By David Lynch
The first signing a manager makes at a new club often says everything about their views on what the squad they have inherited lacks and, in this sense, Brendan Rodgers is no different.
The Northern Irishman made Fabio Borini his first acquisition at Liverpool on Friday, after clinching a deal to bring the striker in from Roma for a fee believed to be in the region of £11 million – and it is not hard to see why.
For all the criticism Kenny Dalglish’s Reds attracted, few could argue that his was a side that boasted defensive solidarity and an easy-on-the-eye brand of football. However, one fatal flaw undid much of that good work – a scarcely believable profligacy in front of goal.
Borini’s career statistics are of course too small a sample from which to derive whether the Italian is a natural finisher to cure this ill, but they are a start.
Six goals in nine appearances for Swansea under Rodgers followed by nine more in 24 for Roma are indicative of a man who certainly knows where the net is, more so than his new colleagues evidenced last term at least.
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But football teams are finely-tuned machines, the improvement of one part so regularly produces problems in another – where Borini will fit is as important as his own credentials as a player.
That Rodgers will deploy the 4-3-3 formation which has served him so well thus far is not in doubt but, following the arrival of a striker you would expect to lead the line, there is no room for all of the club's forward options.
The 39-year-old’s noncommittal response to questions on Andy Carroll, the current owner of the Reds' famed No.9 shirt, did little to quell speculation over his future at Anfield.
Whether the imposing forward can fit into the fluid passing game which will surely be the hallmark of the Merseyside club next season had been rightly questioned, but Rodgers’ clear openness to loaning the player out was surprising.
Though the club’s owners Fenway Sports Group may be slightly uncomfortable with the thought of it, Carroll’s £35m pricetag quite clearly holds no weight with Rodgers. This is year zero; transfer sums beyond those paid by the new man have no relevance. You either fit the bill or you don’t - it seems Carroll does not.
But what of the 23-year-old’s strike partner, Luis Suarez? Borini’s arrival will not mean the talented forward’s place in the team or squad is lost, of course, but it appears a change of role is in the offing. The Uruguayan was a wasted asset at times for the Reds last season, rarely fully showing the talent it is clear he possesses due to the restrictive nature of Dalglish’s 4-4-2 formation.
Now, Rodgers has the opportunity to return the former Ajax man to a position which recent history suggests is rightly his. Though true success may not have come his way at club level yet, the 25-year-old has played a key part in Uruguay’s recent emergence as a force in world football.
The South American side have followed up their Copa America victory of last summer by climbing up to as high as second in the Fifa rankings, and their position is no fluke. Walter Tabarez’s side are a gifted, well-drilled and entertaining team, and Suarez’s position on the right-hand side of a front three has much to do with that.
The 25-year-old has the trickery and eye for a pass which make him perfectly suited for the role and last season’s trademark mazy runs may now get the finish they deserve should he not feel he has to drop deep to help out an uninspired midfield pairing.
With a player of the quality of Suarez potentially taking a wider role though, Stewart Downing’s task of atoning for a diabolical debut season becomes much harder.
In reality, the touchline-hugging winger has little to contribute to Rodgers’ Liverpool; he is too conventional and is representative of a style of play which is, frankly, too English for this new-look Anfield.
Of course in Maxi Rodriguez the former Swansea boss had a stop-gap to alleviate this problem, but the Argentine’s departure to his home country – one which Rodgers actively tried to prevent – means more work in the transfer market may be afoot.
If this is the case, then it is clear the new Liverpool manager will be reluctant to find himself fighting fires in other areas of the pitch and this has huge consequences for midfielder Alberto Aquilani. Rodgers’ stance over Carroll is warning that reputation or transfer fee have little relevance, the Italian’s wages and past failures will not taint an assessment of the player’s qualities.
So, though Borini might be viewed as the first significant arrival of what Reds fans will hope is a successful dynasty, his immediate impact on a squad in transition is clear. Rodgers now has difficult decisions to make all over the pitch off the back of his maiden signing coming in. Who'd be a manager?
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