My Premier League previews continue with, this time, the reformed Liverpool in the spotlight. Manager Roy Hodgson will definitely be looking to re-build the side and start afresh now that the era of Rafa Benitez is over.
There are many theories for where it went wrong for Liverpool but one thing is for certain; Hodgson needs to turn it around and, if possible, bring a long-awaited trophy to Anfield. Liverpool last won the title of the English top-flight in 1989-90 and things have changed quite a bit since then. The Reds recently cruised past Macedonian side FK Rabotnicki in the third qualifying round of the Europa League to set up a match with Turkish side Trabzonspor. A sign of how Liverpool’s state has worsened over the past few years.
Before Benitez left the club he did polish off some good singings for the Reds. Danny Wilson joined from Rangers for £2 million while Jonjo Shelvey joined from Charlton for £1.7 million, with both transfers being overseen by Benitez. Both Shelvey and Wilson are players for the future which, as the Premier League have brought in the new “home grown”, 25-man squad rule, could be important for the club. Milan Jovanovic has also signed and has put in some good performances in pre-season, especially in the before-mentioned Europa League qualifier. Surely, though, Liverpool’s best signing, and possibly the Premier League signing of the summer, is that of Joe Cole. The midfielder has joined from Chelsea on a free transfer after falling out of favour with manager Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti. The former West Ham player, who was also shunned at the World Cup by England manager Fabio Capello, will now look to start again and try and bring some much needed silverware to Anfield. Cole looked sharp in his debut against Rabotnicki, linking up well with Steven Gerrard and even managing the odd showboat here and there. The natural ability of Cole, though, is something that could really unlock defences for Liverpool next season. After Chelsea paid £5 million for Yossi Benayoun just weeks before the Cole arrival, Liverpool have basically bagged the money and a better player. Winger Albert Riera has also left the club, joining Greek side Olympiacos for a fee over nearly £4 million. Liverpool, though, are certainly not lacking in wingers.
Jovanovic looked quick and comfortable on the wings for Liverpool against the Macedonian minnows, as did Daniel Pacheco, the young Spanish midfielder who starred at the recent Under-19 European Championships. It looks as if Cole is going to be given a more centralised role under Hodgson, which is what he wanted whilst with Chelsea, meaning that he and England teammate Gerrard can push forward through the middle at every opportunity. Lucas Leiva can, at times, look out-of-sorts in the Premier League but he maybe just needs more time to settle into the English game, as does Alberto Aqualini, who will be looking to improve on last season, with the Italian struggling through injury for the most of it. Maxi Rodriquez adds more pace to the Liverpool flanks; the Argentinean looks to be getting used to the speed of the English game after his transfer in January. With the imminent departure of Javier Mascherano the Reds have been quick to look for a replacement, with Juventus midfielder Christian Poulson rumoured to be about to join the Anfield side. In the English Shelvey they have a young, attacking player with lots of ambition and who, with the right coaching, could become a top player for the club, as could Jay Spearing. The young Englishman may well look forward to more first team action this season as Hodgson turns to the youth to take Liverpool forward. The middle of the pitch is where Liverpool are certainly at their strongest.
England flop Jamie Carragher may have retired from England duty for the second time after a dismal World Cup in South Africa but the Scouser shows no signs of slowing down as he prepares for yet another strong season in the top flight. The solidity of Carragher and Martin Skrtel at the back is crucial as Glen Johnson can go bombing forward to aid with the attacks. The left side of defence is a problem for Liverpool though, with Emiliano Insua the only natural left-back. The Brazilian may lack a little experience, and possibly even Premier League quality, and so Hodgson would do well to buy a quality left-back.
The one to watch for Liverpool this season is Martin Kelly. The centre-back moved across to left-back against Rabotnicki and impressed immensely as he not only looked solid at the back but also was not afraid to go forward with the attacks. The twenty-year-old may struggle to break into the first team with two experienced defenders in front of him in the pecking order, but the English defender could well see a lot of first team action this season.
Another problem-area for Liverpool is the forward area. Fernando Torres recently committed his future to the club which means that Liverpool have a world-class striker on their books. If the Reds are going to one up front then there is no problem; Torres can easily do that job and Gerrard and Cole will always be up there to support him. However, if Liverpool need more than one striker, or if Torres gets injured or even doesn’t perform, a problem could arise. David N’Gog has been scoring in pre-season but the Frenchman still lacks real composure in front of goal; he misses a handful of chances each game and they are chances that Torres would take with open arms. Dirk Kuyt, for all his hard work, is not a goal scorer and the rest of the Liverpool forwards are youngsters from oversees that Benitez brought in. If Liverpool are to get back into the top four this season they may need to invest in another decent striker.
Where will they finish?: 6th
Official title odds: 14/1 (Victor Chandler)
Star man: Steven Gerrard
One to watch: Martin Kelly
Main weakness: Left-back position is a problem, while goals could be hard to come by if Torres is not available.