Can Liverpool Challenge for Fourth?

July 28, 2010 - Skopje, FYROM - epa02264157 Liverpool's coach Roy Hodgson controls the ball during the training session in Skopje, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, 28 July 2010. Liverpol FC will face FC Rabotnicki in the qualification for Europa League in the Macedonian capitol Skopje on 29 July 2010.

The last three permanent managers of Liverpool have all overseen a familiar pattern of events. Roy Evans, Gerard Houllier and Rafael Benitez all enjoyed moderately successful starts – Evans had a decent first full league season, Houllier a distant third place and a (very fortunate) cup treble, Benitez’s Champions League triumph rightly overshadowed a fairly poor fifth place – followed by a genuine title challenge or two before it all went stunningly wrong. Evans took a team 90 minutes away from being top of the table in May 1997 to 15 points back in 12 months; Houllier took a team finishing above Manchester United for the first time in gazillions of years to 30 points off top spot in 2 years, via a £20m splurge from 2nd to 5th the previous year; whereas Benitez took his team from a very strong 2nd to an embarrassing seventh in twelve months, the trophy well having dried long ago. History would dictate thus that his successor would have a similarly up and down tenure in the Anfield hot seat, where all of his previous good work is immediately tarnished by the chaos that regularly surrounds Liverpool Football Club every five years or so.

And so the next man, Fleet Street ‘flop’ turned ‘saviour of the Kop’ (don’t worry, he’ll be rubbish again soon enough) Roy Hodgson, steps into the breach. He inherits a comically restrictive financial situation – to the point where the signing of Luke Young, a versatile full back of modest quality and a far from perfect age, becomes almost impossible. His first signing, Joe Cole, required no transfer fee from Chelsea. Cole was a very exciting enigmatic talent at West Ham and performed very well for Mourinho and Avram Grant at Chelsea. His creativity and footballing intelligence may well remain undimmed from those heady days but his injuries may well have wrecked his career. It is further difficult to see how Cole fits in at Liverpool. In a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 he has neither the pace, work rate or consistency of delivery required to play wide, and in a 4-2-3-1 it is difficult to see how he and Gerrard can co-exist centrally. A diamond midfield may be the alternative, but as an attacking fulcrum he has proved only really effective at home recently against poor sides. It is difficult to see how he offers anything that is not offered by anyone else in the squad, so as a marquee signing he may not be guaranteed to starting place he supposedly wants.

Fernando Torres is World Class at his best but if his performances at the World Cup are anything to go by, he may not be able to access that best for a while. Similarly, aspects of Hodgson’s first choice XI may well be on the wrong side of the illustrative hill. Jamie Carragher, even though we are constantly told he ‘never relied on his pace’ every time he is skinned by a kid half his age, has shown signs of wear and tear and is 32, while first choice left back Fabio Aurelio is 30, like club captain Steven Gerrard. Gerrard endured one of his worst seasons in memory last time out, followed by an indifferent World Cup, and while he may be soon back to his best, it is by no means certain. It would be a brave manager to leave out Carragher indefinitely, even at this advanced stage of his career, given his loyalty and service to the club.

Javier Mascherano is a genuinely World Class holding midfielder, but is allegedly looking to leave Anfield in search of Champions League football. Alberto Aquilani can be a devastating footballer when he’s not injured, but he is generally injured. Daniel Agger is a very competent centre half, and Pepe Reina a superb goalkeeper, but there are still gaps in the squad that require filling: Dirk Kuyt was always fairly poor technically, saved by his indefatigable work rate – but in a team lacking in quality, his weaknesses are exposed. The sale of Emiliano Insua to Fiorentina may have fallen flat, but if he is subsequently sold, as is Hodgson’s reported wont, the options behind the ageing Aurelio at left back would be poor to minimal. The options behind Torres too are not great, the improving David N’Gog and Daniel Pacheco have shown little to suggest themselves to be capable of sustaining a Champions League challenge. Ryan Babel remains a complete enigma, combining the physical attributes of Cristiano Ronaldo with the technical proficiency and end product of Carlton Palmer to create an infuriating footballer. The cunning transfer of Milan Jovanovic makes his impact on the squad less important at the moment, but if the expected-in-some-areas fire sale of players rocks into gear, he could be flushed into prominence.

