This weekend, with the notable exception of Tottenham v Everton on the fixture list, saw the return of the English Premier League. And as the country assesses the causes and impact of almost a week’s worth of rioting, fans and managers alike will be assessing the impact their lavishly acquired summer signings will have on the upcoming campaign.
Much has been made of the vast investment Liverpool’s new owner, John W Henry, has put into bolstering the first team squad. Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson, Alexander Doni and finally Jose Enrique have arrived to take Dalglish’s spending to over £100million. Coincidentally, also the same cost latest estimations give for the damage of the riots. Yet many pundits believe this has provided the Reds a sufficient enough arsenal (pun intended) to force their way back into the top four, some even going as far as to claim they are genuine title contenders.
On the face of it all signs at Liverpool are extremely positive. And fans should rightly be optimistic about the season ahead. King Kenny is back in charge and under his stewardship in the second half of last season they improved greatly, amassing more points in this period than anyone other than champions Man Utd. As mentioned they have invested heavily in the team. All, with the exception of Doni, have Premier League experience and have garnered degrees of success and praise in it. And increasingly important, they find themselves with no European football to pull focus from their League campaign unlike any of their other main rivals. It all points to a resurgent Liverpool ready to re-conquer English football, doesn’t it?
If only things were that simple, in the English Premier League. Firstly, they may have spent heavily, but that does not always correlate directly with greater quality. Their three most expensive acquisitions; Adam, Henderson and Downing are all British and relatively young. That is a combination that can greatly inflate a player’s already staggering price tag. This is not to say that they are bad players, but they did all finish in teams outside of the top 8 last season. And when has a team been known to be turned from a 6th placed finish to title contenders on the back of three signings from the bottom half of the league?
Charlie Adam may well have had an impressive debut, winning the man of the match, but it remains to be seen if he can perform consistently in a team of Liverpool’s calibre. There is no denying the Scotsman’s technical ability and range of passing but can be slightly too immobile for a central midfielder at the highest level. Stewart Downing is another player that just doesn’t have enough to be playing at the top of the game. He flourished at times at Villa but is not of Champions League or title winning quality. When he is included in England team’s it is usually questioned vigorously by the media and this is a country that hasn’t troubled the elite of international football for a while.
As for Henderson, again here’s a player that has never really impressed the cynics amongst us. There is no denying he has ability and as a young player will improve greatly, but guaranteeing him a starting position in a club such as Liverpool, is pushing it too far.
Ultimately though, these new signings have pushed aside the prime architects of Liverpool’s success towards the end of last season. Maxi Rodriguez and Raul Meireles were both in scintillating form as Liverpool went about accruing points, making up for extremely indifferent starts to their Liverpool careers. Kuyt, a player who divides opinion away from Anfield but is loved but the Kop for his commitment, was also pushed down to the bench to accommodate the new arrivals having been the club’s top scorer last season. This trio and particularly Meireles had started to contribute more than just goals to a resurgent Liverpool. The team had been transformed under Dalglish’s stewardship and it was Meireles along with double hat-trick hero Maxi who were implementing the transformation. It is foolish to so quickly drop the pair for expensive new arrivals.
There is no denying their firepower upfront. Carroll is a far more talented player than a target man who can make a nuisance of themselves. Whereas Suarez demonstrated exactly what he is capable of at the Copa America. And perhaps more importantly demonstrated his strength of character by reacting so well to missing an early penalty. But will such a drastic change to their supply line reap the immediate benefits now required? Is it really more effective for Liverpool to gut the midfield of a team that was just starting to click together? With Henry effectively demanding a top 4 finish for his club the pressure is on Dalglish to deliver, otherwise it may not just be the British public demanding answers to a £100 million bill.
As elsewhere in the Premier League’s opening weekend, both Manchester clubs put down big markers for their intentions for the upcoming season. City with a thumping of new boys Swansea, spearheaded by their big money acquisition Sergio Ageuro whose understanding with David Silva already looks intimidating. So does the rest of the attacking riches at Mancini’s disposal. Whereas the Red side of Manchester, did what they are so good at and what could see them keep their title, turning a match where many other teams would have drawn into a victory.
The London duo of Chelsea and Arsenal may both be disappointed with dropped points. But don’t believe the predictions of a gloom and doom season for the Gunners. Sure, they have lost their best player and will not be challenging for honours, but they still have enough with Wenger at the helm to maintain a top 4 challenge, perhaps more so than Liverpool at least. Chelsea meanwhile, need to establish how and who they are going to play. Yet despite that and the fact they have a new, generally untested manager, they have the quality and experience to be a bigger threat to Manchester United’s crown than Liverpool will be.
Unlike every other club in the English Premier League, Liverpool does not have the luxury of a fresh start. Manchester United have their 19th title, and need to prove nothing to anyone – that peace of mind can be liberating. Manchester City, winners of the FA Cup, now believe they have emerged as a title challengers in their own right – that self belief will come in handy. Arsenal can now breathe free with the albatross of Fabregas off their neck. Chelsea have a new manager, who looks to be in for the long haul. All of Liverpool’s sides start the season with a clean break from the past season. But the Anfield brigade already experienced their renaissance with the dismissal of Roy Hodgson and the subsequent appointment of Kenny Dalglish, last season. This season, was supposed to all be about continuity. By favoring the pricier newcomers over dedicated team men who were just beginning to dazzle, Dalglish might have made the first big mistake of his tenure.