This coming Sunday marks the “official” start to the summer transfer window, aka “Summer Silly Season” and this particular campaign might just be the most important window in recent Liverpool history. Ask anyone that supports the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal and they’ll agree that Liverpool had a fantastic year, but they’ll also be quick to qualify that statement by noting the Reds didn’t have the “burden” of playing in Europe all season long. Next season will be different, they all promise. I’ve looked at the roster, and I certainly agree that improvements have to be made. But should roster depth really be that much of a concern? As a man with a degree in mathematics and a weird affinity for statistics, I decided to look at the numbers and analyze the current Liverpool roster by position and compare that to the rosters of the BPL clubs playing in Champions League last season. Hopefully this will help us understand the direction that the club needs to take in the three months of madness about to reign upon our social media feeds.
In order to address the idea of improving our roster depth, one must first understand what the proper depth needs to be. (Note: I want to address the issue of cup competitions and state that I have ignored these from roster consideration. Teams competing in Europe have been known to call in numerous reserves for the League Cup or early FA Cup matches). Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United were the four English teams playing Champions League and all four advanced to the knockout stage. For this comparison, I decided to ignore the Red Devils since they didn’t compete for the league and was in an obvious transition period following the departure or Sir Alex. Besides, the sight of anything about Manchester United makes me vomit slightly inside my mouth, and I was expecting this to be a lengthy in-depth statistical analysis. I’m sure I made the right call to drop their roster numbers from consideration. In the case of Arsenal and Chelsea, they both had 26 players make appearances in either the Premiership or Champions League (if not both). Manchester City only used 23 players all season. But that doesn’t really tell the entire story, because City had two players (Rodwell and Boyata) that only played a combined 6 BPL and one Champions League game. Surely those are roles that can be filled by reserves. Chelsea had six players that featured in 5 games or less (Kalas, Bertrand, Ake, Essien, DeBruyne, and Van Ginkel). Arsenal had three such players in that category (Miyaichi, Diaby, and Kallstrom). So if we assume that LFC will be filling in some mid-season gaps with role players off the reserves like these clubs apparently did, then it appears as though the minimum roster size should be no less than twenty players, and more likely it should be 21 or 22.
At present time there are 39 total players listed on the LFC professional roster. That may change on June 1, but for now I am using this exercise as a way to categorize each of those 39 players into one of three groups. SAFE players are the ones that deserve to be on the first team next season. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be, as some players have been rumored to pursue their trade elsewhere next season. But if they don’t move to another club, my expectation is that they’ll have a place with the first team. OUT players are the ones that hopefully won’t bruise their bum as they get kicked out the front door of Melwood. RESERVE/LOAN players are the youth team professionals that continue to season their skills on the reserve squad or on loan at lesser clubs in the Premiership or Championship. Let’s break down the 39 players by position.
GOALKEEPER – This is a no-brainer as you need a bona fide starter and decent backup. Only an injury would require a third keeper to play. Simon Mignolet has the starting position locked down. Brad Jones is a serviceable backup and can log minutes if need be. Some people argue that we should look to replace Jones, but I certainly wouldn’t commit much investment capital in a new backup keeper. Danny Ward is a highly-touted 21-year old Welsh keeper on the books, so perhaps he is ready to step up to the first team as a more permanent fixture on the bench. I’d consider both Mignolet and Jones as SAFE while Ward could probably serve himself well out on loan next season.
(Note: As I move the discussion into field players, I will comment that some players have “positional flexibility” and may be put into multiple categories. For the purposes of this analysis, the best-fit position was used.)
DEFENSE– Chelsea only needed to field six defenders all season long throughout both the domestic and European campaigns (note that they had three different reserve defenders play in a total of four Premiership games and one UCL game). Arsenal used seven defenders while Manchester City used eight. So clearly the club need to have anywhere from 6-8 defenders on the roster next season. In order to really get an idea of what we need, I looked at a more telling statistic. If Liverpool were to try and get away with using only six defenders, then how many games would the sixth-most-used defender need to play? It may not be the best term for the statistic, but since I created it I will call it the position’s “Critical Minimum Games (CMG).” What exactly does that mean? If you look the games played by Arsenal last season, you’ll note that the most meaningful games played in defense were Mertesacker (45), Sagna (44), Koscielny (41), Gibbs (36), Monreal (31), and Jenkinson (17). Do the same comparison for Chelsea’s roster and you’ll notice that Ashley Cole was their sixth-most-used defender at 22 games. Manchester City had Nastasic in the same spot at 17 games. So on average the 6th defender on the depth chart should be expected to play about 19-20 total games domestically and in Europe. That becomes that position’s CMG.
