On Thursday evening the January transfer window will close, leaving clubs up and down the country to compete until the end of the season with the squads they hold as the clock strikes not-quite-midnight. In the aftermath of Liverpool’s FA Cup elimination at the hands of Oldham, it will be clear to Brendan Rodgers how many and exactly what amendments will need to be made to his own squad list.
On Sunday, Rodgers’ men were outplayed, outfought and – most worryingly – outwitted by Oldham Athletic. The Liverpool manager, of course, should be held as accountable for this woeful display as his players.
Hindsight, as they say, is a wonderful thing. However, the imbalance and immaturity in Liverpool’s starting eleven was identifiable before a ball had even been kicked at Boundary Park. A defence including 19-year-old full-backs Jack Robinson and Andre Wisdom as well as 22-year-old Sebastian Coates were troubled time and again by The Latics’ combination of brooding striker Matt Smith and the diminutive – yet threatening – playmaker, Jose Baxter. Liverpool’s young defence were not helped by an inexcusable lack of protection down, in part, to Rodgers’ selection of just two central midfielders in the form of the similarly inexperienced partnership of Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen. It was also naïve, if not disrespectful, of Rodgers to deploy four attackers from the start given Liverpool’s struggle to defeat Mansfield in the third round of the competition - a team two divisions below even Oldham.
The left side of defence has been a position identified by Liverpool fans as needing strengthened since before the start of the season. While the regular incumbent of the left-back berth, Jose Enrique, has returned to the form he displayed at the beginning of his Liverpool career, there is still a lack of adequate cover. Stewart Downing has operated deeper than his regular position at times this season with mixed success and although Jack Robinson is clearly a talented youngster, his performance at Oldham illustrated the need for a loan move to pick up some experience before he can establish himself in the Liverpool first team.
Though slightly older than Robinson, Coates too was unconvincing in the embarrassing defeat. The Uruguayan arrived in Merseyside last summer after a string of impressive performances for his national side on the way to winning the Copa America. In his physique and ability to read the game, Coates has occasionally shown glimpses of why he is such a highly-acclaimed young player. However, more often than not, his performances in a Liverpool shirt have been bumbling and inattentive rather than commanding or authoritative. It would not be ludicrous to suggest that Rodgers does not see Coates in his grand plan for Liverpool Football Club given his lack of pace, agility and consequent unsuitability to play in a high defensive line. There has been talk throughout this transfer window of Coates being shipped out on loan to sides like Steve Clarke’s West Brom - Clarke renowned in the game for his defensive coaching – or even sold in a permanent deal to the Brazilian club, Gremio. There is no doubt that should Coates cut out the all too frequent lapses of concentration in his game, he will go on to become a fine defender. Just perhaps not for Liverpool.
Liverpool were bullied by Oldham. With the absence of Lucas Leiva, the linchpin of their midfield, the visitors never looked like physically dominating their opponents. However, even with Leiva in the side, Liverpool have been outmuscled by other, more imposing, teams all season. It has been clear for all to see that the Brazilian has not yet fully recovered neither physically nor mentally from the ligament damage he suffered last season. Brendan Rodgers must know that his team are missing that monstrous presence in midfield. That presence need not be a gangly, athletic Vieira-type - contrary to the popular opinion of what constitutes the modern day ‘midfield presence’. Indeed, Liverpool’s last midfield monster, Javier Mascherano, hunts his prey at a Lilliputian 5”9.
The aforementioned lack of experienced heads in the Liverpool team is perhaps the deepest running issue Rodgers will need to amend. That doesn’t look to be happening, though. Not in this window anyway. 23-year-old Daniel Sturridge is, at the time of writing, the only arrival of this window. However 20-year-old playmaker Coutinho looks set to join as does Blackpool forward Tom Ice – also just 20-years-old. Liverpool don’t seem particularly concerned about the potentially perilous consequences of having a team so reliant on youth. Aston Villa have adopted the same strategy this season – they’re currently sitting 17th in the league, 1 point away from the relegation zone. Words of warning from the captain seem to have had no effect on the club’s recruitment policy either, Steven Gerrard recently commented in an interview that he doesn’t agree with the youth-only policy and that experienced players are crucial to compete in the Premier League. “I disagree with the policy to be honest. I can understand the policy that everyone wants young, bright, British players but I don't agree 100% that that should be the only way. I think you've got to add experience to young gifted players as well because in this league and at this level you need experience.”
Not long after the final whistle was blown on Sunday, resigning Liverpool to the acceptance that their only realistic chance of a trophy this season lies with the much mocked Europa League, Rodgers seemed to hint that reinforcements - experienced or not - will be brought in before Thursday’s deadline. “It’s just about strength in depth and we haven’t got enough depth”. “I’m bitterly disappointed with my young players”, he sighed. “This was a chance for them to show they could play for Liverpool”. For the first time since his arrival at the club, the Liverpool manager is showing signs of losing patience with his fledgling starlets. There’s no doubt that at present the team are heavily reliant on those same starlets. Rodgers clearly wants to put that right but the clock is ticking.