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How far are we from winning the title? by lfctalk
June 3, 2009, 11:35
Filed under: Opinion | Tags:

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How far away are we from winning that elusive nineteenth title – and maiden Premiership crown?

Steven Gerrard has stated today that he believes we are very close and just need a couple more players to push us on to it.

I agree.

I believe that we need to pad out the squad with more talent, which would stop us relying too heavily on Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard.

Yossi Benayoun proved a reliable understudy to Gerrard in the latter stages of this past season, but we did not have anyone capable of stepping in for Torres when he was out injured. David N’Gog chipped in with a few goals, but he was never expected to be our number two striker. Robbie Keane’s failure to settle into the side and subsequent departure meant that the young Frenchman was thrust into that role sooner than expected.

If we cannot get Carlos Tevez, which is looking increasinly unlikely, then I would have to push aside the resentment for him and suggest we resign Michael Owen. He’d be ideal as backup to Torres and he plays that role naturally and understands how Gerrard ticks. He’s not reliable enough injury-wise to be a first-choice, but he’d play enough games to be second choice to Torres. And for free, it’d be a low risk move for all concerned. Obviously I’d prefer the Argentine, but he looks likely to go elsewhere – to whoever offers the most cash to his advisors most likely.

Albert Riera had an overall good debut season for us, but he certainly suffered a midseason lull where he looked out of sorts and didn’t make much impact. But nobody can be disappointed with his contribution. We can hope for more from him next season, however.

Dirk Kuyt had his best season yet at the club. He scored plenty of goals from his new position wide on the right and kept up his relentless workrate throughout. He can be frustrating with a lack of intelligence on the ball at times, but his effort and desire are second to none and his new contract is good news for everyone at the club.

Ryan Babel’s failure to turn potential into form has been a particular disappointment. Despite scoring an incredibly satisfying winner against United this past term, he’s just not shown enough to suggest that he is worth retaining for this coming season. There is likely to be a queue of clubs lining up to take a gamble on his potential and Rafa would be wise to cash in before it’s too late. He claims that he is a striker by nature, but when he’s played in that role he’s looked out of his depth and comfort zone. The left-wing position has looked his best position, but Riera and Benayoun have overtaken him in the race for that role.

I would like to see us sign David Silva. The guy is a matchwinner and could be one of the best players in the world with the right guidance and coaching. Valencia need the cash and a swap deal involving Andrei Voronin (plus cash) could be enough to see him arrive. Real Madrid could be a problem for us though, as if they fail to sign Ronaldo or Franck Ribery they are likely to swoop for Silva. The Spanish influence at the club would grow with his arrival and given their national ascendency that would be no bad thing.

The continuing saga of Xabi Alonso’s future needs a quick resolution. Now Gareth Barry has chosen money, sorry City, it means that our number one midfield target is gone – and hopefully that will end talk of Alonso heading out of Anfield. Like Kuyt, he’s had his best season at the club and is integral to our future plans. If he could just add a few more goals to his game he’d be even better. Hopefully Real Madrid and Arsenal will drop their interest and look elsewhere.

Javier Mascherano eventually found his form after a sketchy phase that followed his return from the Olympics. He’s just about the best defensive midfielder in the league, but unlike Michael Essien he doesn’t offer a lot going forward. You can’t take anything away from him for that though, simply because he is such a midfield powerhouse that never gives up. Real Madrid are said to be interested in him as well – which suggests they were very impressed by our midfield when we dispatched them twice in Europe!

Unfortunately for him, I just don’t see Lucas working out as a serious midfield proposition for us. He did feature in two of our biggest wins of the season at St James’s Park and Old Trafford, but he looks weak and is easily knocked off the ball. He seems to lack urgency and craft as well, which are traits we need in our midfield. Credit to him for his role in the win at Old Trafford, but he hasn’t been able to perform at that kind of level 95% of the time and I think a loan move would be his best bet. A club like Wigan or Blackburn may suit as it’s not far from Liverpool and they’d offer him plenty of Premiership experience. I don’t expect him to go anywhere, but I’d like to see that happen to allow Jay Spearing more opportunities in the side.

Our defence still looks strong despite the loss of Sami Hyypia this Summer. His experience and professionalism will be sorely missed, but it’s a fair call by him to go seeking more first-team football at his age. He will need replacing though and I don’t see anyone coming from the reserves to take his role. Names such as David Wheater and Michael Turner have been mentioned and it would be good to see a young English defender come into the club, but they would struggle for first-team opportunities and that may put them off. But the lure of Anfield should be enough and if they have ambition and confidence they should take up the challenge. Raul Albiol could be another potential arrival given Valencia’s financial crisis. Either way, we need the security and competition of a sound fourth choice defender.

The full-back positions could do with pepping-up, despite Fabio Aurelio and Alvaro Arbeloa having solid seasons. I thought Aurelio looked much better this year – and that’s no coincidence given how well he’s avoided injury. Arbeloa can look dodgy when he loses concentration, but he is a dependable option. That said, I would rather we sign Glen Johnson as first-choice right-back because he has finally started to realise his massive potential as a top-class defender.

Andrea Dossena is likely to be sold to bring in funds and with Aurelio supported by Emiliano Insua, I would say we have enough at left-back. Stephen Darby can be deployed on both sides also, which means we have a potentially solid option waiting in the wings.

José Reina has had a typically solid season between the posts as well, and with Diego Cavalieri likely to reject overtures from Benfica I think we should maintain a goalkeeping status quo. Charles Itandje should be sacked for gross misconduct after his Hillsborough disgrace. Dean Bouzanis, David Martin and Martin Hansen have enough between them to provide competition for third choice. Nikolay Mihaylov could always be bought back from Twente if need be, anyway.

Sammy Lee has proved to be an excellent choice as assistant to Benitez. All the players seem to respect and like him and he looks to have perfected the role as the ‘inbetween’ man to act as bridge between the squad and Rafa. I was pleased to see him hired at the time and am doubly pleased with the work he has done.

Most things are in place for another, hopefully successful, assault on the title – I just think we need a couple of ‘finishing touches’ to the squad. Hopefully Rafa can get those.

If I were him, I would be looking at making these deals:

OUT

Ryan Babel – £7m-£9m (Aston Villa, Tottenham, Ajax and Juventus reportedly interested)

Andrei Voronin – £4m-£6m (Valencia reportedly interested)

Lucas – £5m-£6m (Italian and Spanish clubs likely to be interested)

Andrea Dossena – £5m-£6m (Juventus and AC Milan reportedly interested)

IN

David Silva – £15m + Voronin

Raul Albiol – £8m (or Michael Turner or David Wheater – £6m if not)

Glen Johnson – £12m-£15m

Carlos Tevez – £25m-£30m (or Michael Owen £0 if not)

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