Its time for my annual review of Liverpool’s prospects for the coming season. Sadly, 2014–15 turned out as many expected, myself included. The loss of a world-class star in Luis Suarez plus the high expectations of LFC fans following the steller 2013–14 season always meant that the Reds could only improve by doing better. Not an easy task. It was predictable that signing so many young players and then trying to organize them into a comparable squad to their successors was always going to be a tall order. So what are the challenges facing the team in the season ahead? I intend to analyze some of the factors which will determine how the team is going to do over the coming year.
This will be the start of the fifth season for John Henry and Fenway Sports Group (FSG) as Liverpool owners. Under his ownership there have been some positives. However, there have been corresponding negatives as well. Sometimes, I have felt that Liverpool is a little bit of a play toy to experiment with and learn the ropes of top class football. No more is this more in evidence than in their transfer market policies. Every year Liverpool had spent considerable amounts on new blood. Every year the transfer policy seems to be changed!
From the outside, it appears that FSG has tried to implement a similar system to the one baseball employs in the USA. A committee, using methods we are not privy to, identifies players, recruits and then signs them. The manager then tries to mold these players into a team. Very few players over the John Henry era can be viewed as successes: Suarez of course, Henderson eventually, Coutinho, and Sturridge, when he’s not injured!! These are probably the best captures of the FSG years.
This constant change of approach & philosophy is not helpful to the club!! For example, last year they chose to sign players who were more about potential than experience. Ironically, the approach employed this year might've been better served us better last year with a Champions League place already secured. Of course, this year’s players still have to prove themselves this year but on paper Liverpool’s buys appear stronger with greater pedigree and more experience. The overall situation doesn't make things any easier for manager Brendan Rogers. Once again he is trying to create a new group, a new team and a new ethos from the group that ended the last season so poorly. So what of Liverpool’s manager entering his fourth season at the helm?
Last season can be divided into three distinct periods. A poor start, a good middle section where Rogers demonstrated creativity to shuffle the troops he had at his dispel, and a poor ending after the team had worked themselves into a position to reclaim their place in the Champions League. I can never remember, in my time, a Liverpool team conceding six goals in a game! Thank God I didn't see the match!! It is therefore with great irony that the Reds open their campaign against the same team, Stoke City, in the same stadium as that humiliating match that ended last season. A positive result this weekend could psychologically banish many of the demons of last season’s nightmare ending.
The LFC opening games of the 2015-16 fixture list are not easy. Having watched in most of their preseason games Liverpool have appeared, at best, average against a distinctly bunch of average teams. Obviously, there are a lot of new players to fit into a system that we all hope will bring results and hopefully success. However, with this continual influx of new players one can't help but wonder how many of them are signed because the manager actually wants them or because the transfer committee recruits them. The truth, appears to be, that Brendan Rogers has to deliver and deliver quickly this year. You can't help but feel he is a dead man walking with the shadow of the available Jurgen Klopp lurking somewhere in the background.
In truth, I can't help but feel sorry for him. He was brought on board under the auspices of being a talented and hungry young coach. Many of us questioned his credentials and experience to handle a club of Liverpool’s stature on his appointment. Why they never went for Benetiz we will never know! Well actually we do, Benetiz was experienced and successful with in a strong personality. He was never going to be a yes man!! In his time at Anfield Brendan Rogers has shown himself to have some ability but his record is so up and down. His tenure has been highlighted by an incredible second season but overall blighted by significant good and bad runs every season in charge. There is never really a sense of building a team & club year to year as has occurred previously with the great LFC teams of the past. Additionally, he has an extremely poor record in European competition. As many other commentators feel I think it will be difficult for him to see out the coming season.
If Rogers is replaced what would happen next that is significantly different and to the benefit of Liverpool Football Club? Another cull of players is likely? More big bucks thrown around in the transfer market would have to be expected. I can't help but feel that John Henry and his Fenway sports group should be questioned more than whoever is the manager. Living in Boston myself I would have to be honest and say that I don't follow the Red Sox that closely. However, I know enough to know that while they have claimed three World Series in the last 10 years they have also finished near the bottom on a number of occasions. They have dramatic highs & lows. Sounds familiar!! In contrast, the neighbouring American football team, the New England Patriots are a model of consistency irrespective of whether or not they win the Super Bowl. I know Robert Kraft considered purchasing Liverpool at one point but I think Liverpool fans everywhere would prefer consistency over getting the broom out every summer and trying to rebuild! Right now, Liverpool is a difficult club to manage and the owners are a large part of the problem. Our glittering history and traditions weigh heavily against the needs of the modern game. Good luck Brendan I think you will need it!!
