Liverpool’s Forwards: Good enough for CL place?

Liverpool’s Forwards: Good enough for CL place?
Jul 26, 2016

Liverpool

Liverpool Football Club can be the most frustrating club to support during a transfer window. From the expensively assembled flop of Belgian striker Christian Benteke to the unjustified gambling over Italian striker Mario Balotelli, some of the Reds’ transfer business since the dark days of Tom Hicks & George Gillett has become hard to fathom.

However, it’s entirely rose tinted to imply that the flops of signings are the manager’s fault – in the era in which the American owners, Tom Hicks & George Gillett took over the club in March 2007, then-Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez was given little control over transfers, as he he couldn’t reach a compromise over a contract that would have guaranteed full control over transfers.

The omission of the freedom of transfer control continued when Brendan Rodgers was manager at Liverpool. In 2014, after Liverpool sold Luis Suarez to Barcelona, Rodgers was reportedly exhorted in buying Mario Balotelli, an interview implied. He proved to be a massive panic buy – I think that he was bought to relieve the impact & media reaction after Suarez’s departure.

Anyway, that’s enough about the board, for now. It’s time to let the striker see the goals – Liverpool have spent £133.5m worth of strikers which remain in their squad – but is it enough to land the Reds the coveted 4th spot and a place in the Champions League?

Striker 1: Daniel Sturridge (8.5/10)

Sturridge joined the Reds from Chelsea for £12m in January 2013. He was brought in to support Liverpool’s superman in attack, Luis Suarez. Liverpool were criticized for being heavily reliant on one striker – this was heavily proved in results as the Reds’ campaign was characterized by inconsistency,  with draws against the likes of Stoke City & Newcastle United, as well as the failure to grind out results against the big teams. Liverpool’s only viable first-team alternative barring the Uruguayan upfront was Italian Fabio Borini, who proved to be a flop as the season progressed.

And so, Daniel Sturridge penned a long-term deal with the club as he became a permenant signing for the Reds. He proved to be answer to Liverpool’s long-term problem on the offensive, setting a new record as he went into the Liverpool history books, as he scored in his first three games despite not playing the full 90 minutes of any of those games. As Liverpool’s form began to gradually improve in the latter stages of the campaign, Sturridge was a bright light, scoring 11 goals in 16 appearances, including 10 goals in 11 league games.

He also began to prove that he was capable of filling the void that Uruguayan striker Suarez left as he served his long-term ban for biting, netting six goals in six matches. When Suarez returned, he and Sturridge linked up to produce the best attacking duo in the league that season. Sturridge was also on the shortlist for the PFA Young Player Of The Year Award, and was runner up for the Premier League Golden Boot in 2013/2014.

He can definitely guarantee goals, but can be frustrating & lacks physicality in winning aerial duels. Keeping him fit is also going to be a problem in the long-term – but even if he isn’t fit, we have sufficient options in Mane, Firmino, etc.

Striker 2: Roberto Firmino (7.5/10)

After losing Luis Suarez in the summer of 2014, something wasn’t quite right. The discontent from Liverpool supporters following the board’s failure to find a consistent goalscorer and performer that season was expressed in Liverpool’s 2014/2015 season, once again, scarred by poor results against teams near mid-table and nosediving near the final hurdle of cup competitions. With Daniel Sturridge out with injury for a large chunk of the season, the likes of Mario Balotelli, Rickie Lambert & Fabio Borini ultimately failed to relieve the apprehension from Sturridge’s long term injury. There was also a lack of creativity apparent in the side, with Phillipe Coutinho & Raheem Sterling divulging decent performances, but it still wasn’t good enough.

Then came along the summer 2015 transfer window. Brendan Rodgers had spent £117m on transfer into Anfield in the summer of 2014, therefore Liverpool supporters were encouraging Rodgers to spend on high-quality players in the striker position, as Liverpool only scored 74 league goals in 2014/2015. He didn’t waste any time in his reinforcements, signing Benteke for £32m from Aston Villa, as well as signing Firmino from Hoffenheim for £29m. Even though Firmino is suited playing forward, he is also a creative playmaker and is reliable from left/right wing.

