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Jan 21, 2014

Lucas loss a blow to Liverpool midfield

The news that Liverpool's Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva will be sidelined for two months with medial knee ligament damage is a big blow to the Merseyside club's hopes of a top-four finish and will surely now force them to delve into the transfer market. Even without the injury to the likable Lucas, Liverpool's midfield lacked depth and was in need of January strengthening, but now, that need has become desperate.

- Report: Lucas ruled out two months - Report: Guzan: Penalty was soft

More often than not, manager Brendan Rodgers likes to operate with three midfielders in his team. With Lucas out until mid-March at the earliest, Liverpool now actually have only three midfielders in their squad, four if you include Luis Alberto, and Rodgers would clearly prefer not to include him based on the first six months of the season. Beyond Alberto, there is only 16-year-old Jordan Rossiter providing cover unless Rodgers converts someone else into a makeshift midfielder (perhaps Kolo Toure as a defensive option and Philippe Coutinho as a more offensive one?).

Unless someone is brought in before the end of the January window, it may well come to that, as the likelihood of surviving without any more injuries until Lucas returns seems pretty remote. After all, Steven Gerrard has already broken down with a hamstring injury once this season after playing several games in a short period of time. With the FA Cup now punctuating the Premier League fixture list, Rodgers will need to occasionally rest his skipper to avoid a repeat of that, but with whom can he replace him? Additionally, Joe Allen has had hamstring and groin injuries this season and also missed a chunk of last season with a shoulder problem. He's not exactly an iron man is he? Can he be relied on to stay fit for the remainder of the season? Jordan Henderson is the only midfielder Liverpool possess for whom injuries aren't a worry, but even the most durable players can get hurt occasionally.

The option of playing with just two in the middle is there of course, but given the gruesome spectacle Kopites were subjected to in the first half of the Villa game last weekend when Rodgers started the game playing 4-4-2, that has to be seen as something of a last resort. There have been other occasions when he's deviated from the three midfielders, such as the brief experiment with the 3-4-1-2 system that saw Victor Moses playing behind two strikers. That role looked to be tailor-made for Coutinho, but the young Brazilian was sidelined through injury and when he returned Rodgers had abandoned that system.

Perhaps he'll have to look at that again, especially given the sheer volume of goals being conceded by the Reds of late. The problem with that system is you need production from the wing backs, and while there's always the possibility that Glen Johnson may suddenly remember how to play football, Aly Cissokho is most certainly not suited to playing that role. Perhaps Johnson on the left and in-form Raheem Sterling on the right would work better? All avenues need to be explored unless the cavalry rides in before the transfer window closes.

Yann M'Vila has been regularly linked and he would seem to fit the bill. He wouldn't come cheap of course, but Liverpool tried "cheap" last summer and look at where it got them. If not M'Vila, then someone else. There's a big wide world out there with a lot of footballers in it, you're not going to convince me that there isn't a single midfield player out there whom Liverpool could bring in to improve the team. It's not my job to know who that player is -- I wish it was -- but it isn't. There's a four-man "transfer committee" charged with that responsibility, two of whom (Michael Edwards and Dave Fallows) are handsomely paid to scout and identify potential new signings. In case you are wondering, the other two members are Rodgers and Managing Director Ian Ayre. The spotlight is on all of them over the next 10 days and they need to deliver.

There are few things that bother me more in football than hearing clubs complain about how "January is a difficult window." If it were easy to find players then there'd be no need for scouts and analysts and all the other people who are paid fortunes to identify the right players and to finalise the deals. No one is saying it's easy, but when you're being well-paid to do a job, then you need to do that job and not make excuses about it "being difficult." Liverpool made a right mess of the summer window and brought in players who have barely featured because they aren't up to the job. Upwards of 20 million pounds was spent on Iago Aspas, Tiago Ilori and Luis Alberto, while loan signings Cissokho and Moses have fared little better. They've at least managed to get on the field occasionally, but have hardly covered themselves in glory, especially when compared with the loanees at Everton, for instance.

That 20 million could have bought one top-quality midfield player to go straight into the side, instead it bought one lad who is now out on loan without having kicked a ball in anger, a 26-year-old with just one season of topflight football under his belt who has looked completely out of his depth in the Premier League, and a 20-year-old who was hooked at halftime against League One Oldham Athletic. Two of those may become good players in the future, but that's not what Liverpool needed last summer; they needed players who could contribute now.

The lack of depth combined with some untimely injuries means that Liverpool are flying by the seat of their pants right now, and one more injury to a midfield player and they could be in big trouble. Things are so tight for that fourth Champions League spot that missing out because of a lack of squad depth would be unforgivable. It would also likely cost Liverpool the services of Luis Suarez, and who could blame him? If Liverpool's owners are really serious about getting back into the Champions League -- and for what it's worth I believe they are -- they need to make money available for Rodgers to bolster his squad.

John W. Henry is a smart man, though. I'm sure I'm not saying anything he isn't fully aware of. I have no doubt that there is money available, but will Liverpool be prepared to pay more than they would like in order to secure the players they need to make that final push for the top four? They should be, as not paying it could end up costing them a lot more in the long run.