PJ Vaughan discusses the new-look Liverpool squad ahead of 2015/16 season.
Pre-season usually leads to heightened expectations. It usually makes the impossible seem possible. There was an enormous sense of optimism last summer after our title charge and the vast array of new signings. This wasn’t tapered by the loss of Luis Suarez
This summer the mood among Liverpool fans is more subdued, if not pessimistic. Expectations have significantly lowered after last season’s poor performance. Many fans feel a top four finish would be a huge achievement. However, with no undue pressure on the players if everything was to fall into place, maybe, just maybe, we could achieve much more than that.
Concentrating on the Premier League
If you compare Liverpool’s overall squad with their top four rivals there is no comparison. The top four are stronger in most areas. However, our rivals will have to compete on two stages, the Champions League and Premier League, while Liverpool’s main focus will firmly be on the Premier League (Rodgers has hinted that a second string will most likely contest the Europa League, at least in the group stages).
Liverpool have to play all their big rivals away from home by the end of November. This could mean the season is over by the 21st November – but conversely it could also be a positive. It usually takes some time for the bigger clubs to be at their very best.
Also, international fixtures and Champions League group games could give Liverpool an edge in some of these games. If Liverpool don’t lose ground on their rivals then there will be huge possibilities for them for the rest of the season.
Finding their feet
Many of last summer’s signings performed poorly. Adam Lallana spent much of the season injured and when he was fit he lacked consistency. This season if he can stay clear of injury and perform to his very best he could be an important first team player.
Lazar Markovic was restricted by both limited game time and playing out of position. I would like to see him start the season playing in the Europa League and rebuild his Liverpool career. Much like Jordan Henderson did in the early days of Rodgers’ tenure. Playing in his best position could rebuild his confidence and he would surely be fighting for a first team place in the league side by late autumn.
Alberto Moreno had a difficult first season. He made a couple of high profile defensive mistakes but he also showed a few signs of encouragement. He is a year wiser and should be more settled at the club. If he can improve defensively he can be a very effective left back for the club for a number of years.
Emre Can was one of the positives of last season. It’s unclear what his role will be. The general consensus is that he is best as a defensive midfielder, however I feel he would need a Javier Mascherano style player beside him in order to allow him play in a role more akin to Xabi Alonso.
It is unlikely that Rodgers would ever give him that sort of protection though. He is likely to get exposed at defensive mid, if he was to play in that role on his own. Maybe developing as a ball playing centre back in the Europa League might be the best for both the player and the club. He could easily be as effective as John Stones playing in a similar manner.
Hitting the ground running
I did a study on the successes and failings of transfers last summer. Rodgers and FSG are due a good window as, besides the winter transfer window in 2013 when we signed Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, our dealings in the transfer market have been poor.
Christian Benteke should help the club secure points especially away from home, where he will help the team gain possession in the attacking areas, so that our better players receive the ball closer to the opposition’s goal. He could also be very useful at set pieces in both boxes – an area we clearly need to improve.
Nathaniel Clyne should prove a very capable right back and provide energy to our right side so that we don’t have to push the like of Jordan Henderson in there. Danny Ings might provide goals from one of our back up strikers. He would turn out to be a real bargain if he managed 10 goals or so a season or by becoming a super sub.
James Milner could provide the guile and energy to our midfield and he is also capable of providing goals from there. Firmino hopefully will hit the ground running and end up scoring and assisting – developing a devastating partnership with Phil Coutinho. [td_ad_box spot_id=“custom_ad_3″]
Injury free and reaching true potential
There is nothing to stop Simon Mignolet becoming one of the top keepers in the league. He may not be the same level as Thibaut Courtois or David DeGea in terms of potential, however, he should be approaching the peak of his career. With a bit of confidence Mignolet could be one of the top three or four keepers in the division.
If Mamadou Sakho can keep injury free he should become the leader our backline needs. He can definitely improve and there is no reason why he can’t become to Liverpool what John Terry is to Chelsea or Vincent Kompany was to City.
Jordan Henderson can also become a key player. He will be the main man in the Liverpool engine room and it’s up to him to prove he is the best in the league. This will be a huge year for the future England captain.
Coutinho and Firminho should be as effective as anything the top sides have. While all our title rivals have top players in these positions, Coutinho has the potential to be as good as and better than all these – including Hazard and Sanchez whose talent is more reliant on pace than skill. Coutinho could become a superstar in the next 12 months.
A fit Daniel Sturridge is as good as any forward in the league. He can score all sorts of goals and will love linking up with Firminho and Coutinho. If he could recover his fitness and goal scoring touch he could add the goals that Liverpool so lacked last season.
So let’s not be downbeat before the season starts. If we start the season well and players can build confidence, turn Anfield into a fortress and become hard to beat away from home. If we don’t lose ground on our rivals in head to head and key players don’t get injured.
Maybe just maybe we can qualify for the top four and even have a sneaky title challenge. Nothing is impossible after all its still preseason and every Liverpool fan should be dreaming of winning the league in pre-season.