With Liverpool coming within three points of the Premier League title last season, the red half of Merseyside is well and truly licking its lips in anticipation for the new season. Brendan Rodgers and his band of merry men will be looking to go that one step further and claim Liverpool’s first league title in what will be 25 years come the summer of 2015. The likes of Daniel Sturridge, Steven Gerrard and Philippe Coutinho will also be chomping at the bit to prove that life after Luis Suarez can be prosperous. However, mounting another sustained title challenge will be difficult and consolidating the Reds’ top four status might be a more realistic aim for Rodgers and his side – although another title fight would go some way to proving that last season wasn’t “a miracle”, as Gary Neville so lovingly put it.
They say that almost every team who wins the title has to finish second first – to understand the pain of missing out on the top prize and galvanise the squad with the hunger to go again. Well, the Liverpool faithful has been here before and the last two attempts at going from second to first haven’t gone at all to plan – 2009/10 was a painful season. The captain understands this better than anyone having finished second on three separate occasions – the Anfield faithful will hope he, and the squad, have learnt from those past demons.
Liverpool have enjoyed a decent summer transfer window so far, despite the loss of star player Luis Suarez. Rodgers hasn’t looked to replace the Uruguayan with one player but has looked to strengthen the collective instead by improving the efficiency of existing players, as well as adding to the defence with Dejan Lovren joining from Southampton and Javier Manquillo joining on loan from Atletico Madrid. If Liverpool can concede 15 fewer goals than last season, then that’s only 16 Suarez goals left to be replaced. The thinking is that this can be accomplished by augmenting Liverpool’s already potent attack with Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic all joining this summer – and if they alone score four each, you have just four goals to replace; finally, Henderson, Sterling and Coutinho are all expected to increase their output. It may not work out this simply but Rodgers’ improving of his squad both with new personnel and tinkered strategy is clearly meant to head in this direction.
The signing of Emre Can is also an exciting one for Liverpool supporters. The 20 year old German arrives with an exciting future ahead of him and Rodgers will certainly develop his game – which is already daunting for opponents. Can’s strength, surprising skill and mobility and general determination already make him a useful addition to the current Liverpool squad and his performances in pre-season may see the youngster rewarded with a starting place in the season opener against Southampton – especially with Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic missing through injury.
On the loan side of things, Liverpool have purchased from and re-loaned Divock Origi to Lille in France – an exciting talent for the future no doubt after his performances for Belgium at the World Cup. Liverpool have also offloaded the lofty wages of Pepe Reina, as well loaning out Andre Wisdom and Luis Alberto for valuable first team experience at West Bromwich Albion and Malaga respectively.
With a net spend of about £15m, there could be more Liverpool spending before the window closes – especially with a new left-back and a new striker seemingly on the way.
– Liverpool scored the most goals from set pieces last season with a huge total of 36 – including one from a throw-in. The next best on that particular leaderboard was Manchester City on 26. This set piece domination could well continue with Lovren scoring a headed goal from a Steven Gerrard corner in the friendly vs Borussia Dortmund.
– On average, Liverpool created 12.84 chances per game last season which gave them the third highest average in the league behind eventual winners Manchester City (14.03) and third Chelsea (13.32).
– Unsurprisingly given the fact that the Reds shipped over 50 goals last season, Liverpool managed to top the league when it came to defensive errors. Rodgers’ squad managed 1.11 defensive errors per game. A truly astounding figure for the second place team in the Barclays Premier League. Arsenal were next on 0.95. It is very surprising to see so many good teams in the top five (Everton were sixth too).
Sturridge was a great partner for Suarez last season and at times he proved that he could do some things just as well as the South American. Although Sturridge played fewer games and minutes for the Reds last season, the England international did manage to score 0.83 goals per game which is, of course, almost one every 90 minutes. If he can continue that streak whilst staying fit, Sturridge could flourish even more with the team more focused around him.
Sturridge’s exploits in-front of goal were no fluke either. His shooting accuracy suggests he is a real predator with an eye for testing the goalkeeper with almost one in every two shots. Wastefulness was one of the weaknesses in Suarez’s game when he first joined the Anfield club and if Sturridge can continue to improve from a relatively better starting position (in the finishing department) he could be a real force in world football very soon indeed. Sturridge also competes well with the opposing defenders and won 46.60% of his total duels. If he could get that figure up to 50% then he’d be an even bigger force for Liverpool this season.
On a slightly negative note, to balance out the optimism and realism, Sturridge could do with being a little less selfish as he only creates 1.15 chances per game for his teammates. This could be down to selfishness as we have seen that Sturridge likes to dribble across the defence as well as down the right hand side, but, it could also be down to him not getting too involved with the build-up play – unlike Suarez who often turned creator as well as goalscorer.
Philippe Coutinho is one of the most exciting talents in the Premier League and the second half of last season was a fantastic demonstration of what he could do. Rodgers has already stated that he believes Coutinho to be Liverpool’s key man going forward and few could argue with him. Coutinho is the puppet master, pulling strings and creating angles that most players can only dream of. This is demonstrated in his ability to play key passes in the opposition’s defensive third without giving the ball away. The Brazilian completes an average of 2.21 key passes per game and, given his expanding role, this could grow even more. Coutinho also created two chances per game for his team-mates last season which shows his intelligent side – picking out better options when unable to shoot himself.
Coupled with his amazing skill on the ball, Coutinho also carries himself well on the pitch. For such a diminutive player, he displays a great strength and toughness that many smaller players could learn from. Last season, the former Inter player won 51.07% of his total duels and received many plaudits from Rodgers for his intensity whilst pressing the opposition.
However, Coutinho’s biggest strength is his close control whilst dribbling. Last season, the Brazilian, who was overlooked by Felipe Scolari for Brazil’s World Cup squad, was successful with 57.84% of his player take-ons and judging by his performances in pre-season against the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Manchester City and Manchester United, this figure could be set to increase yet again.
Despite Liverpool’s exploits last season, the Reds will once again enter the season as the underdogs for the top four – according to the many “experts”, including Gary Neville from Sky Sports. In my opinion, Liverpool have a good chance of finishing fourth, providing Rodgers brings in another striker and another left-back (thought to be Alberto Moreno). I expect Liverpool to struggle a little with slightly more expectation and the congestion of European competition – but this is exactly what the club needed and craved for so many years, so now that Liverpool are back at the top table they cannot complain and use it as a big excuse. My prediction for Liverpool this season is for the Redmen to finish fourth and therefore gain Champions League qualification for 2015/16.
Stats via Squawka.com