Liverpool Players with a Point to Prove in Preseason
With preseason having now finally got under way at Liverpool, there will be a group of anxious Reds players having just returned to Melwood knowing they have much to prove to manager Brendan Rodgers if they are to force their way into the Northern Irishman’s thinking ahead of the new campaign.
And so with the Merseysiders’ opening fixture of the summer at Preston North End now just days away, we at the Bleacher Report are here to run the rule over those Liverpool first-team players who will be most keen to impress the boss over the course of the next month.
The rugged Slovakia international enjoyed an unhappy second half to last season after losing his place in the first team to veteran centre-back Jamie Carragher on the back of defeats at Manchester United in the Premier League and Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup.
However, despite seemingly being held personally responsible for both those reverses by Rodgers himself, and later declaring that he would “seriously consider” any offers to move away from Anfield that came his way this summer, the 28-year-old is still as of now a Liverpool player.
And if that situation does not change between now and the kick off to the new campaign on August 17, then Skrtel perhaps has more to prove than any other Liverpool player during the close season, particularly with a first-team spot alongside Daniel Agger well and truly up for grabs this summer.
Can the central defender edge out new signing Kolo Toure to win back his spot at the heart of the Liverpool back four? Well, that is the question on everyone’s lips as preseason gets under way on Merseyside.
The Welshman, it is fair to say, enjoyed an underwhelming debut campaign at Anfield following his eyebrow-raising £15 million move from Swansea City last August, with the holding midfield player’s season prematurely brought to an end following shoulder surgery on March 20.
Consequently, the 23-year-old will know just how important this preseason is for him to try to re-establish himself as a first-choice pick in the Reds' midfield, most probably alongside Brazil international Lucas Leiva as one of two defensive midfield players operating as protective shields in front of the Liverpool back four.
But with Jordan Henderson having leapfrogged Allen in the Reds pecking order in the injury-enforced absence of the Wales international towards the back-end of the previous campaign, and captain Steven Gerrard also more than capable of filling that role if need be, it is far from certain that he will automatically win back his starting place at the beginning of next season.
And that is why the next five weeks are so crucial to Allen in his bid to prove his ever growing number of doubters wrong …
Having ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament playing against United in the Premier League at Anfield last September, the defender’s season was cruelly brought to a shuddering halt after just four league matches.
And that setback could not have come at a worse time for the highly promising 23-year-old, just as he was looking to impress the new man at the helm and establish himself as first-choice right back at Anfield.
However, the England international is now fit again having fully recovered from that injury and sure to feature prominently during preseason, with Rodgers no doubt keen to try the utility player out in both the right-back role, as well as possibly as a centre-back alongside Agger in the position left vacant by the now-retired Carragher.
As a result, much will rest on how Kelly pulls up in these preseason fixtures after such a long injury layoff.
Fabio Borini is another whose debut campaign on Merseyside was interrupted by injury, with the Italy international actually succumbing to a plethora of different knocks last season ranging from a broken foot to a dislocated shoulder.
Those setbacks resulted in the 22-year-old featuring in just 13 Premier League contests all campaign long, with the forward having to wait until April 27 at Newcastle United before registering his first, and only, league strike for the Reds.
But with doubts continuing to grow over the future of want-away front man Luis Suarez this summer, Borini will know that a good preseason in the temporary absence of both the Uruguayan and fellow attacker Daniel Sturridge, who is still yet to fully recover from an ankle injury, could suddenly propel the centre-forward into Rodgers’ first-team thinking for the new campaign.
And so Borini will be hoping to use the Reds’ seven preseason fixtures to both continue the eye-catching form in front of goal that he displayed to such great effect for the Italy Under-21s in last month’s European Championship in Israel, while also proving that he does have what it takes to be a Liverpool striker next season after all.
The veteran utility player’s arrival at Anfield on a free transfer from Manchester City earlier this summer caused more than a few murmurs given both the Ivory Coast international’s age and general lack of playing time at Eastlands over the course of the previous two campaigns.
Of course, the reason for the defender’s recent inactivity has been well publicised, with Toure banned from football for six months in March 2011 after failing a drug test, resulting in the Ivorian playing just 29 Premier League games throughout the whole of the last two seasons.
However, Toure was far from being an automatic pick at the back at City under previous boss Roberto Mancini in any case, meaning the player has much to prove at his new club, starting in preseason as he fights with the likes of Skrtel and Kelly to be Agger’s central-defensive partner against Stoke City on August 17.