By Andrew McGoff
On the last day of the 14/15 season Liverpool travelled to the Britannia Stadium to face a Stoke side that had nothing to play for. Stoke had secured 9th place, another season without the dogfight of relegation. Liverpool were looking to send their talisman, Steve Gerrard, out with a bang. Stoke had put 5 in the net before halftime. Liverpool went on to concede 6 in total, with the only upside for LFC fans being a Steven Gerrard goal. The football gods must have had a chuckle when the draw was made for the 15/16 season. Liverpool’s first game is back at the Britannia giving them a chance to lay the ghosts to rest!
What ensued were loud cries from a section of the fan base for Brendan Rodgers’ head. Others for Liverpool’s owner FSG to go. What was inevitable was something needed to change.
Other than a post-match interview from Rodgers in which he said “I’ve always said if the owners wanted me to go, then I’ll go” there was deafening silence from the club. Leaks from the club were sealed tight, not even the journos closest to the club knew what was going on behind the scenes.
After a season review Brendan Rodgers was set to continue as the club manager. Sacked
were his right hand man Colin Pascoe and 1st Team Coach Mike Marsh. In came Sean O’Driscoll from the England U19s setup as Asst Manager, former LFC player Gary McAllister as 1st Team Coach, and a promotion for highly rated youth coach Pep Lijnders who came into a new role to work one on one with first team players.
A new captain was chosen, with the armband going to Jordan Henderson. From rejecting a move to Fulham 3 years ago to becoming the heartbeat of the side, Rodgers felt this model professional was the man to lead LFC in Gerrard’s absence.
One thing that was apparent about LFC 14/15 is that Liverpool lacked identity. They went from a team playing fast paced, high intensity, pressing football to a team that wasn’t sure what role they were supposed to be playing. Liverpool were sloppy across the park, unconfident in their movement and with the chopping and changing of personnel and formations it’s no surprise they lacked cohesion.
The key for this summer was for Rodgers to decide to go back to his football ideology and bring in the players than could suit his style of play. To create a legacy he must prove that 13/14 was no flash in the pan and that, under his tutelage, LFC can re-establish themselves once again as a force in English football.
After making 9 signings last summer Rodgers was once again faced with squad upheaval. Club captain Steven Gerrard chose to call time on his 17 year association with the club. Whilst his on field play could be replaced by a new signing, what Gerrard brought to the club in all other aspects is irreplaceable. Then there was the Raheem Sterling saga. When dirty laundry is aired in public, there are no winners. Sterling is a very talented player and his quality will be missed. It seems outrageous that Man City were prepared to pay £49m for a 20 year old, but if he hits his potential it will seem like small change.
With club veteran Brad Jones contract not being renewed Rodgers had to bring in a new keeper. The choice to make was whether the inconsistent Simon Mignolet would hold onto his second half of the season form and remain first choice ‘keeper, or be replaced with a higher quality player. Rodgers decided to sign Bolton Wanderers second choice keeper Adam Bogdan on a free transfer. Bogdan played a blinder against Liverpool in the FA Cup last season and time will tell whether he can push Mignolet for a starting spot.
Another area of concern for fans was how Rodgers would repair LFC’s shaky defence. He chopped and changed between a makeshift back 3 and a back 4 last season. The lack of confidence Rodgers had in his defence was summed up by playing Emre Can (a midfielder) as a right sided centre back. With Sebastian Coates having been sold to Sunderland, Glen Johnson leaving the club on a free, Javier Manquillo having his loan spell cut short and the selfie taking, FIFA addict Jose Enrique being pushed out of the club, replacements were needed.
Doing what he does best, Rodgers headed to Southampton to raid them for yet another player. This time for accomplished right back Nathaniel Clyne who is an energetic, attacking defender and has represented England at age group and senior levels. Clyne will bring pace and width to the side and at 24 will be able to occupy the right back role for the next 5 years.
An exciting young signing to come in is another England age group rep and former Charlton player, Joe Gomez. Traditionally a centre back, Gomez has shown on the pre-season tour throughout Australasia that he is equally adept at playing either right or left back. Rodgers has made it clear that Gomez will be in his plans this year. This means youngster Tiago Ilori will likely leave on loan again, just as Andre Wisdom did last week. I had the pleasure of meeting Joe Gomez at a sponsored event in Brisbane and one thing that stood out is his level of maturity belies his 18 years.