Thus while the Liverpool squad contains players of great talent and potential, its uneven depth and the inability to rectify those problems makes Hodgson’s position difficult. Only with preposterous luck with injuries in certain positions, combined with the unforeseeable ascent of three or four enigmas is it possible to see Liverpool even remotely challenging for the title. As for fourth place, they would require one of the other ‘big three’ if they struggle with injuries, or Manchester City to struggle really badly despite their excellent signings, as well as Spurs and Villa to stagnate. Hodgson would further have to overcome a number of problems within the squad on a shoestring budget, with players desperate to leave, something that he is unused to dealing with in recent times. It would therefore appear to be a long shot for Liverpool to challenge strongly for a top four place.

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23 thoughts on “Can Liverpool Challenge for Fourth?”

  1. Not knowing the financial situation at liverpool, but knowing they need pace. What about a transfer fee for Landon Donovan 10mill, but will add pace on the flanks.

  2. It’s the draw back of being one of the “big four”

    Kept spending to maintain it and eventually they didn’t get it so it backfires.

    Yes Joe Cole is a “free transfer” but he will be on a massive wage no doubt. People say “Liverool need to sign this, Arsenal need to sign that, Man Utd need to sign him” but truth be told most of these clubs are struggling with the massive debt they’re building up. I think if Liverpool keep Torres fit they can fight for it, but another season with failure to qualify for the champions league and the revenue it will bring in will see Liverpool all over the place.

    Such bad debt from massive wages that the club could end up relegated if they don’t restore their champions league status.

  3. I see some where you’re coming from on some of these things but I think most of these things can be viewed in both a negative (as you did) or positive light. Honestly, the truth is somewhere in the middle but I’d say the positive feeling around the new manager will be the tipping point to get Liverpool a fourth spot this season.

    To counter:

    Scotty Parker is worth going for but only at the right price. Even big spenders like Manchester City understand that. Hodgeson is right to not make a ridiculous bid for a player (no matter what financial situation the club is in).

    Joe Cole has had some injury problems in the past but will be eager to put that behind him and impress. He has an almost guaranteed starting position and will want to get back into the mix of things. Also, with no starting position at Chelsea it was probably harder to recover given that all he had to look forward to was a seat on the bench.

    Cole doesn’t have pace or work-rate? News to me. I would say those two attributes and his ability to hold the ball are great.

    Just like with the Lampard and Gerrard question, these two players can play together. For the record, I expect Cole to be playing in more of a striker / advanced role anyway (possibly even a Torres backup).

    Some of the players are older but that doesn’t always hurt a team (think Inter Milan). Some advantages such as better judgement and awareness of the game apply. Plus, this is the first season in a while that we have quite a few youngsters on the squad that look like they could actually make some appearances throughout the season. I’d put Amoo and Ince (Paul’s son) as the most likely to break into the squad.

  4. One of the truly depressing few articles about Liverpool’s upcoming season I’ve read. It’s stunning how you’ve managed to pick out the negatives in almost every single playing position we have.

  5. Why are there Puma balls? Does he not manage an Adidas sponsored team in a league that uses Nike as the official ball?

    1. seriously? you’re concerned about what balls they’re using??

      I’ll wager this was during training at one of the recent friendlies on another club’s grounds.

      But, seriously…that’s what you’re concerned about??

  6. Wow, that was depressing!!!

    Football is so funny, one tiny thing happens to the club and it changes everyones perception within a heartbeat.

    An example will be the imminent take over…

    We’ll see what happens. On liverpools day, with the players they have, they can beat anyone. Fact.

  7. j.cole is a decent player, great work rate and decent speed but his acceleration isnt amazing. He struggles to impose himself in games and is in reality more a striker then a midfielder. his final ball is generally lacking, he never knows exactly what he wants to do with the ball when he has more then one option and he generally struggles for consistency.

    he could probably play up front pretty competently and inside the box he is a menace but thats about it. benayoun was a better midfielder but j.cole is probably a better forward.

    1. Which is why he’ll probably being playing Gerrard’s former role,behind Torres.Wouldnt be surprised or bummed to see Gerrard drop further back this year to accommodate Cole.

  8. Liverpool hardly suffered from a lack of talent last year. They suffered from a lack of cohesion and drive. This team can finish first in the EPL this season, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise. But they need to play together as a solid team as they did two years ago.

