When the final whistle went at Anfield a few Saturdays ago, Jamie Carragher had already been substituted to a standing ovation on his last career appearance for Liverpool, and Jordon Ibe had put in an encouraging shift on his first senior game in a Red shirt.
The woodwork denied a fabulous swan song goal for Carragher, but Ibe had created an assist—the youngest across the European top leagues to do so in the 2012-13 season. Philippe Coutinho, a 20-year-old Brazilian prospect signed from Internazionale, scored the winning goal from 25 yards.
In many senses, the 1-0 home win over QPR, while unspectacular, was a changing of the guard.
The recent lull at Liverpool became pronounced a year after the impressive 2008-09 season. Since then, league finishes have been at a disappointing low. The only bright side for the Reds is that things can, and should, only improve from here.
Here are six reasons Liverpool fans should have every reason to look forward to next season as Brendan Rodgers continues to bring improvement to the club. Enjoy, and have your say in the comments below.
It’s been a busy few weeks on the transfer activity front for Liverpool, and that can only be a good thing.
Looking back at last summer’s delay in securing striking strength and alternatives to Andy Carroll—the infamous Clint Dempsey saga included—we can see clearly that there is an urgency around Anfield to get the transfer business done early.
At the time of writing, there is still almost a month to go before the summer transfer window reopens.
As early as late May, when the Premier League season hadn’t even cooled down yet, Liverpool announced a deal with Manchester City defender Kolo Toure, with the Ivorian scheduled to arrive at his new club on July 1, according to BBC Sport.
Rumors linking players with moves to Anfield have heated up in recent weeks, with Celta Vigo’s Iago Aspas on the verge of a move to Liverpool, as reported by Sky Sports.
Considerable activity for a period still considered as close season. All signs are pointing to Liverpool learning from harsh lessons a year ago.
Liverpool’s January signings—Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho—have been qualified successes.
Compare that to the signings of Oussama Assaidi, Nuri Sahin, Joe Allen and Fabio Borini a few months prior and, regardless of the long-term potential that the latter two have, the difference in transfer policy has been markedly different.
And a massive improvement.
That Kolo Toure’s signature was secured so soon after Jamie Carragher’s retirement suggests that the club have pinpointed important areas for strengthening: Toure will provide experience and strength as a backup center-back, a position Carragher started the season in until Martin Skrtel’s collapse in form.
Credit will be given to the new scouting team from Manchester City that were only allowed to commence their work after last summer’s transfer window closed, and rightly so.
With more arrivals to strengthen the club’s scouting department, and with the player names bandied about as Liverpool targets this summer, it appears that the Reds are finally heading in the right direction after a few disastrous and mistake-laden years.
But it’s not just bringing players from outside the club.
Youth development is a key part of the Liverpool philosophy, and after a season that saw Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom establish themselves in the Liverpool first team, it looks as if the years of hard work commencing under Rafael Benitez are paying off.
Just as Sterling was given his first-team debut towards the end of last season, the sight of Jordon Ibe making a first start at Anfield—and doing well at that—was as refreshing as it was encouraging.
When Premier League action resumes in August, Sterling will start the season as an England international, while Suso and Wisdom will have benefited from their drop back into the U21 team after a busy first half of the season.
There are plenty of promising youth products coming out of the Liverpool Academy as well. Expect the conveyor belt to keep delivering a fresh crop every season. Year on year, the youth program will only continue to strengthen, and that can only benefit the Liverpool first team.
Brendan Rodgers’ first summer was tough: Not only did he have to work with a hesitant board unwilling to spare money for transfer targets, but he had to deal with inconsistent arrival times of several of his first-team stars after last summer’s Euro 2012 tournament.
International travel for both the tournament and for Liverpool’s preseason North American tour took a physical toll on the players, and in hindsight and with all things considered, it wasn’t a surprise that Liverpool started the season off in poor form.
A year on, however, things will look different.
A fan-centric and presumably money-spinning Asian tour is on the cards, but the squad arrive back in Merseyside before August, leaving them with a few weeks of training and preparation for the season.
The importance of preseason preparation with a full first-team squad cannot be estimated either. Rodgers and his players alike will benefit from an extended period with his stars at his disposal.
Preseason will be key.
It is in every Liverpool fan’s natural makeup to find optimism in every situation, and next season, the lack of European football will be construed as a positive in many quarters.
We will go along with that train of thought, simply because a young squad in transition should and hopefully will make further improvement without the constant distraction of continental travel on the books.
The 2012-13 season’s Europa League journey ended in almost spectacular fashion, with the Reds failing to secure an impressive comeback against Zenit St. Petersburg, and it also saw extensive involvement of a few fringe players and up-and-coming prospects.
But this season, the focus will not just be on overall improvement in play, but specifically in results as well.
The pressure will be on Rodgers to challenge for domestic silverware. The maturing youngsters will provide squad depth and will likely be involved in the early stages of the League and FA Cups.
Otherwise, all attention can be focused on the Premier League. And that’s every reason to look forward to a better league finish next May.
Perhaps the most crucial of all factors is time.
Specifically, after a season implementing his footballing philosophy throughout the club, Brendan Rodgers will have had a full year getting his ideas across to all members of his coaching and playing staff.
Even amidst the glaring lack of backup to Luis Suarez in the first half of last season, the drastic improvement Steven Gerrard displayed as a deep-lying playmaker exhibited his increased understanding of Rodgers’ passing approach.
And with the addition of Sturridge and Coutinho—real squad depth and strength—the second half of the season saw Liverpool end the campaign in top-four form, as well as a clear improvement in their pressing and a much-needed variability in approach play.
Add a few early signings and targeted at the necessary areas, and the glaring hole in defensive midfield and the mistakes apparent in defence could be resolved, while the midfield and attack could be further strengthened.
Liverpool already started looking good in the last few months; they can now turn the momentum into an exciting charge up the table in the 2013-14 Premier League campaign.