Liverpool are a team alike Manchester United this year, albeit completely in reverse. Whereas United have dropped off the top 4, Liverpool conquered it at long last. However both teams are in a transitional phase and whilst it would be realistic to say either could win the title this year, it would be equally realistic to say that both could finish outside the top 4 once more. With Liverpool they finally secured that top 4 spot and everything was looking rosy for them, however, amidst the rumbling that Suarez might finally be off this year, he decided to have his dinner in the Italian penalty box, feasting upon a very rare Giorgio Chiellini. This action, and the subsequent 4 month ban, forced Liverpool’s hand and they cashed in to the tune of £75 million. Mixed in with an already blossoming war chest Brendan Rodgers finally has the means to ensure that Liverpool can truly compete on par with the Premier Leagues big hitters both in terms of finances and draw. However having already brought in 4 players; Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Lazar Markovic and Emre Can for an alleged £56 million as well as two more likely on the way of Dejan Lovren and Divock Origi for another £30 million, Liverpool fans can’t help but wonder; is this squad actually better then last years?
To Liverpool fans, especially prior to his World Cup bite, the idea that Suarez might leave in this window was unthinkable. Yes, he had been linked with moves ranging from Arsenal to Barcelona for a few windows now, but now that Liverpool had finally got into the Champions League, were competing for titles, what reason had Suarez to leave? But the bite occurred and with it came Liverpool’s opportunity to remove their biggest liability – only he was their biggest player as well. After the bite, Suarez’s third in his career among other foul indiscretions, the fans had had enough and would finally accept his transfer as probably being in the clubs best interests. But now the dust has settled on the transfer, now we are beginning to see the shape the Liverpool squad is taking, fans are now wondering whether or not they were too quick to say goodbye to Suarez. Liverpool have sold players, with Suarez taking the £75 million bulk, for just over £80 million, but they have spent just over £87 million – so that’s all the Suarez money already gone. Whilst Liverpool, being a wealthy club, will still have money to spend when we see what Suarez has bought it becomes questionable as to whether or not it was worth it. Emre Can, Dejan Lovren, Divock Origi (loaned back to Lille), Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic and Rickie Lambert. Now whilst you might look at that list and think to yourself ‘Sure, Liverpool have lost their best player, but that team is stronger overall.’ I’m going to stop you right there; Tottenham. Many people have said that Liverpool’s transfer window is not at all similar to Tottenham’s window when they sold Bale, but the reality is it’s unworldly similar. Both clubs have sold their best player and biggest game changer and replaced it with all round quality, enhancing their perceived weaknesses in their squad. The players they’ve brought are not yet complete players, rather young players a few years off their peak, in the hope they might develop into their squad. Both sides are perceived to have over spent on their targets. Both sides have made one fatal flaw; thinking a game changer, a worlds best, can be replaced with anything other then another worlds best. Whilst the question remains difficult to answer, whether or not Liverpool are better or worse off without Suarez until after this season Liverpool has given us a number of indications as to how this will play out and affect Liverpool’s long term future.
In an effort to deal with the issues of buying in a bulk of players and having few first team players leaving Liverpool have taken something of a different approach to player purchases; to buy the bulk of their players from one, similar team. Liverpool sold Bale and forced themselves into a transitional period, signing a lot of players from different teams, languages and nationalities and trying to gel very quickly. Liverpool have signed players who already have a good understanding in Lallana, Lovren and Lambert and the gelling issue will be mitigated because of the very similar styles of play between Southampton and Liverpool. Whilst this was an intelligent solution to the problem one can’t help but wonder whether or not Liverpool were slightly deceived. Southampton last year were not a team of outstanding individuals, they did not do as well as they did because of single great players. Rather they did as well as they did on the virtue that they were a good team who had a good tactical understanding of their own game. Southampton were a side of all round quality. The danger is then that other teams mistake that, thinking they can buy the individuals of this team and they will play to the same level elsewhere. Lallana, Lovren and Lambert will only play well if everyone around them is playing well, and is as
tactically aware as they are. It still remains to be seen how well these players will fit into Liverpool’s system, but I can’t help but feel they may have been conned a bit with these players. Individually as well their prices are in question. Lallana; at 26 he is not the outstanding young player that many think he is, rather a player in his prime. He also has only really had one good season at a top level, and even that was only ‘very good’ not ‘great’ or ‘world class’. It is also questionable, due to the type of player Lallana is, whether or not he has all that many years left in him to play at the top; even now he struggles to play more then 70 minutes. Lovren is a high quality defender for sure, but he isn’t one of the best in the world and last year he was at fault for a fair few goals. He is also a very petulant character, a bit like Suarez, when things aren’t going well for him he gives up in the game and grows ever more absent. At 25 however, with his best years ahead as a defender, this could prove a good long term deal if Liverpool hold onto him.
Long Live Liverpool!
