Premier League Preview: Liverpool

Premier League Preview: Liverpool
Aug 4, 2016

Liverpool

As the dust settles from the previous campaign & the blazing sun settles over the world of sport this summer, preparations and hype began for the new Barclays Premier League 2016/2017 campaign.

For Liverpool, it’s a common ritual to linger whether or not they are stellar enough to mount a serious title challenge for the first time in two years – and possibly lift the title for the first time in 26 years.

Whenever a team wins a title, they’ve got themselves on the cusp of glory, due to that special something. Whether that’s scoring goals for fun like the Suarez and Sturridge partnership in 2013/2014, having a rigid defence which concedes the least goals in the league, similar to the 26 that Rafa Benitez’s Reds managed, or possessing an all-round side with all of these factors inaugurated into what makes champions.

The 2001/2002, 2008/2009, 2013/2014 (bar the defensive lapses) campaigns seemed to have these winners’ mentalities, but fell just short. Unfortunately, the Barclays Premier League is so nip and tuck that a 3-3 draw and a 4-3 can be the difference between runners up/winning the title. Liverpool have been on the wrong end of these red herrings in the past, but can they make amends this campaign?

Weaknesses going into the season

1) Injury concerns. 

In 2014/2015, Liverpool’s key striker Daniel Sturridge obtained a thigh injury, ruling him out for the start of the season. Liverpool’s lack of contingency forwards were exposed badly during that period, as they embarked on their worst league start for 50 years.

2) Goals scored. Last season, the Reds created the second best chances in the league, but only scored 63 goals. With the likes of Christian Benteke failing to make his mark and Danny Ings suffering from injury coupled with Divock Origi’s lack of feature in the early stages of the season, Liverpool seemed to rely mainly on Daniel Sturridge, who was their top scorer for the season. However, with the likes of Mane, Wijnaldum etc coming in, that may be about to change.

3) Protecting leads. Jurgen Klopp’s side lost 15 points (most in the league) from winning positions, including games such as Southampton away. It’s all about the lapse of defensive concentration and regularly and defensive tatics at time. Liverpol were known as the comeback kings in the Rafael Benitez era, but now the Reds are comeback victims. The Merseysiders need to be able to close out leads easily, not just against the big teams. They’re too inconsistent against the teams at the bottom.

4) Set-pieces. Rodgers didn’t mastermind it; and Klopp has far from done so. Too many goals last season were conceded from deliveries in the 18-yard box. Poor communication between defenders and zonal marking was the maiden issue which stemmed into the lack of concentration. The Reds leaked in 50 league goals last season – two more than 2014/2015, whilst the likes of Manchester United & Manchester City shipped in significantly less. It’s not just about attack, attack, attack. Liverpool’s 2005/2006’s league campaign which saw them finish 3nd in the Premier League was built on defensive rigidity, with the likes of Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, John Arne Riise & Steve Finnan going 761 minutes without conceding a single goal that season. Only Swansea, Norwich, Newcastle & Aston Villa conceded more goals from set-pieces than Liverpool.

Strengths:

1) Chance creation. 

Last season, only 3rd placed Tottenham Hotspur created more chances than Liverpool during the whole league campaign. With the likes of Sadio Mane, Divock Origi, Daniel Sturridge, Georginio Wijnaldum, Ings & Benteke that should only be increasing. The question is whether the strike force can turn it into goals, a task which proved heavily beyond their reach, only scoring 63 league goals. Add the prime of Coutinho and Firmino, other Premier League teams will keep a watch out for their creativity in midfield followed by their attacking prowess.

2) Attacking choice. 

Last season and for the 2014/2015 campaign, Liverpool were bereft of any real contingency strikers to replace the unfit Daniel Sturridge and Divock Origi, who improved him form towards the end of the campaign. Whilst it remains an enigma as to how the new attackers will perform, it does, regardless give Liverpool more alternatives should their key strikers get injured. Origi has a work rate, pace, skill & physical attributes in abundance. Mane also offers pace & quality finishing, and Wijnaldum is a versatile midfielder who creates chances and can play in any three positions behind the striker, which is useful for Klopp when he reverts his formations.

