Category Archives: Transfer analysis

Why Javi Martinez Is the Transfer Signing Liverpool Need to Win a Title

Now that Luis Suarez’s transfer to Barcelona has been confirmed (via BBC Sport), Liverpool fans, players and management alike are eager to secure a big-name signing to keep spirits up at Anfield ahead of the 2014/15 Premier League season.

With Alexis Sanchez moving to Arsenal instead of Liverpool as part of a deal for Suarez, perhaps one of the more attainable potential world-class targets has escaped from Brendan Rodgers’ clutch, leaving the Reds manager to set his sights elsewhere on a replacement for the Uruguayan striker.

Swansea City’s Wilfried Bony (per the Mirror) and Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez (per the Daily Mail) have recently surfaced as potential reinforcements up front. But instead of trying to replace the 30-plus goals that Suarez invariably brings a season, Liverpool should be looking to strengthen their defence.

To be sure, Rodgers has already been linked with moves for Southampton’s Dejan Lovren (per the Standard) and Sevilla’s Alberto Moreno (per the Daily Star), but there is another name out there that has been floated as a possible Liverpool target, and would instantly improve their defensive setup.

Step up Javi Martinez.

The Bayern Munich man has already been linked to the Reds in the off-season by the Mirror, and while any pursuit for Martinez would be difficult and likely expensive to bear fruit, he might just prove to be the transfer signing Liverpool need to win a Premier League title.

 

 

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

 

Javi Martinez: The Complete Midfielder

Let’s start off with considering Javi Martinez as a defensive midfielder, the position he started his senior career in with Athletic Bilbao.

At 6’3”, Martinez represents a fearsome physical package at the base of the midfield, but also an accomplished passer of the ball and tactically and positionally excellent, with accurate and timely tackles a hallmark of his game.

His excellent defensive skills have propelled him to become one of the premier midfielders in Europe, while his complete technical base also allows him to switch from a specialist defensive midfielder into a dominant box-to-box player when needed.

Indeed, Pep Guardiola deployed him as a box-to-box attacker on occasion for Bayern last season, which offers much more of a tactical option to any team.

ESPN’s Graham Hunter once wrote, when Martinez was still at Bilbao, that his abilities “put him in the same class as [Patrick] Vieira as well as Roy Keane, Fernando Redondo, Edgar Davids and the much-underestimated Rino Gattuso (Daniele De Rossi, too).”

Both on paper and on the pitch, then, Martinez would be the ideal world-class option to anchor the Liverpool midfield.

 

 

Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

 

Potential First-Choice Central Defender?

As if a versatile midfield option in the mould of the imperious YayaToure weren’t enough, Javi Martinez also boasts the awareness and positional sense to allow him to excel as a center-back.

Guardiola has proved as much already, having played Martinez in that position to great effect at club level. And per Bundesliga.com, Paco Garcia-Caridad, the head of sports station Radio Marca, called for Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque to field Martinez as a central defender in place of the hapless Gerard Pique as recently as in the aftermath of Spain’s disastrous 1-5 defeat to the Netherlands in the 2014 World Cup.

Another Bundesliga.com editorial even claimed that Martinez is leading a football revolution with his reinvention of the much-vaunted libero role in Guardiola’s team, recalling the masterful Lothar Matthaus and the legendary Franz Beckenbauer.

While Martinez, at 25 years of age, is evidently yet to match the levels and legacy of the two German greats, his understanding of the game and defensive intelligence allow him to excel all throughout the central core of the defence and midfield.

Considering Brendan Rodgers’ penchant for tactical innovations, he may well experiment with alternate formations outside of his favored 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1, and a 3-5-2 or 5-3-2—which Rodgers has used prominently—would see a libero/sweeper role become one of the team’s most important positions.

Martinez might even usurp the likes of Martin Skrtel into become Rodgers’ first-choice center-back and marshall a three-man defence featuring the precocious Mamadou Sakho.

 

 

Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

 

A Statement of Intent

Lastly, away from what Martinez would bring to Anfield on a football level—which is a whole lot, and most importantly a unique package that Liverpool currently don’t have—he also brings the weight and stature in the game that would instantly reflect the Reds’ ambitions.

