With just six weeks until the start of the new Premier League season, Roy Hodgson clearly has his work cut out for him at new club Liverpool. For the first time in several seasons, the club and its fans will enter the new season without genuine aspirations of landing the elusive first Premier League crown; indeed, reclaiming the Anfield side’s top four berth will represent a terrific achievement in itself. Although Hodgson wasn’t a unanimous choice amongst Reds fans, he has been enlisted with the task of turning Liverpool’s fortunes around. This is no mean feat, but there are several measures he can put in place to try and steady the Anfield ship. So, if you’re reading Roy…
1) Keep the club’s big players
If Hodgson harbours serious ambitions of leading the side to a top four finish next season, the retention of club captain Steven Gerrard and talismanic striker Fernando Torres is absolutely essential. Despite Gerrard’s below-par displays last term and Torres’ perennial fitness woes, the pair are undisputedly Liverpool’s two most talented players, as well as the club’s most potential threats in front of goal. In Torres’ three seasons at Anfield, he and Gerrard have scored 92 out of the 205 Premier League goals that the club have scored in the same period, equating to nearly half of all goals scored.
Statistics aside, the duo are simply irreplaceable. Whilst some may argue that Steven Gerrard is past the peak of his powers, Hodgson is unlikely to find a dynamic midfielder with the same inimitable love that Gerrard has for the club. When fully-fit Torres is arguably the most complete centre-forward in the world, blessed with pace, acceleration, technique and almost unrivalled finishing ability.
2) Introduce youth
During the second half of his tenure at Anfield, departed manager Rafael Benitez oversaw a drastic overhaul and redevelopment of the club’s academy, a facility described by current Academy U18 coach Rodolfo Borrell as ‘unacceptable’ upon his arrival at the club. Although forced to do so by way of injury and loss of form, Benitez managed to use seven Academy-developed players (Ayala, Darby, Eccleston, Kelly, Pacheco, Plessis and Spearing) last season, demonstrating the fruits of the recently revitalised youth structure at the club.
With funds tight at Anfield and no guarantee that all funds generated through player sales will be used on replacements, Hodgson could do far worse than utilise some of the club’s young talent. Reserve team football is not necessarily the best barometer of gauging one’s talent, and first-team exposure is the main way in which Hodgson will be able to decide whether certain players are good enough to play for the side regularly in the future.
3) Address the side’s problem positions
For the last two seasons, the side have had two glaringly obvious selection problems – the lack of a first-choice left-back and back-up for the oft-injured Fernando Torres. As highlighted in an earlier article, the club cannot rely upon young Argentine Emiliano Insua next season, and signing a more experienced full-back is an absolute must.
In the instance that Torres does remain at Anfield this summer, acquiring a quality forward to deputise in his absence is a necessity. 40 Premier League starts in the last two seasons highlights Torres’ injury-prone nature, and the club cannot guarantee that he will be fit to start in excess of 30 games next season. The side’s impotence in front of goal in his absence is all too apparent, and Hodgson will need to address this.
4) Sell the deadwood
With a relatively limited transfer budget at his disposal, it seems apparent that Hodgson will have to ‘sell to buy’. Whilst Hodgson has stated that it would be ‘foolish’ to not give previously marginalised players a chance, selling some of the club’s less impressive players would help to generate much needed cash.
The likes of disgraced goalkeeper Charles Itandje, Moroccan winger Nabil El Zhar and Swiss international Philipp Degen (to name but three) have each failed to show their worth at the club, and keeping them at club hinders the first-team growth and development of some of the Academy’s brightest talents.
5) Instill confidence into the team
Arguably the hardest challenge of them all, Hodgson must somehow seek to instil confidence into a side that dismally finished seventh last season. Along the way Liverpool lost a staggering 19 times in all competitions during 2009/10, a stark contrast from the side that had lost just five games in 2008/09. The end of Benitez’s reign often saw a visibly stagnant vibe amongst the players featuring in the side’s starting XI, and Hodgson needs to rid the dressing-room of this disruptive and destructive atmosphere.
In guiding a Fulham side featuring the likes of John Pantsil, Paul Konchesky and Dickson Etuhu to a Europa League Final, Hodgson has demonstrated an unbelievable ability to motivate and coax the best from players. Turning Bobby Zamora from the English Andrea Silenzi into a potential England international was nothing short of wizardry.
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