How successful are LFC in improving their first XI?

With Liverpool’s transfer business looking likely to be done, attentions will now focus on whether the new signings can make the immediate impact supporters demand, and on which of the new arrivals can cement a first-team spot in the coming season’s line-up. It is then necessary to look back at the transfer windows prior to this, to see how much have previous windows’ signings added to the Reds’ first eleven and whether they had actually improved the quality at Anfield.

Over the past seven summers spanning the regimes of Rafa Benitez, Roy Hodgson, Kenny Dalglish and now Brendan Rodgers, there has been an average of two summer signings added to the first eleven, with most of the rest strengthening the bench. It should also be noted that first elevens change not just due to new arrivals, but with previously squad players stepping up to seal their spot in the first team.

Title Challenges

The two summers with arguably the most success has been in 2008 and 2013, when Benitez and Rodgers respectively both led ultimately futile title challenges. In both instances, the outfield ten saw one change, with winger Albert Riera taking Ryan Babel’s first team spot at left wing, and centre-back Mamadou Sakho seeing more game time than Daniel Agger. Both Babel and Agger still saw substantial action. For Rodgers, that summer also gave clear indications of the end of Pepe Reina’s – a Benitez signing – career at the club, with newly signed goalkeeper Simon Mignolet taking up the reigns between the posts.


what ifs: would the reds have lifted the title had keane stayed for a full season?

Both summers also saw similar numbers added to the bench. Benitez brought in Robbie Keane, only for half a season, and youngster David N’Gog to provide support in attack, while full-backs Andrea Dossena and Philipp Degen covered for the back four. Degen, though, was perpetually injured and never good enough. In Rodgers’ case, though free signing Kolo Toure did provide experience for his defence, loanee Victor Moses and Spanish duo Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas gave so little that Rodgers preferred not to turn to them in times of need. On hindsight, neither strengthened their benches significantly enough, probably why the Reds fell short at the final hurdle on both occasions.

Mediocre Stagnation Among Instability

Between 2010 to 2013, the Reds saw two managers come and go, Roy Hodgson and club legend Kenny Dalglish, with a third, Rodgers, still hanging onto his job. In these years, the club saw a fluctuation in the number of signings that took their spots in the first eleven.

For the summer of 2010 that preceded a mid-season managerial change, Hodgson did manage, to his credit, to bring in Portuguese international midfielder Raul Meireles to eventually replace the departed Javier Mascherano. The January signing of Benitez’s final campaign, Maxi Rodriguez, sealed his spot as one of the attacking midfielders in Hodgson’s line-up. Dalglish took over in January and finished 6th, with most of the damage done during Hodgson’s short tenure. Similarly two years later in 2012, Rodgers’ first summer as Liverpool boss saw him add one player to his first eleven, in Joe Allen, who as the boss’s former Swansea charge slotted in straightaway. The then-new manager’s side would finish in 6th too.

In between those two seasons was Dalglish’s first and only summer window of his second coming, saw him change up to four of his first eleven, with then-much maligned Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Jose Enrique taking their places in the first-team. Dalglish’s own January signings from the previous campaign, Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez, also ended up as his first-choice attack. Much upheaval, but Dalglish’s own new-look side ended up dropping two places to 8th.

All three sides’ benches had little success. Hodgson’s trio of Joe Cole, Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulsen quickly turned out to be flops, with Benitez-signed Milan Jovanovic becoming a laughing stock at the club. Goalkeeper Brad Jones did provide half a dozen years of decent back-up service, while Jonjo Shelvey was eventually sold to Swansea for a profit having started out in the reserves. Rodgers had Fabio Borini and Oussama Assaidi, with the manager having little faith in both for either to even get a run in the first team. Dalglish’s bench additions did not fare any better, with the exception of the returning Craig Bellamy adding more firepower up front, back-up goalkeeper Doni could not displace Jones as No.2 while hot prospect Sebastian Coates proved his inability to keep up in the Premier League.


signings like these two held liverpool back a few years

Looking back, though some of these new arrivals ended up first team players by the end of these campaigns, none could really have been said to have taken the league by storm nor made the immediate impact required to drag the Reds up the table and back amongst the elites. Downing and Allen were unspectacular additions to the first eleven, while Meireles and Adam only had one season before falling victims to a change in manager.