He struggled under manager Brendan Rodgers at the start of the new season, but as Jürgen Klopp took over, he started to show more of a glimpse as to why Liverpool paid £29m for him. His contribution to goals and assists increased; he netted 10 goals in 31 appearances. He is very skillful with the ball and is able to pick out team mates in crucial areas, creating opportunities for team mates. He and his Brazilian countryman, Philippe Coutinho make a great combination and an influx of creativity; an example of this was the 4-1 victory over Manchester City last November.

He needs to up his chance creation and contribution to goals/goals scored by his team mates – there is still room for improvement.

Striker 3: Christian Benteke (5.5/10)

It’s far to say that Benteke has had an awful first season at Liverpool. He came for a price tag, which made me skeptical. However, considering he scored 29 goals in 52 appearances and was nearing the peak of his career at Aston Villa, it’s not surprising the Belgian wanted such a high price tag. He can make excuses by saying he was in an environment where there was too much pressure on him – but if you demand a price tag so heavy, you should be able to cope with it. Even though he featured 6 times on the road to Liverpool’s road to Basel – he only contributed 9 goals in 35 appearances. He no longer makes the runs behind defences or makes any movement inside the box which creates space or chances for his team-mates; his movement is very lethargic, as shown in his opening game against Stoke last season. He’s also awful off the bench – when Klopp brought him on in the second half against Sevilla when we were trailing – he didn’t do anything to change the match. Yes, he isn’t offered great service from the midfielders, but it makes it harder for the midfielders when Benteke isn’t offering any penetrating runs behind the opposition defence.

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Most of Benteke’s touches came outside the box – his chance creation rate is low

A move for him is ideal for his benefit & so that he can get his career back to his peak again. He should have gone for Crystal Palace, in my opinion, as they are a club which are suited to his philosophy. Benteke is a physical, strong & capable of goalscoring – but not at a club like Liverpool. As Crystal Palace have the likes of Yannick Bolasie and Emmanuel Adebayor, players who are strong, pacey & skillful. They are also still a club in transition, they’re signing players which can take their club from mid-table to possibly in the top half, similar to Southampton, but they’re responding to the challenge well. I don’t see him being a part of Liverpool’s first team plans next season, even though he’s vowing to fight for his place.

Striker 4: Sadio Mané

A lot of Liverpool supporters were also left thinking whether this was a red herring of a price tag like the Benteke situation. I also felt skeptical at first, given the price tag seemed a little heavy at first – but again, you could understand why. Mane went into the Premier League record books in April 2015 – he scored the fastest hat-trick in Premier League history, surpassing Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler’s previous record. In 2015/2016 he scored 11 goals in 37 appearances, and 76 goals in 78 appearances for Southampton. He’s also reliable with the ball, his passes are usually accurate. He’s better suited to attacking midfielder on the right, implied by statistics, which state that he has netted 5 goals in 9 appearances playing in that role. However, to relieve the pressure off the supporters who were worried he’d be a Benteke-esque flop, Mane has a higher creation rate – he created 41 chances in comparison to Benteke’s 30, including 34 key passes and 6 assists. As well as goals and pace that he usually provides, he’s excellent at providing service for other attackers, which he will need to do for Origi and Sturridge.

He’s shown glimpses of promise in pre-season; he made some decent runs against Tranmere Rovers in pre-season, and had glorious opportunities to open his account, but couldn’t find the net. With more starts his confidence will increase, and that means goals. My only concern with him is that he lacks strength. Liverpool have a front line who have been plagued with injury – Sturridge has seen that hamper him in the last two seasons, and Origi also obtained an ankle blow against Everton last season. Strength and bulk going forward is important, as it gives them the fear factor.

