Liverpool: Full Report Card for Every Position Entering Premier League Season
With their International Champions Cup campaign under their belt, Liverpool only have one final friendly—against Borussia Dortmund on Sunday—before they start their Premier League season on August 17 against Southampton.
With less than a month to go in the summer transfer window, it’s already been a productive offseason for Brendan Rodgers and his management team.
In Rickie Lambert, Emre Can, Lazar Markovic, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren and Divock Origi, the Reds have already brought in six players to strengthen their squad.
Other players have had the opportunity to impress (or fail to impress) the manager during their preseason tour of the United States, and as Rodgers prepares for the new season, he will be looking to make a few more additions to his first team.
So how do Liverpool look across the board? Here’s a full report card for every position entering the new campaign—assuming that they stick with the interchangeable 4-3-3 and 4-4-2 diamond formations they ended last season with. Both starting quality and bench depth will be considered in our ratings.
Starting Option(s): Simon Mignolet
Reserve(s): Brad Jones, Danny Ward
At the time of writing, Bayern Munich have confirmed, according to Simon Jones of the Daily Mail, that Pepe Reina is set to sign a contract with the Bundesliga giants, so barring any late movement, Brendan Rodgers will be starting the season with just two senior goalkeepers.
Simon Mignolet is the undisputed first choice. However, his distribution, consistency and ability to perform in the biggest games all came into question during his first season at Anfield, a debut season that went smoothly for the Belgian by and large.
But while Mignolet hasn’t shown much susceptibility to injury, it will be dangerous to go through an entire campaign with just one top-level goalkeeper. Brad Jones is inconsistent and just doesn’t possess the required quality to stand in over a period of time if needed.
With Reina seemingly out the door at Anfield, goalkeeper is not a strong position for the Reds at the moment. There isn't an urgent acquisition need, but it's not something to overlook either.
Starting Option(s): Glen Johnson, Jon Flanagan
Reserve(s): Martin Kelly
That Glen Johnson is now generally poorly regarded by Liverpool fans for his erratic and positionally decrepit performances is well-known. But while specialist right-back Jon Flanagan impressed enough to return to the first team on the left last season, we will regard Johnson as the starting option for now.
And put simply, Johnson is a liability in the current Reds setup. His attacking forays have become less and less productive over time, while he has seemingly taken less responsibility on the defensive end as well.
Flanagan may well usurp Johnson to become Liverpool’s starting right-back over the course of the season. Martin Kelly has had ample opportunities to impress on the right over preseason, but his performances haven’t exactly caught the eye either.
Right-back is not a position to be proud of at Anfield at the moment.
Starting Option(s): Jon Flanagan
Reserve(s): Jose Enrique, Jack Robinson, Glen Johnson
Our verdict on the right-back situation also applies to its opposite flank, where we will assume Jose Enrique’s hesitant and inconsistent performances over preseason won’t be enough to unseat Jon Flanagan from the first-team slot he secured last season.
Yet Flanagan, while a solid defensive performer from the back, doesn’t have the imagination or creativity to transition Liverpool’s play from defence to attack, and he may be found wanting in terms of technique and pace at the highest level.
In reserve, neither Enrique nor Jack Robinson have the nous or ability to become a star at Anfield. Curiously, the Reds’ strongest reserve left-back may be Glen Johnson, who has performed admirably in that position but has suffered a massive dip in form over the past year.
Fortunately, Liverpool’s impending signing of Alberto Moreno—if Simon Jones' report in the Daily Mail is to be believed—will, unlike Manquillo, add genuine quality to the left flank. Much of our verdict hinges on this transfer—Moreno would bring a real upgrade.
Center Back: B+
Starting Option(s): Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sakho, Dejan Lovren
Reserve(s): Daniel Agger, Sebastian Coates, Kolo Toure
Whether Liverpool play a flat four at the back or switch to a 3-5-2 (or any variant), the fact that they have three players of starting quality—four if we count Daniel Agger—is a boon to the defence.
The question is how Brendan Rodgers decides to choose from his center back options.
Dejan Lovren’s visa mix-up held him back at Liverpool when he was due to join up with his new teammates in the U.S. And that could hold him back in terms of a starting position at the beginning of the season, such was the form of Mamadou Sakho during the ICC.
Yet we’ve all seen from last season that Martin Skrtel, despite having improved his goal return, is still capable of glaring errors at the highest level, which means that a central-defensive partnership of Lovren and Sakho is the strongest pairing on paper.
Our B+ grade hinges on whether Rodgers manages to successfully convert Lovren into a right-sided center back. If he does, Lovren may yet turn out to be an excellent acquisition. If he doesn’t, that would be a costly mistake—in every sense of the term.
Holding Midfielder: B+
Starting Option(s): Steven Gerrard, Emre Can
Reserve(s): Joe Allen, Jordan Henderson, Lucas
One represents a legendary figure at Anfield; the other a bright future and a symbol of what Brendan Rodgers is trying to achieve with Liverpool.
So will it be Steven Gerrard or Emre Can who starts the season in the holding-midfield role? That is the tricky question that Rodgers will face—and not just over the start of the season.
It hasn’t been the best of years for Gerrard, given his involvement in Liverpool’s relinquishing of first place to Manchester City and his overexposure in the midfield for England in the Brazil World Cup, yet his vision, passing and set pieces are still valuable assets for the team.
