This seems to be a recurring theme, especially since last summer. This time though, it looks almost certain that Liverpool’s 31-goal talisman Luis Suarez will leave for Barcelona. One can only hope Ian Ayre gets the full sum of the release clause, as the club has consistently stated, and that the full amount will be given back to manager Brendan Rodgers to reinvest in the squad. Realistically, Rodgers won’t be expected to sustain another serious title challenge with major European commitments on the horizon.
Expectations for the season, especially with Suarez gone, would be to consolidate and hope for a top 3 finish, bare minimum top 4. With the likes of Manchester United regaining their footing under Louis van Gaal, Tottenham Hotspur hoping to bounce back with Mauricio Pochettino, and Everton desiring to push on in Roberto Martinez’s second season, the Reds will face an almighty challenge to stay in the Champions League spots, with or without Suarez.
With that in mind, here are the top 4 things Rodgers needs to do in order to avoid the kind of outcome Spurs endured post-Gareth Bale.
Target More Goals From Midfield
Skipper Steven Gerrard might have registered 13 league goals last season, however the majority came from the spot. In any other situation, Liverpool cannot rely on their inspirational captain anymore, especially when he is now a full-time deep-lying playmaker. Raheem Sterling is the Reds’ next top scorer from midfield, with 9 strikes to his name. Along with fellow forward-thinking midfielder Philippe Coutinho and industrious central midfielder Jordan Henderson, both scoring 4 each last season, these three need to score a few more. Coutinho and Henderson have been guilty of missing from good positions, so it will be up to Rodgers to improve their finishing and ability to get into scoring positions. The manager will hope Sterling can push on hit double figures next season, while he certainly can’t complain if Coutinho and Henderson in combination score at least 10 goals.
Whoever else comes into midfield, like Joe Allen, who hit a solitary goal last season, and new signing Emre Can, needs to hit a few goals to contribute to the cause. Fellow new forward signings Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic, either of whom will probably be deployed on the opposite side to Sterling, will need to get into the swing of things quick, as Rodgers will hope they can at least hit half a dozen goals each, or at the very, very least improve on flop duo Victor Moses and Iago Aspas’ combined tally of one goal.
shaqiri for suarez? yes, please.
It is a shrewd move that Rodgers is targeting more offensive minded players, especially Switzerland’s World Cup star Xhedan Shaqiri. The Swiss international is a proven talent at Bayern, and showcased his ability with his hat-trick versus Honduras. What Rodgers seems to be attempting to do is to replace the Reds’ reliance on a single star man, with several attacking midfielders to come off the bench to hopefully influence proceedings and strike late goals.
Tighten Up The Defence
The Reds might have romped to a century (and one) of goals last season, but it was arguably their leaky defence that set them back from a first Premier League title. Half a century of goals conceded was never going to be good enough for potential champions, and thankfully, Rodgers himself knew it.
No matter how well Jon Flanagan deputised at left-back for most of the season, the Reds were always vulnerable and a little imbalanced at the back. Rodgers will do well to somehow push through the Alberto Moreno deal, or find an alternative, say Shaqiri’s Swiss team-mate Ricardo Rodriguez, in order to provide competition and cover for the injury-prone Jose Enrique. This would also give Jon Flanagan the chance to fully focus on competing with a declining Glen Johnson for the right-back berth.
lovren: the next saint for anfield?
Further, Liverpool’s long-drawn out pursuit of Southampton’s Dejan Lovren is a sign of the direction Rodgers wants to take with regards to his defence. With retired club legend Jamie Carragher missing last season, the Reds always lacked a vocal leader to organise the defence. Lovren could be that answer, though the price tag is a little bit of a concern. Cardiff’s Steven Caulker seems a cheaper and more local option. Either way, picking up either Lovren or Caulker would significantly improve Rodgers’ defence, and probably spell an end to Daniel Agger’s Anfield career.
If Rodgers can significantly tighten up Liverpool’s defence, they would not need their forwards to score as many as they did last season, and yet gain a similar or greater points yield.
(End of Part I)