And in the aftermath of Suarez’s departure, the club may feel that they are in need of a big-name signing to both placate unsettled fans and show their intent on competing on all fronts to prospective player signings.

With Bayer Leverkusen’s Emre Can already secured as a potential long-term replacement for club captain Steven Gerrard this summer, Martinez would be a signing who would be able to hit the ground running and establish himself at Anfield.

And who knows—Javi Martinez may well be the ideal heir to Gerrard’s legendary No. 8 shirt. After all, he’s already wearing it for Bayern Munich.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Strengthening Defence More Important for Liverpool Than Replacing Luis Suarez

So after a good few weeks of speculation, it’s finally official: Luis Suarez has left Liverpool to sign for Barcelona, as confirmed by BBC Sport, for a fee of about £75 million.

As Liverpool fans across the world start to come to terms with the news that one of their greatest-ever players has left after leading the Reds to within a whisker of the Premier League title last season, they might be feeling just a little apprehensive about the coming 2014/15 campaign.

And who could blame them? After all, it’s not just any ordinary forward who has left Anfield: Suarez left at the peak of his powers, having matured from a profligate finisher to a world-class forward, setting scoring records in the Premier League last season despite missing his first five league games of the season.

Yet—unbelievable as it may be—it’s not all doom and gloom for the Reds. Sure, it will be a tough ask replacing the 30-plus goals Suarez now guarantees a season, but there should be other priorities in Brendan Rodgers’ mind even now.

He must focus on strengthening his defence.

 

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

 

 

Defence a Red Achilles’ Heel

By the end of the 2013/14 Premier League season, when Manchester City had finally usurped Liverpool as champions-elect, it was too little, too late to realize where Liverpool had lost the title.

Perhaps Steven Gerrard will forever shoulder much of the blame for his fatal slip against Chelsea, when he mistakenly put Demba Ba through on goal. And perhaps it was the throwing away of a three-goal lead at Selhurst Park that confirmed their fate.

But throughout the whole campaign, it was Liverpool’s defence that let them down. A total of 50 goals conceded—the second highest among the top eight, just a solitary goal behind sixth-placed Tottenham Hotspur—said it all about a shaky defensive unit that frequently had to rely on an admittedly all-star attack to bail them out.

Suarez’s departure will add more pressure to his ex-strike partners to come close to the astonishing 101-goal haul last season, but it will also place the spotlight on a leaky defence that has to get better.

There are always two sides to the same coin and two contrasting ways to look at a trend: Namely, that Liverpool showed both strength in character and mentality to secure comebacks and outscore their opponents by one goal to get the three points—but equally, Rodgers’ back four weren’t exactly a reassuring presence when they needed to be.

Of course, it didn’t help that due to injury, Rodgers was deprived of his first-choice back four for most of the season—though that was the opportunity that Jon Flanagan took with both hands to resurrect his career at Anfield—but the time has come now to address these problems.

 

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

 

 

Upgrades Are Needed

It seems strange to see Liverpool building bright young midfield and forward lines, especially with the signing of Emre Can and the blossoming of Raheem Sterling, on a foundation provided by an increasingly erratic Glen Johnson, an inconsistent Martin Skrtel, a hesitant Daniel Agger and a perpetually injured Jose Enrique.

Though Johnson seemed to have rediscovered his form at times toward the end of the season, it is telling that he has yet to sign a contract extension. As things stand, he will be a free agent next summer.

As prolific as Skrtel was last season, scoring seven league goals in 36 games, he was also responsible for four own goals, and his concentration and leadership have yet to truly convince.

Vice-captain Agger is a curious case. As one of the Reds’ most loyal servants in the group, he seems to have lost the faith of Rodgers, with Mamadou Sakho often preferred as the starting left-sided center back, and he is even linked with a summer exit from Liverpool, according to Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo (h/t Vaishali Bhardwaj of Metro).

Finally, Enrique’s brand of physical and brazen football doesn’t fit in well with Rodgers’ preference for intelligent tactical play; even Flanagan’s displays seemed to have worked better in his system.

