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Dan and Tom Go to Liverpool

Liverpool Offside regular and Bullpen Banter senior editor Conor Dowley joins us today with a guest post that takes a closer look at Liverpool's presumptive new signings, Daniel Sturridge and Tom Ince.

Phil Cole

According to Rory Smith of the London Times, Liverpool are on the verge of signing both Daniel Sturridge and Tom Ince, two moves that have been heavily rumored for weeks. These signings have set the Liverpool fanbase abuzz with discussion, though not exactly excitement.

If his information is accurate, the combined price is expected to be around £18 million, meaning that with Ince’s reported £6 million release clause the cost for Sturridge would be about £12 million. That seems a steep price to pay for their talents, especially given Ince was deemed surplus to requirements with the Liverpool Academy just two years ago.

That said, let’s take a closer look at the two players in isolation to see how their arrivals might affect Liverpool in the near future.

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Daniel Sturridge
Current Club: Chelsea | Position: Striker / Right Winger
Age: 23 (born 9/7/1989) | Height: 6’2" (188cm) | Preferred Foot: Left
Season to Date: 12 appearances (2 starts), 2 goals, 0 assists

Strengths: Sturridge is good with the ball at his feet, able to make lethal runs on the dribble as well as keep his defender off balance with quick, deft touches that can take him in any direction. Sturridge shoots with a strong left foot from any range, though he’s shown an ability to make quick chips at goal with his right without too much difficulty.

Weaknesses: Pretty much every other facet of his game, especially anything involving defense. He tracks back poorly, and his timing on challenges is nearly as bad. In the attacking phase his hold up play is atrocious, his link-up play is generally questionable, and his passing touch leaves much to be desired. Part of that seems to have to do with a willingness to pass, period, as there have been many occasions in his Chelsea career where Sturridge has shown a preference for taking shots, no matter how speculative, instead of playing the advantageous pass.

What He Brings To Liverpool: Sturridge gives Liverpool a left-footed player who can play either in the middle, as a backup to Luis Suarez, or as an inverted winger or wide forward on the right, cutting in to combine with Suarez and shoot with his stronger foot. Liverpool have struggled to find someone for the former role, while for the latter Liverpool have had only Stewart Downing and Suso, and neither is especially suited to that task.

Overall Thoughts: I’ve honestly never been a fan of Sturridge. He’s not as well-suited to playing in the center as he seems to think he is, and he’s a little more one-dimensional than you want to see in any other attacking role. That said, I can see why Rodgers might want to bring him in, as he’d provide better attacking nous from wide positions than we’ve generally seen this season.

Rodgers has typically favored wide forwards such as Nathan Dyer in his previous coaching stops, and playing Raheem Sterling on the left has been the closest we’ve seen to that since Rodgers arrived. Sturridge would likely fill that role on the right, and in theory could provide better attacking balance to the side by stabilizing the position. The key word though is theory, as aside from an impressive scoring run in 2011 (8 goals in 12 appearances on loan for Bolton, plus 11 in the first four and a half months of last season), Sturridge has been wildly inconsistent on the pitch, and there’s no immediate reason to think that that will change any time soon—even with the consideration that he’s likely see much more of the pitch at Liverpool than he has since Andre Villas Boas was fired in March.

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Thomas Ince
Current Club: Blackpool | Position: Left Winger
Age: 20 (Born 1/30/1992) | Height: 5’10 (178cm) | Preferred Foot: Left
Season to Date: 21 appearances (20 starts), 13 goals, 9 assists

Strengths: A pacey, direct wide man, Ince is the classic English Winger who can run and run and run for days. Ince is not without skill on the ball, and is perfectly capable of knocking it past his man or generating misdirection. He’s also capable of swapping sides relatively seamlessly with his opposite winger if needed. Ince also has demonstrated some ability to do well in a high pressing game, which is useful in Rodgers’ system.

Weaknesses: Ince’s passing touch and crossing leave much to desired, and most of his assist have more to do with botched or redirected shots than anything he intentionally did to set up a teammate. Much like Sturridge, he has a habit of becoming too goal-focused too often. Aside from his pressing, he’s not terribly good in defense, and he’s too easy to take out of a match when marked by a player who can match him for pace.

What He Brings To Liverpool: More youth in attack is always a good thing, and someone who can burn down either flank is always useful, though he’s clearly better on the left than on the right. I’m not sure that Ince is capable of making an impact this season with the current squad, as even if both Stewart Downing and Joe Cole are loaned out or sold he’d be fourth or fifth on the depth chart behind Sturridge, Sterling, Suso, and perhaps even Shelvey and Enrique.

Overall Thoughts: As much as I’ve never much cared for Sturridge, this is a move I care for less. Ince didn’t fit the squad two years ago, and frankly time hasn’t changed much for him. Yes, he’s built up an impressive record with Blackpool, scoring 20 times for them since arriving in early August of 2011, but his overall skillset, issues and all, has improved little since then. If the deal really is for his full reported buyout of £6 million—and there’s little reason to believe it won’t be—then there’s a very real chance that this deal winds up being a waste of £6 million. His skillset, and that fact that he’s mostly a one-trick pony with his pace, probably leaves him better suited for the Championship and not for a squad that has ideas on challenging for the Champion’s League.

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On the whole, Sturridge should be the purchase that has the larger impact, for good or ill. The fees as reported have him costing twice as much to bring in, and given that his wages are already reported to be around £65,000 a week (or a little under £3.4 million per year), it’s likely he’ll cost Liverpool around £90,000 per week (or just shy of £4.7 million per year) for at least four years to keep in their employ. Even with the significant wage reductions made over the summer, that’s a lot of money to throw at a player who’s far from a sure bet to make much of a positive contribution to the team. It’s a huge gamble, and while it has a chance of paying off if Sturridge winds up fitting in, it also has a significant chance of backfiring badly. With Liverpool’s budget limited at the moment, questions as to how wise a gamble this is are certainly valid.

As for Ince, in all honesty I wouldn’t be surprised to see him loaned straight back to Blackpool. He’s playing well there, and he’ll see far more playing time in the Championship than he will at Liverpool.

Hopefully my viewpoint on all this turns out to be more pessimistic than the reality, but this entire piece of business seems an awfully big risk—though admittedly one with a big potential reward if everything pans out.

Thanks go to Conor Dowley for taking the time to help us out with a deeper look at Daniel Sturridge and Tom Ince. Those with an interest in baseball should be sure to visit him at Bullpen Banter.

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