A season of transition was the reality of Liverpool’s outlook last summer. With incoming manager Brendan Rodgers tasked to reshape the team and trim the Reds’ massive wage bill, Champions League qualification was hoped for but largely unrealistic; an improvement on Kenny Dalglish’s 8th placing last season was as much as even the most optimistic fan could wish for. That was what Liverpool achieved this season under Rodgers, and along with implementing his Swansea-esque 4-3-3 formation, he did do a good job in improving some of “Dalglish’s flops” as well as offloading those who contributed little but was on huge wages, money the club simply could not afford to spend so lightly anymore. Frugality was the new name in town, as the failed experiment of “moneyball” strategy was finally shifted out.
swansea-lona, now liver-lona?
His new system was an adaptation from Barcelona’s famed pass and move, pressing game, which has seen the Spanish giants swept all before them in the past four years. It seemed at the start that current goalkeeper Pepe Reina, educated in Barca’s famed La Masia academy, would be the perfect number one in such a system. Indeed, Reina’s kicking ability and composure on the ball did set him apart from other traditional goalkeepers, and he did bring some calm at the start of the season, especially for a defence that was still learning how to pass the ball out from the back. However, as for the past couple of seasons, Reina was still susceptible to basic goalkeeping mistakes, and it did cost Liverpool some points over the season. Even as his form did improve after the new year, Reina is still seen as dispensable due to his erratic form. Furthermore, with doubts over his potential departure to replace Victor Valdes as Barca’s number one this summer or next, his future clearly remains in the balance. Australian goalkeeper Brad Jones deputized on a couple of occasions for Reina when he was injured. After a few decent performances in the league, his disastrous showing in the League Cup against League One side Oldham caused major concern, and it would not be surprising to see him leave this summer.
High, attacking full-backs or wing-backs are a major aspect in the system Rodgers’ wanted to adapt last summer. England international Glen Johnson seemed a perfect fit and it proved. His once-susceptible defending has significantly improved under Rodgers, and the best part is that his attacking prowess down the right has not been compromised. He is still a major attacking outlet for the Reds and it showed against Southampton, when he literally ran a one-man show down the right flank. His future, although in doubt according to some analysts, should still be at Liverpool, with his experience and attacking knowhow vital to Rodgers’ system. Furthermore, with Jamie Carragher’s retirement, the likes of Martin Kelly, and Andre Wisdom, who both started as back-up full-backs, could be used more centrally this season. Back-up specialist full-back John Flanagan has somehow disappeared off the radar, and hence increasing Johnson’s importance. On the other side, Spaniard Jose Enrique is like Johnson, great offensively but seen as defensively culpable at times. After his form dipped at the start of last season, Enrique was given a chance further forward at left-wing where he linked up well with Luis Suarez, before eventually returning back to left-back when he regained his confidence. Enrique’s situation is similar to Johnson’s, in that Liverpool lack an experience alternative at the moment, especially after Jack Robinson’s horror showing at Oldham and sometimes perceived lack of effort. Hence, Enrique imminent future will still have to be with the Reds.
initial problems in defence
With the centre of defence having to get a grips of playing the ball out of the back, problems definitely did arise at the beginning. The most prominent was Martin Skrtel’s back pass against Manchester City which allowed Carlos Tevez to equalise, denying Liverpool a vital win so early in the season. That set the tone for Skrtel’s season. Even though it started brightly for him, some errors like the one against City, plus Oldham’s Matt Smith bullying him to submission in the League Cup, saw Skrtel dropped in favour of veteran Carragher and he did not see much action after the New Year. His fate at Liverpool hangs in the balance, and if a good offer comes in it would be to no ones surprise should he be shown the door. Another candidate for the exit is Sebastian Coates. He, very much like Skrtel, made a few appearances at the start of the season, notably as a half-time substitute against Everton when Rodgers switched to a back three. Coates excelled against the aerial threat of Marouane Fellaini, but after being battered by Smith, he only saw action one more time near the end of the season. He had so much potential coming in two summers ago, but has so far failed to live up to expectations. A decent sized bid would most definitely see him leave this summer.
The only two to come out with some credit for the season was veteran Carragher and Danish captain Daniel Agger. Even though he started out as third, or even fourth choice, last season, Carragher remained professional throughout, and performed well when called upon from the bench. When his leadership was sorely needed post-Christmas, he came in and brought exactly what was demanded. His defending was stellar as usual, and his form was the catalyst for a magnificent run of games for the Reds after the new year. Unfortunately, he decided to call time on his career and now Liverpool will need to look for a new defensive leader. That man could be his defensive partner Agger. His renowned passing ability and habit of carrying the ball out from the back was definitely what Rodgers wanted in his defenders. Having managed to stay injury-free the whole campaign, Agger contributed with some key goals, notably the winning goal against Southampton and the first at the rout of Newcastle. He will continue to be a key cog in Liverpool’s defence next season, and if the Reds can stave off a bid from Barca for him, Agger will be the one Liverpool relies on next season, especially with Carragher now retired. A potential vice-captain, perhaps.