Hi everyone. This is part seven of my series of blogs about the status of the Premiership Clubs of the 2014-2015 Season following the conclusion of the League season. We are getting closer to the Arsenal in rivalry so this piece looking at Spurs and Liverpool was longer than those previously, so we broke this into two. Earlier we posted the Tottenham section and here is Part 2 looking at the Anfield Reds.
Of course, all of this is my own opinion, so feel free to disagree and debate!
The big news at the start of the season was the sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona for 75 million Pounds, making him the second most expensive player to leave the Premier League, after Gareth Bale’s world-record move to Real Madrid. The other notable move was the exit of long-time goalkeeper Jose Manuel Reina (also known as Pepe Reina) to Bayern Munich on a three-year deal, who had been on loan at Napoli whilst Rafael Benitez, the manager who had brought him to Liverpool, was the manager at Napoli. Suarez’ exit left Liverpool with a gaping hole in their squad and a lot of cash burning in their pocket.
Unfortunately, as they have been want-to-do over the last quarter of a century since they last won the top flight (the 1989-1990 season if I recall), they have again bought some players who have simply not lived up to expectations, such as Ricky Lambert and Mario Balotelli, for a combined 20 million Pounds, who are players that should have fitted in well to the squad with their Premier League experience, but simply failed to replicate any of their previous form – Balotelli, a known maverick, had done quite well for an admittedly poor Milan team and Lambert was always in double-figures for goals scored for Southampton since their return to the top flight. Between them, they failed to hit double figures, despite a Champions League and Europa League run!
Another who must be considered a flop at this point is Dejan Lovren – costing 20 million Pounds from Southampton, Lovren was expected to be a starter this season to replace the nearly perenially injured Daniel Agger and to challenge Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtel for their places in the starting eleven. Lovren was decent in a few matches, but in the majority of matches, he was very poor, often showing poor positioning skills and a relative inability to read the game – by the end of the season, Lovren was on the bench in favour of Kolo Toure, who has largely been a shadow of the player we sold to Manchester City in 2008 and also Emre Can, a player who is mostly a defensive midfielder, also played in central defence.
However, they did make a few decent signings in Adam Lallana, Alberto Moreno, Lazar Markovic, Divock Origi and the already mentioned Emre Can for over 70 million Pounds combined, as well as Javier Manquillo on a 2-year loan from Atletico Madrid. All of them, aside from Lallana, are young players who have shown some promise. Lallana has played fairly well thus far for Liverpool but he has been hampered by injuries as well as positional shifting around by Brendan Rodgers, seeing himself playing on the right, left and in the middle of midfield – he could well be Liverpool’s next captain, having led Southampton well for a few years. Moreno, a young left-back, has already been capped by the Spanish national team and has shown reasonable form considering that he is new to the Premier League and has kept out the more experienced Jose Enrique, formerly of Newcastle United, who has recently been hampered by some injuries.
Markovic was one who I had not seen much of prior to his move to Anfield, as I get no coverage of the Portuguese league where I live – he has looked relatively indifferent during his time at Liverpool so far but I think this may be down to Rodgers’ tactics and that he, like Lallana, has played in several different positions. Manquillo looks a reasonable player and I think he was largely brought in as cover for the injured Jon Flanagan and the out-of-form Glen Johnson, the latter having left the club this past month. Origi remained on loan with Lille for the season.
The one successful signing that Liverpool can talk about is Emre Can, a young German-Turkish defensive midfielder and, latterly, centre-back, who has, despite his young age of just 20, has shown some good form in both defence and midfield. Snapped up for around 10 million Pounds from Bayer Leverkusen, he must be considered Liverpool’s signing of the season. He has been excellent as the holding midfielder in the absence of Lucas at start of the season with injury, later being moved into defence in light of the poor form of Lovren and indifference of Kolo Toure. Can was, however, sent off against Arsenal in their 4-1 loss at the Emirates due to two yellow cards, which was entirely deserved as he had been reckless in challenges – that was probably Can’s poorest match of the season, as he was largely doing both his job and Lovren’s, a tough ask for any defender.
Now on to the manager. Admittedly, Brendan Rodgers has missed a number of important players over the course of the season through injuries, namely Adam Lallana, Daniel Sturridge, Lucas, Joe Allen, Jose Enrique, Jon Flanagan and the promising young players Jordan Ibe and Samed Yesil all having spells out of the team, as well as the poor form of Lovren, Balotelli, Allen (he was booed in a number of matches by Reds’ fans) and Lambert as well as some poor performances from Mignolet (largely rectified in the latter part of the season though!).
