January had been a quiet month for Liverpool, which caused concern for most given that there were--at least for supporters--one or two glaring areas of weakness in the squad. Quite a bit of attention had been paid to central midfield, where cover was needed with Lucas out for two month, and fullback, where a raft of injuries forced Aly Cissokho into action as a regular starter and each of Glen Johnson, Jose Enrique, and Jon Flanagan suffering injuries at one time or another.
But as the final day approached there was at least promise of something happening, as the high-profile failure to sign Mohamed Salah from FC Basel gave way to talk that the club were renewing their interest in Yevhen Konoplyanka, whom they had reportedly been monitoring since the summer. Many would have preferred Konoplyanka to begin with, but the promise of a potential deal--with the player "excited" about Liverpool's interest--was enough to raise expectations for yet another January signing that could have an instant impact.
The day started in relatively benign fashion, with an extension of Ryan McLaughlin's Barnsley loan, another temporary move away for striker Michael Ngoo, and rumors that Valencia had made an approach for Iago Aspas that was ultimately rejected. A number of other links emerged as the day progressed, though the club denied any sort of desire to bring Micah Richards in on loan and generally looked as though--barring any major surprises--it would be Konoplyanka or bust.
And as things stand, it's bust, with Brendan Rodgers' warnings earlier in the day about potential complications coming to fruition as the window closed. On the surface it was another poor showing from the club, with Liverpool failing to close a deal for another player of promise; instantly, Yevhen Konoplyanka became another Henrikh Mkhitaryan, another Diego Costa, another Mohamed Salah.
Which is fair enough, I suppose, but in this case, there was seemingly nothing more for Liverpool to have done:
Medical & personal terms were done, #LFC had triggered buyout clause. Owner refused to sign paperwork.— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) January 31, 2014
That only serves to add confusion into the already volatile emotional cocktail of anger and disappointment, as it's unclear if Liverpool even could have signed the player. It's not immediately clear if there are any appeals or other avenues for the club or player to pursue to see anything through, but it certainly a bizarre ending a transfer window that saw hopes of strengthening gradually fade to the club once again resigned to defeat.
Missing out on Konoplyanka is obviously tough to take, and had a deal been struck he would have undoubtedly made Liverpool better. But he was also only one player in a window that demanded more. Training with 14 players and bonding as a squad and discussing the merits of rust prevention is all well and good; strengthening a depleted squad in long-standing areas of need with funds that were reportedly available would be better. That both of the club's publicized targets were relative luxury purchases only furthers the notion that, while the right notes are being hit on the pitch, they're still not yet there off it.
What effect this has on Liverpool's top four aspirations remain to be seen, and it would be foolish to try to pretend that today wasn't a gloriously awful clusterf*ck of a day. And serious questions could and should be asked about the strategy and timing of Liverpool's business this window, as well as the quick-hitting press release after the close of the window that was about damage control more than anything else.
But silly as it might be, I'm also inclined to trust Brendan Rodgers when he speaks of confidence in his squad, and the work he's done to this point is worthy of praise. If it continues, and they manage to maintain their form while staying fit, there's every reason to believe they can push for a return to the Champions League with the squad they've got. It's not like they have any other choice.
**Special mention is reserved for Conor and Noel for covering the window from open to close. Conor started things off with the preview last night and carried coverage into this morning, while also picking up random bits and bobs, and Noel took things from there and churned out an astounding amount of quality content.**