After so many summers of upheaval and transition at Liverpool, there has been a more methodical approach this summer.
Not the binge on British players of 2011, or Brendan Rodgers’ over-generous trust in his old boys of 2012 either. Liverpool have not – with the exception of Philippe Coutinho – bought desperately well over the past few years. This year, though, they are moving more cautiously and carefully, adding depth where it is wanted but not necessarily embellishing the first team too much.
Liverpool have bought four players so far, two youngsters from Spain and two more experienced heads from the Premier League. They should provide more attacking quality and more defensive solidity.
Iago Aspas is a feisty little striker who has spent the last two years dragging Celta Vigo in the Spanish top flight and keeping them there. Of course Luis Suarez is a unique footballer, and Aspas is not as good as him, but he does replicate in part that ferocious movement, relentless competitive tenacity and firework burst that Suarez brings. If the Uruguayan is to get his move to Real Madrid, Aspas might be the closest Liverpool can get to him on their budget.
Luis Alberto does not have the same La Liga pedigree as Aspas but is thought to have special potential. The 20-year-old spent last season on loan at Barcelona B from Sevilla, playing in Spain’s second tier but impressing with his remarkable game intelligence, comfortable between the lines as an attacking midfielder or a False 9.
In Coutinho, though, Liverpool already have one of the most exciting young creative players in the league. He settled unusually quickly last year and while he might not be able to replicate that all the way through his first full season in England, Alberto is not here to replace him in the side immediately.
Both Aspas and Alberto show Liverpool’s desire to reinforce a front line that might be about to lose its most important part. Few teams last year were more dependent on one player than Liverpool were on Suarez and with him agitating to go the problem is obvious. Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge are there too, but Suarez is different and if he were to go Liverpool might need a different category of player.
There is interest in Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Shakhtar Donetsk’s clever Armenian, but he is increasingly likely to join Borussia Dortmund instead. Liverpool used to be able to challenge for the most exciting players – it was only six years ago they signed Fernando Torres – but they have slipped far since then.
In defence, too, the additions have been useful rather than transformative. Kolo Toure is one of only six players to win the Premier League with two different clubs, and was better for Manchester City in 2012-13 than in previous seasons, but his role is likely to be closest to Jamie Carragher’s last year. Unless Daniel Agger or Martin Skrtel can be moved on they are likely to be the pair next year.
The most likely change will be in goal where Simon Mignolet will surely replace the fading Pepe Reina. Mignolet, like Kolo Toure, is a known quantity after three good seasons at Sunderland. He should provide focus and sharpness where Reina, looking like a man in need of a new challenge, had let it slip.
All of these buys are promising, and all of them will probably be better than Charlie Adam. Liverpool are moving cautiously in the right direction, adding solidity at the back and options up front. But they finished 12 points off fourth place last year and their best player wants out. You almost wonder if they might be better advised to risk again.