Whoever is in charge of Liverpool for next season, they will be under significant pressure to restore their place in the Premier League’s top four. The final resting place of sixth in 2014-15 fell a long way short of expectations as too many players underperformed, while the sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona and the persistent injury problems suffered by fellow prolific striker Daniel Sturridge had a significant impact on their Goals For column.
But perhaps the biggest factor behind their failure to qualify for the Champions League was a poor summer of recruitment. Emre Can and Lazar Markovic may turn out to be quality players at Anfield for years to come, but have so far been given too much responsibility in a squad lacking considerable strength in depth. Meanwhile, Dejan Lovren has hardly looked comfortable since making the move from Southampton, and strikers Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli showed that they clearly were not the right players to take Liverpool forward, with Balotelli in particular having been a target for severe criticism.
Aside from in attack, where the Reds’ strikers scored a combined total of just 10 Premier League goals in the whole of this season, the right-back position is clearly one that requires the most attention. Can – naturally a central midfielder – was forced to play there in the final weeks of the campaign and looked totally lost. His shortcomings were ruthlessly exploited by a rampant Stoke City in that embarrassing 6-1 loss last time out.
With Glen Johnson almost certain to leave when his contract runs out at the end of June, Jon Flanagan continuing to be a long-term absentee and Javier Manquillo failing to make any impression on the starting XI a year into his loan spell from Atletico Madrid, Liverpool’s need is pressing and they have begun quickly in their attempts to bolster their dwindling options, reportedly seeing a £10m bid for Southampton star Nathaniel Clyne turned down.
It is likely to take a significantly larger amount of money to force the Saints to consider selling Clyne, but the former Crystal Palace academy product is exactly the kind of quality player that Liverpool are crying out for. There have been few more consistent players in the Premier League than Clyne over the last two seasons, and his stock just continues to rise, with the star having made the England right-back spot his own after a string of good performances.
The way the 24-year-old comes forward would add more pace as well as a new dimension to Liverpool’s attacking play, while he has shown in the past that he has an excellent strike on him and can score goals – such as the rasping drive that drew Southampton level at Anfield on the opening day of this season. He may also prosper if manager Brendan Rodgers continues to play with wing-backs ahead of a back three, as it would give Clyne even more license to come forward and produce the end product that has been so badly lacking at the club for a number of months.
He would also be a much welcome addition for his defensive qualities, which have been a vital part of Southampton’s success this term as they finished second only to champions Chelsea in terms of goals conceded. Liverpool have let in too many in the last two years and rectifying that must feature highly on Rodgers’ priority list for the summer, and Glen Johnson has often been derided for being poor defensively and occasionally wasteful in possession.
The manner of Liverpool’s displays in the last few games of the season suggested that squad needed major surgery; more than a little freshening up. Should he remain, Rodgers must ensure that he brings in the right players this time around, and while Clyne will not be an easy man to prise away from the South coast, acquiring his services would represent an excellent start in his quest to right the wrongs of the previous 12 months.
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