Quantity is rarely an adequate replacement for quality, but damned if Liverpool didn’t try to prove otherwise. On Saturday, unfortunately, Brendan Rodgers and his Reds will get a perfect example of what they should have done instead. Faced with a number of needs going into the summer window, Chelsea opted for strength, not numbers.
It may seem like a long time ago, but this spring, these clubs stood on near-even footing: both with chances to claim the Premier League. Chelsea was the first to bottle its title challenge, and then Liverpool slipped up shortly after, leaving Manchester City to say, “well, if no one else wants it.” The summer of 2014 gave both of last season’s bridesmaids a chance to make the step up.
Spoiler alert: It only worked out for one of them.
Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images
Chelsea had one of the most effective transfer windows in recent memory. Its 2014 title charge faltered in part because they were forced to play the artist formerly known as Fernando Torres up front, but also because they lacked balance in midfield. They solved that problem by cashing in on “defender” David Luiz and buying one of the deadliest strikers in Europe (Diego Costa, above left), one of the most incisive midfielders in Europe (Cesc Fábregas), and – just for shits and giggles – bringing back the best young goalkeeper on the planet (Thibaut Courtois). Chelsea identified its weaknesses and addressed them. Now the club’s steamrolling its way to the title.
Liverpool’s summer was more like having your smartphone stolen. Ever happen to you? It sucks camel dicks. Not only does some stranger now have his hands on your nudes, but you’ve lost an expensive bit of equipment that served a multitude of functions.
But wait – you’ve got insurance. Phew. All you have to do is make a phone call, and a brand spanking new smartphone will be at your doorstep in no time. It won’t be your phone right away, and you’ll have to spend some time personalizing it, but at least you would have secured a like-for-like replacement.
What you would not do, obviously, is replace that smartphone with a calculator, a GPS navigator, a digital camera, a Game Boy, an MP3 player, and a Nokia 6150. That would be dumb, right? Well, now that’s Liverpool, wondering what it can’t install Snapchat on its Speak and Spell.
Obviously, Luis Suárez is a terrible person. He cheats, he bites, he racially abuses, and worst of all, he refuses to accept responsibility. Luis Suárez is also ridiculously good at soccer. He scores in buckets, creates goals from nothing, and bends and feints and dribbles and scraps his way past defenders like few others on the planet. He is exactly the kind of otherworldly talent that can paper over the cracks in a decent team and drag them to success, which is exactly what he almost did with Liverpool last season.
Losing Suárez was a kick in the balls, even if it was an expected one. Rodgers already knew he had to strengthen his squad for Champions League, but then he also had to replace his best player. Crucially, though, he only managed to do the former, and if you strengthen your squad for Europe but neglect to maintain the quality of the first team, you’ll likely end up out of that competition sooner than you think.
Photo by LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP/Getty Images
Instead of replacing Suárez with a player of similar caliber, Liverpool added a handful of players who can each do one or two of those things, except not as well. Mario Balotelli can score goals (although he hasn’t done much of that lately), Lazar Markovic can dribble and occupy defenders, and Adam Lallana can create and score from distance. But you can’t play more than 11 men in a match any more than you can fit half a dozen electronics in your front pocket instead of an iPhone.
As Tottenham and (to a lesser extent) Manchester United have learned in the recent past, the only thing that can replace a world class player is (wait for it …) a world class player. True, very good players can be cashed in on, the funds used to improve two or three positions, and the result can be a better team. But when it comes to those rare talents that can walk into any starting XI in world soccer, that approach just doesn’t work. Liverpool is living out the lessons Spurs learned a year ago: Quantity does not replace true quality.