Zenit St. Petersburg centre-forward Salomon Rondon is on Liverpool’s list of targets this summer, and Jack Lusby explores what he could bring to Anfield.
While Liverpool contemplate whether they can justify spending £32.5 million on Aston Villa‘s Christian Benteke this summer, another under-the-radar target has emerged in Zenit St. Petersburg centre-forward Salomon Rondon.
Reports surfaced as Reds CEO Ian Ayre flew out to Chile to seal the deal to sign Roberto Firmino while he was on Brazil duty at the Copa America that Rondon and Carlos Bacca were also being targeted.
Rondon, whose Venezuela crashed out in the group stages after losing to Brazil, is said to be available for £15 million.
With Bacca heading to Milan, Rondon now stands as de facto second choice behind Benteke this summer.
So just who is Liverpool’s centre-forward target?
Growing up Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, Rondon started his footballing career with seven years at local side San Jose de Calasanz, before moving on to Deportivo Gulima, and then Aragua, before making the move to Spain to join Las Palmas.
Enjoying a relatively prolific goalscoring success at each of these clubs, it wasn’t until La Liga side Malaga—soon-to-be fronted by now-Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini and backed by significant Qatari funding—that Rondon rose to European prominence.
Leaving Malaga in 2012, Rondon joined Russian Premier League side Rubin Kazan, before switching to Zenit in January, for an eight-figure fee.
At 6’2″ and over 13st, it is easy to pinpoint Rondon’s natural strengths, and for Malaga, Rubin Kazan and Zenit he has operated in the target-man role up front.
He is strong and comfortable holding the ball up, and intelligent in his use of lay-offs.
However, he is also able to operate as a channel-running forward, working off the shoulder of opposing defenders.
His finishing ability has progressed rapidly since moving to Russia, and he has averaged almost a goal every other game with Rubin Kazan and Zenit, with 33 goals in 71 Russian Premier Leaaue appearances.
He was joint-second highest goalscorer last term, behind only Brazil international Hulk (15), having scored 13 goals in 26 games.
However, whether this is due to the comparatively low quality of opposition in Russia is another matter entirely. But he did still average a goal every 196 minutes in his two seasons with Malaga—again, almost a goal every other game—having scored 25 in 67 La Liga outings.
In 2012, Pellegrini described him as “a young man who likes to work hard,” and learning from former Manchester United hotshot Ruud van Nistelrooy at Malaga aided his development.
However, there are key weaknesses to Rondon’s game that Liverpool should consider this summer.
Rondon’s main weakness, which may deter Liverpool targeting him as the first-choice centre-forward that can compensate for the injury issues that Sturridge has faced, is his lack of consistency.
The 25-year-old has long been a player who can switch from Olivier Giroud to Yannick Sagbo levels of output from game to game.
Take his contribution to the 2014/15 Russian Premier League season for Zenit.
Rondon opened the campaign with four goals in his first three games—one in the season opener against Arsenal Tula, followed by a brace at home to Torpedo Moscow, then another goal in a 2-1 win over Ural Sverdlovsk Oblast.
After that, however, he didn’t score for four games before notching a hat-trick in a 5-0 win over FK Rostov in September.
This pattern continued throughout the season, with Rondon suffering a seven-game goal drought immediately following that hat-trick, before scoring another three against Ural in March.
In his last 10 league games, Rondon scored three goals—he is extremely inconsistent, and that is exactly what Liverpool don’t need.
This is largely due to his questionable fitness.
He completed the full 90 minutes just seven times in his 28 league games last term, coming off the bench nine times and being substituted on 10 occasions.
This is all despite the Russian Premier League taking a three-month break over winter, owing to its unplayably harsh conditions.
So there is a huge question over whether Rondon could adapt to the rigours of the Premier League, but if Liverpool believe he is capable of doing so, where does he fit into Rodgers’ squad?
Where Rondon Would Fit in at Liverpool
It is clear that Liverpool need a striker, and going by the well-publicised pursuit of Benteke, it is clear that the Reds are changing their specification of striker required this summer.
Rondon suits that bulky, physical target-man role perfectly, and has also shown he can play within a technical system like Liverpool’s.
He could take up a lone centre-forward’s role in Rodgers’ starting lineup.
His attributes lend to that job description, but also his difference in style when compared to Sturridge suggests they could form a big-man, little-man partnership in a 4-4-2 when the England man is fit, for example.
However, does Rondon have the quality to truly alter Liverpool’s fortunes?
At £15 million, Rondon represents a lower-value alternative when compared to £32.5 million Benteke, but the Venezuelan would be more of a risk signing this summer.
Could he adapt to the Premier League? Could he maintain a higher level of consistency in Rodgers’ system? Could he improve his fitness to compensate for Sturridge’s injury-prone status?
He is a mid-level prospect with potential for growth, and if a Premier League club took a gamble on him this summer, they could unearth a 15-goal-a-season gem a la Giroud.
But there are too many question marks for Liverpool to risk.
In that respect, opting to spend double the money on Benteke would be the more sensible move for the Reds.
It is encouraging that Liverpool’s transfer committee are turning to the South American market this summer, but Rondon may not be the right target to propel the Reds back towards the top four.
Should Liverpool target Zenit St. Petersburg centre-forward Salomon Rondon this summer? Let us know in the comments below.