We are finally back – this could be one of the most competitive Premier League seasons of all time, with four or five clubs all in with a genuine chance of winning the title. This 2-part article will focus on Liverpool and their competition, their naysayers, and the factors that I believe will lead them to another fantastic season. Not necessarily the title, but another step forward in their progression under Brendan Rodgers.
Since the departure of Suarez, it is fair to say there has been a lot of loose talk. According to many, Liverpool massively overachieved last year (fair to an extent, however Liverpool were always going to challenge for titles again under Rodgers, it was just a question of when). According to many they have panicked and bought as many players as they can to replace Suarez. They are now ‘doing a Spurs’. They will now score 31 goals fewer than last season, finish outside the top four, and be incapable of coping with the demands of both the Premier League and the Champions League.
So for the people wrapped up in these beliefs, I’ll raise some controversial points and try to explain why Liverpool will be doing the exact opposite of moving backwards this year.
Rodgers not Suarez
We hear endless talk about Luis Suarez, and how Liverpool will ‘replace’ him, and ‘replace’ his 31 goals. Incredibly tiresome to hear for anyone who understands the way Liverpool are working. What about the other 70 goals they scored last season? Did they fall into the goal? Arsenal only scored 68 and were being touted for the title at Christmas (Chelsea also scored 77, not many more than Liverpool minus a striker’s entire workload). There currently seems to be an incredible lack of perspective – I do wonder if some people realise that losing Suarez doesn’t mean that Liverpool go down to ten men for the season.
Perhaps the most ironic factor about this lazy analysis, is people forgetting that Brendan Rodgers spent all of last season adapting his systems to accommodate Suarez in the first place – was this not a tactical hindrance despite the attacking rewards? How many times have we heard him repeating for the media – ‘The team is the star, the team is the star, the team is the star…”? He must be bored of saying it.
Reflect on the goals Liverpool scored last season. Pure team brilliance, some incredible acts of individual brilliance (not just from Suarez), but above and beyond, the free-flowing attacking prowess came from the team. Think about the incredible aggression in their pressing (Henderson), the nouse and creativity (Coutinho), speed and sharpness (Sterling) and ruthless finishing in front of goal (Suarez and Sturridge). No attacking competency is complete without all of these factors being built into one – and that will never be achieved with one player.
It was almost funny watching Liverpool against Dortmund at the weekend and realising that plenty of people genuinely believe Liverpool’s goalscoring ability has now caught a flight to sunny Spain. With many football fans being spoon fed their opinions by the clueless media, I’m sure we’ll hear differently in a few months when Sky Sports and MOTD realise that Liverpool can and will still hammer teams.
Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Phillippe Coutinho – Another level higher
Many a Liverpool fan is being aggressively confronted and asked where these goals are going to ‘magically’ come from if Liverpool do not buy a ‘marquee signing’ (a term which should be abolished from football).
The answer for me, is that those goals are already in the team – they just haven’t hit the back of the net yet. Liverpool will still add one more striker, but this player will not need to account for more than 15 league goals. Do not forget, Suarez himself was not a ‘marquee signing’ – he scored 11 goals in his first full season (is it coincidence that his goals tally increased with the improvement of his learning under Brendan Rodgers?).
So – when you see the development of players like Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Phillippe Coutinho, is it really that difficult to imagine where the increase in goals is going to come from? The three between them only returned 18 goals last season, with 4 for Henderson and 5 for Coutinho, and Sterling scoring 9.
All three of these players are currently on cloud 9. Jordan Henderson is having his name thrown about as the future captain of the club, and is currently listed as 4th favourite to be the next England captain. Brendan Rodgers has come out and set him the challenge of scoring more goals, with 10 goals probably being his most realistic target – having netted twice already in pre-season he looks full of confidence and fully capable of meeting this target, he looks a better player every game.
Phil Coutinho has been referred to as ‘the brain’ of the team by Rodgers, and will also be expected to increase on his return of 5 goals. Many Liverpool fans will tell you that if this little genius can improve on his finishing (which he undoubtedly will), he can go on to be a far better player than Suarez. His pre-season performances have been nothing short of astonishing and he will also now take a massive step up in the absence of a ‘star man’.
Raheem Sterling is a player whose progression knows no limits at the moment. Despite the year he has just had, he is a player who is reiterating how much he feels he has to now prove himself all over again. His return of 9 goals came from effectively half a season, as he couldn’t get a look in off the bench until December, and in Sterling Liverpool have a 19/20 year old who is arguably their best player, determined to prove his worth, and will almost certainly be improving his goals tally. I feel it is not unrealistic at all that Liverpool can expect an increase of 15-20 goals from these three players alone, never mind any new signings.
To be continued…
In part 2, we will look at the suggestions that Liverpool will be taking a step backwards this season, decide whether or not they are ‘doing a Spurs’, put into perspective what they achieved last season, and also take a look at their competition this year.