Jack Lusby explains why Liverpool can cope without the signing of Yevhen Konoplyanka, but does ponder whether the real failure was not signing elsewhere.
The aftermath of the January transfer window for Liverpool represented a significant opportunity spurned, with the club failing to sign a single player despite very public advances on several targets.
Managing Director Ian Ayre took the brunt of the criticism during the fallout: the considerably-browed Englishman was perhaps made the scapegoat for the misgivings of the club’s transfer process in general.
Apparent attempts to low-ball Swiss club FC Basel during the negotiations to sign now-Chelsea winger Mohamed Salah, along with a bizarre focus on strengthening the squad’s attacking options despite pressing defensive issues abound, serves to underline a questionable window for the club.
With tensions mounting, the club’s failure to sign Dnipro winger Yevhen Konoplyanka was the object of great frustration for many fans, and many may be somewhat relieved amid reports of a continued pursuit of the Ukrainian.
However, does not signing the winger, now or in the future, constitute a transfer disaster?
The Future of Luis Alberto
One of many in-house solutions to supplement Liverpool’s already proficient attack comes in the form of 21-year-old Spaniard Luis Alberto.
Since signing for the club in the summer for a considerable fee believed to be around £7m, Alberto hasn’t been offered the chances his valuation should perhaps demand.
All nine of his league appearances to date have come from the subs bench, with his longest stint lasting 28 minutes.
It can be argued that Brendan Rodgers has yet to ascertain where to most appropriately deploy Alberto, as his enduring qualities remain an enigma.
His assured ability on the ball, with a pass success rate of 85% so far according to Squawka, and reasonable physical frame could see the Spaniard vying with Joe Allen or Steven Gerrard for a deeper midfield role.
However, as Alberto is seemingly comfortable with the ball within attacking positions, with a skilful touch as evidenced by several neat flicks produced during the FA Cup win against Oldham in January, it seems most likely that he is suited in the Coutinho-role of attacking midfield.
In fact, according to Squawka, Alberto has created a chance every 48 minutes so far in the Premier League; elsewhere, the more established Coutinho has a similar rate of a chance every 44 minutes.
Naturally these figures are somewhat skewed by huge differences in game time, but they are nevertheless telling of the ability of Alberto.
In the absence of Konoplyanka, perhaps Rodgers should look towards the underused Alberto to provide competition for Coutinho in the left side of midfield.
Another option to provide for the failure to sign Konoplyanka would be to look at Liverpool players on spells further afield.
Several players have impressed so far on loan moves away from Anfield this season, two examples being Fabio Borini and Suso.
The subject of recalling loan players came to the fore during the latter stages of the transfer window following the announcement of a long-term injury to right-back Glen Johnson.
Many called for Derby’s impressive loanee Andre Wisdom to compensate for this loss, whilst left-back Jack Robinson was sighted at Melwood leading to rumours of talks to bring the temporary Blackpool charge back early.
Whilst unlikely at this juncture, legally or in the thoughts of Rodgers, Borini and Suso could be considered as figurative replacements for Konoplyanka.
20-year-old Suso is, by all accounts, impressing on his maiden loan spell at Almeria in his Spanish homeland, whilst Italian striker Borini continues to spurn Liverpool’s league rivals with his goals for Sunderland.
The initial reasoning for the loaning-out of both of these players was likely a problem with acclimatisation, along with the typical throes of youth, and what is to say that this wouldn’t happen with Konoplyanka?
The “success” rate of Ukrainian players in the Premier League is worryingly low, with ex-Liverpool misfit Andriy Voronin one example from many.
Whilst inconclusive, this may suggest that a move for Konoplyanka would be short-sighted.
Therefore rather than continue the increasingly characteristic Rodgers trend of buy, disappoint, exile, it may be more advantageous to look at those already tied to the club – be it this season with a recall, or the next.
Shuffling the Pack
As mentioned earlier, the signing of an attacking player this January would have constituted somewhat of a misguided decision.
It is widely regarded, dictated both by form and by current injuries, that positions in the midfield and defence are much more in need of reinforcing: no more pressing than at left-back, right-back, and defensive midfield.
In truth, whilst signing Konoplyanka would have significantly boosted the depth of the squad, it would likely have bent the nose of at least one current starter out of shape.
The imperious form of Raheem Sterling, the vitality of Coutinho, and the iconic status of Steven Gerrard more or less secure their positions.
Elsewhere, the continued growth of Jordan Henderson and the mature presence of Joe Allen in the midfield offer further options to a full-strength midfield.
The natural option for the cull would be defensive midfielder Lucas Leiva, whose persistent injury issues and diminished form suggest a place on the bench at best in the future.
However, the signing of Konoplyanka would not solve this problem position.
In the seemingly unlikely event of a wholly-fit squad, Rodgers has the luxury of a competitive group without the presence of Konoplyanka.
The absence of the Ukranian can be catered for from within; the transfer disaster for the foreseeable future would be the failure to strengthen elsewhere.