In recent times, the size of Liverpool’s squad has been a matter of concern in terms of quality rather than quantity. During the reins of Gerard Houllier and more recently Rafa Benitez, the Reds had struggled to build a squad full of reliable quality that would be able to compete over the course of a whole season on many different fronts, both domestically and in Europe.
While they have often had excellent first teams, the replacements to call on were not of the same calibre and Liverpool fell away in title challenges, most notably in 2008/09, where Manchester United eventually prevailed in the race for the Premier League title. United, with a squad with more depth, could call on ‘second string players’ such as John O’Shea and Darren Fletcher when they had players missing and could rely upon them to produce in the big matches. In contrast, Liverpool could draw only on the relative inexperience of players such as David N’Gog and Emiliano Insua along with substandard ones like Andrea Dossena , not capable of mounting a title charge at the highest level. The point is exaggerated further when you consider the fact that Liverpool beat Manchester United twice that season, including the famous 4-1 victory at Old Trafford. On that day Liverpool were at pretty much full strength, with only Xabi Alonso missing from what you would regard their first team. This shows that Liverpool, while they can match most elite clubs in terms of starting 11’s, have lacked the strength in depth that was needed to see them over line when required.
Now, since the arrival of Liverpool’s new ownership group, NESV (or FSG), the reds have splashed out in excess of £100m in order to address that problem, but in doing so they seem to have created a new one, allbeit far less of a concern. Under the stewardship of Damien Comolli and Kenny Dalglish, the reds have made some key acquisitions, the likes of Downing, Suarez, and Carroll who will undoubtedly add quality to what was already a healthy looking first team unit. But now comes the time for Liverpool to get rid of the deadwood that is accumulating at Anfield. John Henry has already indicated that he would like to reduce a bulging wage bill and Dalglish will certainly be looking to trim the size of his squad, not only to reduce the outgoings for wages, but also to give him the chance to blood more promising youngsters in the first team, as he did with the likes of John Flanagan and Martin Kelly so successfully last term. It seems as if Milan Jovanovic, Christian Poulsen and Joe Cole, high earning, yet seemingly past their best players will be sold to make room for better quality replacements such as the returning Alberto Aquilani, who has impressed in the club’s pre-season trip to Asia. Dalglish has also acknowledged the need for strenghtening of his defence, particularly on the left hand side. With Paul Konchesky moving to Leicester, Liverpool are left with options of injury plagued Fabio Aurelio or the unconvincing Emiliano Insua, the Argentine who returned from a loan spell with Galatasaray, and who’s long term future at Anfield is under question. If the Scot and Comolli can unearth someone of genuine quality to fill the void there, Liverpool are in as strong a position as they have been in for years.
Selection headaches such as whether to pick Charlie Adam or Brazil international Lucas Leiva are a far cry from in 2005 when Benitez was forced to use Djimi Traore in a Champions League Final. Liverpool will enter the 2011/12 season with one of the strongest first 11’s in the Premier League. But for the first time in many a year, the substitutes bench will be packed with quality too.
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