Last year, Liverpool invested heavily in youth and depth. This summer, the focus has been on more proven talent—often Premier League proven talent—and a lot of money has been spent. But has it been spent wisely, and do you believe the transfer business so far has the club back on the right track?
I am so bad with transfers. I never make lists of players I want to come in, in part because I can’t pretend to have watched obscure European leagues and in part because I try not to get invested in players before they’ve actually signed on the dotted line and leaned against something. I like the promise of who we’ve brought in so far, and it feels exciting, but like half the fanbase I’m a little uneasy about Brendan Rodgers’ plans for Christian Benteke. I would love nothing more than for Benteke to score a gazillion goals for Liverpool this season, but I think we’ve been burnt before by Rodgers and non-Suarez-esque strikers.
I’m still a little nervous about Benteke. I can’t help it. It’s comforting, though, to know the manager has got his top target; that he’s been backed by the owners to bring in his guy despite a doubting fanbase and the struggles of last season. Pre-season wonder-strikes aside I do remain nervous, but as Brendan Rodgers clearly isn’t, I’m going to just cross my fingers and toes and hope the ride we’re about to go on ends up a good one.
Plus, beyond Benteke, it really has been a wonderful window. Beyond reproach, even. Roberto Firmino is a blockbuster. A player on the verge of superstardom: the third best dribbler in Europe over the past two years, behind only Lionel Messi and Eden Hazard; and the fifth best tackler in Germany, behind only four defensive midfielders. He’s a special talent who—and it’s still a little hard to believe it—is now Liverpool’s. Add James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne and a bunch of useful youth and depth signings, and it’s been a great window. Even if I can’t help being nervous about Benteke.
Echoing the thoughts on Christian Benteke, though I don’t know how much his direct approach to the game has to do with his own preferences, and how much of it has been down to Aston Villa’s style. If nothing else, he is Premier League proven talent. He does score goals, and if Brendan Rodgers thinks he can set up the team so that Benteke can continue scoring, then I want to see that. Rodgers hasn’t had much luck with signing forwards—with the obvious exception of Sturridge—so this may be about playing it safe. Benteke is a strong, dominant player who’s just about to hit the peak of his career. He’s a player who is also used to carrying a team on his shoulders, so I’m not worried about the pressure of coming to a "big club" for a hefty fee. It’s not a sexy choice, but I really hope it’s the right one.
Aside from Benteke, my feelings range from cautiously optimistic to downright gleeful. If Clyne can become the competent, effective right back the team needs, it would fix in a longstanding problem. I can’t wait to watch Firmino play when it matters. Danny Ings could be a solid back up and Europa League player. Plus, Daniels tend to rank amongst my favorite Liverpool players, after only Jorda(o)ns. James Milner has me excited—in fact, I think our midfield will be quite impressive this season. Milner isn’t one of those players you think about much—hence the Boring James Milner moniker—until he’s on your team, doing the business week after week. Overall, I think Liverpool has done well this window, but then again, I thought they did well last summer, so what do I know?
I think time will show last summer wasn’t the complete disaster people like to make it out to be. My problem with transfers outside of buying from the absolute top tier is that everyone starts from a position of skepticism and loves to be proved right whether or not it works out. "See, they proved me wrong, good for them!" "See, they proved me right, what a flop!" Plus I still think Adam Lallana will prove me right.
As for this summer’s deals, they were certainly intentional and the club seemed to have a coherent plan, with each of those brought in having a role to play. They’re also arguably upgrades on what was already at the club or needed to be. Adam Bogdan is better than Brad Jones; Joe Gomez looks to be the versatile, physical defender they’d hoped they would get from Andre Wisdom; Nathaniel Clyne should be the right-back that Glen Johnson was in his prime; James Milner has more to offer than Steven Gerrard at this point; Roberto Firmino is that bit of magic that’s been missing since Luis Suarez left; and Christian Benteke and Danny Ings are instant upgrades on Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini.
So, yes, absolutely the right track, and with a clear plan in mind. Whether or not it pays off remains to be seen.
I'm not sure I'm the best person to gauge the summer window because I'm one of those people who’s still raving about last season's business. It kind of feels special though, so there's that, I suppose. There's a strange buzz in the air, as if expectations have been raised but nobody quite dares to admit it. It'll ultimately come down to how Benteke and Firmino fare, but otherwise it's been the best window in years, at least on paper.
Ignoring the depth signings of Ings, Bogdan and Gomez (who, even then, are upgrades on what we had), we've addressed all our problem positions. There's suddenly no longer a gaping hole down the right side thanks to Clyne, the midfield has a bit more steel to it, and there's even more flair up top. I don't want to crow too much because it'll probably come back to haunt me, but if Benteke settles and stays fit, I think we're in a much stronger position to challenge this year.
The money’s pretty much been spent wisely, although I’ll quibble with Benteke’s fee until dude starts paying it back. At a certain point, though, it’s just some billionaire’s millions, and as a fan you move forward with the actual living, breathing product that’s out there every week. I think I’m at that point.
