Liverpool FC's Blueprint to a Top-4 Finish in the EPL Next Season
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Any expert guaranteeing success in the English Premier League is a brave man, a fool or under the employ of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Theoretically, creating a blueprint for footballing success is a simple one: find the talent, secure the talent, mold the talent. Although often repeated, it is seldom perfected.
Because where theory is sound, practice is flawed. Unexpected variables coupled with human error make almost every EPL manager’s drawing board a minefield.
With the old plans at Anfield either lost or altered beyond recognition, Brendan Rodgers spent the better part of 10 months making his own. The last 19 games of the season suggested that his blueprint was closer to completion than not.
But there is always more work that can be done. So what does the Northern Irishman have left to do to give his team the best chance at getting into the upper echelons of the EPL next season?
Here is a look at five things that could well give him and Liverpool every opportunity to crack the top four and get back into Europe.
Start the Upcoming Season Like the Last One Ended
Oh my! Liverpool waltzed by Newcastle United, 6-0.
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As it turns out, the Reds already have half of a blueprint. The written translation of the plan reads: take the last 19 matches of the 2012/13 season, rinse and repeat for the whole 2013/14 campaign.
In the second half of last season, Liverpool FC earned 36 points out of a possibly 57, while losing only three times and remaining unbeaten in their last eight fixtures.
If Liverpool had rivaled that feat in the first 19 games of the season, the amassed 72 points would have put them in the same position as Tottenham Hotspur and a single point out of fourth. In the 2011/12 season, 72 points would have been good enough for third.
Get off to a Good Start
Agonizing: Liverpool's 3-0 loss to West Bromwich Albion in the season opener set the tone for the beginning of the season.
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It’s a marathon not a sprint.
Some see this as an adage beyond reproach. For others, it’s an excuse for a spluttering start.
For Liverpool last season, it was a bit of both.
The Reds failed to win a game until September 26, tallying two points in their first five matches. It was the storied club’s worst start since 1903 and definitely not on the original plan.
In contrast, eventual league title winners Manchester United accrued 12 points in their first five games.
Indeed, none of the other teams that finished above Liverpool had less than nine points in their first five fixtures.
Any way you prepare for a race, a large head start right out of the gate means that narrowing the gap will require sprinting at some point.
Which leads to the next point.
Bring Closure to the Suarez Saga
Going or staying? It seems not even he knows.
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The Uruguayan front man re-whet the media’s seemingly bottomless appetite recently by speculating over his future at Anfield. Saying that he is “tired” of the criticism in the press, he added that: “it would be very difficult to say no to Real Madrid." (via BBC).
And to supplement the schizophrenia, Pere Guardiola—Suarez’s agent—has told Sky Sports his client is staying.
The man from Salto’s value and importance at Anfield are undeniable, and this season he was the blueprint. But casting a wide net across sentiment in the social media multiverse reaps an interesting yield.
It seems a growing number of Liverpool FC fans aren’t overly-concerned about the ex-Ajax striker’s departure.
The still-fresh wounds from the Fernando Torres exit are perhaps the root of the ambivalence.
Maybe it is impatience with Suarez's inability to curb his more primal urges.
Or it could just be his reported £40 million asking price, as speculated in a 101 Great Goals interview with Tony Barrett.
That buys a lot of Kleenex. And two or three quality replacements.
Fans are in some accord, though. Regardless of Suarez's decision, this roller coaster needs to be brought to a halt. And soon.
If he is set on leaving Merseyside, getting the money early in the window ensures that able-bodied replacements can be found quickly. And before other clubs can pounce.
If he is staying, then it needs to be chiseled into stone and hung in a public setting as a warning to other clubs. It will also allow Liverpool to make concrete plans around their No. 7.
Go or stay, the longer the situation drags out, the more likely that another Andy Carroll scenario unfurls. And the bag that the club will be left holding will be empty.
Win the Winnable Games
Taking it lying down: Glen Johnson watches as Craig Gardner skips passed him.
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Winnable games. Perhaps the most vile and vexing phrase in a Liverpool fan’s mouth, it is now shushed in public houses as if to shoo away a curse before it can be fully spoken.
Whether testicular, intestinal or mental, there were games last season where all three of these fortitudes seemed to be either in short supply or completely absent from the players in red.
Additionally, the Reds seemed prone to lengthy periods of uncertainty and trepidation when they were pressing or had taken the advantage. Twice a goal to the good against Manchester City and once against Arsenal, the Red men’s resolve inexplicably devolved into nerve-induced mistakes.
Either through force of will, a string of great results or hypnosis, Brendan Rodgers will have to find a way to inculcate a killer instinct and iciness of purpose into his wards next season that will result in points.
With the managerial upheavals in the EPL, cracks are bound to appear. If Rodgers can engender a swagger bordering on impunity, it is those chinks that he will be able to exploit, punishing other teams in the process.
Plug the Gaps—Quickly
This just in: Kolo Toure is the first of Brendan Rodgers' new recruits for next season.
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The sky is blue, grass is green and a football manager’s offseason transfers are key to the success of his team.
Not so much a blueprint, actually, but an immutable truth.
The Telegraph reports that Brendan Rodgers seems content with the troops he has mustered and has spoken of the need for “three or four quality players." ESPN FC reports that he will move quickly for them.
He’ll have to.
In making sure that Slot A fits into Tab B, Brendan Rodgers will not be given the luxury of 38 games to do so. He will have to act quickly to ensure that his new-look squad hits the deck at full tilt.
The recent acquisition of the veteran central defender, Kolo Toure, and a deal in principle for Real Club Celta de Vigo striker Iago Aspas, as reported by the Liverpool Echo, points to the Liverpool boss being as good as his word.
However, it remains to be seen how these signings fit and, more importantly, fare.
Rodgers knows all too well the gaps that need filling. Daniel Sturridge’s injury, Fabio Borini’s inconsistency and the uncertainty around his Uruguayan ace’s future means he will need another insurance striker.
In central defense, the retirement of Jamie Carragher, Martin Skrtel’s willingness to leave, according to The Guardian, and Sebastian Coates’ future in limbo, Rodgers has a big hole to plug.
The lack of depth in his defensive midfielder role should be a point of concern, too. If Lucas is lost, so is that position.
Thus far, Rodgers’ transfers have been a wash. The misfiring Joe Allen and injury-prone Fabio Borini were balanced by the January pick up of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge.
The almost instantaneous success of the latter pair, however, should offer hope that Rodgers indeed has a blueprint for the right personnel. If he does, and he gets what he is looking for, next season might be something to write home about.