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Liverpool: Can they challenge for the title again?

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It's been a busy summer for Liverpool so far. After a difficult season Brendan Rodgers has been quick to bring in an array of new talent. The recent capture of Christian Benteke was Liverpool's seventh signing of the summer.

The primary aim next season will be to break back into the top four. This was the aim back in 2013/14 when the Merseyside club came within a heartbeat of winning their first Premier League title. Could they mount a realistic title challenge again next season? Here's how their current team compares to that of 2013/14:

WHAT'S WORSE?

Gerrard's gone

At 35-years-old the time was right for Steven Gerrard to move on. It will be a big loss for Liverpool though. Despite not featuring as regularly as he would have liked the Englishman finished the season as the club's top goalscorer, with 13 goals in all competitions. This showed how much the team still relied on him.

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He was also extremely influential during the 13/14 season. Though it was his unfortunate slip that set Liverpool on the road to disaster, he was a crucial player over the course of the campaign. He scored 13 and assisted 15 in the league. Liverpool must deal with his departure better than they did with Luis Suarez's. Thankfully, with James Milner and Jordan Henderson they still look strong in the centre of midfield.

Sturridge's injury woes

Sturridge had the best season of his career as Liverpool came within touching distance of the title. He managed a sensational 22 goals as one half of the formidable 'SAS' partnership. He featured in 29 games that season, but he's been plagued by injury since then.

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Last season he was restricted to just 12 appearances and it's a concern that he's injured again ahead of the new season. The Reds could rely on the England international during the 2013/14 season but his injury record since then shows that they cannot pin their hopes on Sturridge featuring regularly, let alone scoring regularly.

Suarez's departure

Liverpool failed to move on from the departure of their top goalscorer last season. This was mainly due to Rodgers' failure to bring in an adequate replacement and Sturridge's injury struggles. The Uruguayan scored a staggering 31 goals in his final season at the club and was key in Liverpool's title charge.

The biting incident at the World Cup spelled the end of his time at Anfield. The club was then paralysed by his departure. The capture of Benteke is decent business but is he really going to emulate the form Suarez produced in 2013/14? The jury's still out.

WHAT'S BETTER?

Right-Back

Needless to say Liverpool fans were pretty happy when Glen Johnson left the club this summer. The right-back had become a laughing stock at Liverpool due to his poor performances and it was high time that the Englishman was shipped out.

The £12.5million signing of Nathaniel Clyne has since excited Liverpool fans. The 24-year-old was arguably the best right-back in the league last season. He's looked impressive in pre-season and if he can carry this form into the new season then Liverpool will have the quality right-back they've been lacking for some time.

Philippe Coutinho has come of age

The young Brazilian was Liverpool's star player last season. While he also impressed in the 2013/14 campaign it was last season that he really came to the fore. He proved to be a rare positive in a largely negative term last time out.

The 23-year-old was named Liverpool Player of the Year and nominated for PFA Players' Player of the Year and PFA Young Player of the Year. The youngster is still developing and is yet to reach his peak, meaning the best is yet to come. He scored five goals last season and will be looking to improve on this tally next season. You wouldn't bet against him doing it.

Henderson has proved himself

Henderson struggled in the early stages of his Liverpool career, but those days are a distant memory now. The midfielder has proven that he's good enough for the club, with his performances over the last two seasons have been so impressive that he's been named the new club captain.

Henderson was excellent last season as he recorded six goals and ten assists. He's a much better player than he was during the 2013/14 campaign. While he may never be quite as inspirational as Gerrard he will still bring plenty of quality to Rodgers' midfield.

Strength in depth

Liverpool have a big squad ahead of the new season, this will serve them well over the course of the campaign. The competition for places should bring the best out of Liverpool's players. The club has seven players capable of playing centre-back next season, which means they should be able to cope well with defensive injuries.

In midfield there's also plenty of competition for places. Roberto Firmino, Coutinho and Adam Lallana will all be vying for attacking midfield roles. Meanwhile Henderson, Milner, Emre Can, Lucas and Joe Allen will be competing for deeper roles. There are also plenty of wide options with Lazar Markovic, Jordan Ibe, Divock Origi and Milner all capable of playing on the wing.

Rodgers' array of forward options will be important for a team whose strikers underperformed last season. Danny Ings and Benteke will be battling it out for a place, while Origi is an exciting prospect. When Sturridge is fit he could be the final piece of the puzzle.

CAN THEY CHALLENGE?

Nobody saw Liverpool's title challenge coming in '13/14 and few are expecting one this season. However, football has a habit of throwing up surprises, so we shouldn't be too quick to write off the club.

The first objective will be to secure a top four place; this would represent a good season all told. However a title challenge is not all that unrealistic.

They would of course need a number of factors in their favour. Crucially they will need goals. If Benteke can hit in excess of 25, and it's a big if, then this would relieve the pressure on Liverpool's defence. Let's not forget that they were by no means excellent defensively in '13/14, but the goals of Suarez very nearly dragged them to the title all the same.

Benteke hasn't ever come close to Suarez's 31 goal tally, but it's worth remembering that he's been playing for a struggling Villa team. Who knows what he's capable of when he's playing for a top team?

If Liverpool have luck on their side and get the necessary performances from their key players then they'll have an outside chance of the title next season.

In many respects they have a stronger side than they did two years ago, thus the only concern is that their rivals have strengthened. This could ultimately be the deciding factor but while many will see a title win as unlikely it's by no means impossible.

Liverpool fans, is there any chance you can win the Premier League title next season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments box below.

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Topics:
Philippe Coutinho
Jordan Henderson
Christian Benteke
Liverpool
Premier League
Luis Suarez
Brendan Rodgers
Football

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