After taking a couple of weeks to digest and reflect on the recently concluded season, these are my thoughts on the past season, what needs to be done in the summer, and how the Reds should Go Again next campaign.
2013/14 will truly be the season that Liverpool are back where they belong. Brendan Rodgers has gotten his side to play the kind of attractive football that, ironically, is not associated with the possession based, ‘tiki-taka’ style of Barcelona, one that Rodgers was known to be fond of. Instead, the attacking football that garnered 101 goals is similar to recently crowned La Liga champions Atletico Madrid, as well as everyone’s favourite hipster team, Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund. Über fast, direct counter-attacking play that is meant to force the opposing team into submission within the first 20-25 minutes.
Anfield has returned to being the fortress of old. Teams truly fear coming to the red half of Merseyside nowadays. The record reads 19 played, 16 wins, 1 draw, 2 losses, but it is actually the manner in which Rodgers’ side managed to tear apart Arsenal, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur in the first-half of games. Going 4-0 up against the then-league leaders within 20 minutes, racing to a 3 goal lead against a rejuvenated Champions League-chasing Everton, even top sides are afraid to come to Anfield – bar Chelsea and Jose Mourinho perhaps.
An 11-match winning run as well as automatic qualification for the Champions League with three games to spare was definitely a huge plus for Rodgers and his men, surpassing most pre-season expectations.
However, the much maligned defence has probably let Liverpool down in their final dash towards an unlikely title win. The central defensive partnership kept changing during the course of the season, with only Martin Skrtel the most constant of the two. Mamadou Sakho has not yet looked a £18million defender, with some fans likening him to Djimi Traore. Daniel Agger’s ball playing ability should see him be a favourite of Rodgers, however the Dane is prone to being beaten in the air, especially at set-pieces. Kolo Toure had a good start but his high-profile errors at West Bromwich Albion and Fulham ultimately cost him his place and probably his future at the club.
Jose Enrique’s constant injury problems casts doubts over his future at the club, while Glen Johnson has not been at his best this season. Some consolation is there with the emergence and form of academy product Jon Flanagan, who duly impressed as a right-footed left-back and has been coined the ‘Scouse Cafu’.
This summer’s World Cup will see almost half the England team filled with Liverpool players, a sort of acknowledgement to the form of the Reds this year. Luis Suarez will line up for Uruguay, while Simon Mignolet will probably be the No.2 to Chelsea’ Thibaut Courtois.
Back on Merseyside, Rodgers does have to sort a few issues out. Like many have said in the media, Liverpool do have several players returning from loan and may reduce the amount of new signings needed to bolster the squad for the upcoming Champions League campaign. Italian forward Fabio Borini should most definitely return to add depth to an already fearsome attacking line, after impressing at Sunderland and playing a huge role in their unlikely relegation escape. Such an experience must have been invaluable and will surely give him confidence that he can break into the side next season. Spaniard Suso has also returned from Almeria, and with several assists and a few goals to his name, should surely stay for the next campaign and understudy Philipp Coutinho.
Andre Wisdom’s stint with promotion chasers Derby County would have done him no harm, and his ability to play at both right-back and centre-back will definitely be useful to Rodgers should he find he has not enough funds remaining to purchase a right-back of sufficient quality to provide Johnson with some much needed competition.
Apart of the transfer market, Rodgers really needs to sort out the defence for the new campaign. Conceding half a century of goals was never going to be good enough for a title-winning side. Going all gung-ho at the start of games is a good ploy, but one he cannot use all the time, especially now that Liverpool will not have the luxury of a full week’s rest before each match. Rodgers needs to get his team to be comfortable to switching between the gung-ho approach and his favoured, more conservative, possession-based tactic when required. On hindsight, the latter was probably needed for that vital game against Chelsea, especially when a draw was enough.
This versatility between fast paced offensive play and keeping possession that Rodgers must seek to have his side easily transit between, much like how he could change his formation two, sometimes three, times during games. If he achieves this, the Reds can easily switch mentality and tighten up once they go ahead during games, or vice-versa, and hopefully keep more leads and clean-sheets.
Last year’s three 1-0 wins was a good foundation for the season, however it is unlikely that the Reds will have the start of next campaign as well. The likes of Manchester United and Spurs, with their new managers, will strengthen their squad, while the perennial challengers like Chelsea and Manchester City will have several star buys. Arsenal, on the back of their FA Cup triumph which ended their 9-year wait, will be re-energised, while it remains to be seen if Everton and Roberto Martinez can find enough signings of sufficient quality to replace their loan stars.
Liverpool’s initial targets should simply just be to remain in the top 3, at the very least top 4, and secure Champions League football again for the following season. A run to the quarters of the elite European competition should be a realistic aim, even though its their first time back in 5 years and Rodgers’ first crack at top European football. An extended FA Cup run would be nice, but that and the League Cup should be left to the back burners.
Rodgers has much to do this summer to bring last season’s enthusiasm and highs into the next campaign, but faith in him and his abilities are very high, and one will only hope this is not a false dawn akin to Rafa Benitez’s sacking as a result of his 7th place finish after that title challenge back in 2009.