous new summer signings and Tottenham Hotspur’s underwhelming replacements for Gareth Bale to learn of the potential problems that buying too many players can cause.

Liverpool’s squad is currently hit severely by injuries. Daniel Agger is the latest casualty after his calf problem in the FA Cup tie against Oldham Athletic, according to James Carroll of the official Liverpool website, but Rodgers currently cannot afford a stockpiling of useful players, especially given that he’s only involved in two competitions.

Last January, Liverpool signed just two players in Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge. Their immediate impacts on the fortunes of the first team are now almost legendary. By contrast, in the summer of 2012, Rodgers brought Fabio Borini, Joe Allen and Oussama Assaidi to the senior squad. Only one of them is still at Anfield.

 

Allow Exits and Loans as Necessary

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But it’s not just about bringing players into Liverpool; the January window also gives them a valuable opportunity to let players go if needed.

Last January saw the Reds terminate Nuri Sahin’s loan deal, allowing him a chance to resurrect his career back at Borussia Dortmund, again on loan from Real Madrid, and this time around we might yet see the same with Victor Moses, on loan from Chelsea and whose sole contribution was a goal on his debut against Swansea City.

Allowing Moses to return to his parent club would not only free up room for another loan from a Premier League club if available but also a chance for him to continue his career at a club that would grant him a starting spot week in and week out.

While assistant manager Colin Pascoe has dampened talk of Raheem Sterling going out on loan this month, according to Ben Burrows of Mirror Football, other players who have found first-team chances hard to come by may be granted an opportunity for first-team football in the lower leagues.

The likes of Andre Wisdom and Suso have already spent most of the campaign out on loan, while Martin Kelly and Tiago Ilori, who have found it hard to break into the first team despite the recent injury spike, may yet be on their way with the club’s blessings.

 

Take Time If Needed

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All of which culminates in the final key to a successful January window: Take your time.

That this January is markedly different from just 12 months ago—last year, Liverpool were in desperate need of new players to bolster a shallow squad—is encouraging and a testament to the good work that the backroom team have done to groom an exciting young crop of players.

The Reds struck gold with Sturridge and Coutinho last time, and any similar signings this year would provide a significant boost to their top-four challenge.

But as the Coutinho transfer showed—it was only confirmed Jan. 30, a day before the window shut. Sometimes you have to bide your time when it comes to scouting and negotiating.

There’s no need to rush into anything. After all, Liverpool already have a top-four squad as of Week 20. For premium quality here on out, patience is the key.

 

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

Premier League Transfers: A Dream January Transfer Window Scenario for Liverpool

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The January transfer window is upon us again and, just like any other Premier League club, Liverpool will be considering all possibilities and potential targets to strengthen their squad and sustain their top-four challenge.

Unlike most clubs in the English top flight, however, Liverpool will be going into the market this January buoyed by their perfect transfer record 12 months ago.

Brendan Rodgers acted decisively last winter, bringing in two quality players in Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho for £12 million and £8.5 million respectively.

Both have been unqualified successes at Anfield thus far and have established themselves both as integral parts of Brendan Rodgers’ starting XI when fit and as two of the Premier League’s most exciting attacking talents outright.

With last January’s transfers being few in numbers but so fruitful in terms of instant impact, Liverpool will be hoping for the same this year around. A strong start to the 2013/14 campaign has seen them finish week 20 in the top four and Rodgers’ squad boasts young and exciting talent in abundance.

So, with a few quality additions this month, Rodgers would be able to add to his starting XI and push for a strong second half of the season.

Here is how an ideal but realistic January transfer window would turn out for Liverpool. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Defence: Martin Montoya

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After a productive summer that saw three additions to central defence in Kolo Toure, Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori, Liverpool are now in need of further strengthening in their full-back department.

With Glen Johnson’s poor form and injuries to Jose Enrique and Jon Flanagan, Brendan Rodgers is now left with a severe shortage on the flanks at the back, and this is where our first ideal reinforcement comes in.

Martin Montoya, currently on Barcelona’s books, would be an excellent addition to the first team, not least because of his versatility, which makes him equally comfortable on both flanks.

Earlier in the season, when Liverpool were linked strongly with Montoya—who, according to the Mirror, has pulled out of contract talks with Barcelona and whose current contract expires in the summer—we wrote a scouting report on the full-back.

Besides versatility, Montoya would bring technique and composure to the back four, and he is as comfortable in his passing as he is going forward and supporting the attack.

If Montoya’s contract situation isn’t resolved, Liverpool could well take advantage with a bid in January. He would be too good a prospect to miss out on—and one who would instantly provide quality competition and improve the first team.

 

Midfield: Fernando Reges

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While the perfect transfer window might consist of “marquee” signings in the eyes of Reds’ fans, we instead opt for a cost-efficient, budget-friendly but productive January that sees quality added to the first team without having to shell out the big bucks.

In our midfield transfer wishlist for Liverpool’s January window, compiled back in November, we identified Olympique Lyonnais’ Maxime Gonalons as the “essential” addition for the Reds in the middle of the park.

However, according to reports in the French media (via Football-Italia.net), Serie A club Napoli seem closest to Gonalons for €12 million, which would rule him out as a viable option for Brendan Rodgers.

With that in mind, our midfielder of choice is FC Porto’s Fernando Reges who, like Martin Montoya, will be out of contract this summer, according to Transfermarkt; as such, he may command a lower transfer fee than he otherwise would.

While Liverpool’s current midfield set-up of Lucas, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson have impressed in recent weeks against Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City with their relentless pressing and quick passing, they have been found out on occasion against powerful midfield opposition in Southampton and Arsenal.

What the Reds’ midfield needs is a strong ball-winner who is capable of dominating the midfield, passing the ball with purpose and positioning himself in the right areas to shut out gaps that opponents can take advantage of. From this Squawka analysis, it seems that Reges would be the right man for the job.

Which, all in all, makes Fernando Reges an excellent, cut-price option who would go straight into the first team.

 

Attack: Xherdan Shaqiri

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In attack, keeping in mind our prerogative to remain realistic, we opt for BayernMunich’s Xherdan Shaqiri, whether on loan or on a permanent basis.

