Apart from that magical night in Istanbul, where Liverpool astonishingly managed to recover from a three goal defecit to win the Champions League against AC Milan on penalties, no memory arguably resonates with recent Liverpool fans as much as the 2013/14 season. The season where, assisted by the world-class abilities of Luis Suarez and the sensational leadership of ‘Captain Fantastic’ Steven Gerrard, Liverpool came so close to their first league title in almost twenty-five years. Despite untimely slips and conceding three goals in nine minutes against a rejuvenated Crystal Palace side, the season provided much optimism for fans and the most expectant supporters of the Merseyside club even thought that we could finish one place higher next season and finally win the Premier League. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Even with the sale of Suarez to Barcelona for a huge £75M, factors such as an influx of substandard signings, no prolific goalscorers with the persistent absence of Daniel Sturridge, constant formations changes and potentially poor management led to one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory where the Reds were knocked out of the Champions League at the group stages, finished sixth in the league and even failed to win a trophy. In the face of last season almost being epitomized by Liverpool’s humiliating 6-1 defeat to Stoke City on the last day of the season, following the signings of seven new first team players and changes to the backroom staff, the sense of optimism is once again back around Anfield and the fans are hoping for a much more successful season. However, following the departures of Gerrard and of course, Manchester City’s new winger Raheem Sterling, can fans really expect an improved season where we finish in the top four or should we be ready for yet another disappoinment?
PREDICTED FINISH: FIFTH
If you had told any football fans twenty-five years ago that Liverpool would not win the league up until 2015, they would have called you crazy. A club the magnitude of Liverpool, that has won five European titles and copious league titles, should constantly be fighting at the top part of the table and averaging at least a trophy biannualy. However, during a period in football where mid-table teams such as Stoke and Crystal Palace can buy top players such as Xherdan Shaqiri and Yohan Cabaye, it is evidently clear that the way for clubs to progress is obviously through money and heavy spending. Average teams such as the Manchester City of five years ago can easily transform into a title winning side following a sale to a wealthy businessman and the tradition of clubs such as the Reds, Arsenal and to some extent Manchester United winning the league are slowly dying out. Still, for a Liverpool fan to say that the club will finish outside of the top four seems inexcusable although being realistic, this seems the most likely option. I hate to be pessimistic yet I cannot plausibly see Liverpool breaking into the top four this season with the competition from Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal and United, even though I am honestly not completely ruling it out. With £80M being spent on quality signings to transform the team (which is the most out of all twenty teams in the league) such as Christian Benteke, Roberto Firmino and Nathaniel Clyne, the club and particularly manager Brendan Rodgers is under immense pressure to break into the top four despite the competition from well-established top four sides who typically finish in them every season.
Personally, the most important objective for the upcming season is to get off to a great start, especially in the face of a difficult away match schedule, where the Reds go to the Emirates, Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, the Ethiad, Goodison Park and White Hart Lane within the first seven games of the season. If Rodgers’ side can manage to accumulate a healthy amount of points from these tough fixtures and are still in or just outside the Champions League spaces during November, this would hopefully be sufficient for giving the team a real confidence boost and thus causing them to challenge within the top four for the majority of the season. Brendan Rodgers also knows how pivotal it is that his star signings Roberto Firmino and Christian Benteke get off a great start as well with the huge transfer fees that were spent on them and to further reduce the pressure on himself, Rodgers will be hoping that the investments prove successful and Benteke scores around 20+ goals and dispels myths about him being purely a target man, while Firmino manages to be a nonstop creative member of the team.
Unfortunately for Rodgers, this is the second season in the row where Liverpool have lost a marquee name and although Raheem Sterling is still no where near the loss that Luis Suarez was for the team, lacking a player of his potential and pace is still a large detriment to the team. Coping with the loss of Sterling, while managing to integrate an inpouring of new signings into the team is certainly an arduous task for Rodgers, but it is one he must rise to if he wants to keep his job, especially with world class replacements in Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti possibly being ready to accept the position at any moment. When Rodgers’ was first named Liverpool manager in June 2012, he stated that he would “promise [to] fight for my life and the people in this city,”– this is the perfect opportunity to prove that.
