Kieran Davies on a defining few months ahead for the red half of Merseyside.
New season, new stand, new signings, same ambition…….the coveted Champions League. That is pretty much the prerequisite of any manager at Liverpool but Brendan Rodgers has been in his role for a while now and I feel there is also the expectancy of a trophy too. Having been in the position of manager for three years now he has had ample time to instil any philosophies of his and shape his squad. While you may say it is still a work in progress that is only due to poor acquisitions and allowing big name players to move elsewhere: the owners will feel he has had plenty of time. This summer he has shelled out on some big fee players in the signings of Firmino and Benteke. This puts added pressure on the manager this season for those players to perform and produce. Despite their lower fees other players have been added in the shape of Clyne, Gomez, Milner, Bogdan and the return of Origi from a season long loan and the squad has been bolstered somewhat.
There are still players in the squad who were expensive outlays at the time (Markovic, Lallana, Lovren, Balotelli, Moreno and Sakho) who will be expected to perform this season. The fact that the manager has had quite a cull of his backroom staff over the summer also emphasises the end of season talks with the owners was not all sweetness and light. For me, the signings of Benteke and Firmino being such big outlays, puts Rodgers’ head on the chopping block. If they prove to be as successful a signing as Balotelli, it may prove one straw too many on the camel’s back and force FSG to act swiftly. This will appease many fans who feel the humiliating defeat at Stoke on the last day of the season should have been his last in the job. A bitter taste has been left in a lot of mouths over the whole Raheem Sterling saga. Not that the manager did anything wrong there, if anything he over protected the player (don’t get me started on little holidays during the season for tired players!) but the way the player forced the club to sell is everything that is wrong with the game right now.
Looking at the squad Liverpool has at their disposal going into the season, I think it’s a lot stronger than it was last season. You want to be going into a league campaign with four strikers at your disposal. The current top four strikers at the club (Sturridge, Benteke, Ings, Origi) is a far better proposition than what last season’s offering was. In Liverpool’s best attacking side for some time, Sterling shone alongside Sturridge and Suarez, since then (and a European Golden Boy Award) he seems to believe his own hype and rarely since then will you him run at defenders. People point to his assists but he should be doing far more than he does and most assists come from his hesitancy to take the chance on himself and score. With Firmino surely filling that role initially, from what I have seen of the player he has a lot to offer, quite Suarez-esque in his style of play. The club lost a talisman in the summer, one who probably may never be replaced. Henderson is developing as a player but I don’t think he is quite ready to take on role Gerrard often performed will he will pull the strings and try and drag the team back into games with moments of genius.
Potentially this void could be filled by James Milner. I think the guarantee of playing time in his preferred position of centre midfield may have contributed to his decision to choose Liverpool over Arsenal. He was at his best during his time at Villa when he came to Man City’s attentions. His versatility was his downfall and he was used as a utility man during his time at the Etihad. When playing his best football at Villa, he had Gareth Barry alongside him doing the untidy stuff. The only possible likeminded player that could play that role is another utility man, Emre Can. That would then mean the need for club captain, Jordan Henderson to play wide right. Not his best position but would the side gain more of a spine from the Milner/Can partnership? With Coutinho playing the number 10 role behind Benteke, that would leave Firmino wide left.
Then we come on to what still to me seems the side’s Achilles heel, the defence. Nathaniel Clyne has joined the ranks and has the pace to offer a lot going forward and should still be able to get back and make tackles. Lovren has promised a big season to the fans but pre-season didn’t really back up his argument. Sakho seems that much of a reincarnation of Djimi Traore that fans are warming to Skrtel and Toure as viable options. If Moreno plays at left back, I would be happy to see them blood Gomez who had a great pre-season. That would then also see a very strong bench with the likes of Lallana, Ibe, Sakho, Lucas, Ings, Markovic and Origi. More importantly, that bench has players capable of making a difference in a game which is what any side is craving.
So what for the season ahead? What do the fans want? Well in some alternate reality I am sure Liverpool win the league but I think that’s too much of an ask for this forthcoming season. A top four finish is a must, especially with the larger capacity at Anfield now, those Champions League nights are a must if the club are to make enough money as a club to compete with the best clubs in terms of transfers and attracting the best talent. Time has gone on far enough now that Rodgers must deliver good performances in the cups. Why not win the Europa League? It’s not the greatest tournament in the world but in the latter stages you’ll play some decent teams. It is funny how many teams fans castrate this tournament as being for ‘the lesser teams’ which they’re not lying it is, but none of our teams who are too big for this competition have won it for some time. The Carling Cup is still a strange one and didn’t do too well for Kenny’s stay so I think Rodgers needs to try and win the FA Cup also.
The success or failure of these goals is all down to one thing……….management. The rotating of squads, setting out formations, working out the opposition and hopefully teaching a defence how to defend are all key requirements. Most Liverpool fans are tired of hearing Rodgers post defeat telling everyone ‘how hard they worked’ or ‘how unlucky they were’ or how ‘there were positives to be taken there’. Every fan expects their side to ‘get back on the training pitch and work hard’ so telling them this after a game wears really thin, really quickly. It’s crunch time now for Brendan, his side need to hit the ground running, the squad has the capability of doing just that. The owners have now invested quite well, developed Anfield into a 50,000+ arena, now is the time to start doing it on the pitch.