Adam Jones assesses what this season may hold for troubled Liverpool. Can they bounce back from falling short of the mark last season?
Liverpool is a club in transition and pretty much has been since the departure of Rafael Benitez in 2010. Since the Spaniard left, under the stewardship of Roy Hodgon and Kenny Dalglish they have mustered league finishes of 7th, 6th and 8th which only suggests a continual decline. On the eve of the 2012-2013 season, however, there seems to be new cause for optimism, with a fresh faced young manager and a new found belief amongst those fans tiring of King Kenny’s same old post match interviews. While they won’t realistically be challenging for the title for at least a few more seasons, Steven Gerrard believes that a Champions League place is within their reach and is once again their number one priority over the months to come.
The pressure on Brendan Rodgers may not be as high as expected of a new manager at a club like Liverpool either, as he is attempting to alter the style of the team’s football as well as restoring pride in their league performances. Importantly, the American owners know this will take time as his ‘tika-taka’ style of play is not going to become successful over night.
So far the signs for the new season look promising. Out of the players to leave the club, Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez and Craig Bellamy were all willing servants but were also all well into their 30s, paving the way for a new generation to step forward. In terms of signings, Rodgers has not taken any gambles at all in terms of personality, but the amount of money spent is slightly questionable still. Fabio Borini and Joe Allen, both former players under Rodgers at Swansea, signed for a combined fee of around £25 million, which may not encourage fans after last season’s unsuccessful spending spree. Then again, Rodgers wouldn’t spend that amount of money if he didn’t think it was necessary in capturing two players he knows very well, whilst Allen and Borini will also be aware of his playing and managerial style. In terms of players already at the club, Daniel Agger has constantly rejected approaches from Manchester City to pledge a loyalty to Anfield, whilst probably most importantly, Luis Suarez has signed a contract extension to fend off interest from Juventus.
Pre-season has been relatively mixed as the players adjust to the new managerial philosophy, but they impressed in Europa League qualifying, with Borini scoring on his home debut. They also beat Bayer Leverkusen in their final friendly, with starlet Raheem Sterling scoring his first senior goal for the club.
Season Prediction: 6th. Realistically the best they can hope for is the last Champions League spot, which they will be battling strong Arsenal and Tottenham sides for. There ultimate priority will be to turn over the Merseyside inferiority though, as they finished a place below arch-rivals Everton last season which just isn’t acceptable to Liverpool fans.
Key player: Many would say Suarez or Gerrard, but the return of Lucas to the starting line up will be integral to how Liverpool perform this term. The Brazilian was heavily criticised in his early years on Merseyside, but in the last few seasons has established himself as one of the first on the team sheet. He was injured badly against Chelsea in November last season, and it’s no surprise that Liverpool’s form after his injury at Stamford Bridge was a lot more inconsistent than in the early season months. He controls the tempo of the game and keeps it simple; something Rodgers highly appreciates.
Strengths: Passion. With local players like Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Jay Spearing, the club will never lack commitment and devotion to the cause to carry them through bad spells.
Weaknesses: Pressure. Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam have a lot to prove this season after failing to impress in their first season. They will no longer have the excuse that they haven’t settled yet, they simply must ignore the price tags placed on them and lift their games if Liverpool are to return to the heights they expect to be at.