8 Realistic Goals for Liverpool in the 2013/14 Season
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With the end of the current season on the horizon, and European competition seeming to be just beyond it, many Liverpool fans have turned their attentions to the dawn and away from the setting sun of the 2012/13 season.
Most fans will gladly drain whatever tipple remains after this season’s strange brew and either slip into the bliss of offseason indifference or watch unblinkingly as it plays out.
Guarantees are in short supply in L4 where once immutable truths are no longer chiseled into stone. But there are some hardy seeds of achievable milestones that still sprout in the bitter chill of unfulfilled expectations.
Here are some of the goals that Liverpool Football Club can realistically hope to attain under Brendan Rodgers during his second year in charge.
Brendan Rodgers’ System Realized
Rodgers marshalling his troops.
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With the intense scrutiny that the Northern Irishman was bound to face at one of the world’s most recognizable clubs, the crucible of opinion regarding Brendan Rodgers’ system was never going to be fired in tepid judgment.
With the system’s pH of success or failure having many different litmus tests–current league position, points accrued this season versus last, possession converted to chances, lack of apparent alternatives, cup and European mishaps–creating a defensible position in either camp is easily done.
However, those that are closest to it are coming out to extol the new system’s virtues. Glen Johnson, Jose Enrique and Jamie Carragher have all been positive in their evaluation of Rodgers’ impact. Rodgers now has the additional benefit of being able to build on this seasoned core of veterans with handpicked recruits to best compliment his system.
With a full season under his belt, the backing of his veterans and the capacity to choose his transfers, the moments of excellence that surfaced in the murk of inconsistency will become more the rule than the exception.
Challenge for Domestic Silverware
Liverpool crashed out of this year's Capital One Cup to eventual winners Swansea City.
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With Rodgers intimating that a Europe-less season could be a blessing for top-four hopes (via Mail Online), it would also mean that he will be able to focus more resources and efforts into making silverware in England a priority. With fewer options to measure successes against, domestic trophies will take on greater importance.
Last season, in the absence of European competition, Kenny Dalglish led the Reds into Wembley on three separate occasions and walked out with one trophy. With European hopes now wrapped in a complicated morass of scenarios, perhaps Rodgers will be able to duplicate those successes should Liverpool fail to qualify.
Rodgers will also make certain that the summer of 2012 will not be repeated in 2013. He won’t be left scrambling to plug the gaps that a thin line up invariably causes.
With offseason acquisitions still pending and the emergence of Academy players who have proven their capabilities to perform at a high level, Rodgers’ bench will have more of the depth that he will need to be able to compete should late season heroics see Liverpool gain entry to Europe.
Better Record Against Top-4 Teams
Suarez's famous dive in front of David Moyes could have been more poignant if his disallowed goal would have stood.
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Losing a brace to Manchester United, limping to a draw against Arsenal when up 2-0 (after having lost the previous fixture against them by the same margin), twice failing to close out Manchester City and dividing the spoils with Chelsea (with this Sunday’s game yet to be played) means that Liverpool has yet to beat a team in the top four.
It doesn’t get any better when looking at the results against Tottenham Hotspur and Everton FC–the other two teams above them. The only team in the top six that Liverpool have beaten in league play this year is Tottenham Hotspur, courtesy of a 3-2 win at Anfield.
Yet the results alone don’t tell the full tale. The Reds had City on the ropes in both fixtures, and managed to snatch a tie out of the jaws of victory against both Everton and Arsenal when being ahead by two goals in both of the fixtures that ended in a deadlock.
Add the careless offside flag against Luis Suarez in the match against Everton and a dubious penalty decision in the first fixture against Manchester United and the story may have been a different one altogether.
Based on the almost-there results he endured this year, next season holds renewed promise that Rodgers will be able to compete against the elite at the League’s apex.
Better Finish Than 6th
The addition of Daniel Sturridge might be the catalyst for success Liverpool needs.
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Liverpool’s position in 2009/10 was an anomaly, an unexpected detour on a well-trodden path. A return to the top four was never in doubt, not under Roy Hodgson’s reign and even less so when Kenny Dalglish reclaimed the throne.
It has now been three seasons since Liverpool finished higher than sixth. But with five games remaining, missteps and false dawns notwithstanding, this feat is not completely beyond the realm of possibility in the 2012/13 season.
