Liverpool season preview

Posted by Kristian Walsh

What's changed since last season?
Not a lot if the shift between the sticks is ignored. Frustratingly, Liverpool's four signings made before July 1 -- which were meant to herald a new, diligent approach in the transfer market -- have not yet been supplemented. The club are learning severe lessons of what four years away from Europe's elite competition can do. Alas, the move to replace Pepe Reina with Simon Mignolet is most notable, although Kolo Toure has showed glimpses of giving the back four a boost and forward Iago Aspas will see half of the Kop's heads explode by September.

However, Brendan Rodgers seems content with his defensive midfield, his defence still needs improving despite Toure's arrival, and his attack will depend largely on how the Luis Suarez saga -- officially upgraded to such status after his interview in the national newspapers -- ends.

Away from transfer tittle-tattle, there's little to report: Colin Pascoe still likes shorts, and Warrior still insist on designing kits with an Etch-a-Sketch. The side looked fitter this preseason, at least. Rodgers also is sporting a slimmer frame and seems far more comfortable in front of the media.

Key to this campaign
It all depends on Suarez; two realities are offered depending on what happens. If he goes, replacing him -- and his 30 goals -- will be paramount to anything else. If he stays, Liverpool need to sort out the balance between defence and midfield, particularly against sides that possess strength. Rodgers' defence was bullied far too easily by the likes of Christian Benteke, Jonathan Walters and Rickie Lambert.

Although they kept 14 clean sheets and conceded the same number of goals as champions Manchester United, it was how and why they conceded them. They conceded two or more goals 17 times -- the same as bottom side Queens Park Rangers -- which highlights the rarity of conceding a goal without another following (which happened only five times). That is something to do with mentality; the willpower not to crumble under pressure; the refusal to spontaneously combust when in a tough situation. The signings of Aspas and Toure -- and recent pursuit of Diego Costa -- suggest Rodgers knows this and wants to rectify it.

Predicted finish/realistic goal
The club are yet to really spend anything when the sales of Andy Carroll and Jonjo Shelvey are considered, and the wage bill has been reduced further. With that, questions have to be asked on how much progression Liverpool should expect without significant summer investment. Rodgers admitted that the signings of Aspas, Toure and Luis Alberto were to improve the squad, but he still requires players to immediately improve the first team.

It is thought that Liverpool still have £40 million to spend, but how it is spent will dictate how realistic Champions League qualification is. With time running out, Rodgers must resist the temptation to overpay on players; the suspicion is he will not be able to resist that, particularly with Suarez's future uncertain. His side did improve markedly in the second half of the season, however, losing just two games out of 16. That should see Liverpool move up to sixth, but little else.

Make-or-break season for ...
Liverpool Football Club. Every year is a year longer since they won the league championship, and therefore every season is deemed the most important in their history. But this really feels like it. This will be the fourth season Liverpool have been without Champions League football -- that is no dip but a fully fledged slump. Another year without looking to pressurise the top four brings confirmation of midtable mediocrity, if it has not come already. Four of the six sides that finished above Liverpool have new managers. A chance, then, possibly, to close the gap between themselves and those sides. In Liverpool's utopia, David Moyes' inexperience hampers United, Chelsea divide under Jose Mourinho and Roberto Martinez's Everton side struggle to adjust to the new football style.

But Liverpool have to be poised to take advantage. Rodgers must not make the same mistakes he did last year, and the hierarchy above him must continue to back him financially; Philippe Coutinho must continue, or even better, his performances from last season; Daniel Sturridge must keep scoring, Lucas Leiva and Steven Gerrard must remain fit, Glen Johnson must recapture his early-season form.
Liverpool halted the slide last season. Another slip could be destroying for the entire club.

One to watch
Jordon Ibe will have rightfully been noticed during Liverpool's preseason, but Alberto could be a real find. From the glimpses of the Spaniard so far, he is a player desperate to play on the front foot, his head constantly upright and searching for runners ahead. At over 6 feet, he may also bring a bit of physicality to midfield, albeit from a wide area.

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