The Swiss winger was linked with a move to Anfield back in the summer, according to the Daily Star, and with his inability to force himself into Pep Guardiola’s regular starting XI, Shaqiri could be available for at least a short-term switch this time around.

Our recent list of potential loan targets for the Reds also includes Shaqiri as a player who would instantly improve the squad; his mesmerising wing play, allied with a strong physical build and an eye for goal, would be a great option to rotate with PhilippeCoutinho and the in-form Raheem Sterling.

While Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah is a name strongly linked with Liverpool and may also mean the exit of Sterling on loan, according to the Mirror, Shaqiri would be a better, more all-rounded option with more experience at the highest level.

A Liverpool forward line of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Coutinho, Sterling andShaqiri would be one of the most exciting young attacks in all of Europe and would certainly provide the ammunition needed to fire Liverpool back to the Champions League.

 

Conclusion

After a not-so-busy but superbly productive transfer window last January, Liverpool could do the same a year on with three quality, non-expensive signings, one in each area on the field.

There’s no need to dream of big-name marquee transfers at Anfield yet; Martin Montoya, Fernando Reges and XherdanShaqiri would be enough to provide a more-than-solid starting XI for the rest of the season.

Let the real action take place in the summer.

 

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

Premier League Transfers: 9 Players Liverpool Should Consider Signing on Loan

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With the New Year also comes the January transfer window, and Liverpool have already been linked with a host of names as Brendan Rodgers looks to strengthen his squad for their top-four challenge in the Premier League.

Besides permanent signings, with examples in Nuri Sahin last season and Victor Moses and Aly Cissokho this summer, Rodgers has shown a fondness and an interest in the loan market, though none of the trio can be considered a true success at Anfield.

As Liverpool contemplate potential signings this January, they would do well to keep in mind the successes of loan deals across the Premier League: The likes of Romelu Lukaku and Gareth Barry at Everton are shining examples of cost-efficient transfers allied with high return.

While the Reds’ own Raheem Sterling is once again rumored to be moving to Swansea City on a loan deal (c/o Mirror), here are nine players that Rodgers and the Liverpool management team should consider bringing in on loan. Feel free to chip in with your suggestions in the comments below.

 

Cristian Tello

Our first name on this list is also one that has seemingly been perpetually linked with a move to Anfield: Barcelona’s exciting young winger, Cristian Tello.

According to the Daily Star, Liverpool might finally be on the verge of securing Tello’s signature on a loan deal for the rest of the 2013/14 season.

An exciting winger with pace and an eye for goal, Tello broke into the Barcelona first team two seasons ago, but stormed into recognition with seven goals and four assists in just 22 La Liga matches last term, 10 of which were substitute appearances.

 

Alvaro Morata

Another young Spanish starlet has reportedly been made available for loan as well, but the team Real Madrid’s Alvaro Morata is linked with this January are Premier League rivals Arsenal, according to the Daily Mail.

With four goals in 24 first-team appearances for Real Madrid and an impressive 12 goals in just 11 games for the Spanish under-21 national side, Morata is known for his clinical finishing, but also boasts an imposing 6 ft. 3 in. frame.

With Daniel Sturridge on his way back from injury, Rodgers may consider swooping in for a deal for Morata—though he may need to move quickly if he is to secure his signature ahead of Arsene Wenger.

 

Kevin De Bruyne

The latest news surrounding Chelsea’s Kevin de Bruyne, according to the Telegraph, is that the Blues are holding out for a hefty £25 million fee in the wake of Wolfsburg’s interest in the Belgian midfielder.

Yet it was just in November that de Bruyne himself hinted that he would be open to a loan move away from Stamford Bridge for more first-team action ahead of the World Cup this summer (c/o Sky Sports). And Werder Bremen, where he spent last season on loan, were linked with another loan move back in October, as reported by ESPNFC.

If de Bruyne is indeed available for loan, Liverpool shouldn’t hesitate to bring in the dynamic, versatile midfielder to Anfield. Brendan Rodgers’ good relationship with Blues boss Jose Mourinho may come in handy, though the Reds’ status as potential title challengers to Chelsea may prevent any deal from being struck too easily.

 

Ibrahim Afellay

For our fourth name on the list, we return to Camp Nou, where Ibrahim Afellay is biding his time on the sidelines and may be up for grabs this January.

Having received an operation on his thigh injury in August, Afellay was predicted by Barcelona’s official website to be out of action for approximately four months, which makes a January move possible.

Liverpool have been linked with Afellay in the past, according to the Express, and with just a year and a half left on his current contract (c/o Transfermarkt.com), he may be allowed to go out on loan in a bid to regain fitness.

At his best, Afellay is an all-rounded winger capable of chipping in with goals from midfield, though his career has been marred by a history of injuries. He spent the 2012/13 campaign on loan with Schalke 04.

 

Fabio Coentrao

Previously a £25 million purchase for Real Madrid, Portuguese left-back Fabio Coentrao has lost his place in the Los Blancos first team under Carlo Ancelotti, with Marcelo having firmly established himself as first choice.

Reported by BBC Sport to have had a deadline day loan switch to Manchester United fall through, Coentrao has most recently been linked with a temporary move to Chelsea in January, according to the Daily Mail.

All this would suggest Coentrao may be available on loan this winter, which, given the injuries to Jose Enrique and Jon Flanagan and the uncertain form of Aly Cissokho, might be of interest to Liverpool, who are in need of quality reinforcements in the full-back positions.

 

Lucas Moura

Given the heavy expectations before his high-profile move to Paris Saint-Germain, it’s safe to say that Lucas Moura hasn’t had a year to remember in the French capital.

With his place in the starting XI not nailed down, Moura has been linked with a return to former club Sao Paulo on loan, according to Sky Sports.

Previously known as one of the most exciting prospects in world football, Moura could well be interested in resurrecting his career, and with a point to prove, in a young, attacking Liverpool side. Rodgers should be keeping a close eye on developments at the Parc des Princes.