So where does that leave Liverpool defenders as it stands heading into this transfer window? My SAFE list is down to Agger, Jose Enrique, Flanagan, Sakho, and Skrtel. One could argue that Glen Johnson is worthy of being added to that list, but at his current wage rate I would not want to keep him around. I feel that he is too much of a defensive liability, and I just didn’t see the value offensively that supposedly comes from his forward runs. As of today, I am placing him on the OUT list alongside Kolo Toure, Martin Kelly, and Sebastian Coates. That still leaves us one player short of the minimum number of six defenders, and remember that the CMG for the 6th defender is 19 games. On the current roster, that 6th defender would likely come from one of the three promising 21-year old backs that spent last season on successful loans (Andre Wisdom, Tiago Ilori, and Conor Coady). But can you really see one of those guys stepping up and performing at a high level for 19 games? I can’t. Even still you must note that the status quo last season was simply not good enough! If it were me, I’d be comfortable with a guy like Enrique or Skrtel making only 19-20 games next season. So in my assessment, I’d like to see Liverpool go out and acquire a minimum of two quality defenders that will be able to step in the lineup and play at least 20 games next season. Note that also on the roster are four players that I would keep on the RESERVE/LOAN list for next season (Ryan McLaughlin, Brad Smith, Jack Robinson and Lloyd Jones).
MIDFIELDERS – This was certainly considered a position of strength for Liverpool last year, was it not? The question really is “do they have enough?” Last season, Arsenal and Chelsea both used nine midfielders in significant roles throughout the season. City used only seven. Let’s go ahead and make seven the minimum number of midfielders to carry throughout the season. What’s the CMG? David Silva appeared as the seventh-most-used midfielder for the Citizens with 24 games. Willian played in 36 games for Chelsea, and Aaron Ramsey matched the 31 games for Arsenal. That’s an average CMG of 30 games for your 7th midfielder, which is a lot of games played for the minimum requirement. Given the style of play that Brendan Rodgers favors, it would make sense to add more depth in midfield. The average CMG for an eighth midfielder is 18. That sounds more reasonable to me.
Liverpool’s current crop of midfielders is quite talented. Gerrard, Coutinho, Henderson, Sterling, Lucas Leiva, and Joe Allen clearly make the SAFE list. Assaidi had a decent loan spell at Stoke City last year, but I don’t believe it was enough to save his LFC career and I put him on the OUT list alongside Luis Alberto. That leaves the current roster with only five remaining midfielders, two of which are surely going straight to the RESERVE/LOAN list as Jordan Rossiter and Cameron Brannagan simply need more time to marinate into players. I can see a case for giving opportunities to youngsters Jordon Ibe, Teixeira, and Suso, but I don’t think any of them are prepared for the rigors of making 18 appearances next season, let alone 30! I recommend that Rodgers look hard to add a minimum of two more quality midfielders, knowing that they’ll have to feature and produce in about 20-25 games each next year.
FORWARDS – By far this will be the easiest assessment of the article. While Manchester City used only four forwards all season long, Chelsea only needed three. Arsenal used five strikers throughout the year, so it would appear that you need a minimum of four strikers on your roster. Then again, none of these teams had the two leading scorers in the league at their disposal, so I would venture to say that Liverpool only need a third option. That third striker, though, has been needed more often and carries an average CMG of 22 games. Remember, these statistics include games played as a substitute so it is just as important when Sturridge needs to come off in the 75th minute.
It goes without saying that Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge are firmly SAFE. The big question mark is Fabio Borini, returning from a successful loan at Sunderland where he scored ten goals in England’s top league. I’d be perfectly content to have him on the bench as our 3rd striker. Others may disagree, but I mark him as SAFE. Only Iago Aspas is on the OUT list, while I keep Samed Yesil and 18-year old Jerome Sinclair on the RESERVE/LOAN list. It would be nice to add depth to a strength, but in my assessment it would appear that Liverpool need zero strikers to be added to the roster at this time.
By my calculations, if you add the minimum requirements by position and you’ll still only be at a roster of twenty players. That may be acceptable for a team with the payroll of Chel$ki, but as noted earlier it would be necessary to get that number closer to 22 or 23.
|GOALKEEPERS (2)||DEFENDERS (6-8)||MIDFIELDERS (7-9)||FORWARDS (3-4)|
If you’ve made it this far into the article, I congratulate you! This was nothing more than a lengthy exercise to satisfy my own personal curiosity, as well as to see how the roster needs to look headed into the realm of European competition once again. While it is true that certain players may become available to Liverpool, like Adam Lallana or Yevhen Konoplyanka, but do they necessarily need to be impact players that start on a regular basis? I’m not so sure. Liverpool is rumored to have a significant sum of money to spend on adding talent. If you believe that sum of money to be in the ballpark of 60-million, then the average per four players that are “required” by the numbers should only be 15-million. If you want to cut that down and only spend on three players, that still leaves you at 20-million per transfer. Southampton has demanded in excess of 25-million for the services to acquire Adam Lallana. Perhaps now this makes it a little easier to see why teams like Liverpool are trying to stay on budget and not give-in to the temptations to grab that early deal. Buyer’s remorse is not an option. Last summer we failed with two signings from La Liga in Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto, both of whom should be departing Merseyside this summer. Rodgers cannot afford to make that magnitude of a mistake again this summer. There’s simply too much on the line.
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