The Liverpool squad has almost been in a permanent state of flux. With no prior knowledge of the past three years, one could be forgiven for thinking that it had been assembled by three different managers – and maybe that’s the strongest association with the Brendan Rodgers/FSG marriage: a lack of a consistent, decisive transfer-strategy.
Some of that has been unavoidable. In each of the past two years, Liverpool have suffered a significant departure and the loss of first Luis Saurez and, more recently, Raheem Sterling, has forced the club into unplanned restructuring.
Hindsight is a luxury, of course, but the Summer of 2014 was a mess. Suarez’s departure, while obviously devastating, gave Liverpool an opportunity that they ultimately wasted. Emre Can will likely grow into an excellent player in the years to come and Adam Lallana, who was blighted by injury during his first Anfield season, will hopefully be more prominent in the coming year. Beyond that however, the club seemed oddly intent on spending money for the sake of it and the arrivals of Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert, Lazar Markovic and Dejan Lovren all, to different degrees, represented a misallocation of resources.
It was a missed opportunity and, as celebrated by many a meme, it was Liverpool’s tribute to the mistakes made by Tottenham after the departure of Gareth Bale. It was a scatter-gun policy and a botched, by-the-numbers attempt to replace rare quality with, in general, a fairly ordinary collection of attributes.
2015 seems different, though, and the transfer activity to-date appears to have been focused primarily on improving the first-team. That’s maybe been the principal difference: previously, Rodgers and the mysterious transfer committee have perhaps been too concerned with broadening the squad’s periphery and a lot of the signings made have been with the aim of providing depth and flexibility rather than necessarily quality.
Not so this time around. At the time of writing, Roberto Firmino, James Milner, Danny Ings, Christian Benteke, Nathaniel Clyne, Adam Bogdan and Joe Gomez have all been signed and, with the exception of the latter two, all will be expected to provide a significant first-team contribution this season.
It has felt far healthier. Rather than trying to over-complicate the process or game the market, Liverpool have been willing to spend large sums of money on sound, developed players who will both improve them as a team and, in almost every case, appreciate in value.
A graphic showing their squad-depth looks infinitely healthier than it did a year ago:
The order in which those players appear is not necessarily that relevant, because the graphic’s true purpose is to demonstrate the weight of quality that Brendan Rodgers now has in each position. Similarly, James Milner might well be given a more central role and Roberto Firmino could be deferred to the left-hand side, but it’s an estimation built on players’ best positions historically and where they have typically been used in the past.
Of course, Rodgers has previously shown that he’s willing to use three centre-backs and that would obviously alter the options significantly, but the acquisition of Nathaniel Clyne – who is an orthodox right-back – suggests that his intent is to play with a flat-four at the base of the formation.
What’s apparent – and what’s so encouraging – is that, with the exception of the centre-back position, there are no areas in which Liverpool seem likely to have to rely on ordinary, averagely-talented players. The first-team isn’t quite elite and it’s still someway short of being strong enough to actually challenge, but – in all of those front-six positions – Rodgers is now able to select from a range of players who not only offer stylistic and practical variations, but who – in the main – all belong within the Premier League’s top-four.
They may not yet be the finished article and they still look like a side who will be fragile in their own penalty-box, but there has still been a very clear progression over the past six weeks.