A top four finish is all the talk ahead of Brendan Rodgers’ second season at Liverpool, but it shouldn’t be essential, Ben Twelves writes.
After enduring 54 long days since Jamie Carragher’s memorable last appearance at home to QPR on the final day of the season, Liverpool fans everywhere breathed a sigh of relief as football officially returned last weekend.
The impressive first pre-season run-out at Preston was a very welcome distraction from all of the transfer talk and projected scenarios for the coming campaign – one which arguably unites the club and supporters’ expectations for the first time in years. The target of qualification for Champions League football is what we all hope will start us on our way to competing for trophies on a regular basis once again, but as we know all too well, achieving it won’t be easy.
“Laying the foundations” was the commonly spoken phrase by Brendan Rodgers last season, rightly alluding to the need for patience and allowing time for the new modern style of play to form.An indifferent first half of the season was over-shadowed by a strong second and with the inspired signings of the Brazilian magician Philippe Coutinho and striker Daniel Sturridge instantly performing, there was a real cause for optimism surrounding the next campaign that the top four was for the first time in 4 seasons a realistic proposition.
We are now a year into the ‘project’ and while we have a very clear and settled way of playing, Rodgers, much like in his first year in charge, is facing big challenges that could unfortunately prove a hindrance in any progression and dream of a return to the Champions League.
As much as I’d like to be, I’m not entirely confident that we can put ourselves back amongst Europe’s elite clubs once again just yet. I personally feel it will be very tough, considering the potential amount of disruption that could yet arrive and it could be a lot harder than some currently envisage and expect.
Many have pointed to the managerial changes at three of the four clubs that occupied the Champions League places last season assomething we should do our best to take advantage of, as they look to re-build their philosophies whereas we now have ours firmly engrained. This is no doubt a valid point, but with squads and resources superior to ours and short-term fix abilities at some of those clubs, it will be a huge challenge to over-haul them. We also havesomedifficult obstacles of our own to overcome.
While every Kopite will unanimously agree that Jamie Carragher is an all-time great at Anfield, not everyone concurs that he will be a loss on the pitch. “One more year” was the chant on the Kop during his final game, something I had previously called for. However, some sections were vocal in their view that Carragher was now a hindrance to the team as the desired defensive high-line was unachievable due to his lack of pace.
One thing that both sides will surely agree on however is that losing Carragher is more than just losing a centre back. For me, he was the leader, the marshal of the back line and the ultimate defender.The gap that Carra will leave on and off the pitch will be an extremely tough and almost impossible one to fill, another factor that could make the top four slightly harder to achieve.
We also have the on-going saga surrounding Luis Suarez, an issue that will no doubt impact hugely on the season regardless of the outcome. The overriding fear for many fans, aside from losing him, is that the situation will drag on until the season starts and we are therefore left with the prospect of having to do business very quickly or not at all.
I am firmly in the ‘Suarez Stays’ camp, I love the player he is arguably the most exciting in my lifetime of watching Liverpool. “We could buy 3 good players with the money we get for him” I hear you say. Yes, we could, but while we then have the funds to reinvest, the dangerous risk of having the money but missing out on targets again like Henrikh Mkhitaryan doesn’t appeal to me.
As we can see already, the rebuilding task Rodgers is facing in reaching the top four is sizeable. This isn’t forgetting the prospect that he could field a starting eleven with up to five new players if the following happened: Mignolet becomes first choice keeper, Toure or a new first choice centre back slot in next to Agger, a new defensive and attacking midfielder arrive and Iago Aspas starts on the left side of the ‘3’ as suggested. That is half a team of changes and while the current players have had a year with the system and the new players brought in are believed to suit our play, getting the new additions adapted and the team settled straight away will be testing.
The future with Rodgers
With all the possible upheaval facing Brendan Rodgers, a Champions League finish could escape us for yet another year. If we do fail to secure European football in the competition we would all prefer of the two, question marks over the managers’ future could begin to arise but far too soon for my liking.
With Rodgers, we have a young, innovative and modern coach, who is looking to sustain a model that can bring us long-term success playing an attractive style of football that dominates opposition. A vision based on technique and skill, patient fluid build-up and attacking football, the form of play requires patience and ruthless exploitation in the final third. When deployed properly, it is the finest style to win football matches and the hardest to play against.
The Northern Irishman has shown during his short time that he has an eye for a player and can spot talented, hungry and exciting players. He’s also demonstrated that he can man-manage confidence into his players and team alike. But one thing he hasn’t had so far is a settled team in his vision and while he will be closer to having ‘his’ team this season, instant rewards may not materialise.The team is taking shape, but as already discussed it could all change very quickly with certain current situations.
What Brendan Rodgers has shown during his short time at the club is enough reason to be patient and not prompt irrational reaction. The Champions League is where every follower of Liverpool Football Club wants to be competing and with every year that passes without us being in it, the more we crave a return to the competition.
Unfortunately, with the difficult situations fronting the manager, a delay in returning to rubbing shoulders with Europe’s finest is a realistic possibility and if we fall short, Brendan Rodgers should be the man to try again.