It is often said that an animal is at its most dangerous when wounded. Will this be case with a Liverpool team with a huge point to prove? Last season was one to forget for Rodgers and company, and everyone at the club will be raring to put the recent past far behind them. Money has been spent on fresh talent and it appears yet another partially new-look team will take to the field come August the 9th. Will the revamped Liverpool be good enough to secure a top four finish?
Story of Last Season
Statistics do not tell you everything but the fact that Liverpool finished with 22 points fewer than the previous season tells you a lot. In front of goal they were incredibly frustrating and their defending at times was completely toothless, while few of their many signings were able to make a positive first impression. The departure of Suarez was always going to be difficult to deal with but Liverpool fans will tell you that the absence of the mercurial Uruguayan was no excuse for some of their team’s performances throughout the season.
A change in setup midway through the season saw Rodgers side with a wing-back system in a move that sparked an impressive run of good form, however as the season drew to a grim close fans grew frustrated with the manager’s brain-aching selections. A prime example of this is the persistent exclusion of Emre Can from his natural position in midfield. The 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Stoke City brought an end to a disappointing season and served as a final reminder to Rodgers of the scale of the rebuilding project he had ahead of him.
Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim, undisclosed) – According to avid Bundesliga viewers, Liverpool have acquired one of the hottest young talents in world football on their hands. The Brazilian Firmino comes to England boasting a fine reputation among football hipsters and will provide priceless versatility through his experience in playing across the front three.
Joe Gomez (Charlton Athletic, £3.5m) – Gomez, 19, has already caught the eye in a Liverpool shirt and is tipped for big things. The England U19 defender joined from Charlton and according to manager Brendan Rodgers has “all the tools” to reach a high level playing across the entire back line. All of Liverpool’s current first team regulars should certainly be concerned.
James Milner (Manchester City, free) – Without a doubt, the signing of James Milner on a free transfer is one of the deals of the summer. The experienced and versatile England international will bring a tireless work ethic and plenty of ability to the revamped Liverpool squad.
Adam Bogdan (Bolton Wanderers, free) – An updated back-up for Simon Mignolet won’t have many Liverpool fans particularly excited, but Bogdan earned his reputation as one of the better keepers in the Championship and will be eager to impress when his time comes.
Danny Ings (Burnley, fee TBC) – Will the former Burnley forward become a Lambert mark two? With Benteke, Origi and Sturridge all seemingly higher up in the pecking order it is difficult to envisage Ings getting many games. Unlike Lambert however, Ings has youth on his side and has already found the net numerous occasions during pre-season. We shall have to wait and see how effective the Englishman will prove to be at Anfield.
Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton, £12m) – The acquisition of highly-rated full back Nathaniel Clyne was a hugely impressive bit of business. The young English defender had a number of clubs reportedly chasing his signature but opted to offer his services to Rodgers. He has the talent and potential to make the right-back position his own for years to come.
Christian Benteke (Aston Villa, £32.5m) – United, Chelsea and Spurs have all been linked with the big Belgian in the past however the bruising forward has become Liverpool’s marquee signing this summer and will surely have all eyes on him in the opening few weeks of the season. If he can continue his scoring record into his Liverpool career then he will be worth every penny and more.
Allan Rodrigues de Souza (£500,000) – The 18 year old prodigy becomes the fourth Brazilian in the squad after impressing Rodgers and his coaching staff whilst on trial at Melwood during pre-season. “Allan” is a play-making midfielder who’s joined from Internacional and is one for the future.
Philippe Coutinho: Signed for just £8.5 million in January 2013, the “little magician” Philippe Coutinho put on displays completely worthy of his nickname last season, establishing himself as one the most lauded number 10’s in world football. In a campaign to forget for Liverpool fans, the Brazilian produced moments that will long be remembered on the way to being named in the PFA team of the year – highlights including his incredible winner vs Manchester City and winning goals in the FA Cup away at Bolton and Blackburn. Expect Coutinho to be one of Liverpool’s major attacking outlets this season as he looks continue his wonderful form.
