The start of every season brings hope and expectation among Liverpool supporters and critics alike, even after a season ending as disastrous as the last. Here are 5 things to expect from Liverpool FC during the 2015-16 season.
1) More stability in defense
Liverpool have gradually gone from being a relatively stable team in defence under Kenny Dalglish to fairly rubbish at the back in 3 years under Brendan Rodgers. Liverpool’s defence was blamed for the failure of a title challenge in 2013-14, but it also contributed heavily to Brendan Rodgers’ job being in genuine danger in Christmas of 2014. They have not made sweeping changes in defence over the summer, but strangely enough, there are 3 reasons why the Reds will be much better at the back this time around.
First, the evil twin of Glen Johnson that plodded his way through Anfield for the last few years has finally left the club, with Nathaniel Clyne taking his place as Liverpool’s first choice right back. Clyne is no world beater, but he has energy and enough intelligence to contribute in attack, the pace to keep up with opposing wingers in defence and age on his side – qualities that should set him up for success at Anfield. Secondly, Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno (less so in the case of Moreno) had poor first seasons at Anfield last term, and will surely not be any worse than they were last time out. Third, Rodgers’ decision to start with Dejan Lovren against Stoke City on Sunday will either turn into a masterstroke if Liverpool win, or trigger a return to popular sentiment in the form of replacing him with Mamadou Sakho before his position comes under the scanner again.
2) Greater clarity towards the future
Brendan Rodgers’ job security will be dominate headlines, at least early in the coming season. Not only has he kept his job despite the failures of 2014-15, he has also been given all the support from the ownership as he has required. There have been no murmurs about the Reds buying players Rodgers did not want, the club have not allowed the sale of Raheem Sterling without a replacement, signings have been made in positions that either needed it or gain from additional cover, and new assistants have been brought into the club off his own choice. Rodgers could not have been better supported this summer, and the first half of the season will either show whether the club is moving in a clear direction, or if it is time to get rid of him altogether.
The change in leadership positions on the field, as well as in personnel up front, will provide more clarity regarding the direction in which the club is going. Jordan Henderson divides opinion, but if he finally comes out of Steven Gerrard’s shadow and asserts himself, he will do more than enough to drag Liverpool over the line when it is required. On the other hand, Liverpool have historically been dependent on strikers to shoulder a bulk of the goalscoring burden; so goals from any one of Liverpool’s strikers will give the Reds more confidence on the field that chances created will be finished.
3) Liverpool taking all competitions seriously
The Reds may not have qualified for the Champions League this time around, but they will still enter a season having to deal with 4 competitions. Either cup tournament presents Liverpool with the best chance of winning a trophy after more than 3 seasons.
Liverpool also need to take the Europa League more seriously. First, the likes of Atletico Madrid have shown how the Europa League can be used to learn how to manage multiple competitions, before getting into the Champions League and putting up a real challenge to win the whole thing. Secondly, Liverpool have approached the Europa League with apathy and borderline arrogance in the past, but failure to take it seriously this time will result in the loss of coefficient points that will hurt England’s chances of retaining all 4 slots in the Champions League. If Liverpool were to put up another unexpected challenge, fair enough, but they should not make it harder for themselves to qualify for the Champions League than it is already.
The 2014-15 season was full of distractions from the start. It took one year of Luis Suarez not being at the club to realize that replacing him was not really possible. Steven Gerrard’s announcement that he would not play for Liverpool beyond the end of the season may have been a good thing for the sake of clarity, but it turned into a long farewell tour that served the backdrop of some cringeworthy performances at the back end of the season. Raheem Sterling’s contract dispute with the club did not help, while the very presence of Mario Balotelli seemed to serve as a distraction at times.
There was a relatively little amount of fuss about Liverpool at the early stage of the season before last, when the foundation was laid for one of the club’s best seasons in recent history. There is evidence to suggest that the club could finally return to that state once again – there has been less talk of about what Brendan Rodgers has (not) said, while 5 of Liverpool’s signings being either free or cheap has placed attention more on the squad as a whole rather than individual players (especially newcomers). Moreover, Liverpool have finally given up on trying to recreate another Luis Suarez, while Gerrard no longer being at the club leaves no room for sentiment. This will not be a distraction-free season by any means, especially not if Liverpool do not start well, but there will not be as much negativity this season as there was in and around the club last time out.
5)More goals, surely!
Simply put, a set of 4 strikers consisting of Benteke, Ings, Origi and Sturridge gives more hope to Liverpool supporters of scoring goals than the group of Lambert, Borini, Balotelli and the aforementioned Sturridge. Daniel Sturridge was Liverpool’s top scoring striker (yes, he really was) and surely will play more often this season, Benteke should have more in his game than Balotelli to succeed, while Danny Ings and Divock Origi are young, pacy strikers capable of learning how to finish consistently as well as contribute to build up play, both, better than Lambert and Borini ever could. Also, for all of Rodgers’ faults, he works well with attacking players (much better than with defenders, at least), and should have a hand in improving the likes of Ings and Origi this season. Many clubs’ defences scored more goals than Liverpool’s strikers in 2014-15; so anyone who successfully bets on this happening again will be very rich at the end of this season.