By Chris Rowland.
Another question for our Symposium panel, including one or two new faces. We asked ‘if you could only strengthen one position in January, which would it be and why?’.
James Keen (jimtheoracle): At the moment I feel the priority is to get someone in who can seriously challenge Lucas/Gerrard for the defensive midfielder or deep-lying playmaker roles. We are too easily outfought and out-thought in the centre of the pitch and that needs addressing. Gerrard in my view needs to play fewer games in a season and we need a realistic replacement for him in his deeper role. Xabi Alonso would be my pick if he was ten years younger, but that would be the sort of player I would look to bring in.
If we are still in with a shout of the Champions league and the money is available (and we’re playing fantasy football for a second), I would see if we can gazump Man Utd for Ander Herrera, particularly if Bilbao are struggling to qualify through La Liga. He is good on the ball, technically very good and a good chance creator. But he is also good in the tackle and strong positionally, in fact he won more tackles last season than Yaya Toure, Lampard and Wilshere put together. Of course they are not the heaviest tacklers in the Premier League, but it does suggest he could cope with the passing and creation side of the job and help Lucas out with the defensive side.
With Rodgers reluctant to use Allen and using Henderson as well as Lucas and Stevie rather than instead of, it seems that we need a technically good, strong and mobile central midfielder. We need some new full-backs and some cover up front but the midfield is the area that I would heavily prioritise in January.
Chris Rowland: Up until a few weeks ago I’d have said a top quality left-back, cover for Johnson at right-back, striker cover (thought it might be Aspas but not so far) and cover for Lucas in a defensive midfield shield role were my priorities. But now it seems the whole midfield area falls under scrutiny – I don’t know, you get one part sorted out (central defence, keeper, strikers) and another bit goes wonky. It’s like trying to plait fog.
My doubts surround not only Gerrard, who’s been much discussed on here, but Lucas. He’s still an intelligent footballer, strong character and generally good guy to have around. But he’s starting to appear lightweight, immobile and ineffective, with a tendency to be bypassed in games. Gerrard should either play less or play different. Which leaves us with Henderson and Allen. A whole-hearted modern midfield runner who perhaps lacks craft and top quality, and a neat knitter-together. Not enough. I want two strong midfielders – not necessarily a pure ‘shield’ like Masch, not an attacking midfielder/defence unlocker in the Coutinho mould, but two genuine all-rounders who can contribute at both ends of the field as well as the middle bit they operate from.
Know any going spare – at an affordable price?
Joe Pepper: Right-back. It’s too much of an impact when Johnson isn’t playing. All of our worst performances this season have come when we’ve been unable to even remotely adequately replace him. In some cases we’ve had centre-backs playing right-back to fill the hole and we’ve really suffered from it.
Johnson is also key to our “midfield balance”. When he’s not there, Gerrard and Lucas look extremely isolated. When he is there, it makes a huge difference to our shape. He plays as an extra midfielder. This is why I don’t think it’s really worth buying another centre midfielder in January if to their right they are supported by Kolo Toure, Andre Wisdom or Flanagan.
No offence to Flanagan, but he shouldn’t be starting away at Arsenal in the league for Liverpool. Yes, he didn’t do much wrong, but the player in that position needs to be much more than steady. They need to hurt the opposition.
Every time Johnson is missing it really f’s things up. It’s also the reason why I think playing him in say the Capital One Cup against Notts. County is kind of mental.
So, yeah… right back.
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