Rivals Review – Liverpool
Last Season Numbers:
League – 6th, Won 18, Drew 8, Lost 12.
Goals For: 52 (1.3 per game)
Goals Against: 48 (1.2 per game)
FA Cup – Semi Final defeat (Aston Villa)
League Cup – Semi Final defeat (Chelsea)
Champions League – 3rd place in group stage
Europa League – Last 32 (Besiktas)
After the euphoria and then ultimately heartbreak of the previous season Liverpool went into the 2014/15 season in good spirits despite the departure of their star player Suarez, during the summer transfer window. The windfall from the Suarez sale was invested right back into the club with a lot of faith being shown in Rodgers despite questions being raised on the quality of some of his previous signings.
To say that the players signed during that crazy splurge of 2014 were totally useless would be too strong but it`s hard to look on any of the signings made as anything other than a disappointment. The talented Emre Can has shown promise but was oddly deployed out of position, often on the right of a back three, and his form worsened as the season progressed. At almost £10m it`s not as if he was cheap either. Lallana showed some glimpses of his Southampton form but for £25m it`s impossible to consider his time in Liverpool as anything other than a failure. The rest of the signings range for poor to downright disgraceful. Balotelli, maybe because of his personality, will always get a lot of focus and in no way can you consider him a success at £16m but is he any worse than Sakho (£15m), Lovern (£20m) or Markovic (£20m)?
Robbed of two of their starting front 3 from the previous season (Sturridge made only 12 PL appearances, scoring 4 goals), their front line was always going to struggle to match the hugely impressive 101 goals they scored the season before. But I don`t think anyone thought that they would end up limping their way to just half that total. 52 goals in 38 league games is not the type of return you would expect and while the defence still remained relatively stable (conceding actually 2 goals less than one year previous) it was still shown to be no up to standard when facing the bigger teams. Against the top 4 in the league they kept zero clean sheets and conceded 18 goals over 8 games, a rather alarming average of 2.25 per game. A good defence but certainly not a great one.
Having being proclaimed as the great saviour of Liverpool FC and the heir apparent to the likes of Shankley and Paisley, Rodgers found himself hanging onto his job at the season came to an end. He`s spent heavily again this summer but despite recouping a massive £45m+ for the hugely overrated Sterling you wonder does he really have what it takes?
Mignolet will start the season between the sticks for Pool an it`s difficult to know for certain if he is average or just plain terrible. Some games he produces great saves but the lack of command of his box plus his rather alarming habit of conceding goals from distance would always make me worry if he was our keeper. He fell out of flavour for a bit last season due to some truly awful displays but on the back of these he did manage to bring a bit of stability to his game. He always worries me as a keeper and I think he`s a serious weak point in the team. He’s a player who has seriously regressed over the past year or two.
Rodgers played 3 at the back on many occasions but you couldn`t argue that at any time Liverpool looked solid in defence, in fact the opposite was probably true. Emre Can, talented a player as he may be, is certainly no centre or right back and his frustration (as well as his lack of pace) was increasingly evident as the season wore on. I`m not sure as to why Rodgers persisted with the back 3 on so many occasions, it clearly wasn`t working and at times, as a non-Liverpool fan, it felt almost as if Rodgers was trying to show everyone how clever he was by doing something out of the ordinary. A bit like our own Wenger playing central midfielders on the wing or playing that horrific Ramsey/Wilshere 4-1-4-1 monstrosity long after it was shown to fail. Regardless of the whys you would like to think that Rodgers will revert back to 4 at the back with Skrtel and Sakho taking the centre spots. Both players struggled for form last season, to such an extent that Kolo Toure was regarded as first choice for a time. Skrtel is still a good defender and probably is Liverpool`s best. Sakho has failed to convince since his arrival and for the price they paid for him you would expect a bit more. He is prone to be a bit rash in the tackle and tends to come off his feet a bit too quick for my liking. He`s not bad but with all the money spent this summer I`m genuinely surprised that they haven`t strengthened here.
Clyne, their latest signing from Southampton, will take the right back position while Monero will continue on the left. Both are solid players but I`m struggling to think of anyone for the last few seasons that`s left Southampton and actually looked as good as they did in a Soton shirt? We`ll see how Clyne will cope with the pressure of constant expectation. Moreno, I felt had a pretty good opening season last year. Sure he wasn`t perfect and there were games when he looked a bit lost but for a 22 year old coming to a new league he was solid. I`m expecting to see him have a big season this year, he`s a real talent.