Did we get back on track? Were we ever off the track? As each window passes, the cohesiveness of FSG’s transfer plan and ownership model becomes more and more apparent. The most painful possible departures hit us year on year between Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard, and Raheem Sterling. Our best player, our most legendary player, and our best young player since that legend broke through. Those are heavy losses in a short time for any team. And yet, if we hadn’t invested in youth development so deliberately, perhaps we’re not enjoying Ibe’s opportunity in the wake of Sterling’s departure. If we hadn’t had a manager comfortable with embracing youth, perhaps we’re not even talking about Sterling to begin with, let alone the fee he brought. And had we not signed Dejan Lovren… Well, it hasn’t all come together. But at least Joe Gomez looks legit.
The argument that we should have gone for a marquee replacement like Cavani with that Suarez money remains reasonable, but it’s a young/numbers game we’re playing, one that leaves LFC on steady ground from a squad building perspective, and that’s huge when we’re not guaranteed CL football year in and year out.
To echo Elizabeth, I generally don’t get too worked up about transfers. As we’ve all seen over the years, it’s often a subject of debate whether a transfer window was a success or failure even years after the fact. Once you add in certain known unknowables (e.g. fitness) the whole affair seems like (and often is) a crapshoot.
Those caveats aside, Liverpool have done just about as well as we could have hoped. So far, we’ve added four nailed-on starters, all of who address areas of need or are clear upgrades. Clyne is arguably our most important signing, as he gives us a massive and long-term upgrade at right back. Firmino looks to be as sure of a thing as you can get. And Milner, while boring, should help our midfield midfield. Which brings us to Benteke. Mark me up in the cautiously optimistic camp. At least he scores goals, which none of our strikers were terribly enthused about last campaign, and he should get excellent service from Coutinho, Firmino, and Lallana.
As to the question of value, given the relative strength of the Euro, it’s disappointing the club didn’t seem to really push harder for some big continental names. However, Benteke was really the only "reach," and while that price tag will hang around his head if he underperforms, the other business was very shrewd and it sets up for a potentially exciting season.
Like Noel, I’m extremely happy with the players the club have brought in with some reservations over the suitability of Christian Benteke. And I agree with Ed that last summer’s transfer window will prove to be a decent one over time, which combined with the business conducted this summer should make Liverpool a lot stronger in 2015/16. James Milner, Nathaniel Clyne, Roberto Firmino, and Christian Benteke should bring more collectively than Steven Gerrard, Glen Johnson, Raheem Sterling, and Mario Balotelli provided last season. Sterling and Firmino are close in terms of where both players are currently at, but the rest is quite the net positive considering where the players all are in their respective careers.
There’s still much I’m unsure about in terms of how things all fit together. If Milner was a defensive midfielder and Benteke a striker who ran off the shoulder more, there wouldn’t be any questions. That’s not to say that this summer lacked a strategy or plan, rather that it appears the players purchased could fit in a variety of ways.
Adam Bogdan, Joe Gomez, and Danny Ings could provide the depth that Brad Jones, promising young centreback 127, and Fabio Borini didn’t last season. Divock Origi is a very promising player and should benefit from the presence of his compatriot Christian Benteke. The pressure will be all on the former Aston Villa striker, allowing Origi to develop his game without needing to be the focal point of the attack every week like he was last season. Although it must be said that the same argument could be made for Raheem Sterling now that he’s at Man City.
On the whole it’s been a positive window that should nudge the club close to the top four. Roberto Firmino is the addition that stands out the most, but I’d argue that bringing in James Milner could prove just as important. Nathaniel Clyne and Christian Benteke improve the team at both ends, and Danny Ings and a collection of solid youth signings will give Brendan Rodgers more quality to work with.
There are still some oddities in this window such as the recession of Liverpool’s already thin fullback depth and the refusal to so far add a defensive midfielder/deep-lying playmaker. But these are things that should surprise no one who has followed Liverpool for the past five years, and ultimately can be worked around. Moreover, there’s still a month left to make moves, and while it appears that Liverpool are fairly content with how they stand, it wouldn’t be a total shock for them to add another player.
Similar to Ed, I see improvements across the board, and the squad is much sturdier than last season. And as I’ve been vocal about Firmino and Clyne as potential targets since last summer, I’m now ever so slightly uncertain if real life is really real at this point. Both are signings that just make so much sense. Milner is straight baller and there’s a reason City were willing to offer him stupid money to stay. So while maybe I’m not sold on either of the strikers we’ve picked up—with Ings pretty much a plug-and-play type for our set-up but one who lacks the absolute superstar quality I’d like to see and Benteke a spearhead stud who probably needs a bit of a system rejigging to be really successful—I do think on the whole the pieces are very impressive. Now it’s on Rodgers to make it work.
Tuesday - Part 2: Brendan Rodgers in His Fourth Season
Wednesday - Part 3: Player Expectations for 2015-16
Thursday - Part 4: Premier League vs. Europa League
Friday - Part 5: What Would Make the Season a Success?