Jordan Henderson: Among many other attributes, what Steven Gerrard brought to his Liverpool captaincy was extraordinary character. Whether it was a huge challenge in a derby or a goal that breathed new life into the side, the ex-Liverpool skipper always had the personality to match his footballing ability. In Jordan Henderson, the club has a player with plenty of personality of his own to bring to the arm-band. Often seen harassing opposing midfielders like an excitable terrier and staring down notorious hard-men like Diego Costa, the former Sunderland man has proven his worth as a leader and is more than ready to lead his side into the new season. Henderson may not possess all of the ability of his predecessor but it would be foolish to downplay his footballing talent, especially when one considers his contributions to the team last season. Empowered by his new authority, expect the new Liverpool skipper to enjoy the best season of his career.
Christian Benteke: The acquisition of Christian Benteke divided opinion among Liverpool fans. Despite his hugely impressive goal-scoring record at Villa, some worry that he is not suited to the nature of Rodgers’ system. The pressure is certainly on the big-money Belgian to settle fast at the club with shyness in front of goal a huge issue for The Reds last season due to the loss of Suarez and limited availability of Daniel Sturridge. The big man didn’t waste time to open his Liverpool account with a stunning volley in his debut versus Swindon and if he can find his feet at Anfield then he could well fire his new club into serious top four contention.
Unlike previous seasons, one thing Rodgers can look forward to this season is a selection dilemma or two. Liverpool go into the new campaign with a large pool of players all vying to become permanent fixtures in the team. One would suspect that the mercurial Coutinho has a guaranteed starting role while the highly-rated Firmino will likely join him behind big-money Benteke, leaving the likes of Lallana, Ibe and Markovic on the side-lines. Rodger’s plan for Daniel Sturridge is a topic of interest too. Not long ago the Englishman was one of the first names on the team sheet but is that the case now? In midfield, Liverpool fans have reason to be quietly optimistic with the mobile trio of Can, Henderson and Milner all with plenty to bring to the table however will probably not feel as confident in regards to the back four. The addition of Clyne is smart business but in Moreno, Sakho and Skrtel, Liverpool have three players who all have something to prove.
Is this up and coming season the most important in Brendan Rodger’s career? The powers-that-be at the club have invested a lot of faith in the Northern Irishman at a time when many fans have called for his head. Indeed, the jury remains out on Rodgers. The ‘Deluded Brendan’ Twitter account continues to pay tribute to his convoluted team selections and overused phrases, yet the heroics of his team two seasons ago had him being discussed as one of the finest young managers in world football. The Liverpool manager divides opinion but importantly appears to still have the squad on his side. However, if his team suffer a repeat of last season or worse it is unlikely that he will remain a favourite of those in the boardroom.
First Six Fixtures
West Ham (h)
Manchester United (a)
A browse of Liverpool’s first six fixtures reveals three very tricky away fixtures. The Britannia, Emirates and Old Trafford were far from happy hunting grounds for the reds last season, and one would expect Rodgers to be more than happy to take 5 points from a possible 9 here. Given the form of Arsenal going into the new season and United’s home form last season however, it is difficult to envisage Liverpool not losing in at least one of those fixtures. At Anfield, the club has been given; on paper at least, a much kinder set of fixtures to begin with. Therefore fans will expect the maximum nine points. Do not expect the newly promoted sides to give them an easy ride, though.
A lot of pressure will be on the team to do what is expected of them at home and hit the ground given the disastrous end to last season. Thirteen points from six games would be an encouraging start to the campaign.
Final Standing Prediction – 5th
Contrary to popular conception, Liverpool can enjoy a positive season without securing Champions League football and I believe that this is what will happen. Last season’s top four clubs boast mighty squads and will be incredibly difficult to shift from their perch, however do not be surprised if this refurbished Liverpool team pushes them all of the way. Rodgers has an expanded array of fine attacking talent to choose from and a batch of youngsters to be tremendously excited about as the new season looms. The fragility of his defence will ultimately consign the team to another season of Europa League football, however in finishing above the dangerous Spurs and Koeman’s Southampton, the fans will have a campaign to reflect upon fondly come the end of the season.
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