Given the high-profile links with Southampton’s Dejan Lovren, per Gary Jones of the Daily Star, it seems evident that Liverpool have identified center back as a priority position, but the reality is that upgrades are needed all across the back four.

And we haven’t yet touched on the hotly debated position that is goalkeeper.

 

Clive Rose/Getty Images

 

 

An Unlikely Smokescreen Would Be Nice

Yet for all of the strengthening that Liverpool’s defence need, the rumor market is still in a frenzy linking the Reds with a forward to replace the goals of Suarez.

Now that Alexis Sanchez, previously a candidate either to play with Suarez at Anfield or to replace him as part of the deal taking the Uruguayan to Camp Nou, has joined Arsenal, the seemingly most adequate successor has slipped out of Rodgers’ grasp.

Cue the rumors linking the Reds with a move for Swansea City’s Wilfried Bony, via Sam Cunningham of the Daily Mail, and the apparently imminent double deal for Divock Origi and Lazar Markovic, via BBC Sport‘s Ben Smith.

All well and good, except they seem to hint that the club are preoccupied with filling the Suarez-shaped void up front and neglecting the obvious issues at the back.

Besides Lovren, Liverpool have not been seriously linked with any central defender, while an on-again, off-again approach for Sevilla’s Alberto Moreno seems to be their only lead in the full-back areas.

Which leaves arguably more than half of all the defensive positions in need of upgrading, if we include Simon Mignolet’s position between the Anfield posts.

Shave away Suarez’s 31 league goals from Liverpool’s total tally, and they would have scored just one fewer than Chelsea. Contrast Liverpool’s 50 goals conceded with Manchester City’s 37 and Chelsea’s 27—even Arsenal’s 41—and we arrive at the root of the Reds’ failure to win the league.

There are big issues to address at the back for Brendan Rodgers. Liverpool fans should be hoping that the incessant and never-ending striker rumors are but a smokescreen for the real revolution that needs to take place in defence.

Otherwise—Suarez’s goals or not—they’ll be in for a rough ride.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Top Summer Transfer Need for Every Premier League Club

As we eagerly await the start of the Brazil World Cup in a few weeks, the transfer rumour mill has gone into frenzy after the Premier League season ended earlier this month.

Every day we see new links between players and clubs, new tantrums thrown by agents and new bullish proclamations by managers and owners. But which of those rumors carelessly thrown about actually have some legs to them?

Here’s a guide on the top summer transfer need for every Premier league club. Let us know your picks in the comments below.

 

Arsenal: Defensive Midfielder

A thrilling FA Cup win over Hull City finally gave Arsenal a piece of silverware to cheer about and overshadow another fourth-place finish in the Premier League.

It wasn’t for a lack of leadership in defence: Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny formed an excellent partnership. Nor for a lack of creativity and productivity in attack, either; with an attack comprising Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Olivier Giroud, how could any team be found wanting up front?

With Aaron Ramsey storming back to form after his injury layoff and Theo Walcott still to return—their absences made a major impact on the Gunners’ season—it is the core of the midfield that needs strengthening.

Without steel and leadership at the base of a young and attack-minded midfield, Arsenal at times looked soft last season and were cruelly exposed by teams pushing through the middle. The lack of a world-class enforcer and a leader by example—Mikel Arteta, sadly, isn’t either—has cost Arsene Wenger’s side in the league.

Arsenal will probably look to add to their defence and attack this summer, but if they finish the transfer window without having brought in a defensive midfielder, they could be contemplating another season without lasting the title race.

 

Aston Villa: Striker

It wasn’t quite an example of “second-season syndrome” by Christian Benteke—he still hit 10 league goals. But perhaps it was a case of all immediate competitors strengthening well, making Aston Villa look poor in comparison.

When Benteke sustained his long injury layoff and would miss the end of the season, we saw how hard Villa had to graft in order to secure results.

Sure, Andreas Weimann and Gabby Agbonlahor (who was also sidelined through injury) provided pace and width, while Fabian Delph supplied drive and power through the middle, but in an otherwise well-balanced team, Villa have lacked options up front.

With owner Randy Lerner putting the club up for sale and manager Paul Lambert’s future up in the air, turbulent times lie ahead. They can’t start the season with just Benteke as their only senior striker, and Darren Bent’s return from a dismal loan spell at Fulham won’t add much to the equation.

