Coming off a season where the club exceeded all expectations and challenged for the EPL title all the way to the end of the season, Liverpool have stayed busy this offseason with signings and seem primed to make another run. Most noticeably the Reds will be without star striker and the league leading scorer of the 2013/14 season Luis Suarez. The club picked up 128.5m in the transfer to FC Barcelona and have in turn spent money on a series of signings. So even with the star of last season gone, the club still possesses plenty of firepower and should once again have no problem finding the back of the net in top of the league form.
Goalkeeper Simon Mingolet will look to step up his form once again this season and take advantage of a chance to cement his position between the pipes for years to come at Anfield. In his first season at Liverpool, after coming over from Sunderland, Mingolet replaced then-starter Pepe Reina and proceeded to start all 38 matches last season, conceding 50 goals in the midst of the title run. Now, Reina has departed for Bayern Munich and that has left the starting gig once again in the hands of Mingolet. Backing up Mingolet will be Brad Jones, who has seen most of the preseason action. Jones will be poised to fill in as necessary for the starter but will likely spend most of the season on the bench unless Mingolet is forced to miss time or suffers a loss of form. Mingolet may prove to be a more attractive option at ‘keeper this season with the improvements made on the back line this offseason.
Defensively, the club left much to be desired last season, conceding 50 goals in 38 matches despite the title run. Understandably so this was a main area of improvement for club manager Brendan Rodgers this offseason with a few key signings. At left back the club got a nice showing towards the back end of the season from Jon Flanagan, but just today the club has announced an agreement with Spanish fullback, Alberto Moreno, on a transfer from Seville – something to keep an eye on as the beginning of the season is just days away.
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At right back another key signing will push a holdover from last season. Just this last week the club picked up Javier Manquillo from Athletico Madrid just who will push Glen Johnson for starter’s minutes right from the jump, and is likely to win the job outright sooner rather than later.
Center back is where the club splurged, spending a club-high for a defender on the transfer of Dejan Lovren for £20m. Lovren will be expected to bring a veteran’s presence to the backline alongside Marten Skrtel. If these signings prove to pay off, the options at defense here could prove to be quite useful in fantasy squads as long as the club can improve upon the ugly goals conceded category from last season.
Once again at the helm of the squad, Steven Gerrard will settle into that deep midfield role that he transitioned to last season. Now at the age of 34, Captain Fantastic retired from the England squad and international play to put more focus on the club and their play across four competitions this season. As Rodgers at times employs a diamond formation in his midfield, Gerrard will have some defensive help in Lucas Leiva and the newly-signed Emre Can from Bayer Leverkusen. Can has the ability to play multiple positions, but seems to prefer that defensive midfield role where he can also push forward and join the attack.
Jordan Henderson will look to continue his improved play in the central role a should be a lock to feature heavily with his high energy play in the upcoming season.
Up front in the midfield, Raheem Sterling and Philipe Coutinho will feature in the attacking role. Sterling burst onto the scene last season, which prompted a call to the England squad in the 2014 World Cup. He will likely build upon that impressive form and futher improve his status among some of the league’s top attacking mid’s. Coutinho will use his excellent passing skills to open up the opponents defense. Two other signings, Adam Lallana from Southampton and Lazar Markovic from Benfica can also feature in the attacking mid role, but will likely be used on the wing or even at striker.
With the departure of Suárez, Daniel Sturridge now becomes the main man up front. He finished second on the squad in goals scored with 21 last season and should have plenty opportunities to match or even exceed those results this season. Backing up Sturridge in the central attacking role will be Rickie Lambert, like Lallana, also signed from Southampton. Fabio Borini also could be an option here, but an injury and an attempt by Sunderland the purchase could complicate his position on the team sheet. As mentioned in the midfield section above, Lallana and Markovic will be expected to provide in attack from the wings, an area that seems to stacked with talent within the club.
The pick of the squad comes in the form of Sturridge, who will be primed to pick up the goal scoring efforts. Finishing with a club second best total of 21 last season, the striker will look to improve upon that total this season and if he stays healthy, has a realistic chance at doing so as the club’s focal point. The key will be to stay healthy, something that has seemed to be a bit of a struggle at times, dealing again this preseason with a hamstring issue. While Sturridge should be a good source of goals scored, consistency in matches played may prove to be an issue holding him back from joining the elite striker options.
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The Key Signings
Seemingly the biggest issue of the 2013/14 came in the form of the, at times, porous back line. To address the issue, Rodgers spent 20m on Lovren from Southampton and has since called the new addition the “next Jamie Carragher.” The central defender wasted no time in his Liverpool debut on Sunday, netting in just the 14th minute, gaining further praise from his new boss. Expected to solidify that back line first and foremost, Lovren is also solid off the set pieces and can provide some goals from the defensive slot in line ups. Also a benefit of the improved defense, clean sheet bonuses should come more frequently than last season for the club.
Adam Lallana, currently on the shelf with a knee injury picked up earlier this preseason, was another player Rodgers was hot after. After the signing of Lambert from Southampton, it was initially unclear if Rodgers was still to get his guy, but Lallana was soon to follow. In 37 matches last season, the winger netted 13 times. Lallana is projected to return to action sometime in September, so a return to a double-digit goal total on the season may prove to be a little difficult, but not entirely out of the question. The talent is definitely there, though, as proven by his league award winning play last season.
While Sterling will be selected at a greater rate, and deservingly so, Coutinho is a player that may be a bit overlooked. The attacking midfielder has proven to have the on-field vision and passing ability necessary to become the playmaker that Liverpool needs behind Sturridge. If Liverpool are going to be serious contenders yet again this season, it’s going to lead through the play of the midfield and the duo of Sterling and Coutinho. The Brazilian finished the season on five goals and seven assists last season, totals that can be expected again in his third season with the club.
The Young Guns
When Liverpool landed Markovic from Benfica this offseason, they not only got a great young player on the upswing, but they got a versatile, attacking player who plays the wing but can also player the more conventional striker role. At just the age of 20, the multi-year deal was an important part as Markovic will be able to develop further as player within the Liverpool club. He scored seven goals for Benfica last season. His impact on the club should be almost immediate as one of the better prospects in the game and he will definitely be one to keep an eye on as we could be watching a future stud in the making.
With the arrival of the 20-year-old Can from Bayer Leverkusen, the Reds received another versatile player as he has the ability to fit into the lineup in multiple positions. His preferred position is a more defensive midfield and should have a great opportunity to not only play alongside, but also learn from Gerrard, while taking some of the pressure off the club’s captain. If Can is unable to crack into the starting XI at the defensive mid position right away, he will also have the opportunity to come on in the central mid role. Joe Allen may initially be ahead of Can on the depth chart to start alongside Henderson in the middle, but the opportunity will be there for Can to push ahead.
As you can see, the talent is definitely there for Liverpool to put together another run at the EPL title. The biggest test will be to see how the club as a whole preforms after the transfer of last season’s focal point in Suarez. Rodgers has definitely put the transfer fee to good use with the talented additions to the teamsheet. With the official kickoff of the 2014/15 season this weekend, we won’t have any longer to wait to see if it will all come together for the Reds and their faithful. When all is said and done, Liverpool have themselves a pretty good chance at finishing in the top 4 for a second consecutive season.