 

Javier Pastore

Another former promising youngster at Paris Saint-Germain also catches our attention, as just like Lucas Moura, Javier Pastore hasn’t exactly set the world alight in Ligue 1.

With just seven league starts and five substitute appearances this season, Pastore has been linked by the Daily Star with a loan move to the Premier League, with Liverpool rumored to hold a strong interest in the Argentine forward.

Pastore’s silky dribbling, eye for goal and creativity would augment an already scintillating Liverpool forward line starring the likes of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho—if Rodgers manages to bring him to Anfield.

 

Xherdan Shaqiri

An unfortunate casualty of Pep Guardiola’s impressive tinkering of the all-conquering Bayern Munich squad is Swiss winger Xherdan Shaqiri, who just last season moved to the Allianz Arena for a bargain £9 million from FC Basel.

Liverpool were linked with him back in the summer transfer window, with the Daily Star reporting that the Reds were preparing a bid to bring Shaqiri to Anfield, but a move didn’t materialize.

ITV have recently reignited rumors of a Shaqiri bid, albeit on a temporary basis. His versatility and all-rounded attacking attributes would be useful additions to a thin Liverpool squad.

 

Juan Mata

As we also pondered in a January transfer wishlist for Liverpool earlier this season, Juan Mata would be a “dream” transfer for everyone at Anfield.

Current Premier League rules restrict top-flight clubs to just two loan signings from their counterparts, and while we suggested Chelsea’s Kevin de Bruyne as a potential target for Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager shouldn’t even need to think twice if Mata is on the market.

According to the Daily Star, Mata’s status at Chelsea may lead to him being made available on the loan market this January. Stranger things have happened…

 

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

Grading Liverpool’s Summer Transfer Signings of the 2013/14 Season

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Welcome to January 1st, 2014, where a new year begins, the second half of the 2013/14 Premier League campaign starts—and the winter transfer window opens.

Back in September, right as the summer transfer window was still shaking from the emphatic way it slammed shut as it always does, speculation already emerged, as rumors started spreading regarding potential transfers four months on.

For Liverpool, especially given their recent injury crises, fans have been eager to discuss the names being linked with the club every week, as the Reds no doubt have to bring in new players to strengthen both their starting XI and their squad if they are to sustain their challenge for the top four and the title.

But just in case we forgot, Liverpool did actually bring in eight players in the summer. And with half a season gone and the prospect of new signings to arrive at Anfield this month, what better time than now to look back on how their summer signings have fared?

Here are our grades and analyses for all eight of Liverpool’s summer signings for the 2013/14 season. We’ve broken it down into four categories: value for money, impact, potential and overall grade. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

Victor Moses: D

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When Victor Moses arrived on deadline day as a loan signing from Chelsea, he was on paper an interesting and exciting signing for Liverpool: He was always known as one of the brightest prospects in English football, and had just finished the season as an integral part of Rafael Benitez’s short tenure at Stamford Bridge.

When he came off the bench to score a brilliant solo goal against Swansea City on his debut, the hope was that he would go on and establish his place in Brendan Rodgers’ starting XI as a pacy, tricky winger capable of scoring goals and in need of a sustained run in a first team at the top level—much like Daniel Sturridge.

Fast forward a few months, and he finds himself permanently rooted to the bench, and his substitute appearances are often met with groans and moans as Liverpool fans wonder why Rodgers doesn’t decide to send on a more productive player. Moses has failed to score since his debut and has generally appeared lethargic, uninterested and off the pace.

From an encouraging start to a dismal current state, Moses has lots in common with last season’s failed loan signing, Nuri Sahin. He’s even been played out of position, as Sahin was. Unfortunately for Moses, Sahin had his loan deal terminated halfway through the season and was sent from Real Madrid back to Borussia Dortmund to finish his season.

Now that Raheem Sterling has reestablished himself in the starting XI and rumors abound of other wing signings—including Mohamed Salah, according to the Mirror—Moses could find himself following in Sahin’s footsteps. What a disappointment he’s been.

Value for money: B. As a loan signing, Liverpool only had to pay Chelsea a loan fee of £1 million, according to BBC Sport. For a short-term signing, however disappointing he’s been, that’s not steep.

Impact: D. His debut goal hinted at a bright loan spell, but it’s all gone downhill from there. Restricted to sub appearances these days, and continues to underwhelm.

Potential: E. The discussion among fans initially was whether or not Liverpool had a deal in place to sign him on a permanent contract at the end of his one-year loan spell. Now there are far better options who are actually contracted permanently to Liverpool for Rodgers to play.

Overall: D. Moses may return to Chelsea this winter, and no one at Anfield will be missing him. Surely that says enough.

 

Iago Apas: C-

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Iago Aspas has suffered from arguably the same predicament as Victor Moses: that of initial expectation and subsequent disappointment.

Aspas had enjoyed an impressive season with Celta Vigo last term, with 12 goals in 34 games as their talisman and having helped them avoid relegation on the final day of the campaign.

When he arrived at Anfield in June for a fee of £7.6 million (according to the Guardian), the common feeling was that Brendan Rodgers had secured one of La Liga’s top players and that Aspas would be one of the Premier League’s surprise bargains of the season a la Swansea City’s Michu a year earlier, albeit for a steeper price.

Aspas scored his first Liverpool goal in a preseason friendly against Preston North End, and even started the season in the starting XI, but showed signs that he would take time to adapt to the Premier League’s physicality. He has also been rusty in his finishing when provided the opportunities: His preseason goal remains his only in a Red shirt to date.

A thigh injury, sustained in October, brought Aspas’ first-team involvement to a halt but offered him a chance to take a breather and regain his confidence. In his absence, however, his colleagues have taken their chance to impress.

He is now being linked with a loan move away from Anfield—and in a twist of irony, Michu has said, according to ESPNFC, that he would welcome Aspas at Swansea.

Value for money: C-. For £7.6 million, Aspas won’t go down as one of Liverpool’s biggest ever flops, but none of it has been paid back on the pitch yet.

