Last season was one of bitter disappointment on the domestic front for everyone involved with Liverpool football club. Not even managing to win the Carling Cup and reaching the F.A Cup final could mask just how much finishing 8th and behind rivals Everton had hurt the fans.
Going into the season, the team had high expectations after big money signings Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Jose Enrique all arrived Anfield. It was thought that the team now had the perfect balance and had acquired a high-class winger, something which had been lacking in the past, but it wasn’t to be as many of the big money signings disappointed.
Andy Carroll had a dreadful start to the season and found goals extremely hard to come by, before managing to turn it around and become a fan favourite with his gritty, determined performances and managing to score the winner in the F.A Cup semi-final against rivals Everton. Stewart Downing managed to go throughout the whole season without scoring a goal or even getting an assist in the Premier League. Henderson and Adam both struggled to impress the fans and it looked destined to be ‘one of those seasons’ as Liverpool struggled to pick up wins at Anfield.
A lot rested on the shoulders of star-man Luis Suarez who had started the season brightly, but following a controversial race-row and subsequent eight-game ban, it took him a while to regain his form and the team had succumbed to a disappointing eighth placed finish. This was enough to convince the Anfield board to get rid of manager and fan-favourite Kenny Dalglish, a decision which was not taken lightly.
However, it was the right decision, regardless of how much sentiment the fans all have for Dalglish. He was never a master tactician, and this was something which Liverpool desperately needed. Step forward, Brendan Rodgers. The former-Swansea manager was renowned for playing attacking free-flowing football and administering the tiki-taka football seen at the illustrious Barcelona. He was a major part of the surprising success Swansea achieved last season and in June 2012, he signed a long-term deal to become the new Liverpool manager.
His first steps in pre-season have been to bring in the highly-rated Fabio Borini who has worked with at both Chelsea and Swansea and former Swansea midfield general Joe Allen.
Borini looks the type of player Liverpool were crying out for, a poacher. He certainly knows where the net is, scoring 9 in 24 games during a short loan spell at Roma last season, and he has already opened his Anfield account on his first game on Merseyside, opening the scoring against FC Gomel in the Europa League qualifying game. He is a tireless worker and works well off the ball, tracking back and creating space for other players to run into. He is a brilliant addition to the squad, and due to his relatively small transfer fee in today’s market of just over £10 million, means there is little pressure on his shoulders, which is sure to help him.
Joe Allen has followed his former manager to Anfield and he has said working with Rodgers’ was one of the main factors that finalised the deal.
To join back up with him was definitely a big pull for me,” said Allen. “Brendan is so passionate about his football. He works day in, day out to improve the team and everyone individually. Everyone wants to work alongside someone who has that way about them. One of his best things is his man management. He commands the respect of everyone. I have a lot of faith that Brendan can bring success. I wanted to be part of this project and I’ve really got a good feeling this football club is going to go from strength to strength in the next couple of seasons.”
The Welsh-man has raised many eyebrows with his £15 million price-tag but it looks set to be a wise investment over years to come. The 22 year-old had a 91% success rate last season, higher than Barcelona and Spain star Andres Iniesta. His ability to keep the ball in tricky situations and look to build moves from a deep-lying role, is something Liverpool have missed since the departure of Xabi Alonso three years ago. Last season he managed to make 110 tackles, the third-highest in the division, and he looks set to take some of the defensive pressure off Lucas, and free-up Steven Gerrard, allowing the skipper to revert to his favoured free-role.
Pepe Reina was rather disappointing last season, by his own high standards. The Spaniard began to allow silly mistakes to creep into his game for a spell around the middle of the season, but managed to shake it off and began towards like his old self coming into the latter parts of the year. However he got sent-off in a league game against Newcastle, which resulted in him missing the F.A Cup semi-final against Everton, which Liverpool went on to win 2-1. He returned for the final, which Liverpool lost, but was also in goal for the Carling Cup final victory against Cardiff. This taste of silverware is sure to inspire him next season, and wet his appetite for more success and although he was part of the Spanish Euro winning squad, he didn’t take part in a game, so will return to Anfield fresh after a nice break. On his day he is in the top 5 goalkeepers in the world, without a doubt, so the team can have the faith in Reina bailing them out of sticky situations. Brad Jones, Doni and Peter Gulasci are competing for the second spot behind Reina, although unless Pepe gets injured or suspended, it is likely they will be competing for appearances in the earlier rounds of cup competitions, and none look set to threaten him for a first-team position just yet.
Liverpool have always been renowned for their imperious centre-half partnerships and this year looks no different. There hadn’t been a stand-out partnership since the days of Hyypia and Henchoz, but now Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger have struck up a partnership that will be key to any success Liverpool have this year. Both players were reported to be City-bound, but with Daniel Agger’s recent tattoo of ‘YNWA’ across his knuckles and the £27 million price-tag slapped across his head, it looks as if he will be staying at Anfield for at least another season.
