Having roster depth in the Premier League is crucial when trying to contend with the grind of the season which can consist of matches in both domestic and international competitions. Therefore, carrying a squad with a balanced mixture of youth and experience is integral for clubs to compete throughout the season. However, one problem to having a deep roster is the difficulty of making sure everyone plays enough to their liking.
Two notable examples of extreme roster depth are Manchester United’s striker situation and Liverpool’s packed midfield. For Sir Alex Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish, addressing the options on their rosters isn’t going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination.
Heading into the summer, it has been clear that Liverpool’s focus was strengthening their midfield. They have spent £47 million to bring in Sunderland youngster Jordan Henderson, Blackpool hero Charlie Adam and the consistent Stewart Downing from Aston Villa. The club under Dalglish are definitely showing a British flair that may captivate the nation. However, the list of Liverpool midfield options has grown incredibly long and now Dalglish is going to have a massive conundrum on his hands in terms of determining who plays.
Besides the new additions, Liverpool’s midfield already consisted of Steven Gerrard, Raul Meireles, Maxi Rodriguez, Joe Cole, Alberto Aquilani, Lucas Leiva, Jonjo Shelvey, Jay Spearing, Christian Poulson, Milan Jovanovic and Nabil El Zhar. For all those counting at home, that’s 14 footballers.
Kenny Dalglish will now have the responsibility of weeding out his bloated midfield. In terms of the most obvious, Milan Jovanovic, the last and one of the worst signings by Rafael Benitez, is on his way out after being linked with Anderlecht and Lille. Maxi Rodriguez, the 30 year old Argentinian who had a very good season last year highlighted by three hat tricks in the Premier League, has recently told Argentinian newspaper La Capital that he would like to return to his former club, Newell’s Old Boys. And then there’s Joe Cole, who after Steven Gerrard said he was better than Lionel Messi, returned the favor by getting sent off in his debut and missing a penalty in his second game. Yet despite Cole’s struggles at Anfield, first team coach Steve Clarke insists he still has a role on the squad. Even Alberto Aquilani, the Italian midfielder who after struggling in England did well on loan with Juventus, shockingly may not go anywhere because of owner John Henry’s faith in him.
Liverpool will look to make a serious challenge for at least a top 4 spot in the league to ensure Champions League football. However, Dalglish and his staff need to make some tough decisions over who to start, who to keep on the bench, and who to let go.
Meanwhile, over at Old Trafford, Manchester United are heading into the season with a squad where Ryan Giggs is the oldest player and Rio Ferdinand is 32. United are well stocked in terms of players that look to benefit the squad in terms of the immediate and distant future. The biggest headache for Ferguson though will be addressing who will play up front as he has 7 options in Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Owen, Danny Welbeck, Federico Macheda and Mame Biram Diouf.
In terms of the obvious, Rooney and Hernandez are the starting two. A lot of speculation has been made regarding Rooney replacing Paul Scholes in midfield. In my mind, I just can’t see that happening because of his goal scoring efficiency which is looking quite sharp right now judging by his form in the US. Hernandez isn’t going anywhere after his captivating debut season which only continued with his form for Mexico in the Gold Cup. The scary thing is that at 23, he can only get better from here.
Dimitar Berbatov is easily the third striker on the squad and despite rumors of his departure, Ferguson himself has put them down. I’ve already stated that I feel Berbatov’s presence is important because his skill and experience make him leagues ahead of anyone else United have. Some have speculated that Michael Owen could challenge Berbatov’s role as third striker. While I feel that this is a bit of a reach, Owen has proven that he can still score important goals when needed and if he can get beyond his injury issues, the English great can become a vital squad player.
Then there’s United’s three young strikers in Welbeck, Macheda, and Diouf. All three have been impressive at certain points whether on loan or for their country. Diouf looks to be the odd man out despite the promise he’s shown with Blackburn and on the summer tour. In terms of Macheda, no one will ever forget the winner he produced as a 17 year old against Aston Villa. Unfortunately, too much hype was put on the teenager and many have been quick to dismiss him especially after a disappointing loan at Sampdoria. In my mind, Sampdoria just wasn’t a good team for him to play for although the experience may have hardened him. His form for the Italian under 21 team as well as United on the summer tour has only confirmed that he’s too much of a talent to be ignored. Danny Welbeck has also been impressive on loan at Sunderland, for the England u21 team, and in a few appearances for United. The Manchester local has shown that his pace, physicality and goal-scoring are top-notch. Ultimately, I feel that Welbeck and Macheda will make regular appearances in the Carling and FA Cups and will look to replace Owen and Berbatov in the future.
Both Manchester United and Liverpool have big aspirations going into the new season. However, both Dalglish and Ferguson will have their hands full in terms of midfielders, strikers and choices.