Martin Skrtel, who will be a contender for the vice captaincy, will lead the defensive line alongside either Dejan Lovren or Mamadou Sakho with Alberto Moreno out left. The popular figure of Kolo Toure will likely be saved for cup games.
The engine room holds the key to Rodgers preferred style of play. The signing of James Milner on a free is a shrewd piece of business by the club. He was a key player, predominantly off the bench, for Manchester City. The lure of regular football in his preferred position was clearly too hard to turn down (I’m sure the big, fat paycheck and sign on bonus had nothing to do with it!). He will slot into the centre of midfield, effectively taking Gerrard’s space. He has a massive workrate and is a very intelligent player. The youngsters in the team will be able to learn a lot from a player who has represented England at senior level and has 2 premiership medals on his resume.
With Rodgers playing a 4-3-3 frequently during preseason it will be up to Milner and Jordan Henderson to work closely together to be the link between what has been a shaky back line and unleashing our little magician in Phil Coutinho in front of them. The early concern I have is that they are 3 very attack minded players. The ray of light is that Henderson and Milner should have the game intelligence not to bomb forward at the same time to leave a massive hole for opposition teams to exploit! What they will allow us to do is play a high intensity, pressing game. It remains to be seen where Rodgers fits our other central midfielders; Joe Allen, Lucas Leiva and Emre Can.
Jordan Ibe has been brilliant to watch since returning from loan in January. He’s quick, strong and has the brashness of youth that shows he isn’t intimidated by opposition defences. Adam Lallana has been playing wide left in a 4-3-3 but can also cover in a more central role if needed. He’ll need a big season to help justify his price tag. One player I’d love to see more of is Lazar Markovic. He came last season with a big reputation as being a star in the making, but he didn’t see a lot of game time and was used sparingly this pre-season.
Rodgers also finally made the ‘marquee’ signing that fans have been calling for. Brazilian sensation Roberto Firmino, signed from German side Hoffenheim, is an extremely exciting prospect. He has a reputation of being a very intelligent forward, again with a massive workrate (common theme here). With 7 goals and 10 assists in 33 appearances last season, Firmino can either play as an attacking midfielder or as a second forward. His relentless pressing and harrying of opposition defenders should remind LFC fans of another South American player who fans fell in love with.
One area that hurt LFC last season was the lack of goals. Sturridge spent more time in the physio room than on the field and last season’s new signings, Balotelli and Lambert, only added 3 league goals. As a result there has been a lot of change up front this summer window. It looks like it will be a case of 3 in and 4 out with Ings, Benteke and last season’s signing Origi coming in to the side and Aspas (joined Celta Vigo via Sevilla), Lambert (just joined West Brom), Borini and Balotelli on the way out. Borini and Balotelli have joined Jose Enrique on the outer, being excluded from team training sessions instead doing work on their own as their agents look to find them new clubs. Ings was brought in from Burnley for what will be a fee set by a tribunal. LFC expect this to be about £7m. Both Ings and Origi are young and raw, but as the 3rd and 4th striker they should see some game time in the cup competitions. Benteke is the major forward signing. The 24 year old Belgian scored 49 goals in 101 games for Aston Villa, a fantastic return. Fans are concerned he’s another Andy Carroll, but he has a lot more to his game than waiting in the box waiting for crosses to come in. His partnership with Firmino and Coutinho will be crucial to LFC’s success this season, particularly with Sturridge not due back until October.
There is a lot for LFC fans to get excited about this season, but with the amount of change that has gone on this summer Brendan Rodgers, and his coaching staff, will have their work cut out for them to get the team humming as quickly as possible. One noticeable change that we’ve seen this preseason is that Rodgers has played key players in each game. He’s been outspoken in previous years about gearing teams up for a second half of the season run, but with the fixture list over the next few months (Arsenal, Man Utd, Tottenham, Chelsea and Man City away before the end of November) and the vultures circling he will know that Liverpool need to hit the ground running.
Hopefully Rodgers prioritises a top 4 finish in the league over trying to compete on four fronts (Europa, FA Cup and League Cup).
What to expect between now and deadline day:
Out: Balotelli, Borini, Enrique plus a few loan deals for some youngsters.
In: None. There has been a lot of chat on social media we are prepared to break our transfer record on a big name signing but I just can’t see it happening.
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