Projecting a Liverpool 2013-14 Starting XI with Summer Signings
Liverpool have been linked with a whole host of names already for the forthcoming summer transfer window, as Brendan Rodgers continues to reshape his squad for a challenge on the upper reaches of the Premier League.
Likely, the names who eventually come to join the Anfield club in the coming months will not yet have been mentioned in the press extensively, but the areas in which Liverpool need to reinforce are evident, so at least a style of player can be drawn up who may be brought in.
It should also, of course, be noted that the Reds need not just 11 but 15 or 16 top class players who can come in and out of the team without the quality of the side being reduced.
Here, though, is a projected starting XI which we might see Liverpool field next season.
Goalkeeper: Pepe Reina
There have been plenty of rumours already about Pepe Reina leaving the Reds, but his exit is far from confirmed.
Likewise, plenty of names have been thrown around as to who his successor could be.
Reina, however, has shown much improved form over the past month or two, after a difficult start to the season. If, over the rest of this season, he continues with his upturn in performances and can put his injury problems of this year behind him, he can still be the archetypal goalkeeper that Brendan Rodgers requires.
The safest bet is on him staying as the Reds' No. 1, with new competition being brought in to push him further.
Full-Backs: Glen Johnson and Davide Santon
Glen Johnson has been one of the league's best full-backs this season, so there is no need to suspect he will be ousted from the right-back slot.
On the opposite side, despite a recent vast improvement in form, Jose Enrique still does not match the required technical and tactical attributes for a second supporting full-back.
Again, there have already been plenty of names thrown around as to exactly who Liverpool might be looking at.
The Reds need somebody with good pace, plenty of stamina and a willingness to get involved in buildup play in the middle and final thirds.
Jose Enrique already ticks these boxes, so to improve, they also need a left-back who has a better tackling ability, can stop opposing attackers crossing the ball, distributes the ball quicker and better, and who can also perhaps cover multiple positions.
Davide Santon of Newcastle United is a fair bet as the kind of full-back Liverpool should be looking at. He is also young yet has gained good experience, and is certainly attainable in terms of playing for a team below the Reds in the league table.
Centre-Backs: Martin Kelly and Daniel Agger
At centre-back, Liverpool have perhaps already missed out on the best "available" defender in Benedikt Howedes, who is now presumably off the market having signed a new deal with his club Schalke.
There will be lots of names linked with the Reds in this position due to the impending retirement of Jamie Carragher, and up to two or three new central defenders could eventually end up joining the club this year.
Given time, though, the potential partnership of current Reds Kelly and Daniel Agger could be a formidable partnership.
They have a combination of strength, aerial ability and pace in Kelly, and composure on the ball, experience and organisational skills in Agger.
A sketchy injury record with both may be a concern, though Agger has improved markedly in this regard this season, but above all else they will require a run of matches alongside each other to develop a partnership.
Central Midfield: Victor Wanyama and Steven Gerrard
Liverpool have to bring in a powerful midfield presence this summer to feature alongside Steven Gerrard.
Far, far too often this season they have been exposed down the centre of the park, and regardless of Lucas returning to improved form or the eventual integration of Joe Allen in the team, the fact remains that there are a huge number of physical threats in the Premier League and Liverpool cannot cope with them.
Jay Rodriguez is hardly the most bruising of players, but even he managed to make the Reds' spine of the team look about as solid as melted butter in their most recent match.
Victor Wanyama provides a potentially masterful combination of technique and physical prowess which has already made him a success in the Scottish Premier League and, more pertinently, the Champions League.
He would be another young addition to the squad, ensuring the potential return on investment makes sense for the Reds to do business, but more importantly his on-pitch quality would have a telling impact on Liverpool's performances.
And yes, he could even play side by side with Lucas as the box-to-box type instead of the holding player alongside Gerrard.
Attacking Midfield: Philippe Coutinho
Brazilian starlet Philippe Coutinho gave a brief cameo of his ability to find space playing through the centre of the pitch against Southampton.
The overall team performance was extremely low, but Coutinho has already shown enough in his time at the club to suggest he could be an absolute steal at £8.5 million. Next season, as he continues to adapt to the demands and the restraints of playing in the Premier League, he should find himself thrust into the centre on a more regular basis.
Having Coutinho in the No. 10 role certainly gives Liverpool a very creative outlet through the middle, but he has also given important glimpses of a truly prodigious workrate, which will be of paramount importance if he is to play centrally in the big games.
If he can find that work ethic on a regular basis when Liverpool don't have the ball, without sacrificing his quality and confidence when they do have it, then there is no need for the Reds to look toward Christian Eriksen or anyone else of his ilk.
Wide Forwards: Luis Suarez and Stewart Downing
Luis Suarez is better centrally—nobody can or should dispute that.
But he is also better as close to the goal as possible, and Liverpool cannot afford to play their brand of football with only two central midfielders behind a line of four attackers.
Suarez has the workrate, nobody doubts that, but he also has the tactical licence to roam and create havoc wherever he wants—great when Liverpool are in possession, but difficult to compensate for when the ball is lost.
Shifting him to a left-sided starting position, where he can drift infield at will or move beyond the centre-forward, is the ideal and natural progression unless Brendan Rodgers switches to a formation which sees two forwards playing, with Suarez in the deeper role.
It also necessitates the signing of a reliable and quality left-back.
On the opposite side, there is a great chance that there will be a new name in place, but they will likely share plenty of characteristics with current Red Stewart Downing.
To balance out the team tactically and positionally, Liverpool need someone on the right of attack who will maintain width at times and join up to attack through the middle at others.
It is a disciplined and less-creative role than those of Coutinho or Suarez, perhaps, but inherently necessary for Liverpool to find the balance between attack and defence, outlet and cover.
Don't bet against Downing's recent improvements being enough to convince Rodgers that he can hold the fort for a while longer while a younger, newer recruit is found at the right price and with the right quality, while other areas of the team are shored up.
Centre Forward: Daniel Sturridge
Liverpool could certainly bring in another striker this summer, or perhaps Fabio Borini will be asked to push all the way to earn himself a starting role after overcoming his injury-plagued debut season, but Daniel Sturridge is likely to stay as the main man in the role.
His excellent start to life in Red has been tempered by a spate of injuries, but he should still have a decent impact in the final eight games or so of the season.
If he can reach around eight to 10 goals come the end of the campaign, he can judge his first few months as a Liverpool player a success, and there will be every reason to expect 20 goals from him next year.
Suarez and Sturridge have shown great potential to link up with each other early on, and Coutinho will only add to that. The more those three play with each other, the better and more fluid Liverpool's attack will become as they continually interchange positions and find each other with first-time, automatic passes.
There is plenty to look forward to from this trio in particular, and the former Manchester City forward should lead Liverpool's line next season.