With the much-anticipated release of the 2015/16 English Premier League fixture list, many Liverpool fans’ pessimism for the new campaign increased, as the Reds face a tough initial run of away ties. Every side that finished ahead of the Reds last season, plus a Merseyside derby, and an opening game at Stoke City – of all places – to boot. Here are three quick thoughts.
Vital To Prepare Well
Every team will, ideally, want to prepare as well as possible in anticipation of the new season. Players will want to be as fresh yet match fit as possible, while managers would like to have their pre-season signings bed in by the opening fixture and the overall team firing on all cylinders.
However, this task just got a lot more important for Reds boss Brendan Rodgers. The 2015/16 campaign likely to be his last chance to prove his worth, as nothing less than top four would see the Northern Irishman sacked. There is even some probability that going into the festive period lying in mid table would not be tolerated; and with Jürgen Klöpp’s six month sabbatical to come to an end by then, Rodgers’ firing might be pushed forward.
Rodgers will need to figure out his best formation as quickly as possible, and deploy such a formation in as many of the pre-season games as possible. Considering the relatively low level of opposition the Reds will meet – in the form of Asian sides like a Thailand All-Stars and Malaysian XI, A-League sides Brisbane Roar and Adelaide United, and a final preparation game away to Finnish champions HJK Helsinki – the manager needs to use these relatively easier games to get the basics of the formation right, first and foremost.
Rodgers will have little to no time to make major adjustments once the league gets underway, as underestimating home ties against promoted sides Bournemouth in August and Norwich in September will likely come back to haunt him.
Tie Up Key Signings, Now
An even added emphasis with the fixture release is on player recruitment. Granted, Rodgers (and whoever is on the transfer committee) has done well to plug some of the holes left by some departing players – Steven Gerrard partially replaced by James Milner, Adam Bogdan for Brad Jones, and Danny Ings for Fabio Borini. However, Rodgers has only replaced like-for-like, and he has not improved the current squad just yet.
Rumours of Inter’s Mateo Kovacic and Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne continue to make the news, but until they arrive at Melwood and sign on that dotted line, these players’ arrival to Anfield will continue to remain as that, rumours. Rodgers can’t afford to replicate last summer, where he signed Mario Balotelli halfway through pre-season. Ideally, the Reds needs to start the first game of pre-season in Thailand with almost all, if not all, of the squad that Rodgers will take to seek revenge at the Britannia – especially since Copa America stars like Philippe Coutinho will still be on extended leave.
Simply put, Rodgers needs to sign up his preferred players, specifically those who will add quality to the first eleven, not from the bench.
One More Striker, Please
This initial run of fixtures just add to Rodgers’ woes, especially since current first-choice striker Daniel Sturridge will only realistically return in November, close to the end of that nightmare first seven away fixtures. Hence, like the second pointer, Rodgers and his transfer committee has an even more urgent need to sign a striker at least close to the ability of Sturridge.
Danny Ings is, at best, a solid option off the bench, while Divock Origi is still very raw and will need time to adjust to the rigours of the English game. Even as Sturridge returns in November, there is little likelihood, or faith, that he can go on a run of games without succumbing to any sort of muscular injury again, given his recent dismal injury record. Rodgers will be risking his job again if he repeats last season’s choice of having Sturridge as the team’s best striker. He thought Mario Balotelli could stand in for Sturridge with Rickie Lambert and Borini providing the different options. However, Rodgers was proven horribly wrong, and even as Ings and Origi seem to be, on paper, of better quality than Lambert and Borini, the manager will still need to find someone that can hit the ground running and at least make some sort of impact from the get go.
Admittedly, this is a tough ask, for any striker. Add to the fact that Liverpool isn’t the most attractive place for premier strikers to go to now, the likelihood of Rodgers striking gold with a second-tier forward is slim, but still possible. Rodgers just needs to unearth another (less injury-prone) Sturridge.