Even the most ardent Liverpool fan could not have expected this season to have played out as well as it has done. After a promising; if mistake-ridden, start to his tenure as Liverpool, the signs were undeniably good but a great deal of progress was required to even maintain a concerted challenge for a top four finish. Indeed, securing Champions League football at Anfield was the primary realistic aim when the first ball was kicked in August. Anything more was the stuff of dreams.
But ever since then, Liverpool under Rodgers have gone from strength to strength at a breath-taking rate. In the first few games without Suarez available for selection, they adopted a more pragmatic approach with several 1-0 victories in succession. However, few could have foreseen the transformation into the fast-passing, free-scoring title contenders that they would become.
Regardless of whether the Reds do go on to lift the trophy in May, the season can be regarded as a complete success and continuing the progress next year should be the main objective. In order to achieve this, there are several additions and alterations that need to be made to the squad to cope with an increased number of games that the Champions League demands.
In order to produce more consistent displays, the primary point of concern would have to be the defence. After a flurry of clean sheets at the start of the term, the defending has been less than convincing on multiple occasions. Enrique wasn’t at his best before suffering a season-ending injury, Touré is too mistake-prone, and Cissokho reminds me far too much of the legendary Djimi Traoré. With Johnson’s contract situation far from sorted, bringing in at least one top class full-back is essential. As great as young Flanagan has been, you have to believe that his form will dip at some stage, and in any case, more quality cover is required.
In a perfect world, I would love to see them sign Luke Shaw but I can’t see that deal realistically going through. I foresee Brendan scouring La Liga to find a relatively unknown left-back with the potential to shape them into his footballing philosophy. Wisdom’s form has been promising at Derby County while on loan and I can only hope that a full pre-season will give Martin Kelly’s career the boost it needs. The utility man from Barcelona; Adriano, has been rumoured but I think Rodgers would prefer a more youthful feel to his signings.
As Agger and Skrtel age slightly further, centre-half should also be a position looked at over summer. I imagine Kolo Touré will leave and with Sakho undoubtedly seen as a long-term option, Denmark’s talismanic captain may see first-team opportunities becoming increasingly limited. Personally I would love to see him stay but he may be gently pushed out of the exit door. Tiago Ilori; currently on loan at Spanish outfit Granada, is highly regarded at Anfield and will probably be hoping for more of a chance next season. If funds are felt to be better spent in better areas, an experienced head to help the dressing room might be the prime choice.
It would perhaps be prudent to start considering a long-term replacement for Steven Gerrard if that is not what Rodgers has in mind for Henderson. The former Sunderland man has come on leaps and bounds this season, adding quality to his lung-busting style. Either way, quality cover is needed in the middle of the park with Lucas still having to manage niggles all too frequently. Someone of the ilk of Fernando from Porto or Yann M’Vila would be just what is needed.
Coutinho’s creativity is vital to the fluidity of the team as he provides the necessary link-up to the attack. Hopefully the returning Suso can combine with Luis Alberto to give other options. This area is not one to be greatly concerned with I believe, assuming Rodgers sees enough from the aforementioned Spaniards in the early part of the season.
The forward line is probably what has defined Liverpool’s success this year as the SAS have been unplayable on more occasions than not. Sterling’s contribution should also not be undervalued. However, if you look below these three, there is a frightening lack of depth and quality. The loan move of Moses has not been a success, and the same has to be said about Iago Aspas.
The good news is that both Assaidi and Borini have shown more of what they are about whilst on loan. Should Rodgers ever want to play a formation incorporating width, they currently do not possess the personnel to carry this out successfully I believe. Can Assaidi solve this? Probably not. So a permanent replacement here is probably best. With Champions League football at Anfield returning next season, hopefully players of the ability of Antoine Griezemann and El Shaaraway could be attracted.
Rodgers clearly admires Aspas’ attitude; repeatedly praising his work ethic in training but Liverpool need a bit more from a front man now. Depending on the funds available, a £20 million forward could be just what is required to maintain a challenge on multiple fronts. With Benfica’s Rodrigo rumoured recently, it could be that they begin next season with attacking options of Suarez, Sturridge, Rodrigo and Borini to push for glory at home and in Europe.
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Jack Wilshere’s injury shows why Arsenal shouldn’t renew his contract
The 26-year-old has been struck down by yet another injury.
Jack Wilshere will be pleased with the progress that he has made since returning to Arsenal from his loan spell at Bournemouth.
He was initially nothing more than a squad player that was out in the cold at international level too, but the midfielder worked hard to gain more game-time in North London.
Across all competitions, he has played more than 30 matches and his form earned him a call-up to the England squad.
It looked like he was getting a once-promising career back on track, but almost like clockwork, he has suffered an injury to set him back once again.
Gareth Southgate confirmed that he wouldn’t be travelling to the Netherlands for Friday’s match and the quotes were reported by Sky Sports.
“It is not a specific injury and over time they flare up and they need to settle down over a couple of days.
“We are hopeful it will settle down pretty quickly. It’s an ongoing problem and it’s not something new for him. He’s very disappointed not to be involved in the game.
“He’s trained well though but if you think about the journey he’s had in the last two years and his big injuries then he’s progressing really well.”
Although it is encouraging that it isn’t a serious injury, it is a reminder that Jack Wilshere remains a risk for both club and country.
It is difficult to build a team around a player that is susceptible to miss matches and the quote from Southgate is a worry as he refers to an ongoing problem.
