Premier League profile 2015/16: Liverpool
It’s been another summer of change at Anfield, which began with Brendan Rodgers discarding his backroom staff after a tense end of season review with the Liverpool hierarchy.
To say the Reds, 9/4 chances with Coral for a top four finish, struggled upon their return to Champions League football in 2014/15 would be a major understatement. Star striker Luis Suarez was simply not replaced by an attacking ensemble and Daniel Sturridge’s injury problems hampered them further.
Raheem Sterling has proved the high-profile exit of this summer, with the Merseyside team doing brilliant business by getting just shy of £50m for an albeit talented attacker whose end product is erratic and leaves a lot to be desired.
Liverpool have lost more than a bright prospect, though. Premier League experience, a commodity of equal if not higher value, has gone with Kop idol and inspirational captain Steven Gerrard now out in the MLS, and ex-England full back Glen Johnson also leaving for nothing.
Reds reserve goalkeeper Brad Jones, Uruguay centre back Sebastian Coates and Merseyside native frontman Rickie Lambert were all on the fringes, and those occupying such squad space are always likely to be let go. Spanish flop trio Luis Alberto, Iago Aspas and Javi Manquillo are also glaring examples of previous recruitment failures.
Investing poorly in playing personnel is not a stick that can be used to beat Liverpool this time, though. All of the seven names drafted in to date have a clear purpose for being purchased, as opposed to scattergun policies of previous transfer windows.
With Sturridge sidelined until September, the Anfield attack is going to look entirely different with Divock Origi arriving a year after being bought to join Burnley’s top Premier League marksman Danny Ings, and bigger money moves.
Rodgers’ top coups are captures of Brazil creative force Roberto Firmino and Belgium striker Christian Benteke from Aston Villa, though for an inflated £32.5m asking price. Firmino is the perfect foil to find a new-look strikeforce in behind them, and should flourish at the tip of a 4-4-2 diamond.
All rising Samba Boys star Firmino, like compatriot Philippe Coutinho, needs to do is settle in England, and the Gerrard-sized void will reduce in presence. Benteke, meanwhile, will struggle to do worse than maverick Italian forward Mario Balotelli, who never seemed a good fit and looked more like a knee-jerk reaction to the Suarez sale last summer.
There is less natural width about the Reds now, but James Milner on a free from Manchester City helps to replace lost Premier League experience. Nathaniel Clyne steps directly into departed Johnson’s shoes at right back, and for a far more modest price of £10m up front than previous Liverpool signings from Southampton in Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren.
Clyne’s arrival does not enhance the Reds backline, though, as he covers a loss. Teenage talent Joe Gomez is one for the future, but his development is clearly earmarked to take place in the Under-21 and reserve sides for the foreseeable future. Adam Bogdan will do well to displace Simon Mignolet from between the sticks.
So, Rodgers is thus once again relying on the bulk of defenders that have let Liverpool down consistently throughout his reign. Lovren and vice-captain Martin Skrtel are far too similar in playing styles as almost archetypal Eastern European centre backs. Kolo Toure’s ageing legs, meanwhile, may limit his appearances and Mamadou Sakho’s athleticism does not detract from his lack of other attributes.
Emre Can would be better deployed as a midfield anchor, judging by his international outings with Germany Under-21s, but there is a danger that the foolish experiments at full back or centre half will continue. Reds captain Jordan Henderson can thus occupy box-to-box duties where he is at his best.
New arrivals mean others will be pushed to the fringes. Defensive duo Jose Enrique and Tiago Ilori join Rodgers midfield favourite Joe Allen, Lucas Leiva, wingers Jordan Ibe and Lazar Markovic, and forward Fabio Borini, as well as Balotelli, in looking likely to be marginalised.
Rodgers takes the Reds into the Europa League again and, at 16/1 to win it, this may prove to be their best way of getting into the Champions League. Failure to address a defensive dearth means it’s tough to make a compelling case that Liverpool will break back into the top four again.