Impact: C. His early-season performances offered a glimpse of his ability and quality, but sadly his physique and finishing were not up to speed. His path to the first team now looks rockier than ever.

Potential: D. At 26 years of age, Aspas is considerably more experienced than some of his colleagues who have now taken his place in the first team. Only if he impresses majorly out on loan will he even be considered for the long term at Anfield.

Overall: C-. Not much better than Moses. Perhaps a move back to Spain, as has been suggested in the Daily Star, might resurrect his previously promising career.

 

Aly Cissokho: C

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After a summer of pursuing a new left-back to provide competition for Jose Enrique, Brendan Rodgers finally brought in Aly Cissokho on loan from Valencia in August for an initial loan fee of around £850,000, according to the Metro.

Cissokho’s debut came on the left wing, as he bumbled awkwardly through the Villa Park right flank as a substitute for fellow new signing Iago Aspas against Aston Villa. A subsequent ankle injury ruled him out for six weeks, and he has never looked too comfortable at the back since his return.

For a left-back boasting FC Porto, Olympique Lyonnais and Valencia in his top-flight resume, Cissokho has looked distinctly average in his six league appearances for Liverpool, though he did provide the assist to Luis Suarez’s brilliant 18-yard header against West Bromwich Albion.

He has since claimed that he would like to make his loan move permanent, according to the Mirror, but on current evidence, Cissokho would have to do a lot more before Rodgers even considers the possibility: That he lost his place as stand-in to Jose Enrique to youngster Jon Flanagan, a specialist right-back, says plenty about his Liverpool career thus far.

Value for money: B. Another loan signing, Cissokho doesn’t look dire enough to be shipped back to his parent club mid-season, especially considering the lack of left-back rumors despite the pressing need for reinforcement. A rumored fee of £4 million to make his move permanent, as reported by the Mirror, isn’t the steepest either.

Impact: C. Negligible at best, though given Flanagan’s recent injury he may enjoy a run in the first team in the short term. Needs to take this imminent opportunity with both hands.

Potential: D. On loan and at 26 years of age, Cissokho doesn’t look a Liverpool left-back for the long term. He needs to improve drastically to even be considered for the medium term, and even then, will face plenty of competition in his position.

Overall: C. Not Liverpool’s worst loan signing of all time, but not an inspiring acquisition either. At least he’ll probably have another six months at Anfield to prove himself.

 

Tiago Ilori: C

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September 2, 2013 was a busy transfer deadline day for Liverpool, who secured three signings before the closing hours of the summer window in Tiago Ilori, Mamadou Sakho and Victor Moses.

As reported by BBC Sport, Ilori cost £7 million from Sporting Lisbon, an indication of how highly rated he was at the Portuguese capital club, despite having only made 12 first-team appearances for them.

Known for his speed—he holds one of the sprint records at Sporting Lisbon amid famously quick graduates like Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani, according to the Liverpool Echo—Ilori has taken his time to settle at Anfield and has put in a few assured displays at the back for the Reds’ under-21 team.

As Brendan Rodgers’ side continue to fight for a top-four place, first-team chances have been hard to come by for Ilori, and he’s been linked with a loan move, most recently back to his old club, according to the Independent.

Value for money: C.£7m for a young defender without experience in English football—and not much in senior football either—is undoubtedly a steep price. He may yet justify his price tag if he fulfills his potential, but he won’t be winning any awards for bargain transfers anytime soon.

Impact: D. A lack of first-team chances has limited Ilori to Liverpool’s under-21 side, where he has impressed. Liverpool’s early exit from the Capital One Cup also deprived him of potential first-team opportunities in one of just two domestic cups they will be competing in this season.

Potential: B. The jury is very much still out on Ilori, and we can’t accurately judge his potential until he plays a few games for the Reds’ senior team. But whispers in Sporting Lisbon and Liverpool suggest that he’s one to keep an eye on.

Overall: C. Ilori may well go out on loan in January and try to establish his place in the senior squad next season. Watch this space.

 

Luis Alberto: C+

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Luis Alberto became Liverpool’s first midfield signing of the 2013/14 season when he arrived at Anfield from Sevilla for a fee of around £6.8 million, as reported by BBC Sport.

Alberto arrived with a reputation as one of the hottest up-and-coming midfield talents in European football, as he scored 11 goals in 38 games last season on loan at Barcelona B.

With a host of midfield options ahead of him, Alberto was expected to take his time to bed into the squad, and his first-team appearances have been restricted to second-half cameos as he continues his acclimatization into English football.

A few encouraging appearances over pre-season in a variety of positions—second striker, central midfielder and deep-lying playmaker—showcased his versatility, while he showed his creativity and awareness with an excellent assist for Luis Suarez’s second goal in the 5-0 rout of Tottenham Hotspur in December.

Recent injuries to Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson may mean more first-team chances for Alberto. He’ll be looking to push on and secure a place in Rodgers’ squad.

Value for money: C. As with Ilori, Alberto came with an exciting reputation but also a quite considerable price tag. At this stage, he is still ways away from repaying his £6.8m fee.

Impact: C. Alberto has already made eight Premier League appearances for Liverpool this season, though mostly at the final stages of games. His assist against Spurs was encouraging; Rodgers will be looking for more of the same.

Potential: B. From what we’ve seen so far from him this season, Alberto has the technique, composure and passing ability to be a natural fit for this Liverpool side. He’ll have to fight off heavy competition from fellow midfield starlet Suso, impressing on loan at Almeria this season, and other potential midfield signings, if he is to establish himself as a first-team fixture.

Overall: C+. A depleted Liverpool squad means that Alberto will likely get more chances in the starting XI. There should be ample opportunity for him to improve on his current C+ rating.

 

Kolo Toure: B+

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Alex Livesey/Getty Images

How will we replace Jamie Carragher’s experience in the Liverpool defence?

Thus went the common question and worry among Liverpool fans in the wake of Carragher’s announcement of his impending retirement last season, but they didn’t have to wait long for the answer.

In late May, the club announced an agreement in principle with Kolo Toure, then of Manchester City, to sign on July 1. Fears were allayed, and hopes were raised again.