Arsenal have had a difficult campaign and they will be planning a rebuild over the next 48 months as they transition away from the Arsene Wenger era.
They will have to make tough decisions on many players at the club and Wilshere’s future will be brought into focus over the next few weeks as his contract expires at the end of the season.
There have been numerous reports regarding contract talks between the two parties and there is hesitancy on both sides.
This latest injury suffered by Wilshere and the comments from Southgate referring to an ongoing problem show why it is Arsenal who need to end this association.
Wilshere can’t be relied on to stay fit and to feature prominently in a busy schedule. Arsenal will have ambitions of challenging at the very top of the game and will likely be involved in European competition every season. They need to have a squad of players that are reliable and the 26-year-old isn’t that.
Aside from that, Wilshere represents what Arsenal have become over the last decade. He is a player that had a lot of potential, but he has failed to fulfil it and been very inconsistent at the highest level. Of course, he isn’t to blame for the club’s problems, but he is also unlikely to offer the solutions.
This season has been a nice farewell campaign for him. It would have been sad if his Gunners’ career had ended after being shipped out on loan to Bournemouth.
He has returned to earn some of his credibility back, but the club need to move on and progress if they are to get back to the top of the English game.
A lot of contentious decisions will need to be made and the first should be the release of Jack Wilshere this summer.
Why Jose Mourinho’s treatment of Luke Shaw has crossed the line
The Portuguese manager has been highly critical of Luke Shaw this season.
The fractious relationship between Jose Mourinho and Luke Shaw plumbed new depths when the left-back was substituted at half-time in Manchester United’s FA Cup victory over Brighton & Hove Albion. The 22-year-old had been handed a rare opportunity to impress at Old Trafford but lasted only 45 minutes.
Speaking about Shaw in his post-match interview, Mourinho said: “Luke, in the first half, every time they came in his corridor, the cross came in and a dangerous situation was coming. I was not happy with his performance.”
The differences between the pair now appear to be irreconcilable. Shaw, who was signed by Louis van Gaal in the summer of 2014, has been used sparingly by Mourinho. The former Southampton starlet has made just 18 Premier League appearances under the Portuguese in a career that has been blighted by injuries.
Being substituted at half-time is almost as embarrassing as it gets for a player and Shaw’s mood will not have improved after being publicly criticised by his manager. It’s certainly not the first time Mourinho has chosen to talk candidly to the media about his concerns with the 22-year-old.
Some players require an arm around the shoulder to perform at their peak, while for others it takes a kick up the backside. Mourinho, opting for the latter, does nothing without reason and has clearly tried to spark a reaction from Shaw, without success.
From being one of English football’s brightest prospects after making his World Cup debut aged just 18, Shaw, who has seven England caps to his name, is in danger of not fulfilling the potential that convinced United to spend what was then a world-record fee for a teenager.
Mourinho’s tactic of singling out individuals who have not met his standards is in stark contrast to Sir Alex Ferguson, who never blamed his players in public. It has divided opinion among pundits, with Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier claiming the United manager is ‘destroying’ Shaw.
Mourinho is an expert at using smokescreens to distract from his side’s unconvincing performances. And this latest controversy has moved the narrative on from United’s shock Champions League exit at the hands of Sevilla.
Tough love is one thing, but the sustained, public attack on Shaw is unacceptable. If Mourinho genuinely believes he is not good enough to represent United, then fair enough. But to continually vilify the youngster’s performances is a step too far and one that could irreparably damage Shaw’s confidence.
This is not to say that Shaw is a completely innocent bystander. Mourinho’s predecessor, Louis van Gaal, also questioned his desire and general conditioning when he joined United four years ago. Indeed, the Dutchman signed Shaw up to a tailored exercise regime in an effort to improve his fitness.
But while van Gaal’s treatment had the desired effect, Mourinho’s has done the opposite. Being publicly humiliated on a routine basis does neither party any favours.
In all likelihood, Shaw’s disappointing United career will come to an end this summer. A fresh start away from the toxicity under Mourinho is exactly what he needs.
Keanan Bennetts has perfect opportunity to impress Mauricio Pochettino this week
The left-sided star has a chance to impress in first-team training during the international break.
With the international week in full flow, plenty of teams in the Premier League have seen their squads diminished by call-ups to national teams.
Tottenham Hotspur are one such side. Nonetheless, with most of the first-team squad away with their respective nations, work continues at Hotspur Way.
In order for Spurs to have a full complement in training, plenty of young talent needs to be pulled in to the ranks.
Mauricio Pochettino will, therefore,e get a chance to see some of his young players training with regular first-team players such as Fernando Llorente, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura.
One player who will be training with the first-team this week is talented wide-man Keanan Bennetts, according to London Live.
The 19-year-old left-winger has been catching the eye for the club’s youth team in recent weeks, making the news after scoring a fantastic goal for the under-19s against Monaco in the UEFA Youth League last month.
Bennetts has also been attracting interest for his positional dexterity. The wide-man has played at left-back in recent times and it could be that is his future best position.
This week he will be up against some excellent players such as Lamela and Moura, who did not receive selection to the Argentina and Brazil national teams, respectively.
If he can prove himself with this calibre of player, Pochettino will have to take notice.
It is coming to a point in his Tottenham career when Bennetts has to make such an impact. The teenager is out of contract at Spurs in the summer and needs to ensure he is kept on for at least one more season.
Tottenham fans who follow the youth teams are certain he is deserving of such a chance. If he can show Pochettino what he is capable of this week, then a new deal will surely be in the pipeline for the talented wide-man.
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