There have been a lot of comings and goings over the last few seasons at Liverpool as Brendan Rodgers tries desperately to rekindle the passion and fight that his team showed in 2013-14, whilst trying in vain to keep hold of his best players.
The way Liverpool started and finished last season was poor, and there’s no getting away from that. In December 2014, when Liverpool lost 3-0 to Manchester United at Old Trafford, Rodgers’ men were ten points behind United. By March, just before they played each other again, this time at Anfield, Liverpool were only two points behind.
The mid-season form was good, and brought Liverpool right into the hunt for Champions League qualification, but defeats to United and Arsenal saw the wheels come off, and Liverpool’s poor end to the season was compounded with a 6-1 humiliation at the Britannia Stadium in May.
Part of the problem was the loss of Luis Suarez and the injuries to Daniel Sturridge. Brendan Rodgers doesn’t like to labour the point and keep talking about Suarez, but his side managed only 52 league goals last term. Compare that to their 101 the season before and you get an idea of the scale of Liverpool’s capitulation last season. If we’re not talking about Suarez and Sturridge, then we’re talking about the manager who sets the team up. I wonder if Brendan would prefer that?
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Curiously enough, the two highest profile departures this summer have been Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling, ironically Liverpool’s two top scorers from this season. In the league, no Liverpool player managed double figures, and Gerrard’s nine goals was Liverpool’s best tally.
I’m not suggesting that Liverpool will suffer the same fate next season as they did last time around. Last time, they couldn’t line up with Suarez and Sturridge from the start of the season. This time they won’t have Sterling and Gerrard. It’s not the same level of crisis, but to be without the four key players of the title-tilt from two years ago is sad for Rodgers.
The lack of goals is a much bigger worry. And that’s why Rodgers is paying £30m+ in order to bring Christian Benteke to the club.
Last season’s gamble on Mario Balotelli and Ricky Lambert didn’t pay off, and now Rodgers is adding a proven Premier League goalscorer. A man whose goals have kept Aston Villa in the division for at least two of the last three years.
He only managed 13 league goals himself last season and 15 in all competitions – only two more than Gerrard. But it’s worth remembering that Benteke received next to no service until Tim Sherwood took over the Villa reins in February. It’s since then that Benteke managed 12 of his total of 15.
Sherwood instilled confidence in his striker and got him scoring goals, and that’s what Rodgers will be hoping to do with the Belgian. If he can get Benteke firing, and keep Sturridge fit, both men could hit 15-20 Premier League goals next season. Especially if they get the service from the likes of Henderson, Coutinho, Firmino and Lallana. Even James Milner has the passing range and the ability to provide for the strikers.
It could also be a big season for the players who couldn’t gel properly last season – Lazar Markovic and Emre Can showed in small bursts that they’re good players, it’s up to Rodgers to get the best out of them more often this season.
It’s all about confidence for Liverpool. As they showed last season, when they’re in form they do very well. The mid-season run showed that, and their poor form either side of it showed what a miserable team they can be when they lack confidence and belief.
Rodgers will want to banish the talk of the Suarez and Sterling departures, but the comparisons will remain until Liverpool replace their goals and creativity. It’s better to embrace the comparisons and accept that Liverpool just weren’t good enough last season. Accept the fact that their poor form cost them as well as the fact that they scored just over 50% of the goals they scored in 2013-14. Because next season they have a team possessing of creativity and goals, and there should be excitement around Anfield.
This is probably a make-or-break season for Rodgers, and if he can instill confidence into his players, then Daniel Sturridge and Christian Benteke can bring the goals back to Liverpool.