3) Creativity. 

Philippe Coutinho, Firmino & Wijnaldum are creative players, and offer skill, good service and excellent individual performances. For example, Coutinho shined with Firmino in the incredible 4-1 thumping away against Manchester City, whilst Wijnaldum scored 4 goals in one game last season for Newcastle. Coutinho can unlock defences in a second, finding the killer ball & scores special goals. In tandem, Wijnaldum’s pace can help him make good runs in the box, something which Firmino does as well; make clever runs. If you’re looking for a special goal or a moment of brilliance/creativity in a match against bitter rivals Manchester United or local rivals Everton, you can rely on the likes of Philippe Coutinho, who offers special goals & skill, Roberto Firmino, who creates space for his teammates and himself, or Georginio Wijnaldum who can be rotated in different strikers/midfielders roles, and performs effectively there as well. Bodes well for the Reds’ creativity.

4) Passion. 

Whilst last season was particularly unrewarding despite reaching two cup finals, it wasn’t necessarily the performances and the class that got the Reds through; it was the passion and admirable determination. Jurgen Klopp is known for his hugs, passion, anger – he’s never afraid to express his feelings to his players. He has the right transfer mentality; rather than building a club that’s about £ (which doesn’t guarantee you the title or domestic success), he’s focused on creating and inheriting from a squad that isn’t his into one that’s attractive to play against and always strives to reach the top. His plans for building a new academy divulge how different he is to the top managers in Europe these days. Liverpool have spent money on the likes of Sadio Mane for £34m, but Klopp cares about the impression Anfield gets, rather than its performances.

5) No cup distractions. 

Even though Liverpool, being an English club well acclaimed due to its European history & glamour, will be without the Europa League/Champions League next season, it is a blessing in disguise for Jurgen Klopp’s side. If you analyse Liverpool’s form towards the end of last season, it was clear that performance levels wilted a little. Although the 2016 UEFA Europa League road to Basel was very impressive from the Reds, it proved a frustrating diversion for their poor and inconsistent league form. They had reached the Capital One Cup final as well, however, once again, the final gave them refuge for their form in the Premier League to be overlooked. Domestic cups and silverware is primarily a bonus – should Liverpool fail to challenge for the top four this season at all, their next priority will be to try and bring either the FA Cup or Capital One Cup trophy to Anfield – and get the Merseysiders back to where they should be; challenging for the title.

Business

Following a disappointing 8th place, but an impressive two cup finals in his first 8 months, Jurgen Klopp was left with a squad entirely built up of Rodgers’ signings. However, now the summer transfer window is now open, Klopp’s wasted little time in making defensive reinforcements – an area which was labelled possibly Liverpool’s biggest weaknesses. The likes of Ragnar Klavan, Joel Matip & even a second-choice goalkeeper in Loris Karius have been introduced to the club, & the German has also bolstered Liverpool’s attacking options, which had consisted of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Daniel Sturridge & Divock Origi. Relying on Sturridge, who’s known for being injury prone, wasn’t going to be a reliable option, so he sought out to purchase Sadio Mane and Georginio Wijnaldum for heavy price tags.

Once again, FSG’s transfer policy will raise doubts. Despite receiving some praise for their business in the transfer window, the full-back dilenma is still present, plus they seem to be lacking any supported leadership from anybody in the team – something which you wouldn’t expect at all at a club like Liverpool. Jordan Henderson, current captain of the club, has been criticised unfairly after going through a poor season of injury – they seem shorn of anyone prepared to take responsibility since Steven Gerrard left the club for the sunny United States in 2015.

