Liverpool had an unbelievable campaign last season – in many senses it was almost a miracle.
The league title has not gleamed in the Anfield trophy cabinet since 1990, however the Reds went astonishingly close to clinching their first Premier League trophy, as they finished two points behind Manchester City in second place.
It was a bitter-sweet campaign for Kopites. They missed out on the league thanks to the 2-0 loss at home to Chelsea. However, it was more than many expected. Most Liverpool fans would have been laughed at for suggesting Champions League qualification was a realistic target pre-campaign.
They now enter the 2014/15 season looking to build on last year's valiant efforts.
Defence has improved
Liverpool’s obvious fault last year was that they leaked goals left, right and centre. They reached a mark of 50 goals being conceded – for a club who wants to challenge for the league, this is not good enough. At times Liverpool looked shaky, like they were in desperate need of a leader.
Enter new-boy Dejan Lovren. He’s fresh from his £20 million move from Southampton and he looks a class act. The Croatian international was one of the Premier League’s most outstanding centre-halves last season – positive in the air, hard in the tackle and a great sense of vision.
Lovren is what Liverpool were crying out for last season, a natural leader to replace Jamie Carragher and he certainly displayed he is capable of fulfilling that role on Kop debut. In Liverpool’s 4-0 friendly victory against German outlet Borussia Dortmund, Lovren showed why big money was spent on him as he looked comfortable throughout and should form a solid partnership with Martin Skrtel at the heart of the defence.
That’s not the only area that Brendan Rodgers has improved. The flanks of the defence were particularly vulnerable too last campaign. Unfortunately, Glen Johnson does not cut the mustard anymore in a Red shirt. He still holds plenty of ability going forward however his defensive duties are questionable at best.
Rodgers clearly thinks the same and has drafted in the highly touted Javier Manquillo from Atletico Madrid. He looked superb in the friendly against Dortmund and will likely challenge fellow novice Jon Flanagan – who was pivotal to last year’s success – for the position of right-back.
Alberto Moreno also joins from Sevilla for a cool £12 million and he looks a class act. Many are suspicious of Jose Enrique on the left side of defence and Moreno offers solidarity in that position defensively along with a lot of skill and flair on the break.
Too many times Liverpool’s defence last season chopped and changed due to injuries and poor form. It seems that Rodgers has drafted in the right candidates to form a partnership who can understand each other and thrive.
Added depth to squad
Moreover, what I like most about Rodgers's spending this season is the depth he has added to the squad. Last season, Liverpool’s squad was bare to say the least.
If you looked across the bench you would normally see either Raheem Sterling or Philippe Coutinho who could impact the game but it stops there. Sat alongside would be Iago Aspas, Luis Alberto and Victor Moses. All three had a poor season on Merseyside to say the least, impacting on little to nothing when coming off the bench.
However, now the Reds boss has set about recruiting, trying to purchase competition for every position. Emre Can joins from Bayern Leverkusen for £10 million and he brings a lot of competition to both Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson.
It’s likely that he will play the defensive midfield role and allow the Kop skipper more freedom in the centre of midfield. Gerrard had a decent campaign playing further back last season, however he was not fully comfortable there and thrives playing up the pitch.
Coutinho also seemed to get a bit complacent at times in the 2013/14 season. He appeared to do the hard part often enough, but then tried too much, which lost him the ball on several occasions. Rodgers seems to have responded to that by bringing Southampton-ace Adam Lallana for £25 million. He will fight for the attacking midfielder role and that seems to have given Coutinho a reality check that his place is not untouchable.
The Brazilian has responded positively as he was Liverpool’s best player in pre-season and hailed as the brains of the team by his boss. Add Lazar Markovic to that list, who will challenge Raheem Sterling for a spot on the wing, and Rodgers' options are very healthy indeed.
Markovic was one of Europe’s highest touted young footballers and had a host of top clubs he could have joined this summer. However he opted for Anfield due to the style of football played and the amount game time given to youngsters being aged just 20.
The final part of the Southampton spine last season, Rickie Lambert, was also purchased. He joins Liverpool after being released when he was 15, returning on the back of a £4 million transfer. Lambert isn’t a typical Rodgers signing; nonetheless, he offers a plan B at Anfield.
There were times last season – particularly against Chelsea at home and West Brom away – were Liverpool threw the kitchen sink at team’s but could not break them down. Lambert gives the side an option of a long ball. Although Rodgers does not encourage this style of football, he even believes that sometimes it does not work and a different strategy is needed.
No Suarez, no success?
The biggest loss to Liverpool’s campaign is Suarez. He was the heart of the side as every football fan across the world knows, scoring 31 goals and earning himself the Premier League golden boot along with PFA Footballer and Football Writers player of the year.
He’s now moved to Spanish giants Barcelona for £75 million and although the Reds have added depth to try and replace him, some players are just irreplaceable.
Suarez is a magician with the ball and could do things no others could. He was involved in 50% of all Liverpool strikes and that is some stat to replace – especially as he missed the start of the season.
Desperate need of a striker
Although Liverpool have bought incredibly to replace the Uruguayan they are yet to purchase another top class striker which is badly needed. At the moment the Reds have just Sturridge and Lambert as their only recognised forwards. If one of those – especially the former – gets injured, Liverpool could be in a real spot of bother.
Purchasing a class striker like Edinson Cavani or Radamel Falcao – two players who the Reds have been closely linked to – is an absolute must.
Simone Mignolet arrived on Merseyside last season and has pushed long time goalkeeper Pepe Reina away from Anfield as he reunited with his former Barcelona captain Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich, after a season on loan at Napoli.
Mignolet had somewhat of a mixed campaign during his first season. Although he made some fantastic stops, he was directly at fault for six goals – that’s more than any Premier League ‘keeper last season.
Rodgers has brought competition in for every other player at the club and he desperately needs to do so between the sticks. We’ve saw the positive effect it has had on Coutinho and it would do the exact same for Mignolet.
I expect another fantastic season for Liverpool. This season will be tighter than ever with all of last years top four strengthening along with Louis van Gaal arriving at Manchester United to steer them to their former selves.
If Rodgers can get the players to really bond and become dependent on each other through their counter-attacking style of play, the Reds have a real chance.
Although Suarez has left and not been replaced, Kopites should not panic. The Reds will not fail to score goals as Sturridge has the ability to step up to be the main man, much like Coutinho and Sterling. With that, new signings Markovic, Lambert and Lallana will all chip in with at least 20 goals between them and I’m very confident Rodgers will bring in another top-class striker.
Let’s not also forget how much the back four has been strengthened. Liverpool had to score four or five goals a game sometimes last season as they leaked to many at the back, however now the defence is a completely different outlook, this will be different.
Prediction – it will be tough but the class Rodgers has brought in along with the development should be enough for the Reds to qualify for the Champions League again. A third placed finish seems suitable.