Benayoun’s signed, and Liverpool is in talks with Ryan Babel.
That progressed quickly. Well, the Babel move has progressed quickly (and out of nowhere); Benayoun has been an open secret all summer long.
As I’ve said before, I’m pleased with Benayoun’s signing, especially for £4 or 5m, which is miles below what he would have cost after 05-06. I’d rather not have lost Garcia, but I still am doing my utmost not to think of Yossi as Luis’ replacement. He’s similar in that he can play on the left or right and 'in the hole,' but he is a better passer, especially short, defense-splitting passes, and can be less erratic. Supposedly, Rafa’s had his eye on the player since he was at Racing Santander. We know Benayoun can perform in the Premiership, and his “decline” last season was understandable given West Ham’s troubles and adjusting to a new manager. With Mascherano, Liverpool proved they can make use of the Hammers' talented malcontents. Also, I think he’ll fill a similar role as a “squad player” to that of Zenden, and Yossi’s a clear improvement over Zenden.
I’m less gung ho about Babel, but that’s mainly due to unfamiliarity with the player. Yes, he’s not an out-and-out left winger, which Liverpool looks to need, but he can play in that position. His versatility will be a plus if/when he signs; I actually think it’s the key point. All of the players Rafa’s gone for this summer are versatile and can adapt to different positions in the course of the same game. The fact Babel’s so highly rated as a 20-year-old, and had been chased by Arsenal for the past year or more is also heartening; that Liverpool’s entered the race for his signature basically out of the blue (compared to Arsenal’s long courtship) shows that maybe some transfers can still be conducted without the tabloids getting a scent. Even if Babel doesn't have a huge impact on next season, that he's only 20 will be an enormous boon. He'll have time to adjust to England, settle at the club, and find his preferred position. And he will get playing time, that I'm sure of.
I would not be surprised if this was the extent of Liverpool’s major summer spending, obviously not counting youngsters, whom Benitez will continue to buy like they’re going out of style. The addition of Torres, Benayoun, Lucas, Voronin, and Babel should more than compensate for the players sold or released. A month or so ago when folks feared that Liverpool didn’t have the money to sign big names or make a mark in the transfer market seems ages away now.
All these players will offer different possibilities than Liverpool had last season, and I truly think that Liverpool will have one of the deepest and most varied squads in the Prem. I really am getting way too excited about the upcoming season.
I will say this, though. If I thought forecasting a lineup in the match previews was hard last season, I’m going to be completely out of my depth for the next. With this personnel, Liverpool should be able to switch between 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1, 4-2-3-1, or 3-5-2 depending on the opposition and players available. Yikes.