It’s that time of the year once again. If you’re in the Southern hemisphere, like me, the pre-season friendlies have commenced, there are plenty of rumours of new players to be signed and the main sport on TV is Tour De Drugs France and rugby. If you’re in the Northern hemisphere the pre-season friendlies have commenced, there are plenty of rumours of new players to be signed and half of your colleagues are working on their tans on sunny beach somewhere. Aside from the transfer speculation, the other important consideration is what are the prospects for the new season for my team?
For most clubs, expectations can be calculated and calibrated with a degree of ease.
Manchester United – more of the same please (knocked those pesky Scousers off their perch); no change of manager (he’s #winning); find a replacement for van der Sar (done!); find a replacement for Scholes (Sneijder’s en route!); find a long term solution for Giggs (Ashley Young’s pretty handy); get rid of some squad players (Brown, O’Shea); and get some younger replacements for them (Jones).
Chelsea – we didn’t win the Champs League which means the last manager was crap which means let’s get our 8th manager since the year 2000; new manager guided Porto to undefeated season and he’s Portuguese (new Mourinho!); John “JT” Terry and Frank “Lamps” Lampard are still there to provide the English spine for us; Torres will double his scoring output this season (2 goals this season!); Drogba is still a goal machine.
Arsenal – keep playing attractive football; our keepers are crap (let’s not buy a new one, these three are okay); our defence is crap (we don’t need anybody – Vermalen will be like a “new” player); Cesc wants to leave (that’s fine as long as we get enough moola to buy replacements; Van Persie will surely last a whole season injury-free (see how good he was from Jan to May this year!);
Everton – don’t sell Leighton Baines.
Norwich City, Queens Park Rangers, Swansea City – Stay up.
This brings us to “my” team – Liverpool and their chances in the coming season. My thoughts are structured around what has not changed (the old) and what has changed (the new)
Liverpool will continue to play their home games at Anfield. The talks around the possible move to a new stadium are still at the possible stage and there has been no confirmation from the owners about that. This means that Liverpool’s capacity of 45 000 is still significantly lower than some of Liverpool’s peers including the likes of Manchester United (75 000) and Arsenal (60 000), on par with Manchester City (47 000) and higher than Chelsea (41 000). As a result, Liverpool’s match day revenue was £43m compared to Man United’s £100m and Arsenal’s £94m in the 2009/10 season. This has implications for the revenue generating ability of the club as any increase in revenue has to come from a hike in ticket prices, which would not be popular with those buying the tickets.
Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher are entering their 14th and 16th seasons with Liverpool, respectively. Both players are born and bred Scousers and have become key members of the team over the years and have seen five managers come and go during their professional careers. In my opinion, both players still have contributions to make to Liverpool in providing much need leadership and inspiration to the younger players and to those new to the club. Although the manager has the last word on this, my thoughts are that they should not be playing every single game and should be rotated in and out of the team in a similar manner to Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes at Man United.
The “Almost New”
The owners of Liverpool fall into the almost new category as they first appeared midway through the 2010-11 season. The introduction of the Fenway Sports Group (FSG) was met with widespread approval from the Liverpool faithful as well as the players. After the calamitous relationship with the previous owners Hicks & Gillette, which clearly had a profound effect on the players’ morale and thus impacted the on-field performances, FSG has impressed by making funds available to the manager to bring in new players as well as their professional approach to ownership. This has provided much-needed stability and FSG has indicated they intend to improve the commercial capabilities of the club.
“King” Kenny Dalglish likewise, is under the almost new category as he was appointed (on a caretaker basis) in January 2011 and then appointed on a permanent basis following the end of the season. Dalglish brought in a sense of hope, belief and unity which definitely improved the morale of the players, and this was evident in the general style of play for the majority of the games following his arrival. There are two things that Dalglish has achieved since being re-appointed as manager that have impressed me – the style of play and the philosophy of Liverpool have improved dramatically. If he can ensure that these two things, combined with his good man-management skills, happen on a consistent basis the coming season will be good for the club.
Luis Suarez has earned rave reviews since his arrival from Ajax Amsterdam. His performances in a Liverpool shirt were full of energy, trickery and guile and he has quickly established himself as a fan favourite with the Liverpool faithful. He appears to be a great team player, working hard to win back the ball and then joining in the attack as Liverpool move the ball forward. The hope is that he will continue with last season’s success and his current Copa America form when he returns to for the new season.
The most eagerly anticipated time for the supporters of Liverpool is when new players are brought into the club. This is how the club infers or indicates how it is positioning itself for the future. As usual, the signings made by Liverpool have divided opinion with comments of “overpaying for average English talent” and “these signings are not big enough for a club like Liverpool”.
It is important to remember that Liverpool is not playing any European football this season. This fact alone is enough to deter any prospective players from moving to the club as they have their own personal objectives which may include playing on a European stage. There are those players (e.g. Suarez) who have bought into the long-term vision for the club and will be making every effort to ensure that Liverpool returns to compete in Europe’s premier football competition.
Andy Carroll suffered from injury problems from the time he was signed and did not have many chances to display his best performances for Liverpool. As such, to paraphrase Arsene Wenger, he will be “like a new signing” for the club. There are still those muttering about his excessive price tag, but I have taken the views of Warren Buffett to heart who states “Price is what you pay, value is what you get”. Aside from his much eulogised aerial ability, I believe that Liverpool will get good value from his high work rate, energy and general team play.
I must admit that I did not watch a lot of Sunderland games during the past season and Jordan Henderson is a bit of an enigma to me. Statistically, he was a big success creating more chances for Sunderland than anyone else and ranked in the top three in the entire division for key passes. He comes into the team to add to the swelling ranks of central midfield players, but I feel the youngster should be given a chance to prove himself in the coming season.
Stewart Downing provides something Liverpool have lacked for many seasons – an orthodox winger, nominally a left-sided player but can be equally effective cutting in from the right. I don’t think he’s a particularly flashy, or some might say exciting, but his job will be to provide quality crosses on a consistent basis and that he is capable of doing.
Charlie Adam appears at first sight to be something of a “luxury” player at first sight. He would give Carragher competition in the lack of pace department and there have been rumours about his lack of conditioning. However, he has great vision and his set piece delivery over the last season was consistently good. I believe he has that bit of guile to unlock a wall of defensive players that Liverpool has struggled with in the past.
My feeling is that Liverpool appears to have a strategy in place and are building a team towards specific objectives. The man management and tactical guidance from Kenny Dalglish and his team will be vital to ensure they can bring out the best from the players.
The main target for the coming season, in my opinion, is to improve upon last season’s 6th place position and to be among the Champions League places. The promise of top-tier European competition is vital if Liverpool is to lure marquee signings to the club and to get back into position to challenge for that long-awaited and elusive Premier League crown.