Liverpool Players Who Could Be Facing a Make-or-Break Preseason
Liverpool are now on their summer preseason tour, with their first match scheduled for Saturday against an Indonesia XI. Two more games will follow, against Melbourne Victory and Thailand, as the Reds prepare their players for the 2013-14 Premier League season ahead.
Some of the squad will be merely preparing in the knowledge they'll be part of the furniture in the regular XI, assuming good performances of course, including Steven Gerrard, Daniel Agger and Philippe Coutinho.
For others, however, preseason might be a final throw of the dice to prove to manager Brendan Rodgers that they have what it takes to command a regular place in the team for Liverpool, or indeed even be at the club at all.
Here are six players who are, for one reason or another, facing a make-or-break summer at Liverpool.
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Martin Skrtel has to be one of the biggest-named senior players in danger of losing his spot in the side this summer.
Having been one of Rodgers' first-choice centre-backs at the start of last season, he lost his place soon after the turn of the year and failed to regain it thereafter, with Jamie Carragher seeing out the season in the team alongside Daniel Agger.
Carragher has gone and Kolo Toure has come in, but Liverpool are expected to sign another centre-back this summer regardless. That surely points to Skrtel being on his way, after more than 200 games for Liverpool—unless he can prove to the boss during this preseason that he can be the vocal, organising and technically able defender that the Reds require.
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Martin Kelly is a hugely talented and able defender, but he has been seriously hampered by injuries since making his debut for Liverpool.
Now aged 23, Kelly has played just 54 times for Liverpool—considering someone like Raheem Sterling, with one full season behind him, has already played 39 times, that's not a lot.
Kelly would likely have been a regular starter last season but for his injury, and the recovery period from a ruptured ACL is of course a long and difficult one, but this summer he really needs to get as fit as possible to prove he can remain available for the manager and the team.
Will he be used centrally, or as a full-back again? It might depend on signings, of course, but Kelly should be looking at playing wherever he can at first. If he stays fit and recovers his sharpness—and small follow-up injuries are a big probability following his long lay-off—Kelly needs to aim for around 25 appearances in all competitions this season to prove he has a long-term future.
He's more than capable and has all the attributes to be a top defender in the league, but Liverpool need him to show it by being on the pitch more regularly.
Kelly should within a year be the youth graduate to have played the most first-team games since Steven Gerrard broke into the team.
Just 14 more appearances will do it—but he should have arguably crossed that threshold two years ago already.
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Oussama Assaidi is expected by many fans to leave the club this summer, after being unable to win a place in Liverpool's first-team squad at all for the Premier League last season. Untried youngsters, out-of-favour seniors and a range of out-of-position first-team players were played in his positions, on either flank, without Assaidi really getting a shot.
It could well be that Rodgers has already decided that Assaidi will play no part in his plans. It might be that the player himself has given up hope of getting a chance.
But if the Moroccan has any hope at all of making it as a Liverpool player, he needs to have a huge impact during the summer tour.
Jordon Ibe and Raheem Sterling, both teenagers, were quickly in scintillating form and sharpness in the first friendly against Preston, while Assaidi looked clumsy and technically poor at times, far below his real level. He needs to step it up quickly to prove he can be another option, at the very least.
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Jay Spearing is another who would, in the normal course of events, be expected to be on his way this summer. He spent last season on loan at Bolton Wanderers and has not really shown the technical or tactical level required to be a regular for the Reds at the highest level.
However, with Liverpool not having signed any new defensive midfield players this summer, Spearing will likely get a chance to play in Lucas Leiva's role again during these fixtures, but unless he proves to be amongst the Reds' best players on the tour, he's not likely to have a long-term future at the club.
Spearing has a slim chance of remaining involved beyond the summer at Anfield, so this is likely to be his last chance.
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Two or three seasons ago it would have been unthinkable that Pepe Reina was heading into a season as potentially the second-choice goalkeeper, but that's the situation he's in now.
Simon Mignolet is not coming to sit on the bench at Anfield, so one of the two senior stoppers are going to be disappointed. According to Goal.com's Sam Brownsword, Brendan Rodgers has said the two goalkeepers are going to be competition with each other for a place each week.
Reina may yet leave, but when he returns to first-team duty after his extended holiday this summer, his professional nature will lead to him working as hard as possible to remain the club's No. 1.
But unlike previous years, this time, it is no forgone conclusion that he will be.
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Jon Flanagan, like Spearing, has a tough time of things to make himself a regular for Liverpool.
Despite suddenly coming to prominence under Kenny Dalglish in 2010-11, he has made a total of just 17 first-team appearances to date, and is now arguably the fourth-choice right-back at the club after Glen Johnson, Andre Wisdom and the aforementioned Martin Kelly, all of whom are on the tour for Liverpool this summer.
Any game time Flanagan gets, he needs to show a level above and beyond that which we've seen from him previously, but also above that of those other three, a very tough ask.
A loan deal for the year might be the best outcome Flanagan can hope for at this stage, and at 20 years of age he certainly needs to start getting regular game time sooner or later. His injuries held him back last season; this summer is his chance to kick on with his career, be it at Liverpool or elsewhere.