Giving it the thumbs-up: Rodgers will be seeking improvements in his Liverpool team in a number of key areas next season
With the kick-off to the new Premier League season now within touching distance, optimism in and around Anfield is growing by the minute, and with good reason, too, as Liverpool will be far stronger in a number of key areas in the new campaign compared to Brendan Rodgers’ first season in charge of the Reds.
Yes it does appear increasingly likely that the club will soon have to cope without the world-class attacking talents of striker Luis Suarez going forward, which means the team as a whole will be charged with the unenvious task of somehow replacing the Uruguayan’s 30 goals and 11 assists in the 2013/14 season.
However, that major weakness for the Merseysiders will be offset by a number of other vital areas in which the Reds will be in a far healthier state for the upcoming campaign, which include the following:
Central-defensive axis: when on top of their game there are few better centre-back partnerships in the Premier League than Skrtel and Agger
Only Tottenham Hotspur of the top six Premier League sides conceded more goals than Liverpool’s 43 last season, but that figure and the Reds’ all-round defensive organisation are both set to improve in the new campaign.
Sure the Merseysiders will have a new man between the sticks in the form of £9 million shot-stopper Simon Mignolet, but having found his feet at the club the younger and more mobile Belgium should prove a step up in quality on the man he has taken over from in goal at Anfield, Jose Manuel Reina.
Meanwhile, the 25-year-old No. 1 will also benefit from finding himself operating in front of a settled back four who all now know themselves inside out, with right-back Glen Johnson and left-back Jose Enrique flanking centre-backs Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel, the latter replacing the retired Jamie Carragher next season.
And whatever the various criticisms of the rugged Slovakia international in recent times, the Reds will be a harder unit to break down with Skrtel in defence, especially if the central defender feels he has the confidence and backing of his manager in the new campaign, unlike last time around.
Eyes on the ball: Rodgers will be relieved to have Lucas and Allen fit to feature from the start of next season
Another factor in Liverpool’s improved defensive displays next season will be that, barring injuries, head coach Brendan Rodgers is set to be able to pick his preferred combination of Lucas Leiva and Joe Allen as a protective shield in front of the back four.
In the previous campaign, except for a small period of time either side of Christmas, Rodgers was only ever able to field one of either Allen or Lucas in these pivotal roles due to injuries.
However, with this duo now fit and raring to go again ahead of the new season, the defense, and the team in general, will benefit from the greater understanding the pair will form in this still relatively new partnership.
And what is more, this will also now free key midfield player Steven Gerrard from the defensive shackles that often restricted him in the previous campaign, instead giving the skipper more licence to roam up field into attacking areas of the pitch that will threaten the opposition more.
Dream duo: Coutinho and Sturridge should just get even better for Liverpool next season
There can be no question whatsoever about the identity of Liverpool’s two main success stories from last season, the double purchases in the January transfer window of both Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge.
Each player greatly exceeded expectations in adjusting so quickly to their new club, it’s surrounding and most importantly, their team-mates, with the former contributing an eye-catching three goals and seven assists in just 13 Premier League outings, while the latter was equally impressive in registering 11 goals and five assists in his first 16 games for the Reds.
However, it is not unreasonable to suggest that both these players will improve on those attacking numbers in the new campaign having been further integrated into the club during preseason, so expect big things on the pitch from this exciting duo.
Young gun: Liverpool fans will soon expect to start seeing the best from 18-year-old wide man Sterling
Liverpool’s first-team squad has the youngest average age in the entire Premier League. One of the eventual benefits of operating such a concerted policy of looking to work with and mould as much youth as possible is that, after the inevitable rocky periods where results suffer, the group matures to become regulars in the team.
And that is what Rodgers and Liverpool’s fans will be hoping to see next season from the likes of Raheem Sterling, Martin Kelly, Andre Wisdom and the plethora of other emerging talents at Anfield.
So expect more game time for these individuals coming up in the new campaign, with improved displays as a result.
Striking opportunity: Aspas could be in line to replace Suarez up front for Liverpool next season
However, with almost a third of all those strikes coming from the soon-to-be-departed Suarez, there will be great concern amongst the club’s supporters that the team will inevitably suffer in this crucial area once the Uruguay international’s departure from Anfield has been confirmed.
That, though, will not necessarily be the case as Rodgers has already brought in versatile forward Iago Aspas from Celta de Vigo to help share the goalscoring burden up front. Along with both Sturridge and Fabio Borini, Liverpool have the strikers capable of putting away the numerous chances that the creators behind them are likely to be laying on a plate for them in the new campaign.
The eyes have it: new winger Alberto will offer Rodgers more attacking options from the bench if needed in the new season
It also appears as though Rodgers will have more weapons to utilise from the substitutes’ bench next season, especially of an attacking variety, with the first-team squad having been replenished with high-quality additions during the summer transfer window.
Whether that be wide men to stretch the opposition late on in the form of new winger Luis Alberto, fresh legs in attack in the shape of goal-poacher Aspas from Celta, or even the ability to call upon experienced utility player Kolo Toure to help close out games, Rodgers simply has a stronger all-round group to help him plot his way through the season.
Man on a mission: Rodgers will be hoping that his footballing philosophy will now be far clearer for his players to understand next season, with the results to match on the field of play
Last, but not least, Liverpool will be an all-round stronger unit next season for the simple fact that the players, apart from those that have just arrived this summer, are now a year into the “Rodgers Revolution”.
Whenever a new manager comes into a club, they will inevitably bring with them fresh ideas about just how they want their team set up and to play. That can mean changing from man-to-man marking at set pieces to the zonal variety, or in Rodgers’ case placing a strong emphasis on possession-based passing football from the back.
Either way, it takes time to assimilate the new man’s way of thinking and playing, and the more radical those changes are, then the more time it takes for the players to get used to the changes. This was more than evident in the previous campaign as the Reds won just two of their first 11 Premier League games under the Northern Irishman.
However, those dispiriting results soon began to fade from view. With the improvement in the team’s displays there for all to see in the second half of the season, exactly what the new man at the helm was asking of his players became that much clearer.
All of which means that the Reds’ haul of 36 points after the halfway point of the last campaign would equate to an overall total of 72 points across the entire season, which would have left the club just one point off fourth place come May.
And that is the points haul that Rodgers and Co will be eyeing for the 2013/14 campaign as the club go in search of a long-awaited return to the UEFA Champions League …