Liverpool: Complete Guide for the 2012-13 Premier League Season
Liverpool are breaking new ground for the Premier League season 2012-13: a new manager, new players, new kit makers and a newly-hopeful fanbase that the club can get back into the top four places in the Premier League.
There is still plenty of work for Brendan Rodgers to do before the season kicks off, and certainly before the transfer window shuts, if the Reds are to achieve their objectives.
Here is a complete breakdown of Liverpool FC as we head into the new campaign.
Last Season, and This
Premier League finish 2011-12: eighth, 52 points.
It was an up-and-down campaign for the Reds last season as they mixed some unbeatable cup performances with shoddy league form.
Too many home draws (nine) and away defeats (10) did for Kenny Dalglish, as the Liverpool owners disposed of him in the summer and replaced him with Brendan Rodgers.
A League Cup win and an FA Cup final defeat were scant consolation in the end, as the Reds missed out on their top four target by a whopping 17 points—and in the end, not even fourth would have been good enough to return to the Champions League as it turned out.
This year, Liverpool will be aiming to go far better and play far more consistently in the Premier League. Not all those dropped points were as a result of poor games, of course; Liverpool hit the woodwork more than any other club last season and were hugely unlucky (or hugely wasteful, if you prefer) in front of goal.
Improvements all-round are an absolute must.
The appointment of Brendan Rodgers as Liverpool manager came three short weeks after the sacking of Kenny Dalglish, as the Reds took him from his Swansea City job with the lure of creating a brand-new side, built to last, in his own image.
Fiercely competitive, a known student of the game and a progressive tactical thinker, Rodgers worked at Chelsea under Jose Mourinho and has visited clubs such as Barcelona in his quest for continued learning.
He brings to Liverpool a clear idea of how he wants the game played, the style of player he wants for each position and the self-belief to stick with it—even when the club encounters an inevitable run of poor form at some stage.
This last, perhaps, will be most crucial and telling to long-term, sustainable success that Liverpool hope to have.
The Formation and Tactics
Liverpool will be—and have already been—playing a 4-3-3 system, with one holding midfielder and two more advanced, or else an inverted midfield, with two controlling the centre and one pushing on more often.
In this case, the main difference of the 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1 will be the wide forwards, who will continue to play as far forward as possible regardless of the midfield shape behind them, looking to come infield and support the attack.
The fullbacks will be expected to provide width in the final third, as well as being part of a strong defensive unit without the ball.
Liverpool will expect to press their opponents high up the pitch at every opportunity to win back the ball, and once they do, then possession will be the name of the game, as the Reds aim to wear down opposition by making them constantly chase, chase, chase the ball.
The holding midfielder and wide forwards play key tactical roles in this system.
Lucas (in this diagram) needs not only control the space in front of the defence, but also be readily available to receive and re-distribute the ball quickly and frequently, aiding possession retention and a quick turnover if his midfield partners win the ball back.
The wider forwards need to support much more in the penalty area than Liverpool's wingers did last season and will be instrumental in creating chances both with movement off the ball and between the lines as much as by dribbling and looking for quick passes.
Fabio Borini, from AS Roma, estimated €10 million
Fabio Aurelio to Gremio, released on a free transfer
Dirk Kuyt to Fenerbahce, £1 million
Maxi Rodriguez to Newell's Old Boys, released on a free transfer
Alberto Aquilani to Fiorentina, undisclosed amount
Stephen Darby, Matthew McGiveron, Emmanuel Mendy, Michael Roberts, David Amoo and Kristjan Emilsson all released following the expiration of their contracts.
However, the signing of a new contract for Luis Suarez is a big deal for the Reds.
They are also still expected to make further signings before the window closes, with Joe Allen heading the list of potential recruits.
How Preseason Has Gone
A mixed run of results, though they are hardly the most important thing in preseason.
New boss Brendan Rodgers took a large squad off to North America for a prestigious tour, which was a mix of youth and reserve players, first-team seniors and returning loan players.
Liverpool drew 1-1 with Toronto, lost 2-1 to Roma and drew 0-0 with Tottenham in the States and Canada.
A final preseason friendly at home to Bayer Leverkusen awaits the Reds after the small matter of the second leg in the Europa League qualifiers.
The Reds triumphed 1-0 in the first leg in Belarus against Gomel, thanks to a Stewart Downing strike in the second half.
Performance-wise, Liverpool have shown in spells a good grasp of what will be needed to implement the constant passing and ball retention that Rodgers is searching for, but the pressing from the front has been sporadic at best.
Perhaps, given the intense nature of preseason training, this is not all that surprising.
A final note is that plenty of the players have had staggered returns. Daniel Agger was first back out of the Euro 2012 participants, the England players and Fabio Borini (Italy) followed a week later, Luis Suarez and Sebastian Coates played on in the Olympics until late last week and Craig Bellamy has not yet returned at all following his involvement in the competition.
Well, the 2012-13 Premier League fixture list has not given Brendan Rodgers the easiest of starts; that is for sure.
It would be easy to say the opening five weeks of the season will define how successful or otherwise the Reds are this term, but it won't be that straightforward.
Of course, confidence could soar or take a battering dependent on those early results, but both players and managers alike will know that this is merely the beginning of a journey which is going to take time.
