What Liverpool's Saints trio will bring – and why Lovren is most important of the lot
It's been an eventful summer on Merseyside, with Liverpool investing in no fewer than eight players to date. The squad looked thin at times last season, and the increase in games with Champions League involvement meant they certainly required additional strengthening.
Luis Suarez has departed for the Camp Nou, and although he obviously leaves a gaping hole in attack, the club have improved their starting XI in other areas. Emre Can offers a more physical option in the centre of midfield, and in Lazar Markovic they possess one of the most exciting young talents in Europe.
Meanwhile, Spanish full-backs Alberto Moreno and Javier Manquillo could provide the width in defence for the next decade if they continue to improve on the promise that took them from La Liga.
The surprise for many was the trio of acquisitions from Southampton. Brendan Rodgers' raid on the Saints has led to some pessimism, with the logic that a number of players who overachieved with an eighth-place finish won't necessarily improve the Premier League runners-up.
But that ignores the fact that Mauricio Pochettino's team employed a variety of principles that are also key to Rodgers' tricky Reds. The forward players pressed the opposition into mistakes before attacking with speed and precision. Vertical football lit the country got the nation excited – and these two teams were at the heart of the revolution.
Liverpool-born Rickie Lambert was the first to arrive for £4 million. The striker's physical attributes means he offers something different from the rest of the side, while still being able to retain the coach's philosophy. "I've seen Rickie Lambert over the years and he's one of those players that probably never got the recognition for what a really good footballer he is," said Rodgers back in September. "He was probably seen as the traditional big No.9, a British striker who is good in the air, but he's one of the most accomplished footballers I've seen."
Surprisingly, while Lambert is a handful in aerial battles, they're not one of his stronger traits. The former Bristol Rovers man isn't simply a cheaper option to Andy Carroll; his ability around the area is just as good as it is inside.
His shooting from distance is particularly accurate, and his key passes are notably among the best in the country. This link-up play enabled Lambert to create numerous opportunities for fellow team-mates, and add 10 assists to his 13 league goals last term.
The scouser won't start every match, but will be a valuable commodity when opposing teams sit deep to combat the pace of Liverpool's counter-attacks.
Adam Lallana's Anfield career got off to a disappointing start after with an injury in training, however. The winger should be back in mid-September, and it will be interesting to see if this delay helps or hampers him.
He may not have had a pre-season, but then expectations might be diluted slightly because of the circumstances. It could give him time off the pitch to settle into his new surroundings, although his frustration will grow when he considers that he started all but one match in the league last season.
Lallana is the sort of wide player who is comfortable drifting laterally into central positions. This makes it particularly difficult for full-backs to track him, while his exceptional work-rate and defensive contribution ensures he isn't a luxury at the expense of the overall unit.
As you can see by his performance against Manchester United, he roams between the lines to pick up the ball and regularly works the goalkeeper. In terms of chance creation and finishing ratios, Lambert and Lallana are actually the opposite of what many believe them to be.
As he's two-footed, Lallana can be deployed on either wing or as a No.10. His close control and dribbling technique is important against compact defences. Then, without the ball his positional sense is superb, enabling him to intercept the play in advanced areas of the pitch.
In defence, the purchase of Dejan Lovren looks the most astute piece of business. The amount of goals conceded in the last campaign has largely been attributed to the team's style, but often they were down to simple mistakes which could have been avoided with concentration and organisation.
Indivually, all of last year's back four are capable of delivering the required performance; they often just need direction out on the field.
"He is exactly what I’ve been looking for since Jamie Carragher left," confirmed Rodgers. "He is a dominant, No.1 centre-half who reads the game well, offers good guidance to the back four and the rest of the team – and shows qualities in his range of passing too."
Lovren is strong, superb in the air, positionally excellent and capable of building attacks. Liverpool have had a variety of defenders in the last few years who can perform some of these tasks, but not all of them single-handedly.
"Just like he showed against us last year he’s dominant in the box – both in ours and the opposition’s – and I thought he was excellent," continued the boss after the recent friendly hammering of Borussia Dortmund.
The Croatian will be a crucial component in Liverpool's first team, and has the capacity to be a future captain of the club. All three players have important roles to play, but Lovren is likeliest to make the longest impression over time.