It is almost impossible to predict what will happen next at Liverpool Football Club. The latest reports from Uruguay tell of fresh hope that Luis Suarez may yet remain part of Brendan Rodgers’ squad, but how will they fare in the early season when the want-away striker is absent through suspension?
Liverpool’s season could be typified by a relatively straightforward (barring the Champions) opening 5 games and their inability to win them; home games against Stoke and Southampton, as well as the trip to Villa are all ties Liverpool failed to win last year. The real acid test for the Reds will come the day after the transfer window slams shut with the visit of Manchester United.
Certainly without Suarez, Liverpool look like they could struggle in a number of their early fixtures. However, the transfer window, traditionally a weakness of Liverpool in the Premier League era– El Hadji Diouf, Andy Carroll, Fernando Morientes, Robbie Keane, Paul Konchesky, I could go on… – appears to have been dealt with rather better. On the way out were Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll, Jay Spearing, and Jonjo Shelvey.
Usually, such revenue would herald a big money signing to Anfield, but the shrewd Rodgers has spent smaller fees to add depth to the squad, with perhaps his most astute recruit costing nothing at all. Rodgers found his new centre-back just 30 miles up the M62 in the formidable figure of Kolo Toure who joined early on in the window from Manchester City on a free transfer. Toure is only 32, still fit enough to play 90 minutes, and provides some pace which Liverpool lacked in defence, which should in turn allow Brendan Rodgers to resurrect his high defensive line.
The fading powers of Pepe Reina are to be replaced by one of the Premier League’s most wanted goalkeepers, 25-year-old Belgian Simon Mignolet who managed 11 clean sheets in a poor Sunderland side last season, and is only improving.
Liverpool’s two other signings, both attacking come from Spain: Iago Aspas, a £9m forward from Celta Vigo, and Luis Alberto who cost €8m from Sevilla, are presumably charged with replacing Suarez should he leave.
Aspas looks to be nearer the mark – his 12 goals last season represented a third of his team’s – with smart feet, plenty of pace, and a sweet left foot: he will fit well into Rodgers’ “tiki-taka” philosophy. Alberto on the other hand, is just 20 years of age, but could figure if he adapts his game, which currently lacks the physicality required to survive English football.
Whether Suarez stays or not, a genuine concern might be exactly that lack of physicality. Liverpool are not a tall side, and have struggled on many occasions against more physical, direct sides. The key to their season may be finding a way to win those types of games, adapting their intricate passing game to break down bigger teams.
It is exactly that challenge which Liverpool will encounter on the opening day, when they entertain Stoke City, a side they have not beaten in the league for two and a half years, against whom they have only scored once in their last four meetings, and who led the league last year in fouls, yellow cards, and aerial challenges won.
Last year, a failure to win any of their first 5 games was enough to crush Merseyside optimism. Despite all their transfer aptitude this time around, Liverpool’s hope of making that step back into the top tier of European football rests heavily on the future of Luis Suarez. If he remains at Anfield come 1st September, then Liverpool might just stand a chance of challenging the top four this term.
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