 

Burnley: Central Midfielder

On paper, Burnley probably go into the summer with the worst squad in the Premier League. Yet this is a team that scored 72 goals in the Championship last season—the fourth most in the league—and conceded just 37—the league’s best defensive record.

So perhaps, even with well-known Premier League names few and far between in defence and up front, Burnley can be spared premature criticism—but that doesn’t mean that their midfield is close to ready for the top flight.

An already lightweight midfield has been further weakened after the end of Michael Kightly’s loan from Stoke City. As Sean Dyche’s side will find out, the Premier League is a whole different environment than the Championship.

If they don’t strengthen their midfield core, they won’t enjoy their battles in the centre of the pitch next season.

 

Chelsea: Striker

When it comes to Chelsea, the answer is easy: striker.

Jose Mourinho has a world-class team at his disposal, from their dual option of Petr Cech and the returning Thibaut Courtois in goal right up to the brilliant attacking midfield line of Eden Hazard, Oscar and Willian et al. What he lacked all of last season was a world-class striker to lead the line.

Hence the rumors of Diego Costa and Mario Mandzukic moving to Stamford Bridge this summer. The Blues will be prepared to spend on a big-name striker to deliver the goals when they need to grind out a result next season.

Oh, and Didier Drogba is available on a free.

 

Crystal Palace: Striker

It wasn’t as if he lit Selhurst Park on fire last season, but when Crystal Palace confirmed that Marouane Chamakh may leave when his one-year contract at the club expires at the end of next month, it became patently clear that Tony Pulis has lots to do to strengthen his attack.

Dwight Gayle showed in his last couple of games that he might just have the ability to be a Premier League player—despite costing a hefty amount when he signed last summer—but he alone won’t be able to lead Palace to two consecutive seasons in the top flight.

Pulis’ teams are known for their rugged defence, while Mile Jedinak has led a disciplined midfield this season. Both areas will need improvements, but the Eagles only have two recognized senior strikers in their first-team squad—Gayle and Glenn Murray—if they do not reach an agreement with Chamakh, or a deal with loanee Cameron Jerome.

They might not be relegation favourites next season, such is the influence of Pulis, but Palace will have to bring in reinforcements if they are to compete.

 

Everton: Striker

In Roberto Martinez’s hands, Everton appear to have a bright future. Their young and energetic team turned heads with their exciting style last season, while Martinez’s eagerness to promote youth can only be a good thing for the Premier League.

Yet it would be foolish to disagree completely with those jibes that they wouldn’t have achieved their fifth-place finish without their loan players—Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku played huge parts in Everton’s season.

While Barry might end up returning to Goodison Park on a permanent transfer—the Blues have also been linked with fellow Manchester City reject (and former old boy) Jack Rodwell—the issue of striking options remains a tricky one.

Lukaku may set his sights on becoming a first-team player for Chelsea or become involved in a deal for a big-name striker. Steven Naismith, while a useful and hardworking option, doesn’t have the required quality for a top-four push, and Arouna Kone, injured or not, is getting on.

Get in a genuinely exciting striker, and Everton can really look to push on next season.

 

Hull City: Central Midfielder

At the start of last season, quite a few of us had Hull City as relegation favorites. Their squad just didn’t seem up to the task for a long and challenging Premier League campaign.

But Steve Bruce has proved to be a reliable Premier League manager over the years, and so it proved again. Hull surprised many onlookers with their defensive strength, led by the impressive Curtis Davies, and the KC Stadium became a tricky place for teams to visit.

A previously toothless attack, especially after Robbie Brady’s injury, was augmented with the additions of Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long in January—a Premier League-level strikeforce, at last.

What’s left now is to add in the centre. Jake Livermore’s impact after signing on a season-long loan from Tottenhm Hotspur will likely lead to Bruce going all out to secure his permanent transfer this summer, and reunite him with Tom Huddlestone.

Hull would do well to strengthen their central core. They might need more than Livermore.

 

Leicester City: Striker

The runaway champions in England’s second tier, Leicester City, will bring a decent squad to the Premier League next season, with an experienced defence strengthened by the free transfer signing of Matthew Upson.