Thus, Rodgers had to switch up his tactics to try to shoehorn players into positions that they were not familiar with or, on occasion, not suited to. That scenario, as it often does, turned into dropped points and missed opportunities for the Reds, particularly in the Champions League and Europa League as well as some really poor results in the Premier League, with Palace and Manchester United doing the Double on Liverpool as well as the home loss vs. Villa, bad away losses vs. Manchester City and Arsenal being the lowlights for Reds’ fans. The 3-5-2 (ostensibly 3-6-1 most of the time) really didn’t suit the personnel that Rodgers had available – Moreno and Manquillo, try as they might, aren’t really wing-backs, nor are Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic! I think a 4-4-1-1 formation (similar to what Arsene Wenger used in the early part of the season) would have been for more suitable for the players that Rodgers had available, but this formation wasn’t often seen.
The only outfield player who didn’t shift his position much was Phillipe Coutinho – it is no surprise then that he was one of the three best Liverpool players this season (along with Can and Raheem Sterling), as he was able to keep his position at the top of the midfield. Coutinho won the Young Player of the Year award from the Premier League in light of his contribution to Liverpool’s cause.
Sterling, mostly deployed as a winger, was quite often shoe-horned into a striker’s role, due to poor form and injuries of other players around him – Sturridge being absent likely was the biggest miss for him, as well as Yesil and Ibe also being out for much of the season. I think Sterling did very well for large parts of the season, despite not really being suited to a role as a striker – he is better suited to a wide role or in the position that Coutinho occupies, utilising his pace and trickery to make space for a striker, usually Sturridge, to get in between defenders.
Steven Gerrard, in his last season at Liverpool, had a largely average season in hindsight – I think last season’s disappointment of missing out on winning the Premier League was just one too many for him mentally, having seen many near-misses in his long stint with the Reds – ostensibly he has not been the same player since that 2nd place finish in the 2008-2009 season. He was mostly utilised as a box-to-box midfielder, something which I think he is ill-suited to now due to his age and relative lack of pace, which made it difficult for him to get into goal-scoring positions on occasion and still be able to get back to help the defence. However, he did score a number of goals for the Reds with 9 goals in 29 matches in the Premier League, a decent return for a midfielder – Gerrard out-scored all of Liverpool’s strikers combined in the Premier League (Sturridge scored 4, Lambert 2, Balotelli and Borini 1 each)!
So, what now for the Reds next season? Rodgers needs his charges to keep fit and improve their form, as it will be a long season for them, with long trips in the Europa League awaiting them – it may well be worth their while to use that competition to play younger, lesser-known players (e.g. Rossitter, Ibe, Yesil) and rest their major players for the Premier League matches. They have already signed up James Milner from Manchester City and goalkeeper Adam Bogdan from Bolton Wanderers on free transfers, Danny Ings from Burnley with a tribunal fee to be determined, Nathaniel Clyne from Southampton, Joe Gomez from Charlton Athletic and Roberto Firmino from Schalke. Those signings, aside from Clyne, Milner and Firmino, look to me to be simply players to fill gaps in the squad, which may help results this season, but there isn’t much world-class talent there. Milner can be a very good player on his day, bringing a strong work ethic and work rate to the wider midfield areas.
Clyne is widely acknowledged to be one of the best right-backs in the league, while Firmino is a Brazilian international midfielder who has quality and will challenge Coutinho, another Brazilian, strongly. Rodgers needs to sign another goalkeeper (just 2 in the senior squad now is not enough with Cup and European matches on the cards) as well as an experienced centre-back.
Liverpool also need to play more to Balotelli and Lambert’s strengths, or ship them out, in order to try to challenge for the Champions League places next season. Balotelli is an excellent finisher but he cannot be expected to assist the midfield in any way. Lambert, never a quick player, seems to have lost a yard of pace and never seems to find space like he used to at Southampton. Sturridge could be an excellent partner for either Balotelli or Lambert but he must be kept fit. Sturridge was a huge miss this season for both England and Liverpool with his injuries, as he is one of the few who will run into spaces made by midfield – Liverpool kept trying to play to Sturridge’s strengths when he wasn’t in the team, to the detriment of team performance overall. Borini could be another to leave, as he has shown some work rate but very little end product, much to the disappointment of Liverpool fans after Borini had performed decently on loan at Sunderland.
FSG, as always, will fund Rodgers, but it is still a mystery how much influence Rodgers has on player acquisitions – FSG should allow Rodgers more control over who is signed, but with the rumours of a transfer committee in place, that may not happen. I think that, if Liverpool do not finish in at least 4th place this season, it may well be Rodgers’ last as manager.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know!
The first time I saw Dennis Bergkamp play was in 1996 – I started following Arsenal properly in 1998 after the World Cup. When Arsenal then signed Thierry Henry – a player I had seen in that World Cup win by France – as well as already having Vieira and Petit there, plus several English stars like Tony Adams, Martin Keown and David Seaman just cemented Arsenal as the club for me. There was very little football coverage in South Africa during the 1990s as rugby was (and still is) the dominant sport here.
I was not really ushered in any specific direction in terms of which club to support – I chose Arsenal myself. It’s only over the last 3 years that I have been able to watch matches regularly – we get excellent TV coverage of European football now and I try to watch all Arsenal matches live.