Favourites, Challengers, Underdogs… What Are We?

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Any time a team finishes second in their respective league, the immediate aim should naturally be to make the necessary improvements to rise that single spot and finish on top the next season.

Last time we were in this situation, it went horribly wrong. But that was during a period when extraneous circumstances meant that taking that final step up the table was a far greater challenge than it should have been. Many mistakes were made, but the overriding factor was our lack of funds and failure to back the manager from our calamitous owners.

Luckily no such issue is present this time, though a different problem has reared its head in the form of the departure of a player who was absolutely pivotal to what we achieved last season. If we had kept the same group of players as last year, and made a handful of good signings to improve the squad and one or two weak areas, no doubt we’d be up there as many people’s favourites to win the league this season.

Such is Luis Suarez’s quality though, that his exit from Liverpool has fans and pundits talking like we’re back to square one and even a top four finish may be out of our reach. We haven’t exactly made a like-for-like replacement signing for Suarez, so of the six first team signings (excluding Divock Origi) we have made, it’s hard to judge which, if any, of them we wouldn’t have brought in had Suarez stayed.

Last season we were poor defensively, so if we were anything other than devastating in attack, there’s no way we would have been challenging for the title. Luckily, the likes of Suarez, Sturridge, Sterling, and Coutinho formed such a lethal forward line that it compensated for our vulnerabilities at the back. Take away the key player in that front line, and on paper we are left with a bad defence and drop down to simply ‘good’ in attack.

You can understand the thought process that a team selling a world class player, and not signing a world class player, will probably have become a lesser side. But that is a very basic way of assessing the situation, ignoring the defensive reinforcements we have made, the squad depth we have added, and the improvements of our other players, both individually and collectively.

The likes of Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic may not make up for the loss of our former number seven, but they are players who fit into the manager’s style and philosophy perfectly. Add to that the improvements that Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho have already shown in pre-season, and the potential that Daniel Sturridge could step up yet another level with being the main man up front, and I don’t think the loss of Suarez will hit us as hard as some may make out.

The Uruguayan is no doubt one of the best players ever to play for Liverpool Football Club. But he was a player so good, it was worth building the team around him to play to his strengths. Brendan Rodgers now has that chance to put his own stamp firmly down on the team, with the exact players he wants and where he wants them, instead of fitting them around one individual. Last season we were very easy on the eye and exciting to watch, but a lot of that came through the ridiculous talent on show from Suarez. This year I expect to see a lot more team play and fluidity, with players interchanging and combining with no one single focal point.

At the back, we have also made steps to tighten things up a bit. Dejan Lovren I think is a massive signing for us. He’s a player I wanted us to bring in a year ago when he originally moved to Southampton, but he’s exactly the sort of authoritative defender that we needed to add some presence to the back. I think he will bring the best out of Martin Skrtel, and in the longer term I can see him and Mamadou Sakho developing a top defensive partnership.

It was essential to address our issues at full back this summer, and it looks like we are on our way to doing that. Javier Manquillo, and potentially Alberto Moreno, will add some much-needed quality in the positions where last season we looked so weak. Glen Johnson’s decline was one of the few negatives of last season, and while Jon Flanagan impressed, he is more of a solid, reliable option than a long-term solution. Jose Enrique has looked decent in pre-season, but still shows signs that his road to recovery from injury isn’t quite complete.

Having surprised so many people last season, but now losing our best player, we are somewhat of an unknown quantity at the moment. Combined with a fuller fixture list with Champions League games at long last making a return, and other sides like Arsenal and Man Utd looking like they’ve improved, it’s all set to be a wild, unpredictable season. What I will say is that people can write us off at their peril. They think that the man who has dragged us back to being one of England’s best teams has just left us for Barcelona. In actual fact, the man responsible for our comeback will be taking his positon in the manager’s seat at Anfield come one thirty on Sunday. In that respect, people claiming Liverpool have lost their main man this summer are very much mistaken.

By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)