THE CURRENT TEAM.
Unquestionably, the preseason has been unsatisfying for Liverpool. Though they have won the games they have played they have rarely looked dangerous. True it's only preseason games but who knows what team will walk onto the pitch next weekend at Stoke! There’s been absolutely no continuity. Here's my own guess at the best team Rogers has at his disposal though I doubt it will be the team he will play in the opening game. So many players have joined the preseason at different points due to the national team obligations so match fitness is going to be the big concern for several of them.
DEF: Clyne, Skrtel, Sakho, Moreno.
MID: Henderson, Can, Milner
FWDS: Firmino, Beneteks, Coutinho
The reserves: Bogdan, Lovren?!!!, Gomez, the underrated Lucas, Ibe, Ings, Sturridge, Origi, Lallana
I would have to say Liverpool don't inspire at the back. Whilst Mignolet improved dramatically after being dropped last season I still question whether he is a goalkeeper we need to win trophies. Moreno has not convinced, Lovren supposedly has the background but covers and reads his teammates poorly while Gomez looks to be very talented but is extremely young and inexperienced.
In midfield, things look better. I didn't rate Henderson when he first arrived at Anfield so his overall improvement has been tremendous. His weakness? His ability to score goals on a consistent basis. Can was probably by far the best buy made in the summer of 2014. Definite potential!! Milner is really underrated and a tremendous player who back in the day Benetiz had tried to sign. Whether or not they are balanced as a midfield trio is debatable as every summer the Reds have failed to buy a defensive midfielder which I would've thought was a priority in a team that lacks defensively. Lucas I rate but unfortunately he has been plagued by major injuries and doesn't appear to have the full faith of the manager. Lallana I have always enjoyed watch playing but at the end of the day is he good enough to play at a top 4 club? I really hope so!!
The strikers boast two big buys in Firmino and Benteke. Will Benteke be suited to playing alone role upfront is a question being asked by many? I think its a legitimate question. Firmino. on face value, appears to be an attempt to buy a Luis Suarez kind of player. He did very well in the Bundesliga. Whether he will do so well in the Premiership we shall all be finding out very soon. Countinho was by far our best player last season. Let's hope he continues to grow and become a more consistent goalscorer. He is very talented. As backup Origi & Ings are young with good potential. What will the role of Daniel Sturridge be if he can get past his injury woes? Overall, there looks to be more goals in the ranks than last season but we are all in the dark as to how the manager implements these players to best affect,
I really hate to be negative but I think it will be difficult for Liverpool to do well with immense pressure already placed upon manager Brendan Rodgers. I really hope I'm wrong. Liverpool could still have a decent season but whether or not a trophy is on the horizon is debatable. As for reclaiming Champions League soccer again with a top four finish I think it will be difficult logically with the way the squads of the main rival squads are shaping up. Its not just the talent levels of the rival squads but the feeling that these clubs are more stable behind the scenes and have more of a year to year building vision. Mourinho’s statement that LFC could win the league appears to be an obvious ploy to raise expectations and place pressure on the manager and the players. If Liverpool reach the level of 2 seasons ago it will be a surprise. Mind you that season was a surprise so you just never know!!
I see no Suarez or Gerrard type player in the ranks who can be the catalyst for the entire group. Raheem Sterling has moved on as well but in truth I thought that was a good business move for the club. Sterling is talented but then again so is Jordan Ibe. The issue Ibe will face is the heightened expectation to fill Sterling’s shoes. I would expect Liverpool, on paper, to finish some were between fifth and seventh. However, if the team gels and they get the breaks they may have enough goal power theory to do better than last year. Whether or not team will fare well defensively is another matter again. Overall my suspicion is that with a good solid season this year it might be a springboard to becoming a force again in 2016–2017. Unfortunately, I doubt that there will be continuity in the managerial chair. Should this happen it will be difficult for the Reds to sustain genuine top of the table aspirations.
Again, Rogers has ability but not the experience he needs in spades to compete against the like of Mourinho, Wenger, Van Gaal, and Pellegrini. FSG should they make a change will likely go for Klopp I imagine. Whilst he has some of the characteristics they may be seeking he is clearly not in the category of yes-man. More teething problems are John Henry and FSG!!. Truth be told, for the third consecutive season I have no real clue on how Liverpool are going to do. Until the ownership implements a system of continuity I can't see success being achieved so readily. Liverpool reflects FSG’s baseball team in Boston!! The only difference between the two is that Liverpool has not won the Premiership and whilst they came very close two seasons ago, sadly, it is difficult to see that level of accomplishment in 2015-16. YNWA