A matter of knife and depth

(the “knife” in the headline refers to the surgeon’s knife, and nothing dangerous)

With the signing of Aurelio, Liverpool now finally have a starting left-back. While I would also love Insua to stay, it would be hard to argue that he’d start over Aurelio if both stay fit. Aurelio, of course, was excellent for Liverpool whenever he played, and was especially noticeable by his absence last year when we looked considerably weaker on the left with the young Insua starting. He was also statistically the most attacking left-back in the league in terms of goals and assists in 2008-2009. Additionally, with either Jovanovic, Babel or Cole possibly starting on the left for Liverpool, we will have a right footed player on the left wing, so Aurelio can give us the width on that side. He also gives us options with set-pieces. However, the elephant in the room is starting to make some noise and I will have to get to it – INJURIES!!!

Injury record of the most likely starting XI for Liverpool

XI: 25 starts, 3 subs
Outfield: 23.7 starts, 3.3 subs

(I have only taken Lucas’s last season into consideration because he wasn’t a starting player in the 2 previous seasons)

XI: 24.7 starts, 3.3 subs
Outfield: 23.4 starts, 3.6 subs

Aurelio has only started 40 games out of a possible 114 in the last three years, a very low number for someone who has been the best player in his position for the team. Unfortunately, that can be said of a lot of our team – Aquilani, Agger, Cole and Torres are all very injury prone. Those 5 have an average of ONLY 15.6 starts a season and 20.3 appearances overall, not very encouraging numbers considering the lack of depth in the squad. Add to that the fact that Glen Johnson and Gerrard have had their share of injury problems as well, and you are looking at a very unstable squad.

Our new Head of Sports Medicine and Sports Science, Peter Brukner, will have his job cut out for him, but I’m sure he’ll be up to it. How much of it is in his hands, however, is to be seen. You can take measures to ensure the players stay fit, but an injury-prone player will remain injury-prone, especially with the kind of recurring injuries Torres (hamstring), Aquilani (ankle) and Aurelio (every single part of his frickin body) have.

Roy can also do his bit to help the problem, and that is increase squad depth at the cost of first-team quality. Manchester United had a terrible injury crisis last year, with Carrick and Fletcher playing in defence at one point, but when you have utility men like John O’Shea and other squad members more than capable of filling in the boots of the first-team players such as Wes Brown, the Da Silva brothers, Anderson & Michael Owen, you can still get the results against “lesser” teams.

So what positions will we need to strengthen the most? A lot of fans want to see a new striker, but I believe we have sufficient cover for that position. If N’Gog isn’t good enough to stand in as cover for Torres, then Jovanovic and Dirk Kuyt can do the job in his absence. What is more important is a quick winger who can also play in the middle. Ryan Babel is the only one in the team who has the pace and ability to make a difference on the wing, but whether he has the consistency to do that is questionable. Not only will such a player provide us the width we’ve been lacking for so long (under both Benitez and Houllier), he can give us a Plan B. It is also important that any wide player that we sign can also play in the middle because all three of our attacking midfielders – Cole, Aquilani and Gerrard – are injury-prone.

The second position where we seem to be lacking depth is the full-back position. Whether Insua is staying or not, we will need a cover for left-back considering the amount of time Aurelio will inevitably spend on the bench. Our other option is Johnson playing on the left, but that leaves the right side short of cover. The ideal player in this situation would be someone who can play on both sides, and possibly at defensive mid as well, like a two-footed Mascherano. I would’ve said across the back four and defensive midfield, but we have six centre-backs, so that is a position that is sorted.

Lastly, I think we need someone who can play in either a central or a defensive midfield position. Lucas is the only person who can do that right now, and even he was converted from a somewhat attacking player to a slightly defensive one.

Who comes in is up to Roy, but this much is for sure – our squad at this moment requires a lot of luck in terms of fitness for us to contemplate a top four finish. I’m not saying it’s beyond Liverpool’s ability to bounce back, or that we will have an injury crisis as strong as last season, but Arsenal, Spurs & City all have deeper squads, and the battle for fourth will be even more heated than last season.

Likely starting XI