“Shane Long? Really?” Danny Murphy’s reaction to the news that Liverpool were looking at signing a sixth Southampton player in the last 18 months can be filed under ‘withering’. Liverpool, Liverpool, want Shane Long? That fella from a team below them in the league? The solution to their goalscoring problems is to sign a striker with a career record of one goal in every four games? Madcap Jurgen strikes again.
The January transfer window is a strange beast. It exists almost as a separate entity to the season, a sport in itself. It distorts better judgement and warps common sense. There is no other way to explain 29-year-old Steven Naismith moving to Norwich for £8.5million; Bournemouth spending £17million on two strikers – Benik Afobe and Lewis Grabban – whose combined career Premier League efforts had garnered just one goal is otherwise inexplicable. And Liverpool and Spurs to engage in a battle over Shane Long? Football gossip has officially jumped the shark.
As far as Premier League strikers go, Long is a peculiar breed. He has never scored more than eight goals in a single season in England’s top tier, yet has amassed cumulative transfer fees of £25.5million in three separate moves since the summer of 2011. He has only ever registered double figures for goals in a league campaign once – in the Championship five years ago – but has fostered a reputation as an underrated striker. He is excellent in the air despite standing at under six feet tall. He turns 29 on Friday, and Southampton want £12million for him. More bizarre is that both Liverpool and Spurs could do considerably worse than agree that fee.
Not that Murphy agrees: “There’s no point bringing in players who aren’t better than what you’ve already got,” he continued earlier this week. “Would you suggest Long is a better player than Benteke? I don’t think so.”
Few would. Benteke is taller and stronger than Long, and boasts a considerably better goalscoring record. The Belgian is infintely more expensive, and is almost four years younger. But Murphy misses the point. It’s not that Long is a better player than Benteke, it’s that he’s a different player. A different player who suits a certain style: Liverpool’s style. Which is more than can be said for the club’s current top goalscorer.
With Daniel Sturridge, Divock Origi and Danny Ings still on the sidelines through injury, Klopp’s reservations are understandable. His current options are Benteke and Roberto Firmino. One is clearly not suited, the other is not an out-and-out striker. Firmino has performed admirably as a focal point of the attack when called upon, playing starring roles against Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal – the Brazilian is Liverpool’s big-game player. But he also has his limitations.
Variety is the spice of a successful attack. Wilfried Bony provides effective cover for the excellence of Sergio Aguero at Manchester City. Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott sit at opposite ends of the striking spectrum for Arsenal. Jamie Vardy, Shinji Okazaki and Leonardo Ulloa all offer something unique for Leicester. Liverpool do not have that luxury. January provides an opportunity for reinforcements; is Long really what they need?
They got enough so called class players who flatter to deceive. Got to learn to grind out results. Long perfect fit https://t.co/eFxQ0xzWEo
— Didi Hamann (@DietmarHamann) January 18, 2016
The Irishman’s strengths are obvious. Long has completed 99.35km over 14 games so far this season, at an average of 9.62km per 90 minutes. In five more appearances and three more starts, Benteke has run 116.09km for an average of 8.9km per 90 minutes. The most distance run by Long in a single Premier League game this season was 11.18km against Stoke in November. For Benteke, it was 9.73km against Sunderland in December. Long has completed 123 more sprints than his counterpart despite playing 245 fewer minutes. Benteke hardly scores an emphatic victory on the goalscoring front, with six to Long’s five.
Long also has experience of leading the line in the 4-2-3-1 formation Liverpool regularly adopt – the 28-year-old has started as a lone striker for Southampton seven times. Graziano Pelle is favoured more regularly by Ronald Koeman, and Charlie Austin has since arrived from Queens Park Rangers. One of Pelle or Long will have to make way.
Liverpool’s reported interest in Long is initially surprising, but it does make sense. He suits Klopp’s style of pressing from the front, and provides a short-term solution to a long-term problem that can be properly addressed in the summer.
Replace ‘Liverpool’ with ‘Spurs’ and ‘Klopp’ with ‘Pochettino’ in the above paragraph, and the same applies. The manager remains keen to promote from within rather than purchase from elsewhere this month, but that’s a dangerous ploy. Pochettino will hope to find another Harry Kane in the Spurs academy, but the existing version needs instant cover. The 22-year-old has featured in 38 of a possible 39 games for club and country since June, and has missed only 52 minutes of Premier League action this season. That summer arrivals Heung-min Son and Clinton Njie – neither of whom are strikers – represent his current back-up, hints as to why. Long would provide Premier League experience and, as with Liverpool, would suit the club’s playing style.
To cut a Long story short, interest from Liverpool and Spurs makes more far sense that it should, even as a stopgap for either side until the summer. He is the striker 10th-placed Southampton don’t want, but Klopp and Pochettino, one and six places above Saints respectively, need.