Tuesday, 22 July 2014

How Will Liverpool Line Up Next Season?

Photo: David Rawcliffe
The warning signs are there in the title to this article- the following piece of writing will contain no solid fact whatsoever. It will be almost entirely speculation on my part, and will, in all probability, turn out to be totally wrong. I am not blessed with the footballing brain of Brendan Rodgers, and as such my ideas of how Liverpool should play their football next season may not exactly tally up with his! Still, I’ll give it a shot.

One of the reasons it is so hard to determine exactly how Liverpool will look to play in the coming season is because the exact personnel of our starting eleven is unknown. It is a fair assumption that our midfield will be subject to a lot of rotation; we have more games this season due to being back in the Champions League (yay!), and Sterling, Markovic, Coutinho, Lallana, Ibe, Suso and Texeira are all capable of stepping up to the plate. All of these players can ply their trade in the number 10 role or in a wider position-this gives the side a huge amount of versatility. In some games we could opt for the raw pace of Sterling, Ibe and Markovic- this would lead to a deadly counter-attacking style. In other fixtures we could go down the route of sheer technical ability as opposed to pure pace; Coutinho, Lallana, Suso and Texeira are all extremely gifted on the ball. A combination such as this would lead to a shift towards the ‘total football’ style so widely discussed when Brendan Rodgers first took the reigns at LFC, as all of these players have exceptional passing ability. This ability to mix things up not only from game to game, but also within games, gives us a huge adaptability. This was something we were, to an extent, lacking last season.

All of this goes on the assumption that we will be playing three attacking players behind a lone striker- it is feasible that this might not be the case. The signing of Loic Remy from QPR looks imminent, and he is undoubtedly a talented player. It is inconceivable that he should push Daniel Sturridge out of the side, so perhaps Rodgers is planning on playing two up front. Of course, it could just be that Remy is being brought in to strengthen the squad, and is only being purchased as back-up, but the possibility of a two-man front line has to be considered.  With Remy out of the equation, a 4-2-3-1 would make the most sense: two of Can, Henderson, Gerrard and Allen could occupy the deeper roles, with a combination of the aforementioned midfielders in the three and Sturridge up front on his own. Once Remy is factored in, it becomes harder to predict what Rodgers might do. It is possible that he could revert to a formation he used at times last season- the formation he dubs ‘the 4-4-2 diamond’. Better known to some as the 4-1-2-1-2, this features one holding midfielder, two central midfielders and one out-and-out attacking midfielder playing behind two strikers. This was utilised sometimes last season to allow the SAS partnership to thrive; there is no reason to suggest that it might not be used once more to make full use of the SAR partnership (admittedly not quite as catchy). Though this could be deemed the most beneficial for Sturridge and Remy, it means there is only one attacking midfielder in the line-up, meaning multiple attacking midfielders would have to be played out of position. The signings of Lallana and Markovic this transfer window suggests to me that Rodgers is not looking to regularly go for the 4-4-2 diamond, and his preference is to opt for something closer to the 4-2-3-1 in order to make full use of our massive amounts of quality in the attacking midfield area.

The question many fans are most eager to find the answer to is whether Liverpool will play more defensively next season. Our one obvious shortcoming last season, the flaw in the team that ultimately cost us the title, was clearly our defence. As such, it would be ludicrous to suggest that Rodgers will not look to strengthen the team’s defensive qualities in one way or another. However, I don’t think he will look to address the defensive frailties by lining up in a more defensive manner. Liverpool’s main asset is their great attacking football, so to compromise that by committing fewer men forward would be akin to shooting oneself in the foot. Instead, I think it likely that our defence will be strengthened by means of new acquisitions in the transfer market. We have been persistently linked with Dejan Lovren since before the window opened, and he would not be a bad signing. The fees being bandied about are ridiculous, and I certainly don’t think he is worth the £20 million figure being cited, but he seems to be a solid centre-back. Other than Sakho we have no defenders who are good enough to be regular starters if we want to mount another serious title challenge, so the signing of Lovren (or similar) and at least one new full back is imperative. If we manage to bring in the right players, we won’t need to play in a manner any less attack-minded than last season, as we will have a defence which can be relied upon.

