Saturday’s 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa, who have their own set of striker problems, only told half the story. Their defensive frailties showed against an impressively powerful Christian Benteke, as the young Belgian striker terrified a weak back four including winger Stewart Downing operating as a left back, and reminded the Kop faithful of one of their own former players, Emile Heskey. But it was the lack of finishing up front that will have shocked Rodgers the most. Luis Suarez has been in blistering form this season, despite the lack of support from a fellow striker, but was woeful against a team that has struggled this season. With 26 shots on goal in the match, Liverpool could only hit the back of the net once (late on effort by Stevie Gerrard), which highlights their inefficiencies. Whilst Suarez has shown in the past, especially in Holland that he can lead the line, he is not an out-and-out goalscorer in the same ilk as a Kevin Phillips or Michael Owen. Suarez likes to have time on the ball and work his way into the box, rather than hang about the 6 yard line to snap up opportunities as they arrive. With Liverpool’s wing quality in Downing and Henderson, they really should be focusing on pushing the ball wide and whipping the ball into the danger area for a striker, or unfortunate defender to stab the ball home. But it’s not quite in line with the passing game that Rodgers wants Liverpool to adapt. He dreams of them emulating Barcelona and waltzing the ball into the net with finesse and style. Unfortunately for Rodgers, Barcelona had 10 years to get this right, a talented youth system and a slower paced league to perfect this.
Rodgers does have a series of quality young players coming through and so far he hasn’t shown any fear in throwing them to the proverbial wolves. Indeed Raheem Sterling has been one of the brightest points of this somewhat forgettable first half of the season, as the 17-year-old excited the Liverpool fans with his wing play, eventually enough that Roy Hodgson and England took noticed and the player was capped. Along side him summer signing Joe Allen, who arrived with Rodgers from Swansea has also shone but the pair look fatigued already as they are asked to play one too many games. The lack of depth to the squad, especially up front is taking its toll on its younger players who are working twice as hard to gain the vital three points than they would be if Liverpool actually had a target man who they could pass some of the burden off too. With Liverpool sitting in 12th spot in the league with only 22 points after 17 games ( and more alarming a zero goal difference), Rodgers knows he needs to buy or at least bring in a striker on loan for the rest of the season. His passing game will eventually pay off but without points on the board and the Reds slipping further away from the coveted Champions League slots, he may not get the time to see his ideas come to reality.
Rodgers needs at least one, if not two front men and the media is already speculating who they might be. Ironically, Aston Villa’s Darren Bent, who failed to feature again in the 3-1 victory over Liverpool, may be the perfect option. With a habit of turning up in the right spot at the right time, he has a proven record for goalscoring in the league. Villa manager Paul Lambert obviously dislikes Bent, or at least his attitude or professionalism enough not to select him, favouring the younger pairing of Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann ahead of the England player. So it looks as though Bent has no choice but to leave so Liverpool may be the right choice for him. However the likely stumbling block will be the fee, with Villa keen to recoup most of the £24 million they paid Sunderland for Bent’s services in 2011.
If Bent is off the table, they could look towards Europe and in particular Holland once more, raiding Heerenveen for Serbian striker Filip Djuricic. The 20-year-old has impressed this season in Holland with 3 goals in 17 games and breaking into his national team recently has only elevated his growing stature across Europe but the player is still very young and unproven so could be a costly risk to Rodgers. The northern irish boss knows that whoever he buys will have no bedding in time but instead will need to hit the ground running and get on the score sheet as Liverpool look to climb the league. Djuricic would struggle with the language at first and the pace of the game which is much faster than in Holland. An option closer to home is Charlie Austin. The Burley striker has been on fire this season with 20 goals in 18 games so far and would fit nicely into Rodgers passing philosophy. At 23 years old, he has come through the lower divisions in style, smashing goals in regardless of where he has played so is likely to continue that at Liverpool with much improved service. The only question that lies with Austin would be his ability to take the next step up in his career. In the Championship, Austin gets the space he needs to turn and shoot but in the Premiership, he will be afforded no such luxury. The years are riddled with examples of players who have scored for fun in the lower leagues but struggled to make any impact in England’s top division.
Then there is Andy Carroll. Liverpool’s most expensive signing of all time at a mere £35 million, Carroll was shipped off out on loan to West Ham on the last day of the transfer window, even as Rodgers failed to secure another striker. The decision to dismiss the tall England striker has confused many but quite simply Carroll doesn’t quite fit into the passing style that Rodgers sees as the future. The former Newcastle front man, prefers the more direct route where he can head the ball down or get on the end of a long ball with a volley or shin. Whilst he doesn’t fit into the existing style however, he could still do a job from the bench as Liverpool search for an equalizer late in the game. When all else fails, he would be there to play the more direct game and cause defenders a problem or too. But Rodgers knows he is not the answer to his striking problems. Carroll, for all that he scored for Newcastle in the Championship, has struggled to get goals in the Premiership. Having only scored 6 goals for Liverpool in 44 games, he left to go to Upton Park but hasn’t had much success there either – 1 goal in 10 games. He is not a Michael Owen or an Ally McCosit who hovered around that 6 yard line like a bee on honey.
The answer is not fully clear on who Rodgers should turn too but what is clear is that he needs to act fast to save Liverpool’s season and his job. He knows that if Suarez and to a lesser extent Gerrard get injured over the last 6 months of the season, that goal difference could quite easily tur into a negative. How much money he will have to spend with effect who he signs, with rumours suggesting £10 million may be the most he gets for squad improvements. If that’s the case, he may have to take a leaf out of Harry Redknapp’s book and look for bargains across Europe or in the free transfer market. The likes of Nicklas Helenius of Aalborg BK may prove to be the type of player he needs, and at a bargain price. Similarly Dario Cvitanich of Nice in France, who played with Suarez at Ajax may be worth a look. Either way he needs to invest quickly and sensibly to avoid further defeats. With Newcastle Jets recently announcing they have been issued a winding up order, former Kop hero Emile Heskey may be looking for a club once more. Rodgers knows he needs to considered all options to stop the rot.