A midfield lacking Premier League experience has just been significantly improved by the arrival of Marc Albrighton, who had been released by Aston Villa (per BBC Sport).

While David Nugent is a 20-goal Championship striker, he has shown to be out of depth at the Premier League level, while 16-goal Jamie Vardy isn’t likely to strike fear into his opponents’ hearts next season.

Nigel Pearson will be acutely aware of his team’s deficiencies up front as Leicester approach their summer transfer activity.

 

Liverpool: Central Defender

By now, it’s well-known that Liverpool’s title challenge last season fell short because of their leaky defence. A goals-conceded tally of 50 proved too much to make up for, even with a forward line as prolific as theirs.

As the season went on, it appeared that Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho cemented themselves as Brendan Rodgers’ first-choice central defensive partnership. Summer addition Kolo Toure proved to be a shaky option, while Daniel Agger appeared to have failed to convince the Liverpool manager.

Yet Skrtel and Sakho themselves proved defensive liabilities as well, not least with their errant positioning and erratic concentration. The lack of leadership at the back was evident all season, but made especially clear in their capitulation against Crystal Palace in the penultimate game of the season.

For a side that finished two points behind the eventual winners, Liverpool still have plenty to do on the transfer front; their current squad will take lots of strengthening if they are to sustain their level of performances through till next season, given their Champions League commitments.

But central defence trumps all other positions in terms of transfer need. Urgent transfer need.

 

Manchester City: Central Defender

In the end, the best team always wins the league. Manchester City might have spent the fewest days at the top of the tree out of the top four over the course of the season, but their squad proved most able to last the title charge and deservedly lifted the Premier League trophy.

You’d be hard pressed to find a weakness in Manuel Pellegrini’s side, such is the quality throughout the entire team and across all positions.

If there’s one area that needs strengthening, it’d be at the centre of their defence. Despite Vincent Kompany’s nomination into the Team of the Year, his performances didn’t match the consistency and excellence of previous campaigns, while Martin Demichelis only came into his own in the last couple of months.

To handle the attacking threat of the strongest teams in Europe, an upgrade is needed, especially on the left side of the central defence. Matija Nastasic was unable to sustain his debut-season form due to injury and City may need to look elsewhere to strengthen.

 

Manchester United: Central Defender

How the mood at a club can change because of a new manager. It seems like it’s been an age since David Moyes was managing Manchester United, and now that Louis van Gaal is on board, United might have a manager whose clout they badly needed in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.

Not that this changes anything in terms of the United squad though; besides an all-star selection of attacking players, they have plenty to do in the midfield and defence.

Though Van Gaal needs to upgrade on Michael Carrick, Tom Cleverley and Marouane Fellaini, with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand leaving, his most urgent need is to strengthen his central defence. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have yet to develop into the centre-back partnership that Ferguson thought they would.

Rafael da Silva and Patrice Evra remain a defensive liability, but without a reliable and solid centre-back, United are left easily exposed by better forward lines—we only have to look at Moyes’ defensive record at Old Trafford this season as a harrowing example.

 

Newcastle United: Striker

Out of the 43 goals Newcastle United scored this season, Loic Remy, on loan from Queens Park Rangers, scored 14 and Yohan Cabaye, now at Paris Saint-Germain, scored 7. That’s almost half the total tally.

Besides that? Yoan Gouffran netted six and Moussa Sissoko and Hatem Ben Arfa netted three apiece Most alarmingly, Shola Ameobi, whose contract has now expired, and Papiss Cisse, he who enjoyed that single half-season of scoring form, both registered a paltry total of two.

Forget their needs in defence and midfield, this summer is all about finding a striker for Newcastle. If they don’t manage to bring in a quality option to replace Remy up front by the start of September, they could be looking at a long, hard few months before January comes around.

And that wouldn’t be fun for anyone.

 

Queens Park Rangers: Central Defender

Considering that Queens Park Rangers’ wage bill was higher than Champions League finalists Atletico Madrid last season (per the Guardian), it’s perhaps no surprise that QPR ultimately won promotion back to the Premier League.