Because Toure, an experienced defender with Premier League titles from his time at Arsenal and Manchester City, would bring not just the know-how of fighting at the top end of the table, but also a strong presence in the dressing room and vocal leadership on the field.

In his 11 appearances for Liverpool this season, Toure has marshaled his defence superbly and hasn’t shown many signs of age catching up to his speed, physicality and aerial ability.

Rodgers’ starting centre-back partnership may be Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho at the moment, but he knows that in Kolo Toure, he has a reliable stand-in when required. He will be an important part of the Liverpool squad for at least a couple of seasons.

Value for money: A. You can’t do much better than to bring someone of Toure’s caliber and experience on a free transfer. Top marks to the Liverpool management for securing his signature early on in the summer window.

Impact: B. Toure arrived at Anfield and instantly went into the starting XI, forming an integral part of the early-season mean defence that kept three clean sheets in a row. He has returned to the bench of late, but his versatility makes him a valuable option in the event of injury or rotation.

Potential: B. At 32 years of age, Toure is most definitely on the wrong side of 30, so won’t have too many years left at the top level for Liverpool. However, his experience and presence in the dressing room will be important in grooming an exciting crop of youngsters at Anfield.

Overall: B+. An injury to Mamadou Sakho and the loss of form of Martin Skrtel may lead to Kolo Toure regaining his place in Liverpool’s first team. They could do a lot worse.

 

Mamadou Sakho: B+

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All summer long, amid rumors linking the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Diego Costa to the club, Liverpool fans were hoping for a “marquee signing” that would show their intent at returning back to the elite of English football.

Mamadou Sakho, according to Managing Director Ian Ayre, was that “marquee signing,” as reported in NESN, and while he’s not an all-conquering forward, there is every sign that Sakho will become a fixture in the Liverpool defence for years to come.

The youngest first-team captain in Paris Saint-Germain history, Sakho was a proud graduate of the PSG youth academy and quickly established himself as one of the brightest defensive prospects in all of Europe. That he was allowed to leave the French capital club at all was a mystery to many.

But PSG’s loss was Liverpool’s gain, albeit at a steep price of £18 million, according to BBC Sport, as the French international has slotted seamlessly into the Liverpool defensive line with a series of composed displays.

A unique and impressive combination of brute force, physicality, technique and elegance, Sakho has also scored once for the Reds and came close to his second with a headed effort against the bar at Stamford Bridge last week.

His relatively immaturity and hot-headed brand of defending was on full display in a Chelsea counterattack that saw Simon Mignolet save from Samuel Eto’o, and he will have to work on his composure game by game.

Value for money: B-. Sakho’s arrival was not just about his ability on the pitch; it came with a statement that Liverpool were intent on bringing in the most promising players from all over Europe. £18m remains steep but may look a bargain if he stays at Anfield for the next decade.

Impact: B+. In 12 Premier League appearances for Liverpool, Sakho has shown his quick acclimatization to English football and has put in several excellent displays for Liverpool. He just needs to cut out a few tackling tendencies that may leave himself and his defensive colleagues exposed.

Potential: A+. It seems as if Sakho has been around for a while, but in actuality he is just 23 years of age. If he continues to improve and fulfills his potential, he could go down as one of the great Liverpool defenders by the time his career comes to a close.

Overall: B+. A hamstring injury sustained against Chelsea will rule him out for at least the short term, which may allow him to take a breather and reflect on his season so far. He has already ousted Daniel Agger from Rodgers’ starting XI: The future is bright for Mamadou Sakho.

 

Simon Mignolet: A-

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When Liverpool confirmed the £9m signing of Simon Mignolet from Sunderland in June, as reported by BBC Sport, eyebrows were raised: They had signed one of the brightest young goalkeepers in Europe, but he would now have to compete with Pepe Reina, a Liverpool favorite and one of the best in Europe in his own right.

But any debate was quickly settled as Rodgers shipped Reina out on loan to Napoli and gave his confidence to Mignolet to be the Reds’ No. 1.

And he’s repaid his manager’s faith, starting with a dramatic penalty save at the death in his first match at Anfield to win all three points for the home side.

Having established himself as an integral part of the Liverpool defence, Mignolet has saved his team precious points so far this season with his exemplary shot-stopping, while he has already shown signs of improvement in his distribution.

Recent errors against Manchester City and Chelsea have highlighted the high level of performance and consistency that the Belgian No. 2 must display in between the Liverpool posts, but he has done enough to show that he might just be Anfield’s first-choice keeper for years to come.

 

Value for money: A-. It wasn’t long ago—six years ago in fact—that Craig Gordon’s £9m move to Sunderland made him the most expensive goalkeeper in Britain, but Mignolet has easily been on at least a par with Manchester United’s £18m David de Gea. An outstanding piece of business for Liverpool.

Impact: A-. His recent errors against City and Chelsea potentially cost his side two points in total and has brought any impeccable rating down a notch, but Mignolet has been an excellent addition to the Liverpool defence. That Reina has not been missed is a testament to how well his successor has performed.

Potential: A. At just 25 years of age, Mignolet could well hold the Anfield No. 1 gloves for the next decade if he continues his improvement and fulfills his undoubted potential.

Overall: A-. Easily Liverpool’s best signing of the summer, Mignolet made an all-important double save on his league debut and hasn’t looked back. He is just one of the many exciting young players at Anfield, and will end the season as one of the Premier League’s best signings of the current campaign.

 

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

English Football Weekly: Week 4 Recap; Arsenal’s Resurgence; The Loan Market

EPL Week 4 Recap: Opposing Fortunes on Tyne-Wear, Villa Stumble, Shelvey Show

As the top six confirmed their status as the Premier League’s elite group with another series of predictable results this weekend (barring Chelsea’s 0-1 reverse at Goodison Park), let’s look at the so-called “mid-table” clubs, where the action is really getting interesting.

