Liverpool Football Club and manager Brendan Rodgers, specifically, could not have come in for higher praise given their exploits to finish second in the Premier League last season. For the first time in almost too many years to count, Liverpool had consistency on their side as they romped to noteworthy victories over Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Everton and bitter rivals Manchester United.
In fact, at the midpoint of the season, Liverpool had scored more first-half goals than Manchester United had goals in total. Without meaning to labour the point, The Reds managed to score more first half goals than any other team in the league, and only Manchester City performed marginally better in the opening 15 minutes of games over the course of the league season.
Of course, the bulk of these Liverpool goals bore the stamp of Luis Suarez’s genius – his forty-yard strike against Norwich being one of his standout efforts. His partnerships with both Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge showed that the little maestro is not quite as selfish as once thought.
But perhaps most impressive is Suarez’s movement both on and off the ball – he never stops running. As a result, his markers often lose concentration or tire of keeping on his shoulder, and he has a unique ability to capitalise on the slightest of half chances.
Of course June 24th changed everything; Suarez’s bite on Giorgio Chiellini has the striker suspended for nine internationals and for all football-related activity for a total of four months. This means that he would miss nearly half the season, and when a player earns a weekly wage in the region of ₤200 000 and is ineligible for action for that length of time due to his own foolishness, makes keeping him on one’s books so much harder to justify.
Having that said, he had signed a lengthy contract extension in December 2013, so the club still had a considerable bargaining chip in their negotiations that took Suarez to Barcelona for ₤75million. But it also meant that Barca could play on the idea that The Reds may no longer wish to be associated with a player with a nasty stigma attached, perhaps more so with Suarez himself feeling vilified by the British press over the last season or two.
Nonetheless, what’s done is done, and while Liverpool will miss his aforementioned genius, they have at least tried to fill the void left behind by bringing in a few talented players. The club have already secured the services of striker Rickie Lambert, defensive midfielder Emre Can, attacking midfielder Adam Lallana and a further attacking option in Lazar Markovic – all for a collective sum of approximately ₤57million.
Further acquisitions could yet be made in the form of strikers Divock Origi and Loic Remy, as well as loan defender Javier Manquillo, though Liverpool’s hopes of bringing in striker Marco Reus appear to be doomed with the player reportedly preferring a move to German giants Bayern Munich.
With all that said, The Reds are unlikely to achieve a similar goals tally to last season following the loss of Suarez, especially given the addition of Champions League matches to their football roster. Liverpool have at least added much-needed depth to their ranks as they harbour hopes of being competitive in the coming league campaign once more, both domestic cup competitions, and the prized Champions League.
It is depth that counts in order to achieve success on these fronts, but acquiring quality depth could be troublesome for a club with limited means. It should be borne in mind that Leeds United’s fall from grace came as a result of spending their Champions League gains before they ever had it, so it is unlikely Liverpool will travel a similar road in an effort to add too many pricey players of great quality to their squad.
So the question for the coming season is: Will Liverpool perform as admirably in the league given their new-found strength in depth? I am tempted to say ‘No’, but with Jose Enrique having returned from a long injury layoff, Suso coming home after a successful loan spell with Almeria in Spain, alongside the new signings mentioned, Liverpool may well contest for a place among the English elite.
Add to this Brendan Rodgers’ brilliance and his willingness to field youngsters with some success, and it seems a virtual certainty.
On the other hand, Rodgers and Liverpool could suffer ‘second season syndrome’ in an effort to replicate last season’s form and so drop out of the top four, giving way to Manchester United reclaiming a position in 2016’s Champions League.
The truth is that with the quality players added by Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United, and given Manchester City’s squad of (nearly) unbeatables, means the coming league season will probably be even more openly contested than the last.
However, my gut says that Liverpool may not have enough to sustain a challenge for a top-four spot over the course of the season, and given the addition of Champions League football this season, they may have to settle for fifth.