Tag Archives: Aly Cissokho

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

Analysing Liverpool's Full-Backs: Options, Prospects and Areas to Strengthen
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For the past couple of months, Liverpool have been beset with injury problems, and the Reds’ current troubles at full-back are well documented.

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

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

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

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

 

Glen Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jose Enrique

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jon Flanagan

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Aly Cissokho

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

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

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

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

 

Martin Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

 

Andre Wisdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jack Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ryan McLaughlin

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

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

 

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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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Paul Thomas/Getty Images

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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Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

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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Julian Finney/Getty Images

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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Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

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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Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images

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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Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

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.

Premier League Preview: How Liverpool Will Line Up Against Hull City

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The last time Liverpool played Hull City, Steve Bruce’s side ran out 3-1 winners at the KC Stadium in an off-day for Brendan Rodgers’ team. New Year’s Day this Wednesday will be a chance for the Reds to put their recent losses behind them and get their 2014 off to a good start at Anfield.

A busy December had presented a good opportunity for the home side to confirm their credentials as top-four—even title—challengers. Despite enjoying three impressive home wins between their disappointment against Hull and their scintillating destruction of Tottenham Hotspur, they succumbed to two controversial losses to Manchester City and Chelsea in quick succession.

From top spot on Christmas Day to fifth place on New Year’s Eve, Liverpool’s recent fortunes have shown just how tight the Premier League is this season.

Regarded as early-season favorites for the drop, Hull are now in a healthy position of 10th place with 23 points on the board. A run of three draws preceded a narrow defeat to Manchester United, and the Tigers produced their best performance of the current campaign with a six-goal rout of Fulham on Saturday.

Liverpool, ravaged recently by injuries, will look to sustain their strong home form and get their title race back on track with a win over Hull this Wednesday. Here is what their starting XI might look like.

 

Goalkeeper: Simon Mignolet

Simon Mignolet has made costly mistakes in the past two matches against City and Chelsea, but barring any significant injury he will continue to man the Anfield posts, for lack of a serious challenger to the No. 1 spot at Liverpool.

 

Right-Back: Martin Kelly

Glen Johnson has been a mainstay in the Liverpool side this season, but his form has dipped significantly in recent weeks: He’s seemed to have lost his previously silky first touch and ball control, while his defensive positioning and lack of concentration has made him a liability in the Liverpool defence.

So it’s to the bench Johnson goes, as Rodgers may well be looking at giving the right-back a rest to regain his form and confidence.

In his place will be Martin Kelly, who came off the bench to replace the injured Jon Flanagan in the 3-1 win over Cardiff City.

It’s been a tough few seasons for Kelly, who has had to spend lots of time in the treatment room and on the bench in his fight back to full fitness. Judging from his recent appearances, Kelly is still some way short of full match fitness, but Hull will give him a good opportunity to regain his place in Rodgers’ starting XI.

 

Left-Back: Aly Cissokho

In Jose Enrique’s absence, Jon Flanagan had taken advantage of Aly Cissokho’s poor form to make the left-back spot his own, but unfortunately he had to limp off injured in the Cardiff game.

On-loan Cissokho stepped in for the trip to the Etihad Stadium, and while Daniel Agger deputized on the flank in the loss at Stamford Bridge, we expect Cissokho to return to the starting XI out on the left against Hull.

Liverpool have been imperious at home this season and will look to pin Hull back with their brand of relentless passing play. However, the visitors may decide to sit back and limit space for the home side to attack, so flexibility and interchangeability will be crucial for Brendan Rodgers’ side.

Cissokho, while unsteady defensively, offers an outlet on the flank going forward and will provide extra width for the Reds’ left flank, especially given Philippe Coutinho’s tendency to cut inside.

 

Centre-Back: Kolo Toure

Martin Skrtel has come in for some public praise from his manager in recent months—as evidenced from this article from the Liverpool Echo—but a hesitant recent few matches in the heart of the defence leads us to suggest a complete change in the Reds’ back four, injury or not.

Skrtel’s shirt-pulling in the box has become a target for ire among Reds supporters and will surely present a headache for Rodgers as well as a potential target for referees in the coming matches if his antics don’t stop soon.

An early goal from a free-kick against Chelsea was a sign of his improvement in front of goal from set pieces, but recent defensive mistakes have contributed to just two clean sheets in Liverpool’s last 16 games.

Perhaps it’s time for a return to the starting XI for Kolo Toure, who provided experience, strength and leadership in the opening weeks of the season—when Liverpool kept three successive clean sheets.