Starting with Tyneside and Wearside. Newcastle United were tipped for a chaotic season, especially after their controversial appointment of Joe Kinnear as their Director of Football, but barring an opening-day drubbing at the hands of Manchester City, they’ve actually been on the rise. Loic Remy looks like he’ll be a fine addition, while Yohan Cabaye’s return to the first team will be significant in the Magpies’ return to form. Hatem Ben Arfa stands out in what actually is a very decent squad on paper. And with seven points thus far, Newcastle stand proud.

Not so much over at the Stadium of Light though, which has surely seen many a fiery outburst from Paolo Di Canio in the Sunderland dressing room. Can you blame him? A solitary point in four games has condemned the Black Cats to the bottom of the table, but it is the manner of their defeats that should really be concerning. Di Canio’s latest public criticism of midfielder Cabral won’t help much, and their next five fixtures? West Brom, Liverpool, Manchester United, Swansea City, and the Tyne-Wear derby. It’ll be a long month and a half.

Not that Aston Villa have been faring too much better. After an impressive opening-day win at the Emirates Stadium, Paul Lambert’s side have lost their last three fixtures, albeit against tough opposition. Apart from a penalty scored by Antonio Luna on his debut against Arsenal, Christian Benteke has been their only scorer thus far, which means that for the team to climb up the table, the likes of Andreas Weimann and Gabby Agbonlahor need to start delivering the goods sharpish. A few challenging weeks ahead for Villa will test their mettle.

This wouldn’t be a very good weekly Premier League wrap if we didn’t mention Jonjo Shelvey and his impact on the Monday clash between Swansea City and Liverpool. If Man of the Match awards were really given to players who have an overall impact on a game, there wouldn’t be a finer candidate all weekend—or perhaps even all season—than Shelvey. After all, with a good goal and an exquisite assist, and two horrific passes, Shelvey was solely responsible for all four goals at the Liberty Stadium in an “excellent advert for the Premier League.”

Might Arsene Actually Know?

Four games, nine points, second place in the league. If it weren’t for Liverpool holding out for a point in south Wales on Monday, Arsenal would go into Week 5 as the league leaders, in what has been a quite remarkable turnaround of form and atmosphere at the Emirates Stadium.

We all remember the foul mood at the Emirates after their opening-day capitulation to Aston Villa and Christian Benteke, and Arsene Wenger will have found out that, for all of the technology and investment in a world-class stadium, it can be quite a nasty place to be. But three wins since, all accomplished in a quite comfortable manner—yes, even that one-goal win in the north London derby—and Arsenal are looking pretty good now.

Sure, Mesut Ozil will have been a key factor in turning around the Gunners’ attitudes, but even though he’ll no doubt inspire and win many points for his new club this term, he’s only been around for one of those wins. There are other reasons for Arsenal’s resurgence: the return to form of Aaron Ramsey, the maturing performances of Olivier Giroud, and an overall sense of immaculate teamwork and camaraderie in the dressing room.

Amidst all the hype and frenzy around Ozil—understandably and deservedly so, for he is one of the world’s best players—a quiet achievement by Wenger and his team is that they go to Marseille in the Champions League looking for a tenth straight win, which would be a club record. Confidence is brewing at the Emirates, and as ever, Arsenal just can’t be ruled out as a top-four team, even though they continue to be every season. And who knows? With further strengthening in January, they could become title contenders.

The Proliferation of the Domestic Loan Market

Cameron Jerome, Jason Puncheon, Kevin Phillips, Romelu Lukaku, Gareth Barry, Jake Livermore, Victor Moses, Aly Cissokho, Loic Remy, Johan Elmander, Stephen Ireland, Oussamma Assaidi, Fabio Borini, Ki Sung-Yueng, Morgan Amalfitano, Scott Sinclair, Matej Vydra.

Thus goes the list of first-team loan signings arriving in the Premier League this summer. That’s almost an average of one player on loan in each first-team squad in the top flight, where we know the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea haven’t participated in such a system except in the “loan out” category, and that’s not counting those loanees who might not walk straight into the starting XI.

That the loan system is attractive, as a means for top clubs to farm out talent who need top-level experience and consistent playing time and for lower-ranking clubs to improve their results on the cheap, is well-known. The likes of Daniel Sturridge and Jack Wilshere, now established Premier League stars, honed their talent on loan at Bolton Wanderers. Out of the 19 names in the above list, only four are from foreign clubs, and even then, two of them (Elmander and Vydra) have had experience in English football (with Bolton and Watford respectively).

But even bigger clubs are playing these days. Liverpool and Everton both have two names each, in the most high-profile representation of the benefits of the loan market to the Premier League as a whole. There have been suggestions that the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City are so far ahead from the pack that they can now afford to loan players to the Merseysiders (Moses, Lukaku and Barry), but equally it shows that in an age of relative financial austerity, the loan market can reap its benefits.

We’ll take the coming months to gauge the impact of the loan signings this summer—and as they perform well, more details of their loan arrangements (e.g. whether there is an option to buy, etc.) will come to light—and that could make for an interesting analysis in itself, but as the transfer window slammed shut, the proliferation of the loan market manifested. Watch this space.

 

This piece was part of my weekly column on SWOL.co, where I take a look back at the weekend’s English Premier League and domestic cup action, related talking points and news surrounding English football at large.

EPL Transfers: 10 Best Value-for-Money Signings This Summer

Just like that, an entire summer of transfer sagas (Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez, Wayne Rooney), big-money bids (Manchester City) and outrage over the lack of signings (Newcastle United, Manchester United)—culminating in a wonderfully exciting transfer deadline day on September 2—has ended.

In case we forgot, English Premier League football actually started in August, but now that the transfer window drama is all over it’s onto the football for real.

In the past few days, huge transfer sums have dominated the headlines, with Bale’s record-breaking move from Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid and the sensational deadline-day signing of Mesut Ozil at Arsenal.

But this is the Premier League, which has been awash with cash for most of recent history. Just look at Chelsea’s stacking of their midfield this summer and Manchester City’s spree following Manuel Pellegrini’s appointment—not to mention Tottenham’s stockpiling of attacking players in the wake of Bale’s big-money departure.

In a market with premium price tags and bloated wages, there is actually value for money out there. So at the end of all this, let’s take a moment to recognize the less heralded work being done around the Premier League.

