Why Liverpool’s summer business more than makes up for the loss of Luis Suarez
Liverpool’s recent record in the transfer market does not make for good reading. Since Rafael Benitez’s departure in the summer of 2010, the likes of Paul Konchesky, Joe Cole and Andy Carroll have all trudged through the Anfield gates for a combined £35 million (of course, uh, £35 million of that was spent on Carroll alone) and have all promptly been shown to the exit door. Nearly every signing of the era has had some kind of fault whether it’s Jose Enrique’s inconsistency, Stewart Downing’s goal shyness or Charlie Adam just not being very good at football. Luis Suarez has proved to be the only diamond in the turd, to create a metaphor, but even then his penchant for racism and biting Serbs has caused Liverpool to be without his services for long periods.
Yet, that all seems to be changing. Whilst Brendan Rodgers’s business last summer was not great, with Joe Allen and Fabio Borini having made little impact and the club having to rely on youth-teamers for half of the season, his January signings were actually pretty good. Daniel Sturridge and Coutinho joined and both genuinely impressed. Sturridge’s 10 goal haul in just 14 league games made up for Suarez’s end of season absence and Coutinho helped take the creative workload off the tired Suso and Raheem Sterling with some particularly eye-catching, if slightly raw, performances that made you wonder why Inter ever let him go.
And it’s not even July yet and Liverpool have already made some excellent summer signings in the form of Simon Mignolet, Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto and Kolo Toure, with Christian Atsu and Henrik Mkhitaryan (the most famous Armenian not to be a Kardashian or in System of a Down) rumoured to follow.
However, the big elephant in the room (elephants bite, right?) is of course the imminent departure of the captain of Uruguay’s national handball team. Yes, that’s right Luis Suarez has grown weary of the English press’s anti-racism, pro-staying on your feet agenda and wants to leave the country, with the recently appointed Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid the favourites for his signature. And in my opinion, thanks in-part to Rodgers’s new signings, it will not be much of a loss.
Don’t get me wrong, Suarez is indisputably a world class player, but he certainly does have his flaws. As well as the aforementioned disciplinary issues, it appears that he requires quite a few shots on goal to score. His shot conversion rate last season was a below average 12.3%. This is significantly lower than other top class Premier League strikers such as Robin Van Persie (18.4%), Christian Benteke (18.3%) and Dimitar Berbatov (18.5%). Obviously statistics alone do not paint the whole picture and his tendency for more audacious efforts from distance may skew the figures slightly, but it is still not what one would expect from a striker of his ilk.
In addition, his pass completion rate was also not quite up to scratch. Whilst 76% is decent, it’s not ideal when the majority of the first team squad averages over 85%. In fact, only one outfield Liverpool player achieved a worse pass completion rate than Suarez and even Steven Gerrard, for whom accurate short passing has never really been one of his strongest points, made the 85% mark. This is especially important as it does not exactly fit in with Rodgers’ preferred style of quick, possession football.
Nevertheless, Liverpool will truly miss the constant threat he poses and his ability to create something from nothing with his immense dribbling skills and unpredictability. His goals will also certainly be a big loss, but Liverpool appear to be emulating Arsenal’s handling of the departure of Robin van Persie in this area. Rather than just replacing the Dutchman like for like with another 25-goal a season striker, the Gunners looked to spread the goalscoring burden across the team by signing multiple attacking players. And that is where Brendan Rodgers’ summer transfers come in.
Spanish striker Iago Aspas joins on the back of a very good season for Celta Vigo in La Liga. An unfortunate headbutt aside, his return of 12 goals in 34 games was respectable and he leaves the Galician side with an excellent one in three goal rate from his six years there. £6.8 million signing from Sevilla Luis Alberto is also a very promising young talent with Rodgers recently comparing him to Coutinho. Able to play as a striker or an attacking midfielder, the Spaniard should be one to watch. Prospective signing Henrik Mkhitaryan will also help to replace Suarez’s goals and creativity and will slot right into to Brendan Rodgers’ style of football. The 24-year old scored 25 league goals for Shakhtar Donetsk last season and put in some very impressive performances for the Ukrainian side in their Champions League campaign. Renowned football writer Jonathan Wilson spoke of his compatibility with Liverpool recently saying:
“Mkhitaryan has the ability to find and generate space that is vital to possession-based teams – and he also has a ruthlessness in front of goal that Liverpool have lacked over the past couple of seasons.”
The other rumoured signing, Christian Atsu, should also be a natural fit at Anfield. The 21-year old Ghana international shone at the Africa Cup of Nations earlier in the year and, according to The Guardian, would be available for as little as £3 million from FC Porto. He is a fast and tricky left winger with excellent technique and would certainly be an upgrade on Stewart Downing, who has failed to shine in that position during his two seasons at the club.
Furthermore, Liverpool’s non attacking signings also look very promising. Simon Mignolet was probably the third best goalkeeper in the league last year behind only David De Gea and Petr Cech and, at the age of 24, will only get better. His arrival is especially important following Pepe Reina’s rather shaky recent form. Debatably once the best keeper in the league, the Spaniard has been quite error prone over the past couple of seasons and does not look like his old reliable self. This may have been partly caused by the lack of real competition for his position, which should be amended by the arrival of Mignolet. Moreover, the Reds also needed a centre-back following Jamie Carragher’s retirement and, in Kolo Toure, they have found an able and experienced replacement. Despite not being the same since his bout of malaria in 2008, he is still a solid defender and brings over 10 years worth of Premier League experience with him.
Whilst I believe this will all be enough to compensate for the departure of Suarez, I nonetheless will admit that Liverpool still look a long way off of mounting a title challenge. However it is doubtful that this is what is expected from the fans or the board after last year’s seventh place finish. A more realistic expectation would be a top four place and I think that they will certainly be amongst the contenders for Champions League football this time out. Of course, this entire article is assuming that Luis Suarez is going to leave. If the club and player manage to reconcile their differences, then who knows what they could achieve…Liverpool, Luis Suarez, Premier League
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