  9. In terms of the squad that finished second, we still have all key parts of it save for Benayoun and Alonso. Benayoun is a straight swap for Cole – though it’s worth asking why both sides of that equation thought it was a good move. Alonso for Aquilani was a dumb swap, but not a swap that takes you from 2nd to 7th single-handedly, nor even, really, one that takes you from 2nd to 4th.

    Probably 2nd was a fluke. So was 7th. 3rd and 4th are about right for Liverpool, and nothing in the last two years has significantly changed that fact.

  10. Hi, I know this is off subject but does anybody know anything on Foxsoccertv? I want to order the yearly subscription but I can’t. The Championship starts this weekend and so is the charity shield match.

      1. Hey Gaffer,

        Since Marc brought up the subject, any word on’s broadcast plans? Didn’t they have pretty much every game live on the site?

        Just curious as I’m a Wolves fan and they aren’t shown nearly as often here in the US on Fox Soccer Channel.



        1. Pat, no word yet. But they should have all of the EPL games that are shown on FoxSoccer Plus. I hope to find out more details between now and August 14.

          The Gaffer

  11. I refuse to answer the question you pose because of your ignorance about the club. It’s obvious you know very little about Liverpool : Roy Hodgson, Fleet Street flop? Fabio Aurelio (no longer on contract), first choice left back? I could go on. Do your homework at least before writing about a subject.

    1. Aurelio was re-hired by Liverpool very recently. ( With Insua heading out of the door, not given a squad number apparently, the options are a bit bare.

      Hodgson was widely criticised by the red tops during his time at Blackburn (when it was going wrong) for spending £7.5m on Kevin Davies, and early at Fulham (before he showed he got it right). Freely admits to not being friends with many English journalists.

  12. Given the squads at Man City and Spurs, Liverpool’s two rivals for fourth, I doubt that Roy can get them up to fourth unless they can buy a decent striker given the injury woes of Torres, new left back that can defend well and a repalcement for Mascherano, if he leaves .Given that the club is about to be sold gives me reason to doubt if any more signifiacnt signings will take place. The sale of the club will only be finalized around the beginning of next month which is after the transfer window closes.

  13. i cant believe …anyone can be so….negative………..

    sure liverpool cant be seen as champs next season.

    (when the came 2nd..before that…that time also people saied same they cant before the season started..and they did….and yes it was not just fluke …beating man uted..twice.chelsea ones and may more)

    so we cant say cant…ok leave it

    what i noticed that..u just said…for liverpool to..come up….they need
    spurs, villa, man city…and one top 3 team may be arsenal…go down

    u rrrrrrr just kidding…………..whole univerce saw…it was liverpool who lost that place….and not…spurs won…though they deserve their due..

    it was all injuries+ bad luck+ boardroom drama+and all+ rafas..burst up with players + some good showing.from others
    which is past now…..

    and also..look at this season….
    …with that squad …(in both league..and champions league)
    wont be that much a force…last time..they were the attackers..didnt had anything to loose ….just gooooo for it (4th place) thing…..which is not this time…..instead have pressure of not making another everton

    .struggling….to hold on overrated milner …& young..
    no…new signing…to inspire …see the vibes around..them..all so negative…like ur article

    club with a owner ..who lost his mind in one of his oil rig ….
    its 3rd year…spending.around..nearly 400 million…and nothing to show.

    if this time they dont ..deliver this time..that shaikh will..dump one of rig…

    and still…..mates all of them can reach…any where from 3rd to 6th…yes its an open field…

    but here my ..good friend says..liverpool cant…coz

    1…benayoun is better than cole.(dont know how)…
    2… old..and…any pacey lad can round him up..(same thing..that torres regular liverpool red card holder…vidic or…rio…)
    but my friend fails to see..carra is not just a.defender..he is the leader of that liverpool half..of that diffence…even if he doesn’t kick a ball ..he can motivate other..look at him how he does it ..and learn .
    3. kyut…is of no use

    the same kyut who is..regular in both nederlands and liverpool..teams…for his ability, work rate,,,,his adaptation ….yes i cant be blind with his lack of skills…but
    guys this is not the same grumpy …kyut of 3 years back….look at him…his hard work..understanding his forwards…his energy….and top of that..kyut has seriously became a good right man..he can cross good.has improved a lot…

    ..and then
    4. the sulker kid mashcherano …yes he is dirty work master. liverpool wants him.
    but he is replaceable ..and he is going is a good thing…coz he doesnt wants to be here..

    ohhh god… liverpool…soooooo many difficulties ..they have……yes u were right

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