With the 2015/16 pre-season underway, all Premier League teams are looking to strengthen their ranks and improve on the season gone by. Liverpool are without doubt a clear example. However with seven new signings, some £80m spent and three wins out of four against less than convincing opposition, is there a chance that Brendan Rodgers and his team are simply flattering to deceive?
A raft of new faces have come in this season. The difference from this time last year is that the club has concentrated more on established players instead of the “hit ‘n’ hope” approach of the last couple of seasons. Roberto Firmino, James Milner and most recently Christian Benteke have all provided some excitement for the fans. “At last the club is showing some much-needed ‘intent’ compared to recent times” has been the consensus of opinion. Myself included. And then splat! A poorly conceded goal against a mediocre side from Malaysia and we’re brought back down to earth with a crash. Let alone a thud.
The fact is, Liverpool have done no more than put right the mistakes they made last season. Mario Balotelli, corrected with Benteke. Javier Manquillo with Nathaniel Clyne and Lazar Marcovic with Firmino. I’d even go so far as to say Alberto Moreno with Joe Gomez. Even though the latter doesn’t generally play at left back, he’s arguably done a better job than the Spaniard in pre-season with his pace, strength and better positional awareness. That said, the most glaring howler of last season though, still needs to be replaced.
Dejan Lovren unites the fans in one way, and that’s in their disappointment in his performances, all round lack of leadership and strength in a red shirt. Again, in the Malaysian XI game he was completely exposed by Patrick Wleh for the opening goal of the match. Yes, the side lacked goals last season. Yes they lacked some quality in midfield last season but for me, the biggest failing of last season was the leaky defence. If you don’t concede goals, you don’t lose games. This is glaringly obvious.
The new transfers this season have been very nice thank you, but the team remains still short of quality back up for Martin Skrtel and Mamadou Sakho, who are without doubt the club’s best central defensive pairing. Lovren told the Liverpool Echo this week that shouldn’t be the scapegoat for Liverpool’s poor season and he’s right. That hat should be worn by Rodgers for trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The 26-year-old Croatian is by no means the “leader” that Liverpool were looking for and one would have thought Rodgers and his committee would have recognized that before spending the reported £20m on him. If anything he’s at the other end of the scale and needs a leader around him.
Liverpool were bullied out of a fair few games last season. Results against Crystal Palace and Stoke are the most notable. Defeats away to West Ham, Newcastle and Hull City have largely gone unnoticed. I don’t believe all of the causes for those results have been fixed. Is it worth me pointing out that Lovren played in all but one of the matches mentioned here? Well, it certainly adds a little weight to my point. The efforts thus far have all been welcome, don’t get me wrong, but right now the team is akin to a pretty girl putting makeup over her acne. It may look nice but there’s a deeper issue that needs to be addressed, I’m afraid.
The first seven matches of next season will be the yardstick in my opinion. Of those games, only two – Arsenal and Manchester United are the only ones that concern me. Stoke, Bournemouth, West Ham, Norwich and Aston Villa with the utmost of respect should not, one expects, have the quality to beat Liverpool. For a team with aspirations of finishing in the top four, wins in these games is the absolute minimum I would accept.
Again, the team has made some good buys this season. For a club of Liverpool’s standing and let’s be honest, financial capability – these are in line with expectations. The manager has been massively backed by his owners and now it’s payback time – no more excuses. Without Champions League qualification, without fulfilling the expectations this season brings, then Rodgers and his crew can’t be seen as anything more than mutton dressed as lamb, all the gear and no idea. Or, shall we say: Fattering to deceive.
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