So it’s come to this, a once-great European side reduced to selling their best players and bringing in a crocked creative midfielder? This isn’t going to be Inter Milan’s best year. Wait, that was last year, it’s Liverpool this time.
When it comes to Liverpool you’re guaranteed two things; Drama and impassioned fans. Impassioned often about complete polar opposites (“Benitez out” Vs “In Rafa we trust”, “Joe Cole is the key” Vs “Joe Cole is a crock”) and football is about these divisive issues. The thing about the beautiful game is that you never know what’s going to happen, however I’m still going to try to predict it.
That opening aside can sum up the positives for Liverpool’s most optimistic supporters, with a new manager and fresh blood could Liverpool rise to the top of the Premier League once more? Selling Zlatan Ibrahimovic and bringing in European cast-offs worked to a tee for Mourinho last season as he got the best out of players hoping to ‘prove’ themselves. For the pessimistic supporters, this could be a season of rebuilding and losing a few ‘world-class’ players to be replaced (if the papers are ever to be believed) with the likes of Paul Scharner.
So, as Liverpool head into this season where do they need to strengthen?
Goalkeeper: In this regard Liverpool have no worries. ‘Pepe’ Reina is a top class goalkeeper and one of the best in the Premiership if not the world. Exposed this year by a poor defense he conceded more than he ought to. At age 27 Liverpool still have a decade of top notch goalkeeping and with a reasonable back-up in Cavalieri, Roy Hodgson already has his number 25 pencilled in for 50 starts.
Defence: Liverpool have a long history of quality defensive partnerships, even when Rafa Benitez took over he could rely on Jamie Carragher and Sami Hyypia to provide a solid base for the defense to shape around. For Hodgson he doesn’t have such a luxury, the defense he inherits is in a state of Flux. Jamie Carragher is still a first-team player but not as imperious as he once was and rather than a stable partner Liverpool have had to rotate between the oft-injured Daniel Agger and the sometime injured Martin Skrtel. This meant that for differing periods of the season Carragher was dealing with a different partner with different skill-sets which led to confusion at set-pieces and an unstable defense. Going into the new season little has changed; Carragher is another year older and slower and Martin Skrtel is currently injured. Liverpool do have quality youngsters coming through but they cannot be relied upon for a season of football and will probably be used intermittently. Glen Johnson will start the season as first-choice right-back but his defensive frailty may worry the manager. The left-back position going into the new season is completely empty having lost Fabio Aurelio who didn’t want a ‘pay-as-you-play’ deal and allowing Insua to leave, Roy Hodgson will have designs on a new left back. Paul Konchesky would be an astute if uninspiring signing, after the flops of Dossena, Kromkamp and Degen, a proven Premiership campaigner could provide stability. The signing of a young versatile full-back gives the Liverpool full-backs alot of young defensive depth as Kelly, Ayala and now Danny Wilson can give the veterans a game off now and again.
Midfield: The loss of Xabi Alonso was a blow, his range of passing and stamina was a great asset for Liverpool but was hardly a game changer. The key part of Alonso’s play was how he complimented Mascherano, Mascherano is a very limited technical player, he could win the ball and move it to Alonso which would often launch a Liverpool attack. When Alonso was replaced by Lucas this springboard was lost and the player’s who were used to moving early to exploit space that Alonso could pick out were often left isolated and attacks were lost in midfield. To be fair though Liverpool were missing two of their most creative playmakers for the lion’s share of the season. Despite their failings last season the Midfield is not a particularly weak part of Liverpool’s squad. With Mascherano, Lucas, Aquilani, Maxi, Kuyt and now Cole that is hardly a poor squad. The main area of concern would be the left wing position. Ryan Babel and Jovanovic are the current squad members who could play that role but neither would put fear into opposition full-backs. Babel was a prodigious talent but much of that has been lost or wasted, it will be interesting to see if a less mechanical manager than Rafa Benitez can find a way to get the best out of him but failing that a new signing would be required. Perhaps Liverpool could try for Babel mark II in Hamburg’s Eljero Elia whose pace caused problems at the World Cup, if that’s too expensive a move for a more established premier league player in West Ham’s Diamante or Bolton’s Lee Chung-Yong who excelled at the Reebok last year. Finally, if Mascherano were to leave a new defensive midfielder would be required. Whilst the papers have mooted Paul Scharner, who would make a decent squad player, a more ambitious replacement could be Sami Khedira who is being talked up amongst the Champions League hopefuls or the unpredictable and unloved Felipe Melo who may relish the more physical Premier League. In keeping with the sentiments expressed about Liverpool’s defence, the midfield also has a bevy of young talents ready to step up should the first-team get caught short. The signing of Jonjo Shelvey along with the presence of Jay Spearing and Daniel Pachecho means that there will be continued competition for a midfield spot.
Forwards: On his day and when his Cheese-String Hamstrings are operational, Fernando Torres is the best out and out striker in the world. With pace, power and precision he need only be presented half a chance and he would score. However, those days are few and far between. Torres like so many other would be legends is beset by injury problems. Having played with an injury for most of the past season and the world cup we saw the least of Fernando Torres and it presented his detractors with their reasoning why he’s not worth the money being talked about. Torres was forced back to action over the last season because of the lack of quality in the Liverpool squad. Liverpool started last season with one striker and at best an ‘ok’ prospect. Whilst this has been rectified with the addition of Milan Jovanovic, I feel that Liverpool require one more striker to give Torres the rest and recuperation time he sorely needs. Moves for Roque Santa Cruz and Carlton Cole would fit into the restructuring ethos but those players’ own injury problems prevent them from being effective in the role identified. As such a less exciting but more reliable striker could be just what Liverpool need. The effective Kevin Doyle has plenty of Premiership experience and whilst his goal-tally will hardly sell shirts on its own, his ability to hold the ball up and play 90 minutes twice a week would allow the more fragile of Liverpool’s players a chance to shine when they’re ready.