Season Preview 14/15: LIVERPOOL

Screen Shot 2014-08-05 at 23.16.25Modern football has become a clichéd phrase in recent years with many connotations, often negative. As money takes over the once democratic game we love many teams are facing a destiny without success in any tangible form.

While Liverpool could never be said to be a club ran by paupers, their recent past of near administration and mid-table mediocrity make what transpired last season so breathtaking and special, not just for Liverpool fans but football fans all over.

Liverpool went into last season with one objective – come 4th and re-enter the Champions League, the zenith of club football in the game today. Having spent five years out of the competition they lit up for years previously under Rafa Benitez the genuine chance to return to the competition under the management of Brendan Rodgers was something the fans felt worth dreaming for.

An impressive end to the previous season under Brendan Rodgers provided more than a glimmer of hope for the Reds, with players such as Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho providing the framework for a type of football Anfield hadn’t seen since the late 80’s. Comparisons with rivals were inevitable though, especially with Spurs whom for many had spent the money received for Gareth Bale. There was genuine hope among fans that they’d make 4th and even some belief, but it wasn’t widespread and what ensued in the following nine months would not have been predicted by the most positive of fans.

Despite the apprehension from fans the season simply snowballed into the most unexpected monstrous title challenges Liverpool have put together since they last lifted the League Championship since 1990. While the first 19 games of the season indicated the Reds would more than be in contention for a place in The Champions League the following season the next 19 league games saw Liverpool shock the world. A run of 12 consecutive wins, beginning with the astounding 5-1 thrashing of Arsenal at Anfield left the Reds in pole position to lift the title. As the last season progressed the fervent support shown by Liverpool fans was something to behold.

While the season famously ended in glorious failure, as loss to Chelsea with three games to go was the beginning of the end of the dream, it simply provided hope that Liverpool could go again next season and challenge once more.

Last season: 2nd

Odds: 10/1

Players in: Rickie Lambert (Southampton, 4.5m), Adam Lallana (Southampton, £25m), Dejan Lovren (Southampton, £20m), Divock Origi (Lille, £10m), Lazar Markovic (Benfica, £20m) Emre Can (Bayer Leverkusen, £10m).
Players out: Iago Aspas (Sevilla, loan), Luis Alberto (Malaga, loan), Pepe Reina (Bayern Munich, £2m).

What’s new?

Despite what players are brought in during this summer the biggest change for Liverpool next season is that they will not have arguably the 3rd best player in the world at their disposal like they did last season. The loss of Luis Suarez is a momentous loss for the Reds in numerous ways. Not only did he score 31 league goals last season despite missing the first six league games of the season through suspension, but he symbolised Liverpool’s relentless attacking play.

When Brendan Rodgers was appointed Liverpool manager he quickly vowed to build the team around Luis Suarez. By selling Andy Carroll he had begun building a team in the image of Luis Suarez. Less than two years later Suarez had reached the same echelon of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

While Suarez was not the only defining factor of Liverpool last season, he was their crazed warrior leading at the front at every opportunity. One moment from last season sticks out more than most regarding Luis Suarez. During the momentous run of victories last spring Liverpool visited St Mary’s to play Southampton. During a Liverpool attack in which they had lost the ball such was Luis Suarez’s will to stop a Southampton counter-attack he launched himself at an opposition player in an attempt to tackle – with his head. While some may laugh at such an incident and mark it as another act of lunacy from the Uruguayan it does put into perspective how much Luis Suarez simply wanted to win.

Beyond the loss of Suarez not much will change for Liverpool. New players such as Markovic and Lallana will be expected to add much needed depth rather than a new dynamic of play. Liverpool will most likely still deploy variations of a 442 diamond and 433 with an emphasis on rapid counter attacks as much as possible.

Key Player

While unless a forward is purchased with the genuine ability to challenge Daniel Sturridge as the number one striker I expect him to play as often as possible next season, injuries notwithstanding, and keep up his impressive goals rate. Despite Sturridge’s undeniable talents, looking to him to make up for Suarez’s loss is unfair and reductive. Not only will Liverpool need to reduce the number of goals conceded – they conceded 50 goals in the league last year – but increase the number of goals from both midfield and wide positions.

With that, Raheem Sterling may be Liverpool’s key player next season. Just like Liverpool’s season itself last year, he exponentially improved from the halfway stage. After Sterling scored in Liverpool’s 5-0 rout at Spurs at White Hart Lane he vastly improved his form. Sterling wasn’t just helping Suarez and co. out but he was the teams most productive and influential player during their best run of form in decades. Sterling’s ability to play in a number of positions at an increasingly elite level will prove crucial for Liverpool, especially in the extremely tactical Champions League.

While a tally of ten goals and seven assists for a teenage attacking player is impressive Liverpool fans can expect an increase in such a tally for the 19-year-old next season with perhaps 15+ goals in all competitions. Certainly such form will be much needed to make up for the loss of Luis Suarez.

One to Watch

As ever Liverpool has focused the majority of their summer recruitment on youth. While the merits of such an approach are questionable one acquisition has certainly got the eye in pre-season thus far, Emre Can. Can, who arrived from Bayer Leverkusen last month for a fee of £10m can play in an array of midfield positions and also full back if necessary. While Can was touted as a defensive midfielder before arriving he has played as a box to box midfielder in pre-season, providing a similar role to that of Jordan Henderson, with perhaps more individual skill than the Sunderland native.

Until Liverpool changed their midfield dynamic last season from a holding duo of Lucas – Gerrard to Gerrard – Henderson – Allen/Coutinho they looked to last the requisite physicality and brute drive to their play, both offensively and defensively. Now Can will be able to provide a new dynamic to that midfield which certainly needs not only numbers but genuine quality. Although not a goal scorer by trade the direct running from Can may help ease the weight of goal scoring responsibility from players from the forward line.

Season Prediction

As ever predictions are hard to make while business is to be made for Liverpool. Right now it seems late moves for full backs seem likely – and much needed, while the lack of another genuine goal threat up front worries. Despite that, and despite the loss of Suarez, the key facets of play will remain, and that is the most important factor for Liverpool fans to consider.

I would expect Liverpool to struggle more than last season, that’s quite clear. Through the loss of Suarez and the extra games to be played, accompanied with the added expectation they will most likely face some rough patches. Overall though I think Liverpool will be a certainty to make the top four next season and perhaps fight for an automatic place in the Champions League.

BPF Prediction: 4th

Written by: Kevin Kelly/ @Kev92Kelly 

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