In their ranks are a whole host of players with extensive Premier League experience, as well as international stars, some of them remnants of their failed battle against relegation in the 2012/13 season.

Having completed the Championship campaign with Richard Dunne and Clint Hill as their defensive mainstays—as well as a group of underwhelming Premier League players—QPR are most in need of reinforcements in the center of their defence.

The creaking legs of Dunne and Hill won’t be pretty to watch against the top flight’s young and sprightly forward lines.

 

Southampton: Striker

After a successful season and a half at the Saints helm, Mauricio Pochettino and his young charges are reportedly the subject of intense interest from elsewhere in the Premier League, and Southampton may end up selling some of their most important players this summer.

From Adam Lallana to Luke Shaw, from Jay Rodriguez to Dejan Lovren—not to mention Pochettino himself—the stars of the Saints’ campaign may be moving on. Make no mistake, this will be a defining few months for Southampton’s short- to medium-term future.

It’s a good thing that they have a stellar youth academy to fall back on. Callum Chambers and James Ward-Prowse are but two of the hot prospects ready to step up in case of departures, though the potential exits of Lallana, Morgan Schneiderlin and Rodriguez could have big ramifications on Southampton’s upcoming campaign.

Even if they start next season with their full squad intact, it looks as if central striker may be their most pressing transfer need. With Rickie Lambert not getting any younger, Rodriguez’s absence towards the end of the season severely dented the Saints’ firepower.

Daniel Osvaldo didn’t work out and they need another striking option to deliver the goals and to take over Lambert’s mantle when the time comes—and hope that the majority of the current crop are still around to ease that transition.

 

Stoke City: Striker

Mark Hughes’ Stoke City proved to be a well-rounded team in terms of goals scored—their goals last season were shared among a sizeable number of their squad, which explains their ninth-place finish.

Leading the way was Peter Crouch with eight, and their second striker on the list was Peter Odemwingie with five, followed by Marko Arnautovic, who played more on the flanks, with four. With Hannover striker Mame Biram Diouf apparently nearing a move to the Britannia Stadium, according to ESPNFC, it might come as a surprise that our tip for their biggest transfer need is up front.

But with a decent Premier League-level midfield capable of scoring goals and a notoriously rugged defence, it’s their attack that most needs a shot in the arm in terms of goal return.

Diouf will add to the squad but does not provide the instant upgrade up front. Crouch isn’t getting any younger and Arnautovic needs to turn his quality and creativity into goal-getting productivity. We’d be surprised if Diouf was the Potters’ only striking addition this summer.

 

Sunderland: Central Midfielder

Yes, we are suggesting that Sunderland—having lost Fabio Borini back to Liverpool and who go into the summer with just Connor Wickham and Jozy Altidore as their established strikers—should place their transfer priorities in central midfield and not up front.

Because we’ve seen the style of play that Gus Poyet wants to impose in his Black Cats: an aesthetically pleasing, passing-heavy, attacking side. That means that the midfield is arguably their most important position on the pitch.

It doesn’t help that both Jack Colback and Sebastian Larsson are out of contract this summer. While Liam Bridcutt was an interesting signing who provided plenty of glimpses of his composure and quality on the ball, the loan return of Ki Sung-yueng back to Swansea City does not bode well for Sunderland.

Ki’s passing and vision—not to mention the odd goal or two from midfield—were crucial to the Black Cats’ survival last season and will undoubtedly be missed. His role at the base of the midfield, playing simple passes to spread play and alleviate pressure off his midfield colleagues, will need to be reprised next year, and Poyet doesn’t have anyone of Ki’s ilk in his current squad.

 

Swansea City: Central Defender

With 54 goals scored and 54 goals conceded, Swansea City were the only side to finish the season with a goal difference of zero. A testament to their attacking ability—they were joint-eighth in terms of goals scored—but an indication of their defensive vulnerability as well.

Jonjo Shelvey proved to be an inspired signing last summer, while Wilfried Bony—who, after his exploits last season, will surely be on the shopping list of many a club looking for a powerful line-leading striker—will resume his telepathic partnership with Michu if both stay fit and remain at the club.

