No one individual is to blame honestly. King Kenny's tactics were at times outdated. The strikers' finishing was abysmal. The midfield lacked the ability to impose itself. There were injuries, there were suspensions.
In general, there were problems.
On the bright side, the defense was impressively solid and there is European action next season...Europa League, but still. At least Liverpool isn't in upheaval (like while under Hicks and Gillett), and there is a base upon which to build. Here is what Liverpool should do this summer to find its winning ways again.
Liverpool need a manager, obviously. Now while AVB's time with Chelsea may have been nearly a disaster, I'm really hesitant to blame the young Portuguese manager for that. Really the blame should lay on the ego's of the senior players and a generally unsupportive fan base (although I think they're all Man City fans now).
Liverpool doesn't have the ego issues that Chelsea has. For Chelsea, John Terry is an usurping, power-hungry captain, and Drogba is an aging star who has used his previous achievements to attempt to justify an astronomical arrogance. Liverpool instead have Jamie Carragher, a leader loyal to the club and supportive of managers, and Steven Gerrard, equally loyal and supportive, along with being more realistic, exuding confidence and class—not arrogance and pomp.
Also, Chelsea's players and play style is completely at odds with AVB's. Chelsea favors a direct, often defensive counter-attacking style with big passes and pace down the wings. AVB prefers a fast, technical, more offensive passing game.
This is a style which marries very well with Liverpool's pass and move, and if you really need proof, look at the South American and Spanish players who have played, and those who still play at the club. They have adapted well to the club's style simply by making small adjustments to their normal technical, ground-based game.
Villas-Boas does not generally use traditional wingers, preferring more inside-forward-type players in his preferred 4-1-2-3. This also plays to Liverpool's strengths—or rather sidesteps its weaknesses. Liverpool has had horrible wingers for a while now, so why not just change the tactics to not emphasize wing play?
Finally, Villas-Boas has strong beliefs in the strength of young players. Only a Liver bird defecating on a Manchester United shirt could be more "Liverpool" than utilization of youth.
And with the potential in Shelvey, Henderson, Coates and more in the youth team, it's a great time to bring in someone who appreciates that ability.
Aquilani, the unwanted talent.
Seriously, I can't imagine how this guy must feel after essentially being discarded by three clubs and four managers.
Aquilani is a fantastic player with great vision, fantastic range of passing and even distance-shooting ability. He would be there to take pressure off Gerrard, he doesn't cost the team anything—which will allow for more to be spent on other areas—and he seems to have shaken off his injury problems
He may have hit a bit of bad form at the end of his Milan stay, but honestly, I blame that less on his ability and more on a drop in confidence (again, the unwanted-step-child situation). It was bad luck for him that the season he joins Milan, Antonio Nocerino, playing the same position, decides to have the best season of his life.
But this does not change the fact that Aquilani is talented, is experienced (caps for Italy and Champions League appearances) and has a style which suits the more technical European games next season better than almost any other player on Liverpool's squad.
Liverpool's defense has probably been the brightest spot of this season.
But that doesn't change the requirement for a centre-back.
Skrtel may be on his way out, in which case Liverpool need an immediate replacement. Even if Skrtel doesn't leave, Carragher is quickly losing his quality, and Coates is still a bit rough.
Javi Martinez would be the perfect option. He is young but experienced. He offers some nice flexibility, being a defensive midfielder who was required to play centre-back, and ended up excelling. Also, his height and hard-tackling style would allow him to fit the Premier League's more physical play. Since Athletic have no European football next season, he could well be convinced to leave for a club in European competition.
However, he is a relatively hot commodity, attracting interest from other top clubs. Hopefully a good contract offer, along with the Spaniards at the club, might be enough to bring him to Liverpool.
Liverpool's scoring problems have also been well documented. Simply put, Liverpool's finishing hasn't been clinical enough. By the end of the season, I wasn't even fazed anymore by hitting the post or missed penalties.
This is a position that needs bolstering and depth. Bringing in a solid forward is necessary.
There are two options that I think would work well for the club.
The first is the often spoken of Luuk de Jong. The 21-year-old had 25 goals and 9 assists in 31 games for Twente. He has ability, height (6'2") and a clinical edge. The only true negatives are his lack of experience and inconsistency, which really are tied together. A good option for sure, but there is a better choice, I think.
Dries Mertens is a striker and inside-forward who plays for PSV. He had 21 goals and 16 assists in 32 games, usually occupying the left wing as a right-footed inside-forward. This would allow for some tactical flexibility: He will be able to play on the left side of the three-man front line that Villas-Boas prefers, as a strike partner in a two-striker setup, and as a winger, as his assists show.
His form did tail off a bit at the end of the season, but he has been a quality player for a while now and, at 25 years old, is at a great age to change clubs.
Not to mention that PSV are also in the Europa League, so he wouldn't be losing out on anything by switching.
As much as Villas-Boas typically doesn't use traditional wingers, it would still be smart to have the ability to switch tactics up a bit by having a tricky player who can swing in a beautiful cross—especially against some of the more defensively inclined teams that might try to stifle Villas-Boas' otherwise ground-based attack.
This won't come as a surprise to anyone, as this player has been linked to Liverpool for a while, but Milos Krasic really would be a fantastic addition to the squad.
Krasic has gotten seven appearances for Juventus in Serie A this season. He clearly does not factor into Juve's plans but is an experienced player and Serbian International whose agent has already said will be leaving the club this summer.
The man is class and deserves play time.
Liverpool would be a new challenge, being in England, and can offer Europa League football—which may not be Champions League but is still something.
Depth is always good, but want-away or underperforming players are not "depth."
Want-away players like Maxi, Joe Cole, Dirk Kuyt and Martin Skrtel should be allowed to leave. They can cause unrest, and voicing their desires to leave to the media creates an image of disjointedness in the club. Also, the reduction in the wage bill is always welcome, especially when there is new talent that can be brought in.
Underperformers Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing should be sold.
Charlie Adam has been inconsistent. When he's been bad, he's been atrocious, and when he's been good, he's really been only decent. The things he was brought in for (set pieces and playmaking), he has been unable to do.
Steward Downing has been beyond pathetic. His lack of assists can be partially blamed on the poor finishing of the strikers and lack of a target man, since he and Carroll rarely played together.
However, the full-backs were still able to get assists, and, honestly speaking, his deliveries were never really particularly good. Nor did he ever show the dribbling prowess necessary for his position. His lack of goals ultimately comes down to just poor finishing, seeing as he did have 72 shots and three penalties.
Fun fact: He was the first player to miss three penalties in a row in the EPL since Juan Pablo Angel in 2005.
Ultimately, selling these players is just generally a smart move. It brings in some money to use on the new targets and also frees up opportunities for the talented youngsters at Liverpool to make appearances without unsettling or angering anyone.
In the end, the club will have a fast, fluid pass-and-move attack, capable of integrating its youth players and having the flexibility to add bulk or technicality as needed to properly adjust to the English and European games.
To make it better, it creates not only a good team for now but a basis for future improvement. The general age is reduced while not sacrificing general experience.
The starting XI would be Reina, Enrique, Agger, Martinez, Johnson, Lucas, Gerrard, Aquilani, Mertens, Suarez and Krasic. The bench would consist of Doni, Kelly, Coates, Shelvey, Henderson, Bellamy and Carroll.
This team, along with a more modern coach and the support of the Kop, could do wonderful things next season and even aspire for great things later.
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