Last summer was a tumultuous and ultimately a disastrous one for Liverpool.
Their best player, Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez, was showcased to the world for the best and worst of reasons before losing him for over £70 million to Barcelona.
Faced with the unenviable task of replacing the focal point of his team, Brendan Rodgers panicked.
Relying on the fact that Daniel Sturridge would both stay fit and maintain his form from the previous season, the former Swansea City manager splashed £107m on seven recruits: Southampton trio Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Rickie Lambert, Benfica’s Lazar Markovic, Sevilla’s Alberto Moreno, Bayer Leverkusen’s Emre Can and AC Milan’s Mario Balotelli.
Of the Southampton arrivals, Lallana was arguably the best, but hardly replicated the performances displayed the previous season. Injuries and poor form ruptured his season. Dejan Lovren was a calamity at the worst of times and worrying at best, whilst Lambert was clearly inadequate.
For Markovic, his first season in England was far from smooth; patience is required to allow the twenty-one year-old to blossom, but despite little flickers of what he was capable of, the red card in a crucial Champions League game against Basel hurt his reputation beyond measure.
Alberto Moreno and Emre Can, both highly regarded, can perhaps somewhat hold their heads higher than the rest, but like all of Rodgers’ summer signings in 2014, were flawed. The persistent moving around of Can’s positioning was indeed frustrating for fans and the player alike, as he appeared in the centre of midfield, at full-back and centre-back.
Balotelli was in truth supposed to be Suarez’s replacement of some kind. It’s impossible to replace the irreplaceable, but Balotelli floundered and collapsed in 2014/15. Was it the pressure, or is he simply not the footballer the world expected him to be? Either way, the Italian wasn’t the only one to blame for the Reds’ terrible campaign.
The strategic meltdown from beginning to end that was the club’s transfer window hampered their season in a way that was not recoverable. It was clear Balotelli was a desperate, late signing as the window neared to a close last year on August 25.
So as imagined, Rodgers, who can consider himself fortunate to still be in the hot seat, had a mountain of work to overcome to win over Liverpool’s furious fans.
However, Adam Bogdan aside, Rodgers’ moves in the market have been just as eye-catching this summer as they were last, but in a much more positive way.
The addition of James Milner on a free was an astute move. Leaving Manchester City, fans at the Etihad could only compliment Milner on his work-rate and drive to succeed, something that was definitely lacking amongst some Liverpool players.
The news arose this morning that, as expected, Jordan Henderson would be made captain of the club. Some may argue that Milner would have been the better candidate. He boasts leadership qualities in abundance, has the march on experience in the game over Henderson, and gives the aura that he can inspire his team-mates to recover after conceding a sloppy goal on a wet Wednesday evening in Stoke.
Perhaps it is just to do with the fact that Milner is a new signing, and to make him captain would seem unfair.
Joe Gomez signed from Charlton in a move that should see the highly-rated 18-year-old figure in the first team in the coming years, whilst Danny Ings was recruited from relegated Burnley.
Ings is not the marquee signing that Liverpool were expecting, with rumours circling earlier in June of a move for Lyon’s Lacazette, or Juve’s Tevez, now at Boca. What the England U21 international does bring, though, is security for when the inevitable happens with regards to an injury to Daniel Sturridge, or if Divock Origi fails to impress.
Nathaniel Clyne is an upgrade on Javi Manquillo. Already proven in the Premier League with Southampton, Clyne is already battling it out with John Stones to become first-choice England right-back, and a move to one of the league’s biggest clubs will help his chances of starting in France next year. For the club, he offers a great set of options both defensively and offensively.
His pace aids him in that sense, having the ability to instigate an attack as well as match his opponents for speed.
On a side note, despite the arrival of Clyne, supporters were sad to see Manquillo have his loan deal terminated, with more than a chosen few believing he could be a regular part of Atleti’s team in the coming years.
