Liverpool : 10 Bold Predictions for the 2011-12 Premier League Season
With many big transfers still expected to happen around the league, predicting next season's events is little more than taking stabs in the dark. But going by