FA CUP AND LEAGUE CUP:
PREDICTION: QUARTER FINAL (FA CUP)/ FINAL (LEAGUE CUP)
If there was one thing that Liverpool fans clamoured for during the majority of last season, it was a trophy. For a club of our magnitude and scale, to have not won one since 2012 is unfathomable and being the only manager to have not won a trophy during the first three years of his reign since 1950, Brendan Rodgers knows that he is under extreme pressure to finally deliver on that and win a cup during this season. Albeit the fact that we did manage to get to two cup semi-finals last year and delivered a admirable performance against Chelsea in the League Cup, our performance in the semi-final against Aston Villa at Wembley, where we had the perfect opportunity to get into our first final for three years, was abysmal and uninspired and was a major disappoinment for the fans and caused a vast amount of contempt towards Rodgers, with many calling for him to be axed.
However, this season Rodgers knows that if he is failing in the league, he has to prioritise the cups as in the long run, no one remembers the team that finished fourth in the Premier League yet everyone remembers the team that wins the FA Cup or League Cup that season. The priceless opportunity for fans to have a day out at Wembley and to celebrate a trophy is magical and Rodgers will be hoping that he will deliver on the fans’ wishes during the ongoing season. Realistically, I see Liverpool managing to be knocked out by a bogey-side such as Crystal Palace in the quarter finals of the FA Cup yet managing to reach the final of the League Cup before being knocked out by my pick for the winners Manchester City in an enthralling contest. Even though this would still be unacceptable and another failed chance to win a trophy- it would at least be an improvement on the past few seasons and for Liverpool’s sake, Rodgers has to hope that the so-called magic of the FA Cup is still around in Liverpool’s favour.
PREDICTION: QUARTER FINAL
When most Liverpool fans discovered that we were competing in the Europa League next season, the majority groaned. The competition has a reputation as a ‘Mickey Mouse’ cup that no one takes seriously and many felt that the Reds shouldn’t prioritise it at all and should instead focus all of their attention on having a high finish in the league so the prospect of Champions League football is increased for next season. However, I completely disagree. The Europa League is still a chance for silverware, which Rodgers certainly needs at this point of his Liverpool career, while with the additional incentive that the winner automatically qualifies for next season’s Champions League, Rodgers needs to go all out to make sure that Liverpool manage to win the competition. Even though Brendan must definately not underestimate opponents in the group stage, it is admittedly the perfect opportunity for the Teixeira’s, Rossiter’s, Markovic’s, Ilori’s and Origi’s of the team to get some much needed game time and show their ability and potential to be first teamers in the near future. During the knockout stages of the competition, Rodgers’ should field our first XI although I fear he may not do this and instead chooses a similar XI to the group stages, which will cause us to be knocked out relatively early to a team along the lines of Schalke, Dnipro, Napoli or Sevilla– which would personally be a massive blow.
What is the strongest XI that Liverpool can field this season?:
Following the influx of multiple new signings during the summer transfer window, it has been highly debated among Liverpool fans as to how the club should line up throughout the season. It has also become increasingly clear that the sentiments of the fans do not always echo what the manager thinks so I will first suggest the XI that I think is the strongest that the Reds can field this season, even though it will likely not be chosen:
The goalkeeping position for the club is obviously clear as although Adam Bogdan is clearly an upgrade on previous number two Brad Jones (who has recently joined League One side Bradford City), he is still no real challenge for Simon Mignolet who will likely not feel threatened by Bogdan’s presence at all. However, Mignolet knows this is still a crucial season for him, as during the year he has to validate that he can be Liverpool’s starting goalkeeper for the next five years as if he underperforms or is constantly shaky, he should be moved on or kept as backup next summer.