Roberto Firmino is the cherry on top. The Hoffenheim attacker was a joy to watch in the Bundesliga, excelling week in, week out against the likes of Wolfsburg and Bayern München. The 23-year-old looks set to be a permanent fixture in both Liverpool’s and Brazil’s starting eleven, and it’s no surprise given what he can do on the ball.
The aim for the club has to be the Champions League. Facing the situation realistically, the title is not a viable option, and even the most biased of fans know this deep down. With the resources that Chelsea, Manchester City, and now perhaps Arsenal have at their disposal, Brendan Rodgers cannot hope to compete.
Last season’s disaster in Europe hurt many of the club’s followers.
Having not competed in the Champions League since the 2009-10 season, the early group stage exit wore a thorn into the supporters’ side with the manager. With the likes of Firmino, Coutinho and Sturridge as an option going forward, Europe’s biggest stage isn’t out of the question. Essentially with three of the four available slots already taken in the form of City, Chelsea and Arsenal, the Reds have to rely that Manchester United have one too many slip-ups.
What is hurting the squad’s morale and the club’s progress as a whole is the ongoing Raheem Sterling situation.
There’s no doubt that Sterling is a talented player, and has the ability and potential to go on and be one of the best in Europe. Nonetheless he is not worth £40m, let alone the £50m that Liverpool are demanding for their want-away star.
Not accepting Manchester City’s offer was seen as stupid by some, and wise by others who follow the age-old theory of never selling to your rivals. One could argue with Sterling clearly unhappy at Anfield, there is no point keeping the England winger there, especially when £40m+ could be spent on a replacement, or strengthening the squad across the board.
Regardless of who the buyer is.
Looking forward to the 2015/16 campaign, there are some issues in how the team will line up. With a mass of midfield players, most notably Emre Can, Lazar Markovic, Joe Allen, Jordan Henderson and James Milner, it will be a headache of the perennial kind for Rodgers and his team to try and organise his starting team.
Can, in particular, is of interest. As aforementioned, the constant switching of the German’s position in the team never really allowed him to settle, but in the recent U21 Championships, Can’s partnership with Bayern München’s new signing Joshua Kimmich was stellar up to the annihilation by Portugal in the semi-finals.
No player to make five or more appearances as a right-back in the Premier League was dribbled past more than Can was (1.8 times per 90 minutes as per WhoScored) , but he did look better at centre-back. A three-man midfield containing Henderson, Milner and Can could work wonders for Liverpool.
Horst Hrubesch, German U21 manager, also indicated during the tournament where Can would be positioned as of next season. Speaking to German news agency SID, Inside Futbol reported where that would be.
“I’ve just been to Liverpool. There we were told that Emre will soon assume Gerrard’s role in midfield. Emre definitely has leadership qualities.” Hrusbech said.
Defensively, Simon Mignolet, bar another drubbing on the opening day against Stoke, should take the no.1 position, whilst Clyne should slot into the right-back position with both Glen Johnson and Javi Manquillo gone.
In the other full-back position, Alberto Moreno is young and always improving, whilst Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel should start in between.
Liverpool’s best choices would more than likely be a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3. Can, Henderson and Milner should take those roles in a 4-3-3, or alternatively, Can could be one of the holding midfielder’s in the 4-2-3-1 with Lucas Leiva. An unlikely 4-4-2 diamond would see Can take the holding role, with either Philippe Coutinho or Roberto Firmino taking the attacking midfielder role behind the two strikers.
Up front, Liverpool’s fresh range of options in Danny Ings and Divock Origi gives a wider berth of selections to choose from, though Daniel Sturridge is probably expected to be the figurehead, though after having hip surgery in early May he will not return to the team until at least October.
Rickie Lambert will either leave or play a very minimal role, as many expect Rodgers to utilise Firmino up front in Sturridge’s absence and have his fellow countryman either in behind or out wide of him. Poor Fabio Borini, if you have forgotten him, simply needs to get a taxi and wave his Liverpool career goodbye, whilst Mario Balotelli has a lot to prove to himself, his manager and his fans.
Where will Liverpool finish? Only time will tell, but it looks to be an all out fight between the Reds and the Red Devils for fourth place.