We take a look at how, regardless of Luis Suarez’s future, Liverpool can and will have an extremely strong attacking quartet at their disposal next season – key to it though is the prospective signing of Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
First off, let’s make one thing clear – Liverpool will be a stronger side with Luis Suarez next season than without. Let’s not kid ourselves that removing one of the best players in the world, who scored 30 goals last season, would make us a better team. It wouldn’t.
But, and here’s the key, provided Liverpool can complete a deal for Shaktar’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan there is no reason to be overly concerned about requiring a replacement for Suarez immediately.
By all reports, Mkhitaryan is a very versatile, two-footed player with an eye for goal. He can play in any of the forward positions but is most suited to a central attacking midfield role. He has operated in a ‘false 9’ position up front but can equally fill any of the three attacking positions behind the central forward.
Should Suarez leave, Daniel Sturridge – we can safely assume – will become the main centre forward.
In terms of other options, Rodgers then has Fabio Borini – who I feel can definitely grow into the role (remember, he’s only 22) – new signing Iago Aspas, and then Mkhitaryan. That’s four players who can play centrally – certainly more than we had last September when we were looking at Adam Morgan and Samed Yesil to play there.
Aspas, I believe, will operate most effectively in the role occupied by Stewart Downing for the latter half of last season on the right of the attacking three. Also left footed, Aspas can cut inside, leaving space for the overlapping full-back to exploit. Where Aspas will improve us is his more direct play and eye for goal.
That then leaves Philippe Coutinho to operate similarly from the left, with him free to cut inside, interchange with Mkhitaryan and again allow the attacking full-back to use the space out wide. It would be a very fluid front four.
Should Suarez leave, Liverpool are left with even greater options. Suarez could operate the wide right role or the central role. Again, a fluid attack is created and plenty of options for the manager.
Without European football next season it will be an extremely competitive squad. So far I’ve discussed the main four options for the four attacking positions. But even behind them there are adequate back-ups in the form of youngsters Raheem Sterling, Suso and Jordan Henderson. Borini can play central, left, or right; Aspas can play central or out wide; Mkhitaryan as above.
[table id=12 /]
As Rafa would say, possibilities.
This is without the expected addition of Sevilla’s Luis Alberto; he’s only a few months younger than Jonjo Shelvey and likely a like-for-like replacement but one who can operate more comfortably in the attacking positions and who is technically more capable.
I expect we will see Stewart Downing leave this summer. His wage and age (29 this summer) mean such a decision makes economic sense. It is difficult for Liverpool to justify paying him higher wages than those ahead of him in selection. All part of the healing process from financial mismanagement of the past. As above, I expect he’ll be replaced by Aspas – who can play a similar role, fit the system better, but will be on half the wages and five years younger.
Keeping Suarez would, despite his mis-guided and ill-judged public courting for a move to Madrid, be a positive. Add him in to the table above and you have attacking options better than any other team in the Premier League.
Here’s hoping to we can get Mkhitaryan signed and move on to other areas to strengthen.