The football that Rodgers is looking to be playing next year will suit Daniel Agger perfectly. He is one of the greatest footballing defenders on the planet, and always looks comfortable with the ball at his feet. He has always liked to bring the ball out from the back, and never been scared to get forward, something Rodgers will be looking for his defence to do. Skrtel has began to follow suit and could often be seen making forward runs towards the end of last season, and also frequently during pre-season. The pair are disciplined when they need to be, brilliant in the air, powerful, quick and arguably the best centre-half partnership in the league.
In terms of full-backs, Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique are both quick attacking-minded players who will join in with attacks which is important when playing a rather compact midfield three. They will offer width when the midfield and attackers get sucked into the centre, as-well as being quick enough to track back and make sure they fulfil their defensive duties. Johnson managed to get on the score-sheet against FC Gomel and Rodgers seems keen to allow both him and Enrique the freedom to go forward which will benefit the team, by being able to attack in numbers which didnt happen often enough last year.
Liverpool look set to play a three-man midfield for the first time in a long time, which is already pleasing the fans. Gone are the days of the rigid 4-4-2 or defensive minded 4-5-1, Rodgers looks set to play a free-flowing attacking 4-3-3. Joe Allen and Lucas are expected to be the sitting pair, who will slot in to defensive duties when Agger or Skrtel begin to attack. Their discipline and range of passing will be major assets to the team after Livepool have attempted to play attacking-minded player in a defensive position in the shape of Gerrard, Henderson, Shelvey and Aquilani (when played), with very little success.
With the pair likely to sit deep, this will give Steven Gerrard his favoured free-role back, which is where he has had the greatest success so far in his career. The last time he was given the free-role with Didi Hamann in the squad, Gerrard made his name, getting forward and scoring double figures consistently each season. In the fixture against FC Gomel, Gerrard was often found drifting wide allowing the attacking players to cut inside and turning the formation into a fluid 4-2-4.
Their is substantial strength in depth in terms of central midfielder’s with Shelvey, Henderson, Adam and Spearing all able replacements in the centre, yet it is likely one if not two of these players will be sent on loan to gain some first team experience.
Luis Suarez is the key-man for Liverpool this year, after signing a new long-term contract at the club to quash any lingering doubts about his future on Merseyside. El Pistelero has already scored 15 Premier League goals for Liverpool alongside numerous assists, but will be hoping for a bigger return next year, playing at the head of a front three.
Last year he was often the lone striker, short of support but he looks set to have Borini and Downing alongside him to help create chances this season.
Each of the three can play anywhere along the front, with the players likely to drift between positions during the game, which will keep the opposition defence on their toes. Downing has had a lot of unfair flack due to his performances last season, in which his failure to score or get an assist was well-documented. He created the second highest amount of chances in the Premier League, behind only Leighton Baines. It was the final attempts from Carroll/Suarez etc which let down Downing and made his statistics look a lot worse than his performances warranted. He has began to attack defenders a lot more and isn’t scared to get the byline and get the ball into box, as-well as cutting inside and firing in shots from distance, which is how he got his first goal of Brendan Rodgers’ reign as manager, away in Belarus.
Borini’s movement and quickness along the ground, as-well as his touch and finish means he is likely to be selected ahead of Andy Carroll, who sadly doesn’t fit into the mould needed for tiki-take football. However he will still be a key member of the squad, as there are times when tiki-taka won’t suffice, such as on a cold Tuesday night at the Britannia. His height and power in the air will be a huge asset when coming up against tiring legs in the last 20 minutes of games also.
Considering the bitter disappointment of last year, Liverpool fans will be heading into the new season with a new found optimism courtesy of Brendan Rodgers’ free-flowing attacking football that he is trying to implement. This was seen to an extent during his first game at Anfield, against FC Gomel, with two touch football seemingly being the aim.
Suarez looked on great form, and next year he will have lots of support, so the current 40/1 for him to be top assist maker in the league looks massive. His creativity often means he can find space where others wouldn’t, and now with the poacher Borini next to him, he will have someone to help convert the chances.
This leads on to the next stand-out bet, which is Borini at 5/1 to be Liverpool’s top league scorer. It looks set to be a two-horse race between Suarez and Borini for the crown, and the odds should be a lot closer, with Borini looking likely to be the furthest forward for most of the season, with Suarez being allowed to drift out wide.
With the added bonus of playing competitive matches before the Premier League has started, due to the Europa qualifying, it is likely that Liverpool will be able to start the season in good fashion and get off the mark quickly. September looks a difficult month with both Arsenal and Manchester United at home, and Norwich and Sunderland away, but Liverpool will have the added bonus of being much fitter. BetVictor are offering Liverpool to pick up over 7 points at 12/5 which looks massive. Rodgers will be disappointed if he can’t get his side to beat Norwich and Sunderland, which would mean only a point would be needed against Arsenal and United. Both have gone through a transitional period and the Anfield crowd can make such a difference, so a draw is the minimum expectation from both games, with both seemingly being there to be won.
1 point e.w – Luis Suarez – Top Premier League Assist Maker- 40/1 Boylesports
2 points – Fabio Borini – Top Liverpool Premier League Scorer – 5/1 SkyBet/Bet365
2 points – Liverpool to gain more than 7 points in September – 12/5