Assessing the Liverpool Squad Ahead of the New Season

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by @MatthewCotton3

By this time next week, the Premier League season will have kicked off and Liverpool would’ve played their first game of the season, against Stoke City.

There is absolutely no doubt that this season is a massive one for Brendan Rodgers. Last season was his first in the role of Liverpool manager after being appointed from Swansea City, and Liverpool finished 7th in the league. Liverpool showed plenty of promising signs in the latter months of the season as they ended the season well. However, this season there is more pressure to make an effort for the domestic cup competitions and to try and get in the top four of the Premier League.

However, this summer Liverpool have been rocked by the Luis Suarez saga. The controversial 26-year old dropped a bombshell in May that he wanted to leave Liverpool. The saga has taken many twists and turns and the latest word is that he might now stay.

Liverpool also lost of experience in the dressing room this summer: Jamie Carragher retired, and Liverpool have a massive hole at the back which they must fill, and, rightly or wrongly, Pepe Reina, the third-longest serving player at the end of last season, was allowed to leave on loan to Napoli after the club signed Simon Mignolet from Sunderland.

Mignolet joined for £9 million in June from Sunderland after three good years on Wearside, as he established himself as one of the league’s best young goalkeepers. He’s certainly looked assured in goal after featuring regularly in Liverpool’s pre-season excursions. However, he will need to hit the ground running immediately because people will question the decision to let Reina join Napoli, with Liverpool’s back up options no different to last season, in Brad Jones & up-and-coming keeper Danny Ward.

To try and plug the hole left by Carragher’s retirement, Liverpool signed Kolo Toure on a free from Manchester City. He brings with him a wealth of experience, particularly in the Premier League with Manchester City and Arsenal, as well as the experience of winning trophies. It certainly represents a coup for the club, but one feels that Liverpool need another centre back with Martin Skrtel and Sebastian Coates both seemingly on their way out. It is also imperative that Liverpool keep hold of Daniel Agger, as he courts interest from Barcelona.

Liverpool have been boosted by the return of Martin Kelly from injury at right back to try and compete with Glen Johnson, while Andre Wisdom has played there in the past, but Wisdom’s best position is in the centre of defence. There’s also talk of Liverpool bringing in a left back to add depth, and Guilherme Siqueira is apparently very close to joining from Granada. I’m not going to confess to knowing him inside-out, except that it would be welcome competition for Jose Enrique, with the other left back, Jack Robinson, going out on loan to Blackpool this year.

Liverpool appear to be well catered for in the attacking midfield department. Philippe Coutinho joined in January and has been a revelation. The young Brazilian can also play left-wing forward in this formation that Rodgers likes to play, but he is at his best in the attacking midfield role. Other players that can play there include Joe Allen, who started last season well but suffered from his shoulder injury, and summer signing Luis Alberto. The 20-year old Spaniard impressed at Barcelona B last season but it’s surely asking too much to throw him in at the deep end early on. Many supporters have noted that Jordan Henderson’s best position is in a role that Steven Gerrard once played; Henderson came into the side in the latter stages of last season and impressed in Liverpool’s end of season flourish.

However, one area in the side that concerns me is the lack of cover behind the attacking midfielder. Gerrard was pushed back into the midfield two, alongside Lucas Leiva. That doesn’t leave enough cover in that position; the cover is reduced by the sales of Jonjo Shelvey and Jay Spearing, who admittedly would’ve been on the fringes had they not joined Swansea City and Bolton Wanderers respectively. It is one of the areas I would strengthen in the side, because Liverpool suffered last season from not having a Mohamed Diame type player in the midfield.

Liverpool are well catered for in terms of wing forwards, in youngsters Jordon Ibe and Raheem Sterling. The latter featured on almost a weekly basis last season, and I expect these two to feature regularly. Liverpool are still short of a wing-forward who is versatile and can play in the front three of Rodgers’ formation, in my opinion. Stewart Downing played on the right hand side of the forward three, but has since been moved on to West Ham United for £5 million.

Up front, Liverpool are determined not to make the same mistakes as they did last summer, when they let Andy Carroll join West Ham on loan (he’s since signed permanently) without getting a replacement in. They were left with two senior strikers, in Fabio Borini (who subsequently got injured) and Suarez, and the lack of attacking options showed as Liverpool struggled with a small squad. Rodgers learnt from the mistake, brought in Daniel Sturridge to ease the goalscoring burden on Suarez, and this summer brought in Iago Aspas from Celta Vigo: he’s scored four goals in seven games in pre-season, but if Suarez, as expected, leaves, Liverpool will be left with three strikers, but a lot of money and will be shopping in an entirely new market.

The problem is that Liverpool’s lack of European football for this year is coming back to haunt them. Despite the huge worldwide appeal of Liverpool, and the array of history, players prefer to join clubs that can offer European football. That puts Liverpool at a disadvantage when trying to attract the best players, and it doesn’t help that Liverpool aren’t keen to offer champagne prices. Spending this money isn’t always going to work; it may appease supporters, but looks embarrassing if the big-money signing doesn’t work out.

I maintain that Liverpool would need a central defender, a defensive midfielder and an attacker who is versatile to play anywhere along the front three; these are important. One thing that does concern me is that while it was excellent Liverpool got players in early that provide depth to the side, nothing happened in July and nothing has happened so far in August (at the time of writing, 13/8/2013).

Liverpool’s strong finish to last season – where they ended with an 8-game unbeaten run which is still going – creates momentum and optimism ahead of the new campaign. It also helps that Liverpool have been given a kinder start (on paper) this season than last year, even though it is still difficult. The momentum created from last season’s run will hopefully help Liverpool to hit the ground running early on. That is vital as the pressure is on to challenge for the top four, and with no Thursday nights in the Europa League to worry about, a challenge for the top four and domestic trophies would be good.