Here are the 10 best value-for-money signings in the EPL this summer. Enjoy and let us know your picks in the comments below.

 

Honorable Mentions

 

As with any top 10 list, there are bound to be close calls that ultimately don’t make it in the final selection. The following three players were great pickups for their clubs and deserve an honorable mention.

 

Tom Huddlestone (Hull City, £5m)

When Hull City were promoted at the end of last season, critics and fans could’ve been forgiven for taking a look at their squad and expecting of an immediate relegation dogfight.

10 summer signings later, they don’t look so bad. In fact, even though their opening three games have just yielded three league points, their performances have belied the results, and at the heart of those performances is the new midfield duo from Tottenham Hotspur, Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore.

Steve Bruce has strengthened well this summer, and in Huddlestone he has added a midfield schemer with class, quality and plenty of top-level experience for just £5m, as reported by BBC Sport.

 

Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City, £2m)

For a reported £2m, according to the Daily Mail, Stoke City and Mark Hughes have landed an Austrian international with experience all across the continent at Werder Bremen and Internazionale.

On the surface, Marko Arnautovic seems like the perfect bargain buy for Stoke—not to mention, his considerable physique and height suit the Potters to the hilt—but underneath the low transfer fee is a history of controversy and trouble.

If Hughes manages to get his new forward to get rid of his attitude problems, he may well have pulled off one of the signings of the summer.

 

Maarten Stekelenburg (Fulham, £3m)

Ajax, Italy, Fulham. Dutch. Goalkeeper. Sound familiar?

No, not Manchester United great, Edwin van der Sar, but if all goes well, you wouldn’t bet against Maarten Stekelenburg taking the same path (though David de Gea will have something to say about that).

For now, Stekelenburg will be focused on doing his job for Martin Jol, who brought him to Craven Cottage for just £3m this summer, according to the Daily Mail. If his performances at his previous teams and for the Netherlands international squad are anything to go by, Fulham have pulled off a brilliant signing.

 

10. Loic Remy (Newcastle United, Loan)

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In January, Loic Remy joined Queens Park Rangers, then in a relegation battle but flush with Tony Fernandes’ cash, in a reported £8m, £70,000 a week deal, beating out competition from Newcastle United, according to BBC Sport.

Fast forward seven months, and QPR are mired in the Championship after a dismal Premier League campaign and need to reduce their wage bill, so they have offloaded a number of players on eye-bulging wage packages, including Remy.

Remy has now taken up the No. 14 shirt at the club he turned down in January, having arrived at St. James’ Park on loan for the season, as reported by BBC Sport. Alan Pardew obtained a player who scored six Premier League goals in just four months, who has been rated as Marseille’s star forward in the past, and who has international experience for France.

Given Newcastle’s underwhelming transfer window this summer, Remy is the sole shining light among the club’s summer arrivals, and will become a key member of a team desperately short in attacking quality.

For a loan deal, however, and with the prospect of the World Cup looming next summer, Remy could be the striker to save Newcastle from relegation.

 

9. Victor Moses (Liverpool, Loan)

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Victor Moses completed a triple haul for Liverpool in a deadline day that also saw defenders Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori arrive at Anfield, but the on-loan Chelsea man will surely represent one of the best deals of the summer.

Scoring for the Blues in all competitions last season—the Capital One Cup, FA Cup, Europa League, Champions League and Premier League—Moses played an integral role in Rafael Benitez’s squad, but with the influx of attacking midfielders under Jose Mourinho, has now been deemed surplus.

In stepped Liverpool, who, in Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, have an outstanding recent record in rehabilitating hot young prospects whose stars have fallen slightly.

Prior to Moses’ move to Chelsea, he made waves across the Championship with his dazzling displays on the wing for Crystal Palace, and was considered one of the finest young players in all of England.

Will he find his form again in a red shirt? If so, his reputation will be restored, and even if there isn’t an option to buy at the end of his season-long loan deal, he could provide just that spark to take Liverpool to an elusive Champions League spot.

 

8. Darren Bent (Fulham, Loan)

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Darren Bent’s place at Aston Villa might have been taken by rising force Christian Benteke, but he still possesses the prized asset that Premier League clubs value and need: the art of goal-scoring.

And Bent knows how to score goals. To quote Martin Laurence’s ESPNFC column, “despite starting just 29 of a possible 76 league games in the last two campaigns, Bent remains one of only six Premier League players to have netted more than 50 goals in the last four seasons (53).”

So when mid-table clubs were looking for a proven striker this summer, Bent stood out as a player to take a chance on, even though his lack of involvement in build-up play impeded his career at Villa Park.

Martin Jol took a chance. Bringing Bent on loan and pairing him with the mercurial Dimitar Berbatov may well turn out to be a masterstroke. He’s already scored on his debut as a substitute against Arsenal. More of the same then.

 

7. Kolo Toure (Liverpool, Free)

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Title-winning experience, pace, heading, physical ability and dressing room presence.

That’s what Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool got for free when they brought in the out-of-contract Kolo Toure from Manchester City, as reported by BBC Sport.

Taking over the No. 4 shirt (whose previous bearers include a certain Sami Hyypia), Toure instantly imposed himself on the dressing room and on the pitch. Brought in to replace the experience of the retired Jamie Carragher, Toure featured prominently in the Reds’ preseason matches and started their first two league games.

His pace allowed Rodgers to maintain a high defensive line when Liverpool were on the attack, and his power and heading kept the Reds at bay while defending against a pacy and strong Aston Villa forward line.

His all-action display and enthusiastic interviews have already seen him elevated to cult hero status at Anfield. Those same fans who wrote off his signing will have been the ones cursing the injury he sustained in the Capital One Cup tie against Notts County.

 

6. Peter Odemwingie (Cardiff City, £2.25m)

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Hands up if you still remember Peter Odemwingie’s shenanigans on deadline day last January (Independent).

Any wonder, then, that the Nigerian international has finally left West Bromwich Albion?