Striker 5: Divock Origi (7/10)

Origi arrived in July 2014 from Lille, but was immediately loaned back to the French club for the 2014/2015 season, which was a blow for the Reds in my opinion, as he would have been reliable cover for the injured Daniel Sturridge. However, when he did return for 2015/2016 campaign, he came on the back of impressive international performances in the FIFA 2014 World Cup with Belgium. However, he only earned one appearance from August to October under Brendan Rodgers, until Jurgen Klopp gave Origi more opportunities in the first team, as the Belgian then won 15 appearances during the rest of the season. His form did start to improve after his hat-trick against Southampton in the Capital One Cup, as he contributed goals for the Reds in Europe and in the league, 10 in all competitions in 16 appearances. Not bad, in my opinion, for a striker who was in poor form at Lille during his loan spell.

He’s marshalled the ability of proving reliable cover for Sturridge, but his league form needs to match his domestic form. There’s room for improvement where chance creation is concerned as well, like Firmino.

Striker 6 – Danny Ings (7.5)

Ings signed in controversial circumstances – under a tribunal. Ings was signed by Brendan Rodgers in the summer of 2015 to add more to Liverpool’s attack & have back-up forwards who could contribute goals. Ings arrived from relegated side Burnley, where he had scored 34 goals in 75 appearances. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much from Danny Ings last season, as he picked up anterior cruciate ligament damage, which ruled him out for the rest of the season. I think that it was disappointing for him, as just before the injury he obtained, his form was improving; he had scored his first goal for the club, followed by one domestically, and another one in the derby. Had he stayed fit, he could have gone on to have contributed important goals. Even though he only managed 3 goals in 9 matches, his work rate and enthusiasm was significantly higher than his team-mates, especially under Rodgers, when Liverpool were in poor form.

Striker 7 – Mario Balotelli (3/10)

Appalling. Absolutely appalling. The Italian Balotelli was signed for £16m, which was seen as a panic buy and a gamble of a transfer – I couldn’t agree more with those who state this. The impact of Suarez leaving brought a plethora of attention to the media, with those saying we need a world-class attacker immediately. FSG aren’t known for a measured and careful transfer approach – more for panic buys in recent years, so they turned to a player who had experience at English level, but his personality and sporting attitude didn’t exactly win everyone over. The answer to that was Mario Balotelli. Liverpool fans were excited of the prospect of Balotelli linking up with Sturridge for the 2014/2015 season, but the partnership never had a chance of working. Following attitude issues at Manchester City, his fortunes improved in Italy against AC Milan, where he scored 26 goals in 43 appearances.

Rodgers had hinted he didn’t want the Italian striker, but he completed a deal for him later onwards, which raised questions. Despite giving a promising debut against Spurs, and scoring 2 goals in Europe, he struggled in the league, only managing one solitary goal in sixteen league appearances. He has a similar issue to Benteke – his movement in the box is very lethargic, he was selselfish and wasteless with the ball, and he wasn’t utilized in the diamond formation that Rodgers used regularly.

I will always remember Balotelli as an Italian El Hadji Diouf when he was at Liverpool, only marginally better than the Senegalese flop, and the one who swaps shirts with other players at half time. He’s not going to be a part of Klopp’s plans, so I think he will be leaving to make way for a more positively attacking minded side. He isn’t the man that Liverpool covet.

Striker 8: Ryan Kent (6.5/10)

The youngster Kent only made 1 appearance all season in 2015/2016, and that was in the FA Cup against Exeter. He was impressive that night, showing clever feet & creativity. He’s been arguably our best young performer throughout pre-season as well. Bright things beckon for the youngster, even though he was given little opportunity in the first team.

 

So, to conclude I do not think that Liverpool’s current squad has enough to challenge for the top-4 spot and consequently Champions League football in 2017/2018. I can see Sturridge getting injured throughout the season like 2014/2015, but Origi will prove a reliable goalscorer, as will Mane and Ings occasionally.

 

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