Dramatic, Drastic Falls

One highly notable trend across the past decade at Anfield has been the dramatic collapses during the season after a title challenge. In 2009, Benitez wanted to give the Reds that extra boost in attack by replacing the defensively-solid Arbeloa with the more offensive minded full-back Glen Johnson, with the Englishman eventually proving the only addition to the first eleven. On the bench, veteran defender Sotrios Kyrgiakos proved a cumbersome and unreliable replacement for the departed legend Sami Hyypia, but it was the inability to replace a first team midfielder, Xabi Alonso, proved the downfall of the Reds and Benitez.

The signing of Italian midfielder Alberto Aquilani was meant to plug the midfield gap left by Alonso, but Aquilani never fully recovered from his existing injury, which left this job to the then-maligned Lucas and ill-disciplined Steven Gerrard to take turns to man the midfield alongside Mascherano. This instability meant the Reds never got going and a subsequent five year wait to participate in Europe’s top competition began with a group stage exit and 7th place league finish.

With Alonso in 2009, read Suarez in 2014. Rodgers’ title challenge was spearheaded by a 4-4-2 diamond, but his best side of a stumbling 2014/15 campaign featured a 3-4-3 formation. This change in strategy would be mainly to fit in three of his seven new signings in the first eleven. Midfielder Emre Can took Johnson’s defensive spot, with Alberto Moreno filling in for the injured Jon Flanagan at full/wing-back. Adam Lallana overcame his early pre-season injury to end the season up front, supposedly taking Suarez’s forward spot. Rodgers attempted to replace the Uruguayan’s brilliance with a collective effort, but to no avail as his new-look side struggled for goals.


the infamous trio of forward failures

Similar to Benitez, Rodgers’ new additions to the Anfield bench contributed far too little. Forwards Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert scored a meagre combined total of three league goals, while record defensive signing Dejan Lovren struggled early on and sits behind Sakho in the pecking order. Youngster Lazar Markovic’s minimal impact was epitomised by his harsh sending off after coming on in the crucial Champions League group stage tie with FC Basel.

A failure to replace vital clogs of title challenging squads, along with poor support from the bench, meant Benitez and Rodgers could not replicate their successful teams of a season before. It costed the now-Real Madrid manager his Anfield job, while the former Swansea boss remains in the last chance saloon for the coming season.

What to make of this for the coming season? With Rodgers likely to revert to his favoured 4-3-3 formation, four of his seven signings, plus the returning Divock Origi, will likely go straight into the first team. Right back Nathaniel Clyne will take Can’s defensive spot, while free transfer James Milner will fill Gerrard’s place. The departed Sterling, who played as the main forward during the Reds’ 13-match unbeaten run, will be replaced by specialist forward Christian Benteke, at least until Daniel Sturridge returns to fitness and form. Brazilian international Roberto Firmino would gradually be integrated into the team, and in time will take the first team spots of Jordon Ibe or Adam Lallana, with the latter English duo likely to be fighting for the last attacking position.

And for the bench, has Rodgers learned the lessons from the mistakes of his own and his predecessors? Adam Bogdan will simply replace the departed Brad Jones, and surely be an upgrade to the declining Australian goalkeeper as No.2, while forward Danny Ings will hope to maintain his Burnley form from the bench, with his effort alone easily topping what Lambert, Balotelli and Fabio Borini ever managed last season. Returning forward Origi and pre-season wonder Joe Gomez will both have a tough time to get into the match day squad, but their probable appearances in the cups will mean they, along with other incoming youngsters, will have the chance to stake their claims for more first team involvement.

This likely change to four first-team positions goes against the two summers which saw Rodgers and Benitez launch title challenges with minimum changes, while seemingly closer to Dalglish’s much-changed line-up that saw him sacked as his side finish two spots lower, from 6th to 8th. Current boss Rodgers will thus hope his relatively newly-formed side can gel as soon as possible and hit the ground running, even with a start to the season as difficult as the Reds have been handed with.


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