Liverpool's Task Just Got A Lot More Difficult

Liverpool's starting line-up at Bournemouth revealed a worrying lack of squad depth in the race for the top four. With Mata joining United, the Reds' hopes have taken a real blow...

Last Updated: 27/01/14 at 09:36 Post Comment

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As Juan Mata landed at Manchester United's training ground to undergo a medical ahead of his £37m transfer from Chelsea, Liverpool were battling their way to a scrappy 2-0 win over Bournemouth. Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, Steven Gerrard and Philippe Coutinho all started the match, underlining the lack of squad depth available to Brendan Rodgers in the fight for the top four.

Suarez said recently that Liverpool have an advantage in the title race as their leading rivals face gruelling Champions League last-16 ties in February and March, but bridging the eight-point gap to first is no longer the priority for the Reds. In truth, it has never been the priority, despite Rodgers' brief distraction before the 2-2 draw with Aston Villa. The aim this season is to secure a return to the Champions League after a five-year absence, and to do that Liverpool must maintain their lead over the champions - a challenge that suddenly seems a lot more difficult.

As I wrote this week Mata is not a quick fix for United, given David Moyes' failings this season and questions over the quality of the rest of the squad. But Liverpool will be wary of a phenomenon now widely referred to as the 'Ozil effect', when one player can lift the mood of a club to such a degree that anything seems possible. Last season the 'Fergie factor' was a defining feature of United's success, this year the club are pinning their hopes on the force of Mata.

It might be just enough to rein in Liverpool, Everton and Tottenham, with the forthcoming midweek fixtures presenting the champions with the perfect opportunity to close the gap to fourth. However, while Moyes has strengthened and looks set to spend again before the transfer window closes next Friday, Rodgers' hands have remained tied. At one stage, a deal for Mohamed Salah appeared close, but the Reds' interest in the winger ended with the familiar sense of frustration that followed failed pursuits of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Willian in the summer.

The problem for Liverpool is the same as always. The biggest names - such as Mata - remain reluctant to join a club outside the Champions League while the vast majority of alternatives - Fabio Borini, Iago Aspas and Aly Cissokho - simply aren't of the standard required. The Reds worked wonders to bring in Coutinho and Sturridge last January, but the club's business since that double swoop suggests it was the exception that proves the rule.

In many ways Liverpool have been right not to gamble on unproven targets who could easily turn out to be the next Borini or Aspas, but that will be of little comfort to expectant supporters. They will know that Mata's move tips the scales back in United's favour, leaving hopes of tangible reward at the end of the season in peril. Rodgers has overseen an impressive season of progress thus far, but unless he can pull a rabbit out of the hat in the final week of the window it could all count for very little come May.

Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.

Liverpool have seemed to do well without those players mentioned at different parts of the season. Also considering defeat in the FA cup last year I would think rodgers didn't want a repeat. So what if he's using the same and strongest team as much as he can! Is this bad? They clearly have the players to step up as I mentioned earlier so what is this based on. Rodgers found coutinho and sturridge who everyone thought was flop material. Henderson has exploded on the scene this year as well after claims he wasn't good enough for Liverpool. He clearly knows his stuff and I wouldn't be one bit surprised if he pulled one out of the hat again. In my mind Liverpool tend to make players as they are a big club. Wouldn't be worried in the slightest about that squad. With Rodgers it will only get better I think.
- chrissb7

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