The recent transfer window and need to manage the squad this season provides an excellent opportunity for the developing Jonjo Shelvey at LFC, explains Aaron Cutler.
You have to feel for Brendan Rodgers. Appointed on June 1st, the Northern Irishman was hardly afforded a honeymoon period before being flung head-first into the crazy world of Liverpool FC. Anfield – it would seem – has replaced Brookside as the city’s leading soap opera, producing more controversy than it does trophies.
A daunting start to the new campaign was last week compounded by the scandalous lack of movement in the transfer market. Cap-in-hand our new boss approached FSG with, we presume, a shortlist of striking targets. As it turned out Rodgers may as well have sought the nearest plantation outside Melwood in the hope of discovering that mystical money tree. There was no cash to be had, at least not for forward options aged 29 or above.
An understandably subdued Anfield then witnessed a weak surrender at the hands of Arsenal. The following day brought a wave of sensational headlines and worrying suggestions a move to sign an exiled mercenary was in the offing. Thankfully that never materialised but an open letter did. In it John W. Henry again outlined his vision for the club and his total commitment towards restoring Liverpool to the footballing elite. Some bought the explanation, others question his motives. Regardless, three months into a new job and three games into a new season Rodgers finds the word ‘crisis’ being bandied about. That cannot bode well.
The general consensus amongst supporters is that our new manager is a perfect fit. He speaks superbly, seemingly immersed in the history and traditions of LFC yet determined to modernise. His football philosophy meanwhile must be admired. It takes a brave man to transform a side’s style of play so dramatically, particularly at a club like Liverpool where scrutiny is immense and criticism scathing. His intentions are good and the fans realise that. He will be given time and patience, both of which are paramount for what promises to be a long, hard campaign.
Given the dramatic number of departures this summer our squad now appears quite thread-bare. Rather than enhance a playing staff that finished eighth we have seemingly decimated it. Only Fabio Borini, Joe Allen and Osama Assaidi have been brought in to bolster the ranks. To add to those concerns Lucas is once again crocked until December. By his own admission, Rodgers must now move forward ‘with what we’ve got’ and this window represents an opportunity for younger players to shine.
Raheem Sterling has delighted everyone with his initial impact. Energetic, fearless and productive he has proven a breath of fresh air down the left flank. Likewise, Adam Morgan made his bow away to Hearts in the Europa League and despite toiling in the return leg certainly showed decent movement. Jack Robinson continues to impress with each fleeting appearance and Sebastian Coates allayed any fears about his ability with an accomplished display against Manchester City. Not to be forgotten amongst this crop is Jonjo Shelvey, himself only 20. Signed from Charlton three years ago many seem to forget he is still developing as a player and has shown tremendous improvement of late.
Starring and scoring for England’s under 21’s yesterday underlined what a good start to the season Shelvey has had. Those loyal (or stupid) enough to watch the dross of pre-season will attest that the midfielder was our best performer during the North American Tour. He was harshly excluded from the side come Gomel and competitive action but has now deservedly moved above Jordan Henderson in the central pecking order.
With Lucas sidelined there is certainly an opportunity to impress the manager. Clearly, Joe Allen is an automatic starter – Rodgers’ own eyes-and-ears on the field akin to Alonso with Benitez. Allen is also a technically gifted player, seldom losing possession and always recycling play.
Alongside him we can expect similar expertise in the form of Nuri Sahin. Sunday’s muted debut belied his undoubted class and he will hopefully prove an astute loan signing who will add much needed creativity.
The third starting berth in that midfield trio will obviously be held by the captain Steven Gerrard – himself the subject of criticism just now. Much of the ire directed Gerrard’s way is needless. Nobody has given more to the cause throughout the past decade and he will always be seen as one of – if not – the greatest player to represent the club. However his eagerness to play the killer pass does occasionally disrupt our possession game, particularly when that pass is forced and invariably cut-out. Could there be a case for pushing him forward?
Benitez once claimed Gerrard could occupy the striking role later in his career due to his eye for goal. With Liverpool short on striking options and Luis Suarez as wasteful as Paul Merson at Ladbrokes, this alternative should not be dismissed out-of-hand.
Either way at 32 Gerrard will be carefully managed. That presents an opening for the combative Shelvey to impress, particularly in Europe. The reds number 33 is a precocious talent. His performance against City at Anfield was disciplined and impressive, while last weekend his vibrancy from the bench was one of few positives to emerge from a wretched afternoon. He can still be erratic in possession (as evidenced away at Tynecastle) but he is certainly growing in stature.
If a little out-of-his-depth initially Shelvey now seems to have matured a great deal, helped in part by a productive loan spell at Blackpool. He has a terrific engine, is seemingly comfortable on the ball and packs a fierce shot. His tenacity sometimes leads to rash challenges, a side of his game which must be curbed, but in all there is plenty of potential for Rodgers to nurture. Those who follow the reds reserve team fixtures will also know of the threat he poses from set-pieces – a bonus in a side lacking goals.
If Liverpool have a decent starting eleven it is in reserve they may be found wanting. It is therefore down to the likes of Shelvey to step-up and provide sufficient cover for those likely to feature more prominently. He has the attributes to do so and is evidently rated by the Anfield hierarchy – who awarded him a new contract in June.
It would be foolish to announce he is destined for greatness but there is quality to be tapped into. If anything the lack of squad investment may aid his progress, inadvertently bringing-about more game time. Had we secured rumoured targets he may well have been shipped-out on loan once more, not always as beneficial as intended. Unlike the confidence-ridden Henderson you feel Shelvey can seize his chances and make things happen for himself. The run-up to Christmas is the ideal time to do just that.
John Henry’s letter highlighted the emphasis being paid to youth. Liverpool’s immediate future therefore rests on the likes of Shelvey and Sterling excelling at the top level and paving the way for others to follow suit from The Academy. It is a bold, cost-effective approach which brings its own risks. For Brendan Rodgers sake, let’s hope the kids are alright.