Key Players

1) Daniel Sturridge

“Even 80% of Fernando Torres can make a difference” – this was what Rafael Benitez, who managed Liverpool from 2004-2010. This quote can be applied to Daniel Sturridge’s attacking prowess, even if he’s carrying a slight niggle in his leg, if he’s match fit, his finishing can really make a difference. However, he can be selfish with the ball & frustrating for the bigger games when you’re looking for a goal from somebody. Despite his criticism, you just simply cannot overlook the fact that he was Liverpool’s top goalscorer in 2015/2016 with 11 goals, even though he missed parts of the season due to his biggest demon, injury.

The biggest concern as everybody would say, is keeping him fit. He was a massive loss in the 2014/2015 season for Liverpool, but sustaining his fitness is a challenge for the Englishman. It’s not the end for Liverpool even if he suffers injury, as they have contingency strikers.

2) Philippe Coutinho

The best flash of creativity the Reds possess? I concur, to an extent. He’s one that you can rely on if you are on the lookout for a killer pass, clever play on and off the ball & creative goals. He has so much skill to offer – showboating, stepovers & his play is intelligent. His dribbling and passing is second to none, whilst where tackling etc is concerned, he doesn’t do a bad job at it. His goal contribution last season nearly won him the top goalscorer for Liverpool, but Daniel Sturridge scored 11 to Coutinho’s 8. Not to mention that his chances created was 49 – only James Milner has fashioned more.

3) Sadio Mané

After Liverpool’s failed efforts to lure Mario Gotze into the club, they resorted to £34m worth of Sadio Mane from Southampton. His price has come under scrutiny, but having in every pre-season match so far, it definitely seems that he’s going to be a part of Jurgen Klopp’s plans for the season. His performances against teams such as Chelsea & Manchester United can be invaluable for the team, however he’s too inconsistent throughout the season. If he’s utilised well, he can be a real threat with his pace & trickery. His movement & drifting past defenders is a valuable asset for the Reds.

 

4) Mamadou Sakho

The Frenchman has a point to prove at Anfield this season. After inconsistency characterised the start to his campaign, under Klopp he eventually revived, producing some commanding & measured performances at the back, but he does lack composure with his passes and clearances. Towards the end, his contribution to the team & appreciation from Liverpool fans increased – as he netted the equaliser in the memorable Anfield night v Dortmund & a header in the Merseyside derby. He was, endorsed in controversy, however, as UEFA banned him from footballing activity for 30 days after allegedly taking a performance-enhancing drugs.

But, further tests divulged that he wasn’t guilty, and after coming in for some criticism following the debate he was surrounded in, he has the opportunity to rectify that next season. His leadership qualities & personality has even placed him as a contender for Liverpool’s armband. He’s not to expected to leave the club despite unrest with his manager.

 

How the season will pan out

The 2015/2016 season ended in disappointment domestically for the Reds, and inconsistency plagued & undermined some brilliant displays away from home & the great European nights. As Liverpool did fail to win the Europa League last season, they won’t be taking part in the Champions League or any European competition in 2016/2017. Like I’ve already stated, this could turn out to be a gifted attribute for Jurgen Klopp’s team. The previous time they were without any domestic competition like this, they went on to mount their first ever serious title challenge since 2009, finishing 2nd.

As a Liverpool fan, I do believe that Klopp has gone the right way to address the voids in the squad, after he was left with a very unimpressive side that Rodgers had built. His transfer mentality is right – as much as it’s frustrating seeing our rivals sign marquee players such as Ibrahimovic & Mkhitaryan, he’s showing that he’s not interested in investing £120m in a team that are rich merchants.

Despite promise in the recruitments he’s made, it just may not be enough to haul top 4. There’s still a conundrum at left-back, and surplus signings in that role need to be made. I would expect a domestic run if Liverpool’s form in the league falters. There should be a slight improvement from the previous season, but still not enough to land the coveted Champions League spot.

Predicted league finish: 6th

 

 

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