Liverpool: 5 Players Who Will Have a Breakout Season
The upcoming season is as big as Liverpool Football Club has faced in possibly a decade.
After three seasons without Champions League football and with Brendan Rodgers edging ever so nearer to boasting a squad of players that he can call his own, Reds fans everywhere are hoping that this is the season they are back amongst the big boys.
The new season, however, is as big for certain individuals as it is for the club.
Rodgers' first season as manager saw a breakthrough into the first team for a number of the club's youngsters as well as significant improvements from a select few who had previously underperformed.
For those youngsters, the new season is their chance to stake a serious claim for a first team place. And for those who have previously underperformed, it is perhaps their final chance to impress.
Read on to discover who Liverpool's breakout stars of the 2013/14 season will be.
Brendan Rodgers showed a huge amount of faith in Joe Allen when he shelled out £15m to bring him to Anfield from former club, Swansea.
It could be argued that Allen is a player who has somewhat already broken out. He is a regular in the Wales side, started every game for Team Great Britain at last summer's Olympics and last October was named FA of Wales Player of the Year.
Some feat when you consider his main rival for the award was Gareth Bale.
However, after a promising start, his Anfield career has not really gone as well as he or Rodgers would have hoped. A loss of form towards the end of 2012 coupled with a troublesome shoulder injury meant his debut season was somewhat stop-start.
The Welsh international has no excuse not to perform next season. He's fully fit and has 12 months worth of experience knowing what it is like to represent one of Europe's biggest clubs under his belt.
With Rodgers having already shown a ruthless streak in shipping out big money flops such as Charlie Adam and Andy Carroll, Allen has to show the passion and determination the Liverpool fans demand if he is to win them over.
If he can replicate the form shown during his debut Premier League season with Swansea that led to Rodgers stating "you'd think he was Spanish" (via the Guardian), Allen could well be a vital element in his manager's slick style of pass-and-move football.
Many might argue that Raheem Sterling's breakout season for Liverpool was last season. The exciting winger started 23 games for the Reds in all competitions and made a further 15 appearances as a substitute.
Sterling's performances over the first half of the season were as good as any other Liverpool player. He was a raw 17-year-old who who showed no fear in attacking some of the best defenders in the Premier League.
It was these performances and his willingness to simply run at defenders that led to an England call up for the friendly against Sweden in November.
However, both his fitness and level of performance over the last three to four months of the season dipped dramatically, which is understandable for a teenager playing in the toughest league in Europe. Sterling rarely featured for Liverpool towards the back end of the campaign.
If the winger can repeat this form and display the confidence shown during the opening weeks and months of the previous campaign, this could be the season that cements his place in Brendan Rodgers' starting lineup.
With the right guidance and support from those within the club, there is no limit to what Sterling could achieve. The 2013/14 season could see the birth of a player who has all the attributes to be a real Liverpool great.
Two seasons on and the England Under-21 captain has failed to justify his hefty price tag. There were, however, signs in the last six months of the 2012/13 season that Henderson did have the ability to make the grade at Anfield.
Deployed by Brendan Rodgers in a slightly advanced midfield role just ahead of Lucas and Steven Gerrard, he had chipped in with five goals and four assists come the end of the season.
More impressive, however, is his minutes per goal involvement ratio. Henderson had an involvement in a goal for his side, on average, every 142 minutes—bettered only by Chelsea's Juan Mata (108 mins) and Frank Lampard (116 mins), and fellow Red Philippe Coutinho (113 mins).
Henderson deserves credit for not letting the doubters affect his confidence, and retaining the belief that he had the ability somewhere in his locker to contribute effectively to the Liverpool side.
There are many football fans out there—Liverpool fans included—that still knock him, seeing him as an easy target when the team fails to perform. But those that follow Liverpool closely will tell you that Henderson is a player that always gives 100%, a player that never shies away from criticism and who never looks to hide when things aren't going well.
If he can combine the self-belief he has had since day one with the ability he showed towards the end of last season then he could be a real asset to what Rodgers is trying to achieve.
Despite the disappointment of the England Under-21s' dismal European Championship campaign, on the back of a solid end to his domestic season, Henderson has the opportunity now to completely turn his Liverpool career around.
Jordon Ibe made his first appearance for the Reds in the final game of the 2012/13 season, providing an assist for Philippe Coutinho's winning goal against Queens Park Rangers.
Like Sterling, Ibe has taken his chance to impress during the Reds pre-season. The 17-year-old scored his side's second goal in the win at Preston and looked calm and assured when in possession.
Now, there is plenty of time for Ibe to establish himself in the Liverpool side. But during his short time as boss, Brendan Rodgers has not been afraid to give the Club's youngsters a fair crack at the whip. Adam Morgan, Andre Wisdom and Sterling were all given opportunities to impress during the previous campaign.
Ibe more than most can benefit from this. Most likely to appear in Carling Cup ties, I'm almost certain that we won't see much of the youngster in Liverpool's starting 11 for league games.
But the man tipped by Rodgers to have a big future at the club has the skills in his armoury to be pushing for a place at least amongst the substitutes.
Martin Kelly has been in and around the Liverpool side for three or four seasons now but due to dreadful luck with injuries, has not been able to establish himself in the starting lineup.
Kelly has always impressed when called upon by both Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers and was rewarded for his form during the 2011/12 season with a place in the England squad for the 2012 European Championship in Poland and Ukraine.
The highs of international recognition were followed by lows, however, as a cruciate ligament injury sustained during the 2-1 home defeat to Manchester United in the early stages of the previous campaign ended his season prematurely.
The defender did, however, make his return in the friendly win at Preston, replacing Jack Robinson after 81 minutes.
Kelly's own versatility has arguably worked against him in the past, with many Liverpool fans still unaware as to whether his best position is at right-back or as a centre-back. With Jamie Carragher retired and the fitness of both Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger somewhat questionable, the chance to establish himself as a permanent fixture in the Reds back four has never been greater.
There's nothing Liverpool fans love more than a youngster establishing himself in the first team and a career just half as successful as Carragher's would be a career to be proud of.
If Kelly can stay injury free, there's no reason he can't become an iconic Liverpool figure like those before him!