Cardiff City have added the likes of Gary Medel and Steven Caulker to their squad this summer, but for a paltry £2.25m, as reported by BBC Sport, their deadline day signing may prove to be Malky Mackay’s most important.

After all, Odemwingie was once West Brom’s top single-season goalscorer ever in the Premier League, and held the Premier League Player of the Month three times in his career at the Hawthorns. So his ability to put the ball in the back of the net will not be questioned.

Now he takes his talents to Wales, where he will be an important member of the first-team squad. Spearheading the Cardiff attack alongside Frazier Campbell or Andreas Cornelius, Odemwingie has every chance to resurrect his Premier League career at age 32.

 

5. Ki Sung-Yueng (Sunderland, Loan)

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When South Korea international Ki Sung-Yueng signed for Swansea City, for what was a then club-record fee of £5.5m (per The Guardian), it was widely believed that Michael Laudrup had pulled off a coup, given Ki’s reputation as a hot midfield prospect.

He had, after all, become one of Europe’s top young midfielders during his time at Celtic, where he scored nine league goals in 66 appearances and impressed with his vision and creativity.

At the Liberty Stadium, Ki displayed time and again his excellent passing skills and composure on the ball, and even filled in in a central defensive role in the Capital One Cup final in February in a show of versatility. But he was made available by the Swans this summer.

Now on loan at Sunderland, under the tutelage of Paolo Di Canio and in a side that desperately needs composure and passing quality in the midfield, Ki has the perfect platform to restore his reputation.

His undoubted ability will be needed in what looks to be a tough campaign ahead for the Black Cats.

 

4. Allan McGregor (Hull City,  £1.5m)

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After 205 appearances for Scottish club Rangers where he established himself as a Scotland regular, Allan McGregor has arrived, via a year in the Turkish Super League with Besiktas, in the Premier League with Hull City for £1.5m, as confirmed by BBC Sport.

Judging by his opening-day clanger against Chelsea, where he conceded a penalty five minutes into his Premier League debut, and subsequent conceding of a long-range Frank Lampard free kick, McGregor looked as if he might face a challenging first year in England’s top flight.

Not quite.

His stop from Lampard’s penalty was every bit as exciting as his double save towards the end of the first half, and from then on he has gone from strength to strength.

In subsequent league games against Norwich City and Manchester City, McGregor has been a reliable goalkeeper for Steve Bruce, manning the sticks with confidence and pulling off spectacular stops.

For just £1.5m, Bruce has acquired an established goalkeeper who will be instrumental to his sides’ hopes of Premier League survival at the first time of asking.

 

3. Leroy Fer (Norwich City, £4.5m)

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Out of all Premier League clubs, and certainly out of all mid-table clubs, Norwich City’s transfer business stands out in terms of both quality and value for money.

Chris Hughton has brought in a plethora of players who will slot right into his starting XI—including international-class players like Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Johan Elmander, as well as promising stars like Gary Hooper and Nathan Redmond, all of whom could arguably feature on this list.

Most impressive of all, however, is the £4.5m capture of Netherlands international Leroy Fer, whose arrival at Carrow Road was confirmed in mid-July, according to the Telegraph.

A central midfielder with imposing physical strength and pace, tidy passing skills and an eye for goal—he scored 12 Eredivisie goals in just 47 appearances at previous club FC Twente—Fer adds energy, dynamism and goals to the Norwich midfield, as well as a “Dutch connection” that may be crucial in his partnership with van Wolfswinkel.

Fer has had no trouble settling into the Premier League and threatened to open his account on Saturday against Southampton, playing in the center of the park alongside Bradley Johnson. If he keeps it up, he could lead Norwich to a top-half finish this campaign.

 

2. Stewart Downing (West Ham United, £5m)

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Sam Allardyce caught Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers at the perfect time: For the price of a Liverpool-era Stewart Downing (a very much eye-opening £20m), West Ham United have signed both Downing and Andy Carroll.

Andy Carroll was the vastly more expensive one at £15m, and while he will look to repeat his barnstorming performances for the Hammers last season, Downing—who, according to BBC Sport, cost just £5m—may prove to be not just West Ham’s most astute signing, but one of the best of them all.

Here is an England international who has impressed at Middlesbrough and Aston Villa, with both assists and goals from either flank, and who has shown his versatility at Liverpool by playing on both wings and even at left-back.

A player who buckled down amidst reports that he would be let go by Rodgers last season and earned his place back in the starting XI with a series of hardworking and impressive performances.

A winger whose crossing will be a perfect fit for Allardyce’s wing-heavy play, a perfect complement to Matt Jarvis on the opposite flank, and a constant source of chances for Andy Carroll.

Sure, he cost way too much when Kenny Dalglish signed him—but for £5m, West Ham have acquired one of the signings of the summer.

 

1. Romelu Lukaku (Everton, Loan)

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When the new season started with Jose Mourinho back at Stamford Bridge, the main striking position at Chelsea was up for grabs. Lukaku, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba were all candidates, until that infamous 4-6-0 formation against Manchester United—and until Samuel Eto’o signed on a free transfer (BBC Sport).

And so on deadline day, Everton swooped in for Lukaku, and now the Belgian international will spend the campaign on loan at Goodison Park.

The move was an astute one by new manager Roberto Martinez, who has already noticeably stamped his authority on Everton’s playing style and is in need of a striker who can deliver the goods.

New signing Arouna Kone hasn’t settled at his new club yet, while Gerard Deulofeu will provide more of a creative thrust rather than out-and-out goal-scoring—Nikica Jelavic has yet to rediscover his barnstorming form of a season and a half ago—which means that Lukaku has a chance to establish himself as the main striker at Everton.

17 league goals in 35 appearances for West Bromwich Albion last season. Thus stands Romelu Lukaku’s Premier League record and pedigree.

Lukaku turned out to be one of the signings of the 2012/13 campaign for Steve Clarke. He could be the one to lead another challenge for the European places for the Toffees.

On, and by the way, both Lukaku and Downing featured on our list of the Premier League’s 10 worst signings of the 2011/12 season.

Football, bloody hell.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and other Premier League-related matters.