Prolific Ba reminds goal-shy Liverpool of what they could have won

By David Lynch

Bullseye, a UK gameshow popular throughout the late 80s and early 90s, is often remembered for host Jim Bowen’s signature utterance: “Here’s what you could have won”. The avuncular television personality will not have known it at the time, but his words would later come to perfectly represent Liverpool’s start to the 2012-13 Premier League campaign.

The Reds, a team criminally lacking in strikers, have already faced the likes of Robin van Persie, Carlos Tevez, Antonio Di Natale and Samuel Eto’o this season. The salt in the wounds can barely have felt as painful, as the oft-dissected errors of Liverpool’s summer transfer window are hammered home at every turn.

This problem reached its zenith on Wednesday evening, as the Merseyside outfit took on Swansea in the Capital One Cup at Anfield. Michu, purchased by the south Wales club for just £2 million from Rayo Vallecano over the summer, put on a masterclass in the art of leading the line whilst youngster Samed Yesil chased his first touch at the other end of the pitch.

Though Luis Suarez was eventually introduced to ease the woes of watching fans, Liverpool were already two down against a team proficient in counterattacking. It proved their downfall as they slumped to a 3-1 defeat despite the Uruguayan’s headed goal.

Sunday afternoon brings just another reminder of the problem, as Newcastle come to town and with prolific duo of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse in tow. The success of the former must surely grate supporters at Anfield most; given that he moved to Tyneside on a free transfer around the time that £35 million was making its way into the North East club’s bank account courtesy of Andy Carroll’s ill-fated move to Merseyside.

The Magpies took what could barely be termed a gamble on a player who cost nothing but wages and provided an instant goal return which outstripped Carroll’s subsequent contribution. This led to Alan Pardew’s side only narrowly missing out Champions League qualification last term, a disappointment which Liverpool would have happily worn given the grim reality of their own league performances.

In truth there was little difference between the two squads; Liverpool could perhaps have even argued superiority in several positions in comparison to Newcastle. But of course Kenny Dalglish’s charges were significantly weaker in the only part of the pitch that it transpired truly matters – up top.

It is a well-worn cliché but goals do in fact change games. They also mask a multitude of sins elsewhere, meaning a team does not have to be a perfectly oiled machine each week; they simply have to outscore the opposition.

Manchester United have been proof of that so far this season, overcoming their weaknesses in midfield and defence to score a preposterous amount of goals and put themselves ahead in the title race. Ironically, Liverpool had that sort of firepower once too, as they faced numerous “one man team” jibes with the then-prolific Fernando Torres heading the attack.

That is an asset they have not replaced since the Spaniard’s move to Chelsea. Luis Suarez, for all his qualities and recent good run in front of goal, is unlikely to match that sort of scoring ratio in a Liverpool shirt given his propensity for dropping deep.

Brendan Rodgers recently admitted that his search for that replacement will continue in January, and mischief-makers might wish to remind the Northern Irishman that Ba’s £7.5 million release clause is still in action. Whilst the 27-year-old has been an unqualified success at St James’ Park, concerns over his inability to score regularly in tandem with Cisse and the lack of midfield control which playing two strikers inevitably brings may make his departure less disastrous than it might have been.

For the Reds, however, the arrival of a genuine goalscorer could change the outlook entirely, allowing them to finally convert the output of the likes of Joe Allen, Steven Gerrard and Nuri Sahin into the only currency that matters. In short – and to steal another Jim Bowen catchphrase – signing Ba could make things “super smashing great”.

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