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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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.
Despite improvement, Everton should not rekindle Thomas Vermaelen interest
The Belgian defender has been in better form for Barcelona this season.
Rumours have emerged today suggesting Everton could be back in for Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen.
Catalan newspaper Sport has reported that the 32-year-old could be offered a new deal by Barcelona, with a team from the Premier League interested in signing him.
Sport Witness has openly hypothesised that Everton could be that team. Whilst there is no confirmation or substantiated report that is the case, the boot certainly fits.
Last summer Everton tried to sign Vermaelen.
As reported by the Liverpool Echo, at the time Barcelona vetoed a loan move to Everton as they felt the defender could be a useful asset.
The Belgian certainly has. After struggling with injuries and form throughout most of his Barcelona tenure the former Arsenal man has enjoyed a good season.
The 32-year-old has been a genuine asset to the Catalans, despite still being used sparingly, and such form has even seen him win back a place in Roberto Martinez’s national selection for Belgium.
If it is Everton interested in Vermaelen it is easy to see why. Centre-back has been a major problem for the club this season.
However, Vermaelen, or a player of his ilk, is not the answer to the Toffees’ woes.
The Belgian is obviously a talented player with plenty of experience, but Everton need to freshen up their back-line.
Ashley Williams and Phil Jagielka’s age has shown in recent months.
The pair have been, at the best, inconsistent for the past 18 months and Everton need fresh young talent in the heart of defence if they are to succeed.
Vermaelen is not only 32 but also immensely injury prone. Everton need reliable figures to plug their leaky defences and the Belgian can simply not be relied upon.
Whilst on paper it seems a good deal, and one Everton could certainly turn to their benefit.
The truth is supporters of the Goodison Park outfit will hope they are not the club reportedly keen on bringing Vermaelen back to the Premier League.
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