For the second consecutive summer, Liverpool’s squad has had a major facelift and the team that begins the season at the Britannia Stadium on the opening day is likely to be far removed from the XI players infamously whacked 6-1 by Stoke City as the curtain came down on 2014-15.
With that result considered, Brendan Rodgers will consider himself lucky to still be in a job. But credit to the club’s owners, who have backed their manager emphatically in the transfer window once again; the challenge for the Northern Irishman will be integrating an influx of new players and a refreshed backroom staff into a state capable of breaching the top four.
Rodgers will be under pressure to start well and an unforgiving run of games to start the season will have done him little favors. But the Reds boss is beginning his fourth campaign in charge of the club; if Liverpool stumble out of the blocks, then on his head be it.
It’s also the first time in many a year the Merseyside club have started a Premier League season without Steven Gerrard. While his performance levels weren’t particularly high last term, replicating his affinity with the fans, rounded midfield play and lead-by-example style of captaincy also represents a major challenge for this unfamiliar group. Although the skipper’s drawn out farewell did become a tiresome distraction during the run-in.
Reasons to be Positive
The signings have been top quality and Rodgers has addressed a lot of problem areas which were pertinent throughout the previous campaign. Christian Benteke will give Liverpool a rumbustious, physical edge at the point of the attack, James Milner will count for some of the experience which left with Gerrard, while Nathaniel Clyne has been one of the standout right-backs in the league for a while.
Roberto Firmino is the new player the Reds faithful are most excited about and if the Brazilian hits the ground running he’ll add a dash of samba swagger to the team. In addition, those players who were brought in last summer will be better for the steep learning curve they endured in their debut campaigns; Emre Can, the most promising signing of the acquisitions in 2014, is certainly a talent to keep an eye on.
Reasons to be Negative
Have Liverpool made the same mistakes again? Rodgers brought in so many players last summer with the money recouped from the sale of Luis Suarez and struggled to amalgamate fresh and familiar faces. With plenty more coming through the door this pre-season, not to mention the departure of key players like Gerrard and Raheem Sterling, settling into an early groove will be tough.
There are still problems when it comes to the defensive side of this team too. Lucas Leiva remains the only orthodox holding midfielder in the squad, meaning there’s likely to be very little protection for the unconvincing options the Reds have at center-back. In addition, despite improving in 2015, goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has yet to fully win over the Anfield crowd.
Key Player – Philippe Coutinho
Looking at the likely Liverpool line-up, Coutinho is now one of the most longstanding members of this Reds squad. After assuming the role of the team’s talisman last season, Rodgers will be hoping the mercurial Brazilian can take his game on to new heights in 2015-16.
The prospect of the Coutinho and Firmino conjuring joga bonito at Anfield next season is a tantalizing one for the Anfield crowd. But even with the new signings considered, the former Internazionale man remains the most important player at Rodgers’ disposal; he’ll need to relish the extra responsibility this season if Liverpool are to gatecrash the top four party.
Prediction – 5th
Although Liverpool have spent big on some fine players, the team still doesn’t look as though they have enough to oust any of last season’s top four from their position of privilege. However, with the season edging closer, Rodgers is in possession of what is comfortably the fifth best squad in the Premier League.
With a difficult start and new components to align, it’d be no surprise to see Liverpool struggle in their opening games. Given how severely the pressure mounted on Rodgers late last season and the expectations triggered by another summer splurge, you just worry whether the Reds’ campaign will be based on foundations which are far too precarious.
Expert Opinion – Nate Abaurrea (World Soccer Talk)
Coutinho is riding high and still on an upward trend. He pulls majestic goals out of the sky and creates magic like a maestro. The thought of new signing Roberto Firmino linking up with his fellow countryman and developing a lethal Brazilian duo on Merseyside is as mouth watering as warm & crispy pão de queijo.
“Get it up in the air for the big lad!” When was the last time Liverpool had a true target forward? Oh yeah, Andy Carroll. Well, this has to go better that that, right? Christian Benteke scored 42 times in 82 appearances for Aston Villa, and was piping hot to close last season, scoring 13 in his final 15 matches, including one against the Reds in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley. If he can stay healthy, we could see 20+ goals for the Christian Benteke, the Belgian, born in the Congo, with an authentic and almost nostalgic English style.
As sad as it was to see our favorite Scouser leave under such bizarre circumstances, it must be said that it’s going to be nice to move on with life. The Steven Gerrard farewell tour got a tad tiresome last season. Perhaps best of all, Brendan Rodgers can no longer use the Gerrard exit as an excuse. The less distractions the better. Let’s see what the gaffer is made of, on his own merits.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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