Liverpool’s capture of Blackpool playmaker Charlie Adam took Kenny Dalglish’s spending since returning as Reds’ manager in January past the £70m mark as the Scot seeks to revolutionise the Anfield side. A large portion of that sum was recouped through the sales of Fernando Torres and Ryan Babel, but with Aston Villa winger Stewart Downing now top of Dalglish’s wanted list, and Roma goalkeeper Alexander Doni not far behind, there appears to be no sign of the spree coming to an end.
Adam’s arrival leaves Dalglish with a surfeit of midfielders, however. The manager can now call on Adam, Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva, Christian Poulsen, Jordan Henderson, Jay Spearing, Jonjo Shelvey, Alberto Aquilani and Raul Meireles to fill at most three positions in the centre of the pitch, and that is not including Joe Cole, who is at his best when played between the midfield and the attack. Even if, as has been reported, Meireles’ days at Anfield are numbered – despite a good first season in English football – the failure to sell the likes of Aquilani and Poulsen as yet leave Liverpool’s squad decidedly unbalanced. Presuming he is fit, captain Gerrard is a guaranteed starter, while Lucas’ vast improvement last season should be rewarded with a place as a permanent fixture, and the expensive purchases of Adam and Henderson would suggest they feature heavily in Dalglish’s plans. The pursuit of Downing, with a bid topping £18m said to be required for his signature, puts another name into the manager’s first XI.
It would be unwise to assume Dalglish will be welded to one line-up, or even one formation. Since his return to the dugout Dalglish has proven to be a flexible tactician, employing a back three early in his reign against Chelsea – a system that Jonathan Wilson, writing in World Soccer noted: “…matched Chelsea’s diamond in midfield…while Torres and Drogba were easily contained by Liverpool’s three central defenders.” Such ingenious tactical decisions were perhaps unexpected for a manager who had been out of coaching in over a decade, but a 1-0 away victory was Dalglish’s reward for such resourcefulness. The overabundance of central midfielders Dalglish can now call on will therefore not only fit into his preferred set-up, but also provide the personnel for any changes he may wish to make for specific games or ideas. A flexible forward line, with Andy Carroll leading the way, and Luis Suarez and Dirk Kuyt able to offer support centrally or from the wings, also gives Dalglish plenty of options in attack. The unsuccessful chase for Connor Wickham, eventually won by Sunderland, suggests that Liverpool are searching for increased competition in front of goal, while the decision to allow David N’Gog the chance to speak with the Black Cats indicates the Frenchman is free to move on, for the right price.
Left-back would appear to be the position Dalglish needs to fill next. A host of possible defenders have been mentioned, from Newcastle United’s Spanish star Jose Enrique to former Liverpool player, now of Aston Villa, Stephen Warnock. Dalglish was also interested in Arsenal’s Gael Clichy, before the lure of Champions League football with Manchester City won the day. While Paul Konchesky remains a Liverpool player, last season the former Fulham defender was farmed out to Nottingham Forest almost as soon as Dalglish replaced Konchesky’s ex-Cottagers manager Roy Hodgson, with Dalglish preferring youngsters John Flanagan and Jack Robinson in the role. Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly are also options on the flank, albeit not long-term ones given their natural right-sidedness. Fabio Aurelio is the only senior left-back at the club other than Konchesky – although Emiliano Insua has returned from a loan spell at Galatasaray – but with sporting director Damien Comolli confirming Liverpool will make further additions before the close of the transfer window, a new No 3 seems likely.
Dalglish has been far from shy in the transfer market thus far, wielding John Henry’s chequebook with abandon as he and Comolli reshape the Liverpool squad in pursuit of first a return to the Champions League, and eventually a Premier League title challenge. There is still much business to be done – not only the signings of a left-back, a left-winger in Downing and possibly a central defender – but in moving on some of the players decreed surplus to requirements. As Dalglish works to return Liverpool to their glory days of his playing career and first tenure as manager, this summer could be one that makes or breaks his second coming.
Jordan Henderson MID – £16m, Sunderland
Charlie Adam MID – £7m, Blackpool
Stephen Darby DEF – Rochdale, loan
Alexander Doni GK – Roma
Stewart Downing MID – Aston Villa
Charles N’Zogbia MID – Wigan Athletic