As we approach the climax of the 2012/13 campaign, thoughts at Anfield will already be turning toward next season, when the pressure really will be on head coach Brendan Rodgers to deliver.
The Northern Irishman has brought about a noticeable and much-needed improvement in both the Reds’ form and performances in his debut campaign in charge on Merseyside.
However, at present Liverpool still only sit one place higher than they finished the last season under previous manager Kenny Dalglish, while there have also been no trips to Wembley Stadium for the fans to enjoy, and do not forget that the Scot was sacked for his efforts last May.
And so what will the club’s American owners, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), be expecting of Rodgers’ Liverpool next time out, especially if they back the manager financially in this summer’s transfer window?
Well, here are some targets to aim for at Anfield in the 2013/14 campaign.
Wins: 23 (14)
Draws: 7 (12)
Losses: 8 (9)
Goals scored: 76 (67)
Goals per game: 2 (1.9)
Goals conceded: 38 (42)
Goals conceded per game: 1 (1.2)
Clean sheets: 15 (14)
Goal difference: +38 (+25)
Total points: 76 (54)
Points per game: 2 (1.5)
End position: 4 (7)
* this season’s totals in brackets after 35 top-flight matches
Neutrals may scoff at the suggestion that Liverpool could even dream of challenging for entry into the top four of the Premier League next season, however, that absolutely must be Rodgers’ aim, and what is more, it is actually an attainable goal for the Reds.
When you think about the start to the current campaign, as Rodgers tried to get across his new playing style and ideas to a squad that was at the same time massively under strength, especially in the attacking areas, then there is much to be hopeful of looking forward.
A run of just two wins in their opening 11 fixtures was never going to be recoverable, and in actual fact Rodgers has done well to even get Liverpool back into the right half of the table and at least challenging for the Europa League places.
And so with a proper summer recruitment drive behind them and a positive start to the new campaign, at the very least a fight with the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Everton to finish next season fourth in the table is hardly unrealistic for Liverpool, is it?
For starters, if Liverpool’s neighbours from across Stanley Park can challenge so robustly for a Champions League berth this campaign, then there is absolutely no reason why Rodgers’ team cannot do the same next season.
But to achieve that, Liverpool need to win more games next season, which means turning half of the 12 draws that they have so far been involved in this campaign into wins and with that increasing their current points-per-game ratio of one-and-a-half points per game to two next time around, as a total of 76 points with almost always see a team finish in the top four of the table in the Premier League era.
However, in terms of the number of losses, goals scored and conceded and clean sheets recorded this season, the Reds are actually now not too far away from where they need to be if they want to achieve a top-four finish next season.
As a result, all that is therefore needed is just a little fine-tuning here and there and a good start to the new campaign with all the positive momentum that creates (as we saw when Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool almost won the title in 2007/08) and the Reds can be back up there competing with the “Big Boys” in the top flight once again next season.
Top-Six Head-to-Head Record
Pld: 11 (10)
W: 1 (3)
D: 6 (5)
L: 4 (2)
* Everton’s top-six head-to-head record this season in brackets
It is all very well Rodgers being able to mastermind cricket score-style league victories over the likes of struggling Newcastle United and Norwich City, or a Swansea City side with half their first team missing ahead of a domestic cup final, however, his real test next season will come in his head-to-head clashes with the teams that Liverpool should realistically be competing with for positions in the Premier League table.
Again, just a quick glance over to Goodison Park to see what Everton manager David Moyes has managed to achieve with his side this season in this regard should offer their city rivals great hope for the new campaign, with the Toffees having lost just two of those 10 encounters so far.
So next season, if the Reds can look to win four and lose just two of their 12 encounters against their higher-ranked rivals, then they can be up there challenging for the top four again.
And, that should be easily achievable as, just looking at the current campaign, Liverpool really should have beaten Manchester City both home and away and won at Everton on their travels, which would actually already have given them four wins against top-six teams this season, with still one more contest to come at home to Everton on Sunday.
Capital One Cup: Fourth round
FA Cup: Fourth round
As well as producing an improvement in their league form, Rodgers must also aim to bring some more silverware to the Anfield trophy cabinet next season, with the two domestic cup competitions there to be taken seriously, especially in the probable absence of any European football.
Sure, the new man is ultimately going to be judged by FSG on how he fares in the Premier League, as Dalglish found out to his cost. However, winning a trophy never does any harm, and it also goes a long way toward achieving other more testing targets further down the line.
Jose Mourinho always says that Chelsea’s League Cup win in February 2005 was the catalyst to their subsequent Premier League title wins in 2005 and 2006, while City boss Roberto Mancini's FA Cup triumph in 2011 is seen as the springboard to City claiming their first top flight for 44 years the following campaign.
And so, Rodgers really should focus hard on both domestic cup competitions next season and play strong lineups in each and every round, something he failed to do against Swansea City in the Capital One Cup and Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup this campaign, with predictably painful consequences for him and the club.
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