Liverpool have not only strengthened areas in which last year they were weak, they are still strong in the area they’ve lost. Daniel Sturridge has shown time and time again that even without Suarez he can still thrive and be the game-changer they need. The players they have signed as well are not only exactly what they need, but are of an overall better quality as well as younger or more complete, like Markovic and Lallana respectively. Whilst Liverpool had a game changer in their squad they were not dependant on him for goals or assists, rather they had a number of sources of this; all of whom are far younger and have the potential to be as good if not better. Liverpool lost the title last year because of tactical rigidity and defensive frailities; which with the addition of Lovren and Can may be dealt with effectively. Liverpool need a plan B though, which the loss to Chelsea last year showed, and whether or not they have this plan B will only be shown when the season gets under way. Liverpool are an all round stronger team then last year and they know their own game even better. Financially they are stronger as well, what with Champions League and the fact they have been building to be financially more sustainable for a while now. Whilst winning the title may still be just outside of Liverpool’s grasp top 4 is still a very realistic prospect and once sides start getting consecutive Champions League qualifications the best players see them as a real option more and more. Liverpool aren’t doing a Chelsea or a CIty, they aren’t just buying for now and hoping it all works out, they’re playing a long game. Within two or three windows Liverpool will not only have developed their current young batch further but will have had the time and money to truly invest seriously in this squad, whilst cultivating a distinct philosophy of football. For Liverpool getting back to the heights they were once at is simple; stay the course, consolidate and develop.
Alas, we have only scratched the surface and the bulk of Liverpool’s problems lie outside of their own walls. Whilst they have strengthened their squad they still sold their 30+ goals a season striker and have failed to replace him. The bulk of their purchases are overpriced and have been paid for ‘potential’ this invisible, unknown, unpredictable entity which costs millions – often to no result. Not only this but all the teams around them have strengthened considerably one way or another. Chelsea are an even more formidable team then last year, having finally plugged the gaps in their squad that held them back last year. Man CIty have strengthened minimally, but their team is still the all round best in the league and assuming they sign Mangala, will have filled the one remaining gap in their squad. Arsenal too have begun to compete with the big boys financially and by signing some of the worlds best in Sanchez and Ozil. Their current crop is only getting better as well with Ramsey starting to look like one of the worlds best midfielders. Whilst Manchester United and Tottenham have done little (so far) to strengthen their squads they have made strides in the management positon appointing Van Gaal and Pochettino respectively. Van Gaal is a born winner, no matter who he’s with he gets their in the end. Spurs are finally taking a different approach to the last few years and their very good squad appears to be gelling at last. Even Everton have strengthened well, signing Lukaku and keeping their best players. Newcastle too look set to try and revitalise their European aspirations and even Southampton could still push high in the table. All around them teams have strengthened – teams already stronger then Liverpool have made greater strides still and those who fell short of them last year have either leapt forward or are now starting to keep up. The battle for top 4 this season could involve anywhere from 7 to 9 teams and Liverpool have one of the weaker squads of that set, lacking the definitive game-changer like Toure, Aguero, Silva, Sanchez, Costa, Fabregas or Mata. Just qualifying for the Champions League again will be very difficult for Liverpool and if they fail, just for a year, they’re back at square one and they will struggle to attract the calibre of player needed to break through. Not just that but they may lose more players as well. Liverpool’s future depends directly on them qualifying for the Champions League next season and as it stands Chelsea, Man CIty, Arsenal and Manchester Untied all look stronger, with Everton and Spurs starting to really develop as complete squads. Last year was the exception, they overachieved and this year could very well show the difference between them and the real best teams in the league.
The former sounds like a Liverpool fans vision and the latter alike a United fans dream, but ultimately, as always, the reality will lie somewhere in-between. It is true that the teams around Liverpool have strengthened to far greater degree with proven quality, but unlike Spurs Liverpool already have game-changers in their side, a manager who is well established and an entrenched philosophy of football that the whole team has bought into. Liverpool will depend greatly upon their game-changers; Sturridge, Coutinho and Sterling and they have two potentially waiting in the wings in Markovic and Lallana; if Markovic can make the step up to the much more physical Premier League then he has the potential to be as potent as Sterling and if Lallana can retain his form from last year then he’ll be the creative attacking midfielder Liverpool have been screaming out for. I retain, Liverpool this window have done a Spurs, the similarities are to great, however I can’t help but think they’ve done it far better. It is going to be difficult for Liverpool to achieve top 4 but we shouldn’t underestimate just how good this squad is, even without Suarez. Liverpool’s style of play, high pressing counter attacking, will guarantee them heavy wins throughout the season, but this year Liverpool are unlikely to be as tactically rigid and naive as last year and will be more experienced and capable at break down the deep lying defensive teams like Chelsea. I don’t see Liverpool rising to the same heights as last year, competing for the title till the last day, they’ve lost to much in Suarez and other sides are a little wiser to their game. Their aim will be to consolidate their Champions League place and advance into the latter stages of the tournament. Liverpool may have burst onto the scene last year, but from now on they are aspiring to be a little slower, a little more patient. They are slow-growers, like a seed piercing the earth, pushing gently and gently to stand once more in the sun. Liverpool have a bright future ahead of them and it is predicated on them qualifying for the Champions League consecutively. This aim is firmly within their grasp; should their reach exceed their grasp though then like Icarus they could fall further then they could have ever imagined.