Assessing Liverpool's on-loan contingent

Posted by David Usher

Liverpool's squad has been stretched to its limits at times over recent weeks, especially the fullback position where Brendan Rodgers has been without his first choice on the left, Jose Enrique, since September.

On the right, the manager may as well have been without Glen Johnson since then too, for all the impact he made before eventually succumbing to injury.

Given that, it's perhaps somewhat puzzling to note that Liverpool have three fullbacks out on loan, two of whom have first-team experience. When Rodgers’ options are so depleted, it's natural to wonder if the Reds would be better off being able to call on at least one of that trio.

A similar question could be asked regarding other players who have been farmed out -- most notably Fabio Borini -- but it's at fullback where the issue is perhaps most contentious, because that is where the injuries have hit hardest.

Andre Wisdom's temporary switch to Derby County was a good one for all parties at the time it was agreed to, but with defenders dropping like flies in recent months, would Liverpool have been better served by recalling the England under-21 skipper?

Recently, the club has been without Mamadou Sakho and Daniel Agger (as well as Enrique and Johnson), and with Jon Flanagan also missing a month with a hamstring injury, Wisdom's presence would certainly have helped plug a gap or two.

The option to recall Jack Robinson from Blackpool does not exist, given that his is a season-long loan. The 20-year-old desperately needed the move, and the decision to loan him to the Championship side was not a bad one. Robinson appeared to be a million miles away from the first team last summer, and under-21 football is no good to him at this stage of his development.

However, it's probably fair to say that Robinson would have offered more to Liverpool in recent weeks than Aly Cissokho has been able to provide.

The experienced Frenchman was expected to perform better than he has, while you can't legislate for the previously durable Enrique being sidelined for most of the season.

Young players need games, and leading Premier League sides cannot always provide them with enough opportunities. It is a difficult balancing act that is faced when loaning out players that clubs may need should they have a spate of injuries.

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Well, some clubs anyway. It's not a problem for Chelsea, who stockpile players and lend them away almost in numbers without having to worry about their first-team squad being weakened as a result. For clubs that are not bankrolled by billionaires, however, it's a lot trickier.

Liverpool have loaned out several players this season for varying reasons. Some are youngsters in need of experience, others are big earners who were not going to play and were shipped out for financial reasons, and some fall somewhere in between.

As well as Wisdom and Robinson, the other fullback currently on loan is 19-year-old Ryan McLaughlin, an exciting prospect from Northern Ireland who is just as comfortable playing as a winger. He recently joined Barnsley until the end of the season but is currently sidelined through injury.

Other players temporarily plying their trade away from Anfield include Borini, Pepe Reina, Suso, Oussama Assaidi, Tiago Ilori and Sebastian Coates as well as several under-21 players who were unlikely to feature in the first-team squad.

Were Liverpool wise to loan those players, or should they have kept some of them to provide depth? It's all subjective and not everyone will agree, but all things considered, I would say they have probably got most, if not all, of them right.

In the absence of any suitable permanent offers, the decision to loan Reina to Napoli was financially prudent, while the suggestion that Coates will be allowed to return to Uruguay to complete his rehab and get back to playing is also something of a no-brainer.

As for Ilori, who is with Granada, the question should surely be whether it was worth signing him in the first place. Only time will provide the answer to that.

As for the others, it's not quite as clear cut. With the benefit of hindsight, it could be argued that Liverpool would have been better served keeping Assaidi -- who is with Stoke -- and not bothering with the deal that brought in Victor Moses (on loan), but who would have made the case for that in August?

Assaidi has been a success at Stoke. Scoring against both Everton and Chelsea this season has done his popularity with the Kop no harm at all. He looked like a useful player last season on the rare occasions he managed to get on the field, but clearly Rodgers didn't seem to fancy him. Had he stayed on Merseyside, he would probably not have played much this year.

Loaning him to the Potters has therefore worked to everyone's advantage. Mark Hughes’ side has benefited from his goals, Assaidi has gained extended playing time, and Liverpool now know that he is capable of performing to a good level in the Premier League if they decide to keep him. (Perhaps more significantly, they know that his transfer value has risen if they decide not to.)

And what of Suso? The Spanish under-21 star is a big talent but needs to play regularly to develop into the player Liverpool hope he can become. Having him spend a season playing regularly in the Spanish top flight with Almeira should help his progress to no end.

While Liverpool's bench would certainly have looked a lot stronger with him on it, in the long term this loan move will hopefully pay off either in terms of the player's transfer value or -- and as a big Suso fan, this would be my preferred option -- him rejoining the squad and playing a big part next season.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty ImagesFabio Borini has scored three goals in his last seven games for Sunderland.

The Borini loan is perhaps the most contentious call made by the club, as his form for Sunderland suggests he would have been an asset had he been retained by Rodgers for this season.

The form of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge means that not having the Italian to call on has not hurt Liverpool too much up to this point, but Borini looks like a far better backup option than Iago Aspas.

Many fans are now questioning the wisdom of spending 8 million pounds on the Spaniard from Celta Vigo when Borini could have filled his role in the squad.

Borini had a difficult first season at Anfield but had a decent pedigree, having been a regular member of the full Italian squad, and he is showing his worth at the Stadium of Light whereas Aspas has looked completely overawed any time he's been on the field.

Rodgers will no doubt argue, with some merit given his form, that Borini's development this season vindicates the decision to let him go, but any requirement that sees Aspas play any significant part in the run-in would quickly undermine that claim.

In conclusion, it is my belief that, overall, Liverpool have played the loan market well this season, at least in terms of those they've loaned out; those who have come in are a different story.

Perhaps Wisdom could have been recalled and it is frustrating seeing Borini doing so well for another side rather than in Liverpool red, but all in all, the decisions have probably been vindicated.

It should be added that it has been easier to loan players out this season because of the reduced fixture load that came with no European football and an early Capital One Cup exit.

Should Liverpool secure Champions League football for next season, deciding which players they can afford to send away will become a lot more difficult given the greater need for squad depth.

Of course, that is the kind of problem that Rodgers would be delighted to have.


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