 

Centre-Back: Daniel Agger

Mamadou Sakho limping out with a hamstring injury late into the Chelsea loss will have been a concern for Rodgers and Co., as it will be for Liverpool fans, who have seen the young Frenchman develop into an impressive centre-back in Daniel Agger’s place.

But while Agger deputized on the left against the Blues, he will likely be drafted back in the middle—his favored position—in the injury absence of Sakho, where he will reprise Liverpool’s successful defensive partnership with Kolo Toure at the start of the current campaign.

He will be looking to impress in his favored role as he tries to regain his form, and the Dane will also likely take to the field with the captain’s armband in Steven Gerrard’s absence.

 

Defensive Midfielder: Lucas

Along with Sakho, another player to limp off injured against Chelsea was Joe Allen, and as such Lucas will remain the only realistic candidate to start as Liverpool’s defensive midfielder at Anfield on New Year’s Day.

Involved in a late fracas with Oscar, Lucas will need to regain his composure against Hull: He’s already served a one-match suspension for having been booked five times this season, and he is well on his way to the 10-yellow milestone.

 

Central Midfielder: Luis Alberto

Despite recent suggestions that Steven Gerrard could make an early return from injury and might even be fit to take on Hull, as reported by the Guardian, given the recent personnel shortage, Brendan Rodgers may well prefer to keep his captain under wraps and at best only bring him on as a substitute.

So if Liverpool are, as expected, without Joe Allen for Wednesday’s match, Rodgers may hand a first Premier League start to Luis Alberto, who arrived at Anfield in the summer and has shown glimpses of his quality off the bench.

Having played in both the attacking midfield and “regista” roles in his appearances over preseason and during the current campaign, Alberto may look to take Gerrard’s deep-lying playmaking role in the Liverpool midfield.

He will be tasked with prompting from deep, dictating the tempo and slowing down the overall play as necessary—something the Reds, for all their youthful exuberance and relentless energy, have lacked in recent matches.

 

Attacking Midfielder: Jordan Henderson

“Jordan Henderson is fine. He’s still sore, but he’s a real soldier and should be fine.” So said Brendan Rodgers on the day after he sustained a knock against Chelsea, according to the official Liverpool website.

As Joe Allen misses out, Henderson will likely reprise his attacking midfield role against Hull, a position he’s relished and impressed in in recent weeks, despite a quiet showing at Stamford Bridge.

His pressing from the front has become integral to the Reds’ approach play from the midfield, and hopefully Rodgers will be able to get a good 70 minutes or so of energy and pace before withdrawing him—perhaps for Steven Gerrard—with the result in the bag.

 

Right Forward: Raheem Sterling

It’s been a whirlwind year for Raheem Sterling, with several controversies off the field and, possibly as a consequence, a dip in form for most of the calendar year, which has been a disappointment considering how well he started his debut season last year.

But in recent weeks, Sterling has stormed back into form with a couple of goals and a few excellent performances on the right flank for Liverpool. A scintillating display against Tottenham continued against Cardiff and Manchester City, and it shows that Sterling has found a new level of maturity and end product to his game.

There’s still much to come from the young winger, who only turned 19 this December, not least in terms of decision making and the final ball, but with Daniel Sturridge still on his way back from injury, Sterling will get another chance to continue his remarkable improvement.

Maynor Figueroa, watch out.

 

Left Forward: Philippe Coutinho

It’s fair to say that Philippe Coutinho this season hasn’t hit the heights of his initial six months in a Liverpool shirt, when he hit the ground running after arriving at Anfield in late January.

As he approaches a full year in English football, Coutinho will look to regain his all-conquering form but will likely continue out on the left in Daniel Sturridge’s continued absence from the first team.

He hasn’t quite been able to quite impose himself and his brand of exciting, inventive football as regularly this season, but a goal to round off a brilliant team move against Manchester City will have been massive encouragement for the No. 10 to start the New Year off the right way.

Better, surely, than starting the hapless Victor Moses anyway.

 

Striker: Luis Suarez

A breathtaking start to December saw Luis Suarez break the Premier League record of most goals scored in a single calendar month with 10, but the goals have dried up since his double against Cardiff.

Hence the statistic that he’s only scored three of his 19 league goals this campaign against the top 13 teams in the league and the sudden accusation that Suarez is merely a flat-track bully and not a big-game player.

Here’s another statistic: Out of his 57 Premier League goals for Liverpool, only 11 of them have come against Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton and Tottenham.

Unfortunately for Steve Bruce and Co., Hull City do not belong in this category.

 

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