When FC Basle’s Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah signed for Europa League champions Chelsea, rather than Brendan Rodgers’ in-form Liverpool, just a handful of days ago, there was naturally some disappointment and frustration at Anfield.
Rumours of the Reds’ interest in the 21-year-old attacking star had been doing the rounds for several weeks before the January transfer window had opened. But with Juan Mata’s controversial £37.1m move to struggling title-holders Manchester United on the verge of completion, Jose Mourinho had significant funds to invest in a replacement for the out-of-favour Spaniard and the former Porto, Inter and Real Madrid boss swooped in to beat Liverpool to their number one target.
Salah may be an exciting young talent, but Liverpool’s failure to capture the Egyptian felt, to some at least, like a blessing in disguise for the Merseyside club. The efforts to sign Salah from Swiss side Basle coincided with a reported two-month injury lay-off for Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva coupled with right-back Glen Johnson ruled out ‘indefinitely’, also through injury.
Even prior to the injuries to those two players, there were suggestions that the Reds would need to strengthen in both the defensive midfield and full-back positions in order to boost their chances of securing a place in one of the Premier League’s top four spots. Therefore, by missing out on Salah, perhaps there would be an opportunity for Rodgers and the club’s transfer committee to step back and identify players to fill the areas which seemingly needed more urgent attention.
That does not appear to have happened. Within days of losing out to Chelsea on their prime target, news emerged of Liverpool’s substantial interest in another attacking player – Yevhen Konoplyanka. While some football fans will have recognised the Ukrainian’s name from his impressive performance against England on the international scene, those who have more knowledge of Dnipro’s 24-year-old midfielder seem to suggest that he is the real deal and would be an excellent addition to the Reds’ squad.
But the fact remains that on Tuesday night, despite Liverpool’s sublime performance and 4-0 victory over local rivals Everton, Rodgers was forced to field what was essentially a second-string back four in the absence of Johnson, Daniel Agger, Mamadou Sakho and Jose Enrique – and the Anfield side were also down to the bare bones in midfield due to the unavailability of Lucas and Joe Allen.
There have been concerns over the Reds’ full-back options for some time now, with Johnson’s performances inconsistent and his fitness record questionable, while defensive midfield is also another area which, in the eyes of many, needs to be strengthened. The question on the lips of a number of supporters, then, is why Rodgers appears to be solely focused on improving his attacking options in this transfer window.
Liverpool have scored an impressive 57 league goals so far this season – 11 fewer than league leaders Manchester City – but 12 more than the next highest scorers Arsenal. With the likes of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge so reliable in front of goal and both Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling in good form, should the attempts to sign Konoplyanka – rather than someone like Yann M’Vila or Nigel De Jong – really be a priority for the club at this moment in time?
If Konoplyanka does end up signing for the Reds, then supporters will, of course, hope that the Ukrainian performs well and has the same inspiring impact as Coutinho and Sturridge did this time last year
However, splashing out on an attacking player when Liverpool are struggling for options in other positions is a risky strategy and – while bringing in a full-back and defensive midfielder would not necessarily guarantee the club a Champions League place come the end of the campaign – if the Merseysiders do miss out on fourth spot and a place in the Champions League then Rodgers and the transfer committee will have a lot to answer for.
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