So that’s the attack sorted, and given Garry Monk’s fondness for attacking football, he will no doubt be on the lookout for attacking reinforcements as well.

But the position they most urgently need an upgrade in is at centre-back, where Chico Flores regressed considerably and became a defensive liability with his lapses in concentration and penchant for the bizarre.

For much of the season, Swansea spent their campaign worrying about a possible drop back into the Championship. They need a more reliable defensive partnership to ensure that doesn’t happen next term—goals or no goals.

 

Tottenham Hotspur: Full-Back

With the squad that they have, and the money that they spent building it, perhaps Tottenham Hotspur were the real underachievers of last season.

There is quality all across the team. Even if Roberto Soldado proved to be a flop in his first season, perhaps there could be a way to make a partnership with Emmanuel Adebayor work. Then there’s the small matter of a quality midfield.

Despite a relative weakness at the back, their most pressing need is on both flanks in defence. Kyle Walker and Danny Rose showed glimpses of their promise but failed to deliver regularly, while Kyle Naughton is simply not up to Premier League standard.

Instead of starting Naughton (or Ezekiel Freyers) as a back-up or shunting Jan Vertonghen out as a makeshift left-back, what Spurs should do is invest in an upgrade in their full-back positions.

 

West Bromwich Albion: Striker

It is a curiosity that West Bromwich Albion, given the squad they possess, had to wait until the penultimate game of the season (let’s face it—Norwich City were as good as relegated by then) to secure their Premier League status.

On paper, they have a good goalkeeper, a decent defence, and a strong midfield core. What’s left is a forward line capable of scoring goals and adding points on the board.

Stephane Sessegnon and Saido Berahino were tied as top scorers for the Baggies last season with just five, while their second most prolific scorer was midfielder Morgan Amalfitano, who is now back at Marseille after his loan spell at the Hawthorns.

Regardless of the burgeoning interest in Berahino, West Brom badly need a more threatening presence alongside him up front: Victor Anichebe might bring the hulk and power, but he is far from an established Premier League-level marksman.

 

West Ham United: Full-Back

Despite reports that West Ham United will bring in a new attacking coach next season to save Hammers fans from the dour, predictable style of football of Sam Allardyce (per BBC Sport), their attacking style will still centre heavily around target man Andy Carroll and the onrushing Kevin Nolan.

We saw last season that when both players are fit and on form—presumably, Carroll will be next season with a summer off and a full pre-season schedule under his belt after returning from injury—their understanding and partnership can actually be quite fruitful.

West Ham are well set up to service these two key men, with delivery from wide from Stewart Downing, Matt Jarvis and Matthew Taylor, while Mohamed Diame and Ravel Morrison—if they can hold onto him—provide pace, power and drive through the middle. Add the trademark rugged central defence, and it’s actually a quite decent Hammers squad.

But they need to upgrade their full-backs. Guy Demel is clumsy and doesn’t offer much going forward, while Allardyce is short of a starting full-back after Pablo Armero’s loan from Napoli finished and George McCartney’s release.

Imagine what two full-backs capable of bombing down the flanks, putting in good crosses and dovetailing with the wingers in front of them could do to West Ham’s attack. Is that too much to ask for?

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

Liverpool Transfer Rumors: Why Reds Should Go All-Out for Everton’s Ross Barkley

With Liverpool having all but secured a place in next year’s Champions League, the Reds have been linked with potential summer signings right, left and center. Everton’s wonderkid midfielder, Ross Barkley, has been rumored as a shock £38 million target, according to Chris McKenna of the Daily Star.

Having made a splash in his debut season in the Premier League, Barkley has already been tipped as one of the finest talents of his generation—even a dark-horse option to make Roy Hodgson’s England squad for the World Cup this summer.

Which means that, even though Blues boss Roberto Martinez has already vehemently denied, via Paul Collins of the Daily Mailthe possibility of a first player move across Stanley Park since Abel Xavier in 2002, Liverpool fans will be dreaming at the prospect of Barkley turning out for them every week next season.

And for good reason. While not an ever-present in Martinez’s starting XI—not surprising given the amount of options at his disposal—Barkley has shown enough promise to suggest that he will be a Premier League force for many years to come. He might just have the potential to go down as one of its all-time greats.