Assuming that Liverpool revert to a flat back four you would think that this will give Can the chance to play in more natural role. He was very highly rated as a young promising player in Germany and it was expected that he was coming to Liverpool to play in the central or defensive midfield position. He is flexible and can cover in defence but his lack of pace is an issue. He`s a good player and you would think that a midfield three of himself, Henderson and new signing Milner will provide the team with a lot of energy that was missing last season. Lucas should also have fully recovered from his injury and will provide able backup. It`s a solid but unspectacular midfield and it will be interesting to see how Henderson does now he no longer has a Steven Gerrard shaped shadow hanging over him. I think there is a decent player in Henderson who plays better when Gerrard isn`t in the team. Having the likes of Milner alongside him will help him out but he needs to step up his game. He`s shown he can do it but he now needs to hit a consistency of performance that should be expected from someone of his ability, at 25 youth is no longer a valid excuse.
With the departure of Sterling (for the frankly quite amazing sum of £45m) two of the front three will be new to the club all be it that Benteke has proven Premiership experience. I think Benteke is a good striker and while certainly not worth the price they paid for him he will score them goals. My two main concerns with him would be the regularity at which he scores goals (he tends to get them in gluts) and his movement and how it will fit into Liverpool`s style of play. While not just a lump it up to the big man type of player Benteke does thrive on balls into the box over the heads of defenders or crosses. He has a good touch for a big guy but it`s not his strongest point and Arsenal showed how easy it is to negate his effectiveness by dropping the backline deep and having a keeper that came for every ball. Deny him the space into which he can run and push back on the wingers forcing them to cross from far out and Benteke simply doesn`t work.
The talented, hard working but grossly overrated Coutinho will partner new signing Frimino as effectively two #10s just behind Benteke. Both players tend to prefer playing centrally which would deny Liverpool any natural width, the centre of the pitch could get pretty crowded. Frimino does like to score however and in the last two seasons in Germany he has netted an impressive 23 goals in 66 games, a goal less than every 3 games. However it is worth nothing that this strike rate is driven up by a purple season in 2013/14 when he got 16 in 32. Take that one season of his short career out and his stats are less impressive. Unlike seemingly every Liverpool fan out there I haven`t seen enough of him to judge how he will fit it. £29m is an awful lot of money so he comes with high expectations.
I`d have quite a few concerns if I were a Liverpool fan coming into this season. The defence hasn`t looked secure for a few seasons now, you can cover up a poor backline with forwards who get you goals but they found out last season what happens when your forwards don`t score. I`m not at all convinced by the keeper and neither of the centre backs fills me with confidence. Lovern and Toure aren`t exactly what you would call quality backups either.
I do think that the midfield three of Can, Henderson and Milner (assuming this is how they line up) will provide a lot more defensive protection but I`m not sure how much any of the three will offer going forward. Ideally you would like the two more attacking minded of the three, in this case Milner and Henderson as Can will sure sit back, to get you at least 10-15 league goals between them and I`m not sure they can.
This puts a lot of pressure on the front three to produce on a regular basis. Coutinho, despite scoring a few crackers last season is not someone who will score many. He has other skills but putting the ball in the net is not one of them. He`s young enough (23/24) to still add this to his armoury but to me he doesn`t really look like he has it in his game. If he can`t then you are hoping on Frimino to reproduce that one, what has so far in his career, freak season goal scoring wise. If he can do that he can hit 15+ goals. But, if he does what he did in every other season of his career he will only get around 7-8 league goals. With a midfield struggling to score and your two “wingers” barely getting double figures between them then an awful lot will fall on £32.5million pound man Benteke. Does he have a 25+ goal season in him??? The numbers would suggest not.
His breakthrough season in the PL saw him net an impressive 19 goals in 34 games or one goal in every 1.78 games. But in the following two seasons that return has dropped to a goal in every 2.3 games. Rolled out over a 38 game season this is only 16 odd goals. Not enough. Even if he reproduces his form from three years ago a return of 21 league goals will not alone make up from the lack of goals from elsewhere.
It`s going to be a long hard season for Liverpool. The manager is coming into it under immense pressure and one or two bad result will see the fans become very vocal in expressing their dissatisfaction with him. Liverpool generally doesn`t hang on to managers when they underperform and Rodgers knows this. Talk of character and belief won`t shield him if he cannot back it up with results and his whole man management skills (the Gerrard contract thing from last season being a prime example) as well as some very questionable purchases make it difficult to see him lasting the season.
The defence is not strong enough and while a functional midfield will provide some added protection it`s hard to see where the goals that are required to drive them up the table will come from. They badly need to add 20 goals to last season`s tally but really, who is going to score them?
Perhaps the players signed last summer will find their feet and start to justify their transfer fees and maybe Frimino will hit the ground running and prove to be a huge hit, perhaps even Benteke will find and maintain some consistent level of form but I frankly can`t see it.
They will finish just ahead of Spurs and improve on last year`s final position but they will be a long way off 4th.
Rivals – Liverpool
Rivals Review – Liverpool