According to reports this week, Lazar Markovic could be one of those sold this summer, just over 10 months since joining for £20 million from Benfica.
Tony Barrett of The Times (£) suggests that the 21-year-old may well join the likes of Glen Johnson, Jose Enrique and Fabio Borini in walking through the Anfield exit door in the coming weeks, which will come as a surprise to many.
While it is fully understandable to have expected a little more from Markovic in his maiden season on Merseyside, to sell him this soon would be extremely unfair.
The Serbia international is clearly a talent with bags of potential, and unlike Johnson, Enrique and others, is at an age where he is worth persevering with.
There are clear reasons why he hasn’t yet succeeded at Anfield, too.
Played out of Position
Markovic made his name for Benfica as an attacking wide man, predominantly on the left-hand side of a front three, and he moved to Liverpool with a reputation as one of Europe’s most exciting young players.
Former Chelsea manager Avram Grant famously claimed that, “apart from Ronaldo and Messi, Markovic is one of the best talents I’ve ever seen at 19 years of age”, while Blues midfielder and compatriot Nemanja Matic said, “he could be one of Europe’s best players in his position”.
It seems baffling, therefore, that during the 2014/15 campaign, Markovic virtually never played in his favoured position at any point.
In fact, it was only on his debut as a substitute at Man City in August that he has played there, and he looked very promising, combining pace, dribbling and an admirable work rate to good effect.
On his Anfield bow—the 1-0 loss at home to Aston Villa in September—Brendan Rodgers first deployed the flying winger on the right flank, a role which would endure.
Markovic failed to ignite in that role, and while this was partly down to growing accustomed to the pace and power of the Premier League, being played out of position certainly played its part.
A needless red card against Basel in the Champions League didn’t help matters either.
When Rodgers decided to change his system to 3-4-2-1 following a string of wretched results, Markovic shone on several occasions at both right and left wing-back.
His most notable performance came at Sunderland in January, when he scored the game’s only goal and was the Reds’ greatest attacking threat.
The 3-4-2-1 was soon negated by opponents, however, and Markovic’s form and overall influence dimished because of it.
Surplus to Requirements?
Having featured sporadically up until Liverpool‘s 2-1 win over City at Anfield in early April, Markovic was seemingly cast aside by Rodgers.
While Markovic’s form had clearly not been at its best, the decision to completely fade him out—given the fact plenty of others were also struggling—makes little sense on the manager’s behalf.
There have been endless opportunities for Rodgers to start the former Benfica man on the left of a front three, perhaps with Raheem Sterling on the right and Philippe Coutinho in a ‘false nine’ role, but it’s never remotely looked like happening.
This lack of playing time has to be of concern for Markovic, and Rodgers has shown in the past that once he gives up on a player, the end is invariably nigh.
If Liverpool did decide to offload Markovic in the summer it would be a very poor decision. With it looking more and more likely that FSG will give Brendan Rodgers another year in charge, why are they not showing a similar level of patience with a 21-year-old full of raw talent?
Of course, just two goals in 19 league appearances—three in 34 in all competitions—is disappointing when £20 million has been paid for his services, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
As Jack Lusby perfectly eludes to for Bleacher Report, “Markovic has been a victim of his own versatility”.
He has shown that he can perform in a number of other roles, and because of it, he has never been able to truly show what he’s made of in a position where he terrorised defenders back in Portugal.
Judging any young player after just one season in arguably Europe’s most physically demanding league is harsh, let alone one who has not yet been let off his leash.
There is no guarantee that Markovic will blossom into the world-beater some expect him to be one day, but he has to be given at least another year to sway the doubters.
With Sterling looking ever more likely to move away this summer, who’s to say Markovic won’t slot into the Englishman’s role and really start to make a name for himself?
Statistics via WhoScored.