Next in the series of fans looking at their side’s prospects in this season’s EPL, it’s Andrew McGoff previewing Liverpool. What to do with Suarez, and a shopping list.
In order to start this preview of the season ahead for my beloved Liverpool it’s important to look back on what was, on the whole, another disappointing season. We finished 7th in the league, 2 points behind our Merseyside rivals Everton, but more importantly 12 points behind Arsenal in 4th.
Brendan Rodgers had a baptism of fire as the new manager, cleaning up the mess of seasons past (overpaid deadwood, managerial and backroom changes), following in King Kenny’s footsteps, and facing games against Man City, Arsenal and Man Utd in the first 5 weeks. It was certainly hard viewing at times, and up until Christmas there wasn’t a lot to be enthused about.
It all appeared to change in the New Year when we made two inspired signings in Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge and appeared to embrace Rodgers brand of tika-taka football, giving hope that we could be top 4 contenders the following season. We finished with 71 goals, 24 more than the season before. Suarez was our top goal scorer netting 23 in the league, a mere 3 goals behind the golden boot winner. Without his suspension for biting, Suarez may well have won this accolade, and the EPL Player of the Season award. (Before anyone starts with the “one man team” gibes, we would have still finished 7th without Suarez goals).
What’s Changed Since Last Season
We are now a year into the Brendan Rodgers ‘project’, and have developed a clear and settled way of playing. We have players that are comfortable on the ball, press the opposition into making errors, and move the ball around to break down defences.
Rodgers and his transfer committee were smart to get down to business early allowing the incoming players to settle into this historic club and realise what is expected of them both by Rodgers and the fans. Iago Aspas from Celta Vigo is a lively player with great movement off the ball. He fits Rodgers pressing game and has an eye for goal as pre-season has shown. Aspas has settled in well and looks really hungry to impress. Signing Kolo Toure on a free looks to be a great piece of business. He is commanding at the back, and will bring experience, leadership and the ‘winning mentality’ that Rodgers views as key to new signings. Toure looks well placed to fill the huge void left by Jamie Carragher’s retirement, and unlike his predecessor will let us play the higher defensive line that Rodgers prefers. Like Aspas, Luis Alberto is another that fits the Rodgers’ mould as he is versatile, technically excellent, and has amazing vision. Alberto has been described as having a topographical view of the game the way he can pick out players making runs. Hopefully he can come close to matching his last season’s achievement of 18 assists. The last of the new recruits is goalkeeper Simon Mignolet from Sunderland. He impressed last year in a side that came close to being relegated and will be first choice keeper now Reina has gone to Napoli on loan.
As well as buying before the new season kicks off Rodgers also managed to sell early with bench players such as Carroll, Shelvey and Spearing moving on covering the costs of those bought in. As with any transfer window there have been a lot of rumours floating around with regards to player departures. Downing is one such player who might go over the coming weeks, as is Skrtel. Squad players such as Suso, Robinson and Coady have been allowed to leave on loan to gain experience and I believe Assaidi and maybe Wisdom might join them.
As with Carroll last year, the talk of the pre-season has surrounded another striker, Luis Suarez. He has been very disruptive over the last 8 weeks, giving interview after interview saying he wants out and that the club have lied to him. The last straw was when he approached and gave interviews to 2 British papers, and invited the Spanish paper Marca into his home last week (whilst Liverpool were away playing a pre-season match in Norway) to try and plead his case on why he should be allowed to go. Even the staunchest of supporters have had enough, and if he were to stay it will take more than knuckling down and scoring goals to win back the faithful. As a club Liverpool have stood firm on this, prompting both Rodgers and Liverpool’s owner, JW Henry, to come out saying that he will not be sold, in particular to the only bidders, Arsenal, who we will be challenging for 4th spot. The only way I can see him going now is if a PSG, Bayern or Madrid come in for him and include a player in the deal.
What Do We Need
In my opinion, we still lack a few players who can take us to the next level (top 4). Four years without Champions League football has certainly taken its toll and our key summer target, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, inevitably chose Dortmund who could offer him that tier of football.
Replacing Suarez aside, if he does in fact leave, we need to strengthen 4 key positions;
- Left Back – Enrique has shown throughout pre-season that he is not a good enough player to be our starting left back. We need someone who is equally comfortable going forward as they are defending and who has good positional awareness
- Centre Back – Whilst Toure has been a great stop-gap next to Agger, and Wisdom had played well up until the Celtic game, he is not the enforcer he once was. This position needs a playerwho strikers do not want to come up against
- Defensive Midfield – we have missed someone who can really boss the midfield since Mascherano left in 2010. Last season we were over-run too many times, and were a bit lightweight with Allen and Lucas. There have been a couple of options available; Capoue, Gustavo and Medal, but Rodgers does not look likely to strengthen the position this transfer window
- Goal Scoring Attacking Midfield – Rodgers discussed wanting to add a player who can contribute 20 goals a season from an advanced midfield position; either on the wing or through the middle (such as Henrikh Mkhitaryan). We have missed out on our number two choice as well, Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid, so hopefully there is a back-up in mind.
What’s In Store For This Season
Pre-season has been very positive. We have continued where we left off last season by playing a high tempo pass and move game. Results should not be focussed on too much (6 wins from 7 games) but Rodgers goal was to get the players fitness levels up on the same time last year so we can start the season with a hiss and a roar. He appears to have achieved this with Gerrard noting this as his toughest pre-season at the club. The momentum generated by winning pre-season games should give Liverpool confidence heading into the new season knowing that in the opening 9 fixtures they will face 8 teams that finished below them last season.
As far as players go, Coutinho has been by far the best pre-season player. He has looked very sharp, not lost his touch from the end of last season, and has already played some killer through balls. He will be our key player this season, particularly during the first few months of the campaign when we need to get off to a flyer, and whilst Suarez serves the remaining games of his ban for biting
The break that Rodgers gave Raheem Sterling at the end of last season looks to have done him the world of good. At 18 years of age he has enormous potential and has looked very sharp over these last few weeks. Another youngster, 17 year old Jordan Ibe, has come into the first team (he played 1 game against QPR last season) and looks a real livewire. Like Sterling he has blistering pace, a great work rate, and does not look out of his depth. With Allen, Lucas and Sturridge recovering from injuries over the summer break expect them all to have a lot of game time.
The clubs goal this season is to break back into the top 4. It’s where we need to be as a club, back amongst England’s elite clubs and on the European stage of the Champions League. The big question is can we achieve it? A lot has to do with who we bring in over the next 3 weeks (as mentioned above we are still a few top players off being a top 4 side) and whether Luis Suarez stays at the club. A few teams are there for the taking; Arsenal has not been able to improve their squad, City and Utd have really struggled in pre-season, and 3 of the top 4 clubs have new managers who might take time to bed in. Without the extra games European football brings (Rodgers admitted at the end of last season, much to the chagrin of supporters, that we could benefit from not being in the competition) you should expect that Liverpool will be fresher come the second half of the season.
So, where will we end up? In my view, as it stands now, we would finish 6th behind (in no specific order) City, Spurs, Arsenal, Chelsea and Utd. However, if we can keep Suarez and his goals (or sign a strong replacement) and bring in a few players who would command a starting place 4th is a very realistic prospect.
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