Even if finishing fifth fails to materialize, the form in the second half of the season suggests that beating the recent high watermark is not only a realistic and achievable goal, but one that won’t be as elusive a target for Liverpool next season.
More heartening still, January’s transfer window proved Rodgers indeed knew what was missing and when given the opportunity filled the need with astute ease.
Since those signings, Rodgers’ squad has scored more goals and conceded fewer while equaling its points total from the first half of the season with five fixtures still to be played.
By building on these positives, getting the summer transfers he needs with the speed he has alluded to (via ESPN FC) while adding the much needed depth, he will have every opportunity to come out of the blocks hot and keep the bar high.
Getting Back into Europe
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Should Liverpool fail to qualify for European competition, it would be the second time in three seasons. And on the back of two goalless draws against West Ham United and Reading FC, reaching the all important fifth spot is becoming more unlikely.
There are conflicting sentiments about Thursday nights in Europe, but winning only two games out of the nine after returning from Europa League play suggests that it did take its toll on the Reds. Perhaps not playing on the continent could be beneficial. By simply improving on those seven games, getting into the elite European competition becomes more of a realistic possibility.
Even if the club doesn’t stack up the results necessary to ensure playing in Europe’s top flight, there is the avenue of Domestic cup success to explore.
Should Liverpool fail to qualify for Europe this year, Rodgers will have to attribute some gravitas to putting together a good string of results in cup ties to try and ratify his appointment while giving the Anfield faithful something to cheer about.
A focused, reinforced, hungry and disappointed Liverpool will see qualification for the Europe as a must do. With the addition of new personnel, added time off and an eye towards what Europe means to Liverpool Football Club, and its glaring absence from it, make getting into Europe something that is realistically attainable.
A Solid Defense
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Anyone that has watched the season as a whole would point out two glaring issues in Liverpool’s defense–costly gaffes and a pathological inability for Liverpool to maintain a lead. Leads have evaporated almost as quickly as they happened and poor judgment coupled with panicked responses to concerted attacks after gaining the advantage have robbed the Reds of more than a few points.
Yet despite defensive frailties, only Manchester City has more clean sheets than Liverpool and the 40 goals conceded is the sixth fewest in English Premier League. These basic markers suggest that the defensive foundation is already there and that only the blocks need moving around.
The pending departure of stalwart Jamie Carragher and the speculative future of Martin Skrtel would ordinarily pose a dilemma for a new manager, but Rodgers can use this to his advantage and identify the player that he feels will best fit the role he has devised.
It is a realistic bet that he and his recruitment committee have already earmarked those central defenders who blend the obdurate with the delicate and will shape those qualities to fit his system's need while stopping up the leaks that this season has exposed.
Developing Effective Scoring Partnerships
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The number of attempts that the Liverpool unit has poured netward bears the mark of a benevolent monarch who cares not how the gold is spent only that it is spent.
Kristian Walsh (via ESPN FC) points to a lack of ruthlessness by the men in red while the blog Bass Tuned to Red does a great job of spinning the narrative of profligacy from the cold and empirical statistical evidence of Liverpool’s shots and goals.
Yet, there are signs that Liverpool has learned. And improved. The Reds have surpassed last year’s goal total (47) already and an EPL Index article shows that Liverpool has scored more goals in the second half of the season than it did in the first.
The burgeoning partnership of Daniel Sturridge, Philippe Coutinho and Luis Suarez is not quite firing on all cylinders but the sparks that they have created from time to time indicates that given more time together they will set the “Goals For” column on fire.
The Anfield Facelift
Since 2000, there has been a haze around the plans for a new home for Liverpool Football Club. The transparency of Ian Ayre and Fenway Sports Group regarding Anfield's future has been a refreshing change from approach adopted by their predecessors.
After it was confirmed that redevelopment was the preferred alternative (via the Mirror), Ian Ayre has now shared that the plans remain on track (via ESPN FC). Given what FSG did around the Fenway redevelopment, there is every reason to believe that the Anfield project will happen—and soon.
Ayre claimed in the same interview that further announcements will be made in May or June. If this is the case, Anfield could be set to get the extra 20,000 seats it will need to start competing with other teams in the upper tier of the league by the beginning of the 2014/15 season.