There has been much criticism of Liverpool's failure to complete any major signings in January. It has also been questioned why the Anfield club were targeting attackers, such as Mohamed Salah - who went to Chelsea from Basel - and Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk's Yevhen Konoplyanka - who could yet move in the summer - instead of looking at defenders.
With the likes of fellow £7million men Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto already going relatively unused as backup to the abundance of attack-minded players in Brendan Rodgers' starting line-ups, the transfer window policy did seem unusual.
Not only that but Liverpool also have three attackers out on loan this season who are enjoying excellent campaigns and could return to Merseyside in the next campaign as significantly better players. That makes the pursuit of Salah and Konoplyanka seem additionally strange.
Here, we look at the encouraging form of those three loanees, youngsters Suso and Fabio Borini and 25-year-old Oussama Assaidi, as reasons for optimism at Liverpool. They might not be giving the mid-season boost which January signings could have brought but they could be significant assets in the next season and beyond to mean not signing Salah and Konoplyanka is not the end of the world.
Position: Attacking Midfielder
On loan at: Almeria
The young Spaniard is a favourite with Liverpool fans and has been spoken of in excited terms on The Kop ever since he first joined the club's Academy in 2010.
Suso's quick feet, versatility, shooting and, above all, eye for a pass made an instant impact on Rodgers following the manager's subsequent arrival in the summer of 2012. Suso consequently made 20 appearances in the 2012/13 season despite still being only a teenager. He impressed but the majority of those appearances did come before the January transfer window of 2013 after which Suso lost his place to Philippe Coutinho.
Rodgers therefore decided to loan Suso to Almeria for the duration of the current 2013/14 season and the player has not looked back. In 20 La Liga appearances, Suso has an excellent six assists, the same total as the world's best two players - Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi - and Luka Modric. He has also scored two goals, one of which was a superb strike against Celta Vigo, while averaging 1.7 shots per game. He also averages 1.8 dribbles per game in Spain's top flight, which is only 0.2 less than Current Ballon d'Or Ronaldo.
At the same time, Suso has been attempting 21.9 passes and 1.1 key passes on average per game, which will be very encouraging for Rodgers. But his overall passing success rate is slightly disappointing at 72.8 per cent.
Suso is unquestionably improving with regular appearances in Spain and he told Liverpool's official website when back at his parent club's Melwood training ground during Spain's 2013 winter break: "I am playing every game and that is what I wanted. The difference between the clubs (Liverpool and Almeria) is very big but I went there (Almeria) to play and improve as a player." It is also proving a learning curve in terms of the required work ethic for Suso in playing for an Almeria side who are fighting against relegation at the same time as facing Spain's heavyweights. He said: "When you see yourself playing against Real Madrid and Barcelona, and other teams, you can see they are really good, really focused on the game, and running and working all of the time. If you do not work at least the same as them, you will not even touch the ball. When you see yourself in that situation, all you want to do is run and do everything."
A slight concern, perhaps as a consequence of his commitment, may be Suso's poor disciplinary record in Spain - where he has racked up seven yellow cards. That is only four less than Elche's Alberto Boita, who has the most bookings in La Liga this season. But there is otherwise plenty to be happy about for Liverpool and there are suggestions they could have a star player on their hands when Suso returns next season.
|La Liga 2013/14||Games||Goals||Assists||Key Passes Per Game||Passing Success %|
On loan at: Sunderland
Having paid more than £10million to sign Fabio Borini from Roma in the summer of 2012, Liverpool were majorly disappointed with the Italian in his debut season at Anfield. In 2012/13, the forward scored just one Premier League goal, which was his team's fifth in the 6-0 humiliation of Newcastle United at St James' Park in April 2013.
Rodgers had made Borini his first signing after taking over at Liverpool, having been impressed when they worked together at Swansea City in 2011. But Borini's trademark celebration was rarely seen on Merseyside, with his only Anfield goal coming in the 3-0 victory over minnows Gomel in the Europa League play-offs.
A broken bone in his foot suffered in the October of 2012, which ruled him out for three months, and then a dislocated shoulder sustained in the February of 2013, which ruled him out for another two months, were major factors in Borini's lack of goals. So, he was sent on loan to Sunderland for the duration of the current 2013/14 season in order to rediscover some form and confidence.
Paolo Di Canio was head coach when Borini first signed for Sunderland but he has since been just one of the squad at the Stadium of Light who has thrived in the wake of the appointment of Gus Poyet.
