Oftentimes the greatest opportunities arise when we are least expecting them. And usually it is taking that risk, going off the beaten path that ends up giving us the greatest of experiences. Herein lays a choice facing Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers: Keep Luis Suarez for another season, or push through a player-plus-cash deal with Real Madrid for Gonzalo Higuain. The arguments are well-reasoned on both sides, but most importantly this is an opportunity that will not avail itself again.
While assessing what Liverpool needs are going into next season, Brendan Rodgers would do well to consider a Higuain swap deal. Scoring goals may not have been a problem for Liverpool last season, but the source of those goals should raise concern. Five out of the six clubs that finished ahead of Liverpool had one of the following: at least three players scoring in double digits or at least two players with more than ten goals to their name (the outlier being Everton with only Fellaini reaching 11 goals for the season). Liverpool only had two players in double digits: Suarez and Daniel Sturridge. While Sturridge scored ten goals overall, he was with the club for only half a season. Assuming we are discounting January arrivals, Liverpool only had one player from the opening day squad who reached double-digits in scoring. That is a cause for concern.
So why should Liverpool let Suarez go, and push through a Higuain swap deal? Because Suarez isn’t a striker. His natural instinct isn’t to score goals. Rather his role is to help create them and chip in with a few himself. It just so happens that last season, due to the lack of strikers in the squad, Brendan Rodgers was forced to play Suarez as a No. 9, and given his once-in-a-generation ability, Suarez responded to the extra responsibility by tearing through Premier League defenders with unprecedented ease. But for all his goal-scoring prowess, Liverpool didn’t necessarily perform better when it was just Suarez scoring the goals. In the first half of the season, Liverpool recorded 7 wins, 7 draws and 6 losses. During the second of half of the season, Liverpool’s record was 9 wins, 6 draws and 3 losses. So why the difference in results? Once Daniel Sturridge arrived as a striker who could play in front of Suarez, the pressure for Suarez to score in every game diminished, and the goals became more evenly spread throughout the squad. Providing an extra layer of comfort was the arrival of Phillippe Coutinho, who complimented Suarez on the left-hand side of a three pronged attack.
The big picture is that Liverpool performed better when Suarez played deeper. This allowed for more balance in the attacking third, and eased the pressure on Suarez’s shoulders. It’s no coincidence that results became more consistent following the arrival of a pure striker and another creative midfielder. The counter-argument is this: Now that Liverpool have Daniel Sturridge, they don’t need to purchase another striker if Suarez is sold. However the issue with Sturridge is that he hasn’t shown signs of becoming a 30-goal a season striker. Even in his much lauded debut for Liverpool in 2013, he was still prone to missing clear goal-scoring opportunities, and struggled with his first touch when put under pressure. In fact little suggests that Sturridge will be more than a 10-15 goal-per-season striker, which is decent, but not good enough for a club like Liverpool.
This is where Higuain comes into play. As opposed to playing around with denials and deadlines, Liverpool should immediately consider the idea of swapping Suarez for Higuain. With 122 goals in 266 appearances, Higuain is a proven goal scorer at the highest level. Even in the face of the tumult at the Bernabeu, Higuain has managed 15-plus goals in five out of the last six seasons in Spain. With two La Liga titles under his belt, and top twenty on the all-time scoring list of Madrid, it’s clear that if Higuain is good at anything, it’s scoring goals. Add on top of that the fact that he is still only 25 (one year younger than Suarez), and rarely involved in any negative media, it seems like a solid alternative for Liverpool to pursue.
The worry for Liverpool fans will be that even though Higuain would be good for the goals in the absence of Suarez, that the squad would lose its main creative force. But such worries should be put to rest by this: Coutinho is on course to become a great player with Liverpool, and under Brendan Rodgers he may develop into one of the great buys of the Premier League era. Mix in the continued development of youth products Raheem Sterling and Suso, along with the addition of Iago Aspas and the highly rated Luis Alberto, there are more than enough creative options to compensate for Suarez. And in return, Liverpool would get their consistent 30-goal a season scorer, and even greater balance in the attacking third. Throw in Sturridge as Higuain’s compliment, and Liverpool could see at least three players hit double digits in goals next season.
Higuain won’t be available again anytime soon, and whoever gets him will be getting one of the great strikers of his generation. With Suarez as leverage and more to gain than lose by getting Higuain, Liverpool should not let this opportunity slide.