Which is why, remote as the possibility may be, Brendan Rodgers should go all-out for Barkley.

 

Playing Attributes

At just 20 years of age, Barkley appears to already have the full set of attributes to succeed in the Premier League.

Blessed with pace and quick feet, Barkley is more than capable of taking on and dribbling past his man, while his physical power means that he is hard to shrug off, difficult to defend against and a forceful presence in the midfield.

A powerful left foot and a love for the spectacular mean that the Everton No. 20 is no stranger to long-range screamers; indeed, his goal this season against Norwich City was a prime example of him pulling the trigger and scoring with power, while given just a tight space to work with.

He has also exhibited composure in his finishing. A wonderful solo goal against Newcastle United a couple of weeks ago, in which he took the ball in his own half and proceeded to run past a few defenders before unleashing a shot into the top corner, will go down as one of the season’s finest efforts.

In the next few years, Barkley will no doubt be looking to improve his defensive and all-round contributions, while also developing the maturity that sees him make use of his technical and physical attributes to the best effect.

On raw potential alone, however, Barkley has all the tools to succeed Steven Gerrard as the pre-eminent attacking midfielder in the English game.

 

 

Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesBig-Game Mentality

While we’re on the topic of Gerrard, a lot has been written this season about his status in the Liverpool dressing room and his importance in the Reds’ impressive title run, both as a player and as a talismanic leader.

Without going as far as to say that Barkley will be England’s next captain and go down as one of the country’s greatest-ever players so early on in his career, all the signs so far suggest that he has the same big-game mentality as the current Liverpool and England captain.

Barkley has claimed, via McKenna, that big games bring out his best and that he likes “getting the chance to step up and show what [he is] capable of.”

His attacking play exudes confidence in abundance, while his unabashed attitude on the pitch perfectly complements his direct style and penchant for a long-range stunner.

As Liverpool can increasingly look forward to participating in Europe’s pre-eminent club competition next year, they could do with a few more match-winners and on-pitch leaders to add to their current swagger.

Rodgers would be hard-pressed to find a better option on the block than Barkley.

 

 

Michael Steele/Getty ImagesRodgers’ Young British Revolution

Not only would Barkley bring a rare and complete set of playing attributes and a commendable mentality, but he would also fit right into Rodgers’ young British revolution at Anfield.

His table-topping Liverpool side is one of the youngest in the Premier League, with Daniel SturridgeRaheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson—and increasingly, Joe Allen and Jon Flanagan—all playing prominent roles in their exciting charge toward the top of the league this season.

Two common characteristics of these all-star youngsters are technical proficiency and mental application, both of which Barkley has in his locker. His brand of physical and direct attacking midfield play would be an interesting alternative to Philippe Coutinho’s silky dribbling and outrageous through balls, though the all-round midfield play of the Brazilian, himself only 21 years old, has matured spectacularly in recent months.

Add in the fact that the likes of Luis Suarez, Mamadou Sakho and Simon Mignolet will be entering their prime years in the short to medium term, and Barkley would be walking into an accomplished Liverpool team still with much potential to fulfill.

Rodgers’ accomplished man management has worked wonders on his young charges in his two seasons at Anfield, and he would no doubt be able to unlock even more from Barkley’s game if he does cross Stanley Park.

The key is for Liverpool to follow up on their interest with a substantial bid to tempt Champions League-chasing Everton into letting their prized asset go, which won’t be easy. Then, there’s the whole stumbling block of Barkley being a boyhood Evertonian.

But just imagine a Liverpool attack next season featuring Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling, Barkley and Henderson on the break at pace.

Simply irresistible.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Pros

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

David Ramos/Getty Images

Cons

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Potential Role at Liverpool

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

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

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

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

The reason? Philippe Coutinho.

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

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

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Breaking Down Liverpool’s January Transfer Window Business

Breaking Down Liverpool's January Transfer Window Business
Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

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
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

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
Adam Nurkiewicz/Getty Images

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
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

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.

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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Clive Mason/Getty Images

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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David Ramos/Getty Images

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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Clive Mason/Getty Images

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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Stu Forster/Getty Images

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.