The majority of Borini's Sunderland goals have come in big games. His first Sunderland strike was the winner in the derby against Newcastle in October 2013 before he equalised versus Chelsea and set up Ki Sung-yueng's winner in that same match in the Capital One Cup quarter-finals. Further goals have come in the match-winning penalty against Manchester United, the goal which sparked Sunderland's comeback in the 2-2 draw with Southampton, and the opening goal, again from the penalty spot, in last weekend's embarrassment of Newcastle.
Borini has therefore scored five goals this season, with three of those coming in the Premier League. He has not produced enough assists in the top flight, with just one in his 19 appearances for Sunderland while his pass success rate (76.8%), key passes per game (0.6), passes per game (14.7) and shots per game (1.6) are also nothing sensational.
However, it is his work ethic combined with his goals in important matches which has gone some way to proving to critics he can handle pressure - an attribute he was accused of lacking at Liverpool. In a reflection of his work ethic, Borini contributes 0.8 interceptions per game. That may not sound a lot but it ranks among the top 12 attacking midfielders or forwards in the league. The manner in which Sunderland have been using Borini in higher, wider areas of the field has also contributed to his success and is contrary to suggestions he is at his best when in central areas.
When comparing Borini to the players Liverpool targeted in this January's transfer window, he would be most similar to Salah as a versatile forward. The Egyptian is widely considered to have more potential and experience, having already played in the more competitive environment of the UEFA Champions League. But it cannot be dismissed that, at only nine months older than Salah, Borini is, too, still learning his trade. Liverpool will be watching his good work at Sunderland and, if they study how he is best utilised, it will be interesting to see his comparative development with Salah.
On loan at: Stoke City
After joining Liverpool from Dutch club Heerenveen in the summer of 2012 in a £2.4m deal, it was questioned whether Rodgers rated Oussama Assaidi. The Moroccan winger made only 12 appearances in the 2012/13 season, with only four of those outings coming in the Premier League.
It was a difficult one for Anfield fans to understand given that when Assaidi did play he showed plenty of attacking threat with his pace, trickery and shooting. His performance when coming on for the last 30 minutes in the second leg of Liverpool's Europa League last 32 tie with Zenit St Petersburg particularly sticks in the memory as he terrified the Russian side's defenders, who were already 3-1 down but narrowly progressed on away goals.
But Rodgers still rarely used Assaidi and then sent the 25-year-old on a season-long loan to Liverpool's Premier League rivals, Stoke City, in the current campaign. Since moving to the Britannia Stadium, Assaidi has gone on to make 14 Premier League appearances in Mark Hughes' team and is earning high praise. He was a big miss for Stoke in their 5-3 defeat by Liverpool when he was ineligible. Often playing on the left and being able to cut in on his right foot, Assaidi is the inverted winger which is a modern trend. Raheem Sterling is proving himself and Liverpool also have long-term hopes for Jordon Ibe but they are both still teenagers and Assaidi would represent a more mature alternative.
Three goals and one more in the Capital One Cup, a stunning strike at Birmingham City, is a positive return from Assaidi and is also the exact same return as Sterling. Passing enthusiast Rodgers will also surely be encouraged by the fact the wide man has a pass success rate of 88.4% in the current season, which puts him in the top 27 players in the Premier League for that discipline. An average of 1.1 key passes per game is also impressive but he has yet to produce an assist and his passes on average per game are also down at 15.4.
Assaidi is dispossessed on average 1.9 times per game, which is among the worst 30 players in England's top flight, but it is also not an uncommon statistic in attackers and is the exact same average as Liverpool star striker Luis Suarez. It is also balanced by the fact Assaidi makes on average two tackles per game, which is very good for a winger.
Konoplyanka would be more experienced and is highly rated having proved himself in international football but he has his critics. It has been questioned whether he would be able to make the step up from Ukrainian football to the Premier League. Indeed, former Ukraine and Arsenal defender Oleg Luzhny recently said: "I do not think the English league is right for him. Konoplyanka's style of play is better suited to Italy or Spain. The game in England is totally different - it is about power."
|Head-To-Head||Games||Goals||Assists||Key Passes Per Game||Passing Success %|
|Assaidi (Premier League 2013/14)||14||3||0||1.1||88.4||Konoplyanka (Europa League 2013/14)||5||3||2||1.4||85|