What Rodgers needs to resolve is whether he can keep Gerrard in the team and ask his other two midfielders to support him defensively, or whether this is the season that sees Gerrard slowly phased out of the first team to make way for a new generation.
Can’s excellent displays over preseason will only have added to Rodgers’ selection headache.
Central Midfielder: A
Starting Option(s): Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, Philippe Coutinho, Joe Allen
Reserve(s): Adam Lallana, Steven Gerrard, Lucas, Joao Carlos Teixeira, Suso
It might not be an all-star midfield like Manchester City’s or Chelsea’s, but Liverpool’s options in the middle of the park are of excellent quality—and just at the right age to eventually mature into star status.
Jordan Henderson’s rise to prominence under Brendan Rodgers will not have gone unnoticed, and an excellent preseason campaign will only have boosted his confidence going into the new season.
Emre Can’s exciting cameos have shown his versatility and ability to play in different positions across the midfield as well, which will come in handy over the course of the season.
Philippe Coutinho’s conversion from a more attacking No. 10 role to a more complete No. 8 has come about smoothly, a testament to both the player and his manager. His vision, technique, turn of pace and newfound tenacity will add creativity and flair to a hardworking midfield.
So the likeliest casualty at the moment looks to be Joe Allen, whose stop-start preseason didn’t do him any favors toward a regular first-team place. But with Liverpool fighting on four different fronts, Rodgers will need options at his disposal—and he has got plenty.
Attacking Midfielder: A
Starting Option(s): Philippe Coutinho, Adam Lallana, Raheem Sterling, Lazar Markovic
Reserve(s): Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard, Suso, Joao Carlos Teixeira
If the central midfield is encouraging for Liverpool fans, the attacking midfield should at least be as exciting, if not more so.
This is a squad brimming with talent going forward, and having four first-team options is perfect evidence.
Coutinho’s aforementioned conversion to a deeper-lying role doesn’t rule him out from a more conventional No. 10 role. In fact, it was from there that he did some of his most excellent work over preseason.
Raheem Sterling has shown his tactical intelligence in his own conversion from an out-and-out attacker to a more complete role behind the striker.
Lazar Markovic’s 45-minute preseason cameo before his injury meant that Reds fans had to wait to see more of his much-hyped ability in action, but all the signs were that he could, over time, thrive in this role. Adam Lallana may currently be out injured, but he will inject more quality when he returns.
We won’t forget that Henderson has played as the most advanced midfielder in Rodgers’ team to great effect last season, while Suso and Joao Carlos Teixeira are also excellent technical options in reserve to field in cup competitions.
This is an excellent group of hot prospects with their best years ahead of them.
Right Forward: A-
Starting Option(s): Raheem Sterling, Lazar Markovic, Daniel Sturridge
Reserve(s): Jordon Ibe, Suso
The simple fact that Liverpool field an interchangeable and dynamic forward line means that while there are specialist positions for some players, Brendan Rodgers can have them swap positions at will to wreak havoc on opponents.
Which also means that their plethora of options up front combines for a potent front three despite the exit of Luis Suarez, though for the purposes of this article we will rate by each position.
On the right, Raheem Sterling was arguably the standout young player of the Premier League last season, and one of England’s only players who didn’t massively disappoint this summer. He may have worked his way into Rodgers’ thoughts for a starting No. 10 role, but his presence on the right adds plenty to this Reds attack.
Daniel Sturridge, who often led the line last season, may be deployed on the right, cutting in on his favored left foot, especially if a new striker is brought to Anfield.
Lazar Markovic is similarly at ease across the front three.
Youngsters Jordon Ibe and Suso wait n the wings as well.
Left Forward: A
Starting Option(s): Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic, Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho
Reserve(s): Jordon Ibe, Daniel Sturridge
If the right forward position is exciting, then left forward is truly scintillating. Four Premier League-ready forwards in place with two exciting prospects make for a stacked left prong.
It was on the left, of course, that Sterling started his career at Anfield, cutting in on his right foot, while Coutinho has also won rave reviews with his excellent performances out on the left flank, where his pace and vision can be devastatingly effective.
Markovic’s addition means that Liverpool possess a relatively unknown X-factor among their ranks on the left, but if Sterling and Coutinho are used in other starting positions, Markovic may well be Rodgers’ starting left forward at the start of the season.
With Jordon Ibe showing encouraging form over preseason and Sturridge also capable of playing on the left, Adam Lallana will not be looking forward to wrestling back a starting place on the left when he returns from injury.
Starting Option(s): Daniel Sturridge
Reserve(s): Rickie Lambert, Raheem Sterling
Make no mistake: Luis Suarez’s exit has left a 31-goal hole in the Reds attack. And without a versatile, all-round striker like Suarez, Liverpool are unmistakably weaker up front—not to mention shorter in depth.
Daniel Sturridge is an excellent striker leading the line for the Reds, but his first campaign as Anfield’s leading man will heap lots of pressure on his shoulders. This will be a season where he wants to be fully fit for most of the year—something he hasn’t consistently achieved over the course of his career.
At present, while Liverpool are clearly still on the hunt for another striker, Rickie Lambert is the only senior specialist striker available for selection, and his lumbering and uninspiring performances over preseason mean that he will likely need some time to fully bed in.
Leaving Sterling—not a specialist striker but versatile enough to play further forward perhaps in the long run—the only other realistic option.
It's a slight blip in an otherwise strong midfield and forward core, but a blip that must be addressed if Liverpool hope to achieve something this season.