For Liverpool fans, last season was a rollercoaster ride – a terrifying one. 2010/11 will live long in the memory of Liverpool supporters as the season that their beloved club came close to destruction. At its lowest point, under the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, it seemed the Reds were being dragged towards administration, while on the pitch things were no better, as Roy Hodgson’s side plunged into the relegation zone. To make things worse, what had started as a boardroom battle, had now broken into all-out-war between the owners and Liverpool’s board of directors.
However, October 2010 brought salvation for Liverpool. After a lengthy High Court battle, John Henry, the principal owner of NESV (now FSG), successfully completed the takeover of the North-West club.
Since then, John Henry and FSG have quietly went about their business in bringing stability and structure back to Liverpool FC, two characteristics that Liverpool lost under the tenure of Hicks and Gillett. FSG’s first major decision came in January 2011, when they appointed Kop hero Kenny Dalglish as the manager to replace Roy Hodgson – a popular decision amongst the Liverpool faithful.
With Fernando Torres opting to move to Chelsea, Dalglish brought in Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez to compensate for the Spaniard’s exit – in hind sight, a real success for the Scotsman. Adding to that, players such as Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez and Jay Spearing were like new signings in themselves, as they excelled under the mentorship of their new boss.
The Reds ended the 2010/11 campaign in great form, so much so that if the season had started when Kenny Dalglish took over, Liverpool would be sitting in second, just two points off of top spot.
Last Season: 6th
Odds: 10/1 (via William Hill)
Manager: Kenny Dalglish
In: Jordan Henderson (Sunderland, £16m), Charlie Adam (Blackpool, £6.5m), Alexander Doni (AS Roma, Free), Stewart Downing (Aston Villa, £18m)
Out: Paul Konchesky (Leicester City, £1.5m), Gerardo Bruna (Blackpool, Free), Chris Mavinga (Rennes, £1m), Stephen Darby (Rochdale, Loan), Peter Gulacsi (Hull City, Loan)
Keys to the season
The optimism amongst the Liverpool faithful, and also in the dressing room, is certainly growing. Despite finishing a meagre sixth last season, the fans will have high hopes for next season, especially with Dalglish’s impressive record since his return to the Anfield dugout.
Summer signings Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing will only add to the optimism. Their recruitments will add depth to the Liverpool midfield, which already boasts the likes of Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva, Raul Meireles, Maxi Rodriguez and the returning Alberto Aquilani.
However, in my opinion, Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli must spend on other areas, if they are going to be a real force next season.
In particular, a first team left back is essential. The departing Paul Konchesky failed to cut the mustard in his short stay on Merseyside, and despite ticking all the right boxes, Fabio Aurelio is far too injury prone to be relied upon to play week-in-week-out. Emiliano Insua has returned from his loan spell with Galatasaray, but is he good enough to be first choice in a title-aspiring team? I don’t think so.
Newcastle’s Jose Enrique has been linked with the vacancy persistently, and he could certainly fill the gap. More recently, Porto’s Uruguayan left back, Alvaro Pereira, has been linked with a move to Liverpool, the Copa America winner is certainly a player Liverpool fans could rightfully get excited about.
The two other areas that could do with some bolstering are at either end of the pitch. Firstly, another centre back would be useful. Daniel Agger is top class at his best, but is prone to an injury, and Jamie Carragher isn’t getting any younger. That just leaves Martin Skrtel and Sotis Kyrgiakos as cover. Liverpool fans will be hoping Martin Kelly can step up to the plate, if Dalglish decides not to spend on another centre half.
The final area in need of cover is up front. If they click this season, Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll could form a fearsome partnership, but if one gets injured, what cover do Liverpool have? Dirk Kuyt partnered Suarez in the absence of Carroll, last season. David N’Gog, if he is still at Anfield come September 1, would be another option, but I’d like to see King Kenny bring in one more. If you are looking for quality, someone who may be happy to fill in when needed, and who would cost a modest sum: Diego Forlan anybody?
It remains to be seen how Kenny Dalglish will set out his Liverpool team to accommodate the skills of his new acquisitions, but one thing is for sure, any system will be chosen with Dalglish’s pass-and-move style in mind.
Formation wise, the possibilities are endless. Liverpool could use a 4-3-3 system in which Luis Suarez and Stewart Downing play off Andy Carroll, with Steven Gerrard, Charlie Adam and Lucas Leiva as the midfield trio. Dalglish experimented with three at the back last season, therefore a 3-5-2 formation is also possible. Then again, a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1 seem just as viable.
However way Liverpool set their stall out, I expect the signings of Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing were made with getting the best out of Andy Carroll in mind. All three of the aforementioned midfielders were in the top ten for the number of ‘key passes’ made last season (via The Telegraph).
Kenny Dalglish will certainly have a selection headache to contend with, which can only be a good thing as far as Liverpool are concerned. The Anfield outfit were once heavily reliant on the likes of Steven Gerrard to pull something out of the bag, to the extent of desperation at times. Now they have a wealth of attacking options and have several characters capable of being match winners.
For season upon season Steven Gerrard has been the player expected by Liverpool fans, and players at times, to rescue the team when all looked lost. As I have already mentioned, with the number of attacking options Kenny Dalglish now has at his disposal, Liverpool should no longer have to rely solely on their Captain Fantastic to save the day.
For me, the key player for Liverpool this campaign could be Luis Suarez. Suarez has took the Premier League by storm since his January arrival, and he’s one of those players who can make something from nothing. Suarez proved his class on the international stage this month as he claimed Copa America’s ‘Most Valuable Player’ award for his key contribution in Uruguay’s Copa America triumph. Liverpool fans will be hoping ‘El Pistolero’ can carry his fine form into next season.
Sunderland (H), Arsenal (A), Bolton (H), Stoke (A), Tottenham (A), Wolves (H)
It’s important Liverpool get off to a good start this year, especially after the crippling start of last season under Hodgson. Liverpool should be winning all three of their first three home games, their main tests coming in the away fixtures with Arsenal, Spurs and Stoke.
Liverpool’s main problem last season was their inability to defeat bottom-half teams away from home, which cost them plenty of points. If they can start to consistently win those games, Liverpool will be a force next season.
Where will they finish?
If Liverpool can improve their record away from home against the lower teams, and keep their key players injury-free for the majority of the season, they could be in for a very good year.
Dalglish has spent big money on three of his summer signings so far, and if he can make one or two more additions before the window shuts, then I certainly think the squad is ready to break back into the top four.
Can they challenge for the title, though? Liverpool are a team in transition, and it’s hard enough to make the jump from second to first, let alone the leap from sixth. On their day, Liverpool can beat anyone, but it remains to be seen whether they can sustain a challenge over the course of a season. However, without the Europa League to distract them, and with the King back at the helm, who knows? Liverpool could be the dark horses… 3rd.