To sum up, there is no way of knowing for sure exactly what we’ll be seeing from Liverpool next season, but that’s all part of the excitement. On August 17th the plans of Brendan Rodgers will start to be revealed, and we can begin to see for ourselves what Liverpool have in store for us in 2014/15. All we can do until then is hugely over-analyse pre-season games, get whipped up into frenzies about made-up transfer targets and altogether get carried away by the whirlwind of madness that is the close season. The only certainty is that, come what may next season, we will be behind the club with the huge support that can only be given by the best fans in the world.
 -James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Not again… Suarez Saga Version 2.0

This feels all too familiar. The moment Suarez sank his teeth into Chiellini, Liverpool fans everywhere knew what was coming. It’s nothing new- the only real difference to last time is that instead of Real Madrid being the front-runners to take Suarez from us it’s Barcelona. I was tempted to just dig out my article from last time and tweak it a little- it all still applies. Much like last time, everyone seems absolutely convinced Suarez will be off to Spain. But will he?

In short, I have no idea. The only people who have even an inkling of where Suarez will be playing his football (or, more accurately, serving his suspension) next season are the Liverpool transfer committee, and sometimes I’m dubious as to whether they have a clue either! Either way, all is not lost. Contrary to what jealous fans of other Premier League clubs will tell you, Liverpool are by no means a ‘one man team’. Yes, Suarez contributed a vast amount of goals and a sizeable number of assists in the last campaign, but other players also did exceptionally well over the course of the season. Indeed, Daniel Sturridge was second top scorer in the Premier League! If we are to lose the best striker in the league, it is certainly a nice consolation to have the second best ready to step up.

It’s not like we’d be giving Suarez away for free either. If Barcelona (or anyone else for that matter) are to secure the services of Suarez, it will cost them a lot. A conservative estimate of the fee Liverpool might receive for Suarez is £60million, and to be honest he’s probably worth a lot more than that. Armed with this money to spend on top of the rumoured £40million that FSG made available at the start of the window, Brendan Rodgers can make Liverpool’s already excellent team even more formidable. A large investment is needed to sure up our main weak point from last season: the defence. If we can bring in some top class full-backs and centre-backs (no, I’m not talking about Dejan Lovren)  as well as maintaining our attacking flair then it is not unreasonable to suggest that Liverpool are in an extremely strong position to win the league this season. Of course, when losing the 3rd best player in the world, it is easier said than done to ‘maintain attacking flair’, but just one good signing would ensure we still have a front line that strikes fear into opponents’ hearts. We have been heavily linked with both Shaqiri and Sanchez- imagine Sterling, Coutinho (or Lallana, if we must) and one of Shaqiri or Sanchez in a three behind Sturridge. Tasty.

But all this conjecture is pointless if, as nearly everybody seems to have now written off as a possibility, Suarez stays put. I even saw a ‘Goodbye Suarez’ video posted on YouTube the other day- he’s not gone yet! Everyone got themselves worked up into a similar frenzy last year; you get the feeling that it’s only a matter of time before some moronic fans start their ceremonial burning of Suarez shirts. Liverpool are under no obligation to sell Suarez unless a release clause is met, and even then nothing is set in stone. The club essentially admitted that Arsenal’s insulting bid of £40million plus 1 pound did in fact trigger a clause, but they ignored it anyway. Despite all of his controversies, Liverpool won’t be eager to get rid of their prize asset; unless the price is right, then it’s safe to say that Suarez won’t be going anywhere.

To sum up, whether Suarez goes or not is not only beyond our control but also, in the grand scheme of things, not that big an issue. If he stays, then we have the privilege of having a world class striker playing for us for the majority of the season, and he will doubtless help us to push on and challenge for the title again. If he goes, then we’ll have plenty of money with which to strengthen the squad, which will also undoubtedly stand us in good stead to launch another title challenge.  Either way the club benefits, so let’s all just relax and see how events unfold.
-James Martin

Follow me on Twitter @JamesMartin013