Hopefully, some of the fans can remember that too.
Should Liverpool hit their stride before Christmas, December looks like a month where the Reds can—or at least should—take an awful lot of points.
Southampton (h), West Ham (a), Aston Villa (h), Fulham (h), Stoke City (a) and QPR (a) will all seem like games where Liverpool should be looking for victory, though the away games have their own difficulties as always.
Into the final stretch, Liverpool's last month of league football sees them face Chelsea, Newcastle United and Everton, three possible rivals for a spot high up in the league, and finish with London duo Fulham and QPR.
The Merseyside derbies are on October 27 (Goodison) and May 4 (Anfield).
The Star Players
Luis Suarez is the main man in the final third for Liverpool, and it is fantastic news for the club that he has signed a contract extension.
Suarez can operate in any of the three positions in the front zone for the Reds, possessing the pace, movement and dribbling ability to be a thorn in any defence's side from the channels and being well-used to leading the line through the centre.
His chance conversion rate could easily be increased this season, and with further additions, he will hopefully be presented with far more goalscoring chances of quality, whilst continuing to fashion them for others too.
Steven Gerrard is not quite the unstoppable force he once was and will have to manage his runs forward carefully, but he remains a key part of the way Liverpool play and will be their "something special" in midfield when the patient, careful approach play isn't quite going to plan.
He will have to become more disciplined in his passing, same as a few other players in the squad, but still has an aura of winningness around him, which the younger squad players need to learn from and absorb.
Daniel Agger leads the defence and organises the team. His on-the-ball play is exemplary and fit for purpose in a Brendan Rodgers team.
Now that Suarez's future is secured, Liverpool's senior management need to make doing the same for the Danish defender their No. 1 priority, even over bringing in new signings.
The Ones to Watch
Raheem Sterling is one that all Reds fans are keen to see continue to have an impact, albeit from the bench, for the first team.
Skilful, quick, direct and fearless, Sterling represents a great option later on in games and should continue to get experience in short bursts as he continues to learn the game, and in particular, his role on the left side of the front three without the ball.
Jonjo Shelvey had a magnificent preseason, showing strength and determination in abundance to make a big impact on the side.
He has shown he is arguably ahead of Charlie Adam in the centre midfield stakes for now, and he needs to remain as hard working as he has been if he doesn't get in the team immediately.
Jack Robinson should get more game time this season after enduring a year of injury in 2011-12.
The left-back is athletic, fast, can pass the ball well on the deck and is as strong in defence as he is getting forward.
Where They Still Need to Improve
Liverpool need reinforcements in two areas: central midfield and up front.
Jay Spearing has not proved to be up to the task of playing the holding midfield role in the absence of Lucas Leiva, which is unsurprising given he's not a defensive midfielder by trade.
He is, however, the only other available option for now when Lucas cannot play.
As such, the Reds need another option who can play the defensive role by themselves, or alongside Lucas in a more central position.
Up front, much depends on how Rodgers plans to use Suarez.
Borini should figure from the left of the front three, and Suarez is arguably best utilised as a right-sided, free playing attacker.
That would necessitate a centre forward signing to challenge Andy Carroll for a place, with Stewart Downing and Joe Cole providing cover in the wider areas—though another quality addition in this area is a must too if Liverpool have genuine aspirations of reaching the top four.
Elsewhere, a left-back to challenge or replace Jose Enrique would be ideal.
Outside the Premier League
Thanks to their League Cup win last season, Liverpool will once again compete in Europe with the rather-less-than-prestigious Europa League.
A second leg win over Gomel will see the Reds play a two-legged play off to reach the group stages. Should they reach that far as expected, Liverpool will likely use the competition—and the League Cup they defend—to rest the senior players for league action, handing a chance to the backup players of the first team and a few youngsters.
Those two competitions could be vital to the next few years of Liverpool; with up to half a dozen promising talents looking to make the breakthrough from reserves to first teamers, the kids will need to impress in the matches they are given.
The FA Cup, depending on the draws of course, should always be viewed as a source of pride and silverware.
Usually by the second half of the season, teams have a familiar lineup for the bigger games, and while others may come in for playing teams from lower divisions, the Reds might do well to not deviate too much from their strongest team as they search further cup glory along the path to better performances in the league.
After all, success breeds success.
There is much for Brendan Rodgers to do to ensure his Liverpool project is a successful one, that is for sure.
At least three signings, plenty of hard work on the training ground and a bit of luck in early season results would do wonders for the aspirations and confidence of the squad.
In reality, Liverpool do not possess a final third which can win enough games for a top-four place at present.
Without further signings, they will struggle to catch Arsenal and Chelsea, who have both made significant investment this season, especially in the final third, which is where Liverpool were most lacking last season.
That could all change over the next three weeks, though, and if the players fully buy into the change in tactics and on-pitch emphasis, that in itself could be enough to win more points next season.
Quality players, however, will make a lot more difference, and that is what the Reds need sooner rather than later to have an impact in this season's Premier League.
Check back later as Tony Mabert and Sam Tighe continue Bleacher Report's coverage of the 2012-2013 season with in-depth previews for Tottenham and AC Milan respectively, as well as Michael Cerna's Chelsea preview.