Liverpool opens the 2013-14 Premier League season – and Brendan Rodgers’ second season in charge – on Saturday when they host Stoke City.
After finishing in seventh place last season, the Reds are going on their fourth consecutive season without Champions League football, something that once seemed unfathomable for a club that is synonymous with European football.
The thought of returning to Europe seems far away, especially when you consider that when we last left Liverpool, they were finishing off a Premier League season that saw the team bring home just one win (Tottenham Hotspur) and one clean sheet (Everton) in 12 meetings against the six teams ahead of them in the standings – Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton.
Following his debut season in charge of the club, Rodgers called the task of bringing the Reds back to prominence a “monumental challenge.”
“I have needed this year to learn the real depths of this club, everything that needs to be done, and I think, come the summer, we will be in a much better place to put in a sustainable challenge at the top of the table,” Rodgers told The Independent.
Despite their troubles against the top teams, Liverpool finished with its highest point total in three years.
So the question now becomes, did the club do enough over the summer to pull off the sustainable challenge that Rodgers is looking for?
At least early on in the season, Liverpool will be more conspicuous by who is not on the pitch than who is. For the first time since 2004-05, Pepe Reina will not be in goal for Liverpool. Reina is off to Napoli on loan and in his place is Simon Mignolet, who comes over from Sunderland in a £9million transfer.
While it may not have been his best year in a Liverpool kit, Reina was still good enough to play 31 Premier League games and post 14 clean sheets. Mignolet, who is five years younger than Reina, posted 11 clean sheets for Sunderland and while his goals against average was slightly higher than Reina’s (1.42 vs. 1.10), it is worth noting that he faced almost 100 more shots on goal than Reina.
The club will also start the first six games of the season without striker Luis Suárez, who will serve out the remaining six games of his suspension for biting Branislav Ivanovic. Suárez also spent the majority of the summer clamoring for a transfer out of Anfield.