The Best Of The Rest

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Author: Mikey O’Brien  

      

Some Liverpol supporters have gotten frustrated with the club’s failure to sign marquee players in the transfer market. Mikey O’Brien gives us some players from the Premier League outside the Top 7 – and who he thinks will suit the Reds.

I know a lot of Liverpool fans have grown tired of our tendency to shop from other Premier League teams lower down the table than ourselves. On many occasions in the past, we’ve signed the supposedly better players from lesser sides hoping that the extra quality we’d be able to put around them would take their game to a new level, often to no avail.

Whilst no new signings are guaranteed to succeed regardless of where they’re brought in from, in the last 5-6 years we’ve seen the likes of Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll and Christian Benteke predictably fail, whilst the likes of Joe Allen, Simon Mignolet and Dejan Lovren have been far from outright successes.

Despite such an approach perhaps representing a lack of ambition and to a certain extent, lazy scouting, in certain instances buying domestically has its benefits, with arguably our 2 best signings of last summer coming from Southampton and Newcastle; Henderson, Lallana and Clyne have all made significant positive contributions since joining the club too.

For each of the positions which most fans seem to agree need strengthening in the forthcoming window, i’ve chosen 1 player from a club outside the EPL’s top 7 who could add something to our squad for next season. Here are my selections for GK, CB and LB.

GK – Jack Butland – Stoke

It’s fair to say I wasn’t exactly spoilt for choice as far as this position is concerned, but Butland is an exceptionally gifted young player.

My major concern with regards to Butland is that he’s been out injured for 51 weeks, meaning he certainly wouldn’t be joining in ideal circumstances. Unlike with outfielders it’s difficult to ease goalkeepers back into the fold as consistency between the sticks is vital. With so much at stake in each of Liverpool’s league games, perhaps it would be better for Butland to prove his fitness and get back up to speed playing for a Stoke side who, with all due respect, are destined for a mid-table finish.

I’d still be more willing to take a gamble on Butland’s physical state than go for the some of the other players people will likely point towards, though. Ability and profile wise, he’s the stand-out. We’re the smallest side in the league along with Man City, so having a 6”5 goalkeeper who’s shown he can dominate his penalty area would help compensate when teams target our lack of aerial prowess from open play and set pieces. Butland is also, like Karius, a natural at coming off his line and acting as a sweeper keeper, if anything showing an over eagerness to rush out, and he’s a very adept shot stopper.

I can’t help but feel that the likes of Sunderland’s much talked about Jordan Pickford and Burnley’s Tom Heaton are made to look better than they really are as they’re peppered with shots every game, giving them more opportunities to make spectacular, Match of the Day worthy saves. I have doubts as to whether or not Pickford, who’s only 6”1, would be able to deal with the crosses that teams frequently put in against us, and there’s not much evidence to suggest that either are quick off their line or can distribute effectively.

Let’s not forget that Mignolet, like Pickford, looked good playing for the Black Cats prior to signing for us, but since 2013 his all round ability has been shown up as he’s been asked to do a wider variety of things.

Arguably the best goalkeeper outside of the top 7 is Leicester’s Kasper Schmeichel, but again he’s 6”1, and thus perhaps not the type of keeper we’re in need of. At 30, he’s tried and tested, and rather than signing a keeper just 1 year older than Karius, someone more experienced to give the German time to adapt before becoming our number 1 may make more sense. Butland is hardly error prone though, and Karius and Butland competing for both a short and long term place would be intriguing to witness.

CB – Ben Gibson – Middlesbrough

It would be too obvious to say Virgil van Dijk, without doubt the player most worth pursuing if we were actually restricted to targeting players plying their trade in England (and Swansea). Keeping hold of Mamadou Sakho when his loan spell at Crystal Palace comes to an end in May also doesn’t count for the purposes of this article, despite my eagerness to see him and Klopp settle their differences this summer.

Ben Gibson would be a decent acquisition, though, and whether we like to admit it or not, acquiring the Middlesbrough man is a far more realistic prospect than seeing either van Dijk or Sakho pull on an LFC shirt in 2017/18.

Trying to select a CB from teams between 8th and 20th is especially difficult as the sides that are relatively solid, e.g. West Brom, tend to sit quite deep, playing a direct or counter attacking brand of football. Their centre backs have protection in front of them and from their full backs either side, and would be horribly exposed if put in our team. On the other hand, the ones that try to play expansively, in a style more comparable to that which Jurgen Klopp implements, the likes of Bournemouth, Swansea and West Ham for example, concede an absolute bucketload. West Ham’s Winston Reid and Angelo Ogbonna possess all the physical attributes you could ask for but are too rash and often lose concentration.

Gibson, however, whilst playing for a defensive minded Middlesbrough outfit, has shown throughout this season, and perhaps with greater certainty than our current crop of central defenders, that he can perform the basics of defending consistently and reliably, making no defensive errors of note this season. Our centre backs have shown a tendency to make a hash of situations unrelated to the high line they find themselves in.

Middlesbrough’s backline has chopped and changed too, with Gibson having to play alongside 3 different partners so far this campaign, and whilst Aitor Karanka set his teams up incredibly negatively, the likes of Bernardo, Barragan and Fabio are hardly defensive rocks, in fact appearing suspect to say the least whenever I’ve watched them. Clayton and Forshaw are also naturally more forward thinking midfielders, so Gibson has still had to take on a lot of defensive responsibility, lead, and has been the key to Middlesbrough boasting a better defensive record than both Liverpool and Arsenal so far this season.

Also, whilst he may not have had the chance to properly demonstrate his pace and his ability to defend in space, putting him in the same boat as the likes of Burnley’s Michael Keane, one stand out quality that Gibson possesses is his composure/ability with the ball at his feet. He rarely looses possession, even when put under real pressure, passing progressively, and is adept at striding out of defence and into the midfield. He’s only 6’1, however, and i’m adamant that we should be looking to add height to our team rather than take it away, but at just 24 and being left footed, he’d make a better buy than any of the alternatives.

LB – Ryan Bertrand – Southampton

This was a pretty easy one.

Bertrand plays for a Southampton side who’ve shown their defensive capabilities against Liverpool 3 times this season, not conceding a single goal across 270 minutes of football, as well as in a number of other matches. He’s played a significant part in them boasting the second best defensive record of all the teams under consideration here. He rarely gets caught out positionally when asked to play more conservatively, and is a lot quicker and more energetic than our current left back James Milner, allowing him to recover when players do get in behind down his side. He’s exceptional at dealing with one on ones too.

Southampton certainly aren’t a team that always sit back, and he’s shown his attacking prowess on multiple occasions this campaign and in recent years. For example, he was one of the stand out performers in Southampton’s recent League Cup final, causing Man Utd no end of problems as he continuously looked to overlap and provide width as Nathan Redmond cut infield. He’s provided the same number of assists as Milner and Clyne combined (5) in the EPL this season, despite playing 9 less games than them both, and has scored 2 goals from open play, with Milner and Clyne managing 0 apiece.

Aaron Cresswell, his injury troubles aside, is a good player too, but again, at 5”7 he’s lacking in the heigh department, and Andrew Robertson looks talented but we need reliability. Also, if we’re still worried about players not being able to make the step up and handle the pressure that comes with playing for a club like Liverpool, it’s worth noting that Bertrand started in and won a Champions League final with Chelsea against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena, coming up against a right hand side of Arjen Robben and Philipp Lahm. Doesn’t get much bigger than that.

Written by Mikey O’Brien (@MikeyO_BrienLFC)

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