As Liverpool have wrapped up the majority of their summer spending after the £32.5 million acquisition of Christian Benteke, it’s probably a good time to evaluate where the squad stands going into the new Premier League season. Since much of Liverpool’s success will rely on how the new signings fit in with the existing squad, as well as Brendan Rodgers’ ability to find the best formation and tactics to get the most out of players both new and old. So new signings will be judged on their form last season, and any squad cohesion will be speculation. Nate over at “oh you beauty” has a great piece on Christian Benteke’s stats and how Liverpool could line up this season. His depth chart was extremely helpful in compiling this piece. Feel free to jump in the comments and let us know your thoughts!
After the mid-season shakeup in goal last year, Simon Mignolet had a very solid second half of 2014-2015 and barely missed out on the Golden Glove Award, tying for second place with 13 clean sheets. Many still don’t have confidence in Mignolet, but he’s improved quite a bit in the last year on some of his weakest skills, like commanding the box and controlling crosses. His shot-stopping is still some of the best in the league, and there’s no reason to think that Liverpool need to buy a new keeper. Adam Bogdan was a solid pickup on a free after he was released from Bolton, and should prove to be good competition for Mignolet and more than adequate backup.
Ah, yes. One of the most controversial areas of Liverpool’s squad, as Rodgers failed to really go after any adequate replacements or cover in this transfer window. Liverpool’s goal differential last season was a measly positive four (allowed 48, scored 52), a number dwarfed by the teams above them in the table (bar Tottenham). But is this really the fault of the defense? Yes, lots of mistakes were made and goals conceded, but compare that number to the previous season’s. In 2013-2014, Liverpool actually let in more goals than they did last season. But even though they allowed 50 goals that year, they scored 101—compared to 2014-2015 when they scored only 52. All this to say, yes the defense was poor at times last season, and the acquisition of Dejan Lovren looked more and more foolish as the season went on, but overall that side of the squad isn’t as poor as some think. If Mamadou Sakho is able to play nearly the entire season, there’s no reason to think that he and Martin Skrtel can’t be one of the best CB pairings in the league. Where Liverpool could have improved is in the backups – Lovren and Toure were absolutely shambolic at times last season, and the jury’s still out on the two young guys, including new signing Joe Gomez. So even though most fans are still foaming at the mouth at Rodgers for not signing new defenders, but Liverpool fans should have faith in the first choice center-back pairing.
In yet another Southampton swoop, Liverpool picked up right-back Nathaniel Clyne from the south-coast club for around 12 million pounds this summer – having been linked with the club on and off for over a year. This is undoubtedly an upgrade over last season’s right-back duo of Glen Johnson and former loanee Javier Manquillo. Johnson is past his prime, even though he had been one of Liverpool’s more consistent players in the past few seasons, and Manquillo suffered from Rodgers’ tinkering and use of wing-backs more than traditional right-backs last season. Clyne was one of the best full backs in the Premier League last season, and should provide a solid defensive presence as well as an attacking option. Alberto Moreno is likely to be first choice at left-back, with perennially injured Jose Enrique likely to be on his way out of the club. Moreno had his moments last season, including a spectacular run and goal against Tottenham, but was fairly inconsistent, partially due to Rodgers’ tactical tinkering in mid-season. A consistent place in the team as a traditional left-back should suit Moreno, and he will likely benefit from highly creative players in front of him as well as targets like Benteke and Divock Origi. As with central defense, Liverpool suffers from a lack of adequate depth. at the position. While new signing Joe Gomez and Jon Flanagan provide potentially solid backup at right-back, left-back will be totally void of true depth – Flanagan and Wisdom have played the position but aren’t necessarily proficient there.
Central Midfield (primarily)
For the first time in nearly two decades, Liverpool are without their talisman Steven Gerrard in midfield. Even though many fans declined to admit it, Liverpool are probably better off without the baggage of shoehorning a player past his prime into a midfield that needed much more. Don’t get me wrong, Gerrard had a few good games last season and ended up being top scorer, but his presence often did more harm than good. This season we can expect new captain Jordan Henderson to be a static member of the midfield, as well as new signing James Milner, who brings a ton of experience and skill to a team needing just that. Emre Can is another player who was constantly shoehorned into the wrong position last season, and will need to be consistently picked in his preferred spot in midfield in order to get the best from him. Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen both bring something different to the table, but both are replaceable and likely to play squad roles.
João Carlos Teixeira
Here’s where things get interesting. Liverpool splashed nearly 30 million pounds on Roberto Firmino, a player that most fans had to Google when the rumors started gaining traction. Firmino had a spectacular season last year at Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga where his creativity and passing ability were universally praised by his colleagues. Like his compatriot Coutinho, who likely convinced him to join the club, Firmino can play all over midfield and even up top as a winger or striker when necessary. When the formation and tactics allow, having the two Brazilian playmakers on the pitch at once is a delightful prospect. What’s even better is that Liverpool’s backup in this area of the pitch is nearly as good. Adam Lallana showed sparks of brilliance last season, and promising youths Joao Teixeira, Jordon Ibe and Lazar Markovic are all very good prospects. Far and away the best part of Liverpool’s squad.
Oh boy. This part of the team is a bit crowded right now, and that’s not really a good thing. After losing Luis Suarez before last season, Liverpool snatched up Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert (and technically Origi, who was loaned back to his former club) to replace the prolific Uruguayan’s staggering goal tally. What the club got was seven goals between the two of them in all competitions. It’s likely that Balotelli, Lambert and Borini won’t be sticking around once the season starts, but for now they’re still Liverpool players. What Liverpool do have are Daniel Sturridge and new signing Christian Benteke, two forwards with a ton of ability and solid goalscoring records. In theory, this would put fans at ease—at their best, both of these players are good for 15-20 goals per season. But with Sturridge’s injury record as of late and Benteke’s need to settle in, neither are a guarantee this season. In terms of backup (bar the likely departures), we have Danny Ings and Origi, young players with a lot of promise and proven ability. Ings scored 11 goals for relegated Burnley last season and Origi scored nine for Lille, both solid numbers for young strikers at low-level clubs. But again, both are new to the squad (and new to the league, for Origi) and will need time to settle in. Liverpool’s striker corps are truly a toss-up, and like last season will be what makes or breaks the club’s Champions League hopes.
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