The defence of the team seems to be the most polarizing part of how the team shall line up, as although almost everyone can agree that Nathaniel Clyne should start in the right-back position due to his evident ability, the positions of centre-back and left-back are increasingly hard to settle on. While it is obvious that Martin Skrtel is the first choice centre-back (traditionally on the right hand side), his partner in defence is a clear competition between Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho. Despite the fact that Rodgers seems to prefer Lovren (likely because he convinced the transfer commitee to spend £20M on him), I personally believe that Mamadou Sakho is currently the best option to partner Skrtel. Even though on occassions, Sakho can be akin to ‘bambi on ice’ and looks increasingly uncomfortable with the ball on the feet, he is still a fantastic header of the ball and according to http://www.squawka.com, averaged a highly impressive 90% passing accuracy throughout the season. Additionally, he only managed to make a total of two defensive errors throughout the course of the season, while Lovren tripled that with six errors– which shows how Rodgers can not always trust Lovren in defence. Mamadou Sakho is also an occassional captain and regular starter for the French national team and considering that he faces competition from top defenders such as Raphael Varane, Laurent Koscielny and Jeremy Mathieu, that is no mean feat and if Sakho can be trusted at the centre of the French defence, I’m sure Rodgers can trust him in a faltering Liverpool one.
The position that divides Liverpool fans seemingly equally though appears to be left-back, with it clearly a two-horse race between Alberto Moreno and recently signed ex-Charlton defender Joe Gomez. Although I do not doubt Gomez’ potential and he was immense throughout pre-season, he is still only 18 years old and to go to playing regular first-team football for Liverpool is undoubtedly much pressure. Considering that Liverpool already have a left-back with great potential and pace in Alberto Moreno, I believe that Moreno should start for Liverpool, while Gomez plays during the Europa League and occassional league game. Despite the fact that Moreno is slightly inept defensively, going forward he manages to show amazing energy (epitomized by his great goal against Tottenham last year) and taking into account that he was tracked by Real Madrid and reportedly Chelsea before signing, while also being included in the preliminary squad for Spain’s World Cup team last summer, shows how great Moreno can turn out to be and how he should be given more of a chance in the Liverpool first-team.
Choosing Emre Can to start in a central-defensive midfield role is a risky option and although some may say he needs to drop down onto the bench to accomodate Sturridge once he returns, I believe conversely that Can is a key member of the team and should start most games for the team. When Henderson and Milner started against Stoke, the team looked devoid of creativity and while there is no disputing that Henderson and Milner should start in the team, Can is also needed so Milner and Henderson can further contribute to the team in an attacking role and get themselves some additional goals for the team, which may be reduced without solid defensive performances from Can.
Even though there is no denying that Lallana and Ibe are both solid talents that certainly contribute to the team creativly and in terms of goals and assists, the front trio of Roberto Firmino, Phillipe Coutinho and Christian Benteke are virtually undroppable and unfortunately Lallana and Ibe cannot be accomodated without dropping one of the front three. The front line of the XI certainly looks very formidable and can help the Reds’ challenge for the Champions League spots and fortunately each one of them has to have a fantastic season for Rodgers’ sake and their own. Coutinho has to prove that he can score more goals and assists each season (along with a few more worldies!), Firmino has to prove that he can contribute creatively and constantly like he did for Hoffenheim, while Benteke obviously needs to justify his huge price tag, score at least 15 goals in his debut season and repay the faith that Brendan Rodgers showed in him.
Once Daniel Sturridge has returned and settled into the team once again, he needs to start and Liverpool should transform to a 4-4-2 formation (with Emre Can dropping out) so that Benteke and Sturridge can hopefully produce a partnership akin to ‘SAS’ two seasons ago and give Liverpool fans a reason to cheer again.
To say that Liverpool must deliver this season is an understatement. Every fan of the club is tired of us being complacent and being satisfied with a 6th placed finish and a lack of trophies and this is the season where we have to perform. If Brendan Rodgers really wants to stay at Anfield, this is the season where a cup and/or Champions League finish must be obtained and Rodgers must prove the doubters wrong and show he deserves to stand in the dugout of such a great club. English football needs the Liverpool team of the 1980s and if Rodgers fails on any of these objectives, there is always a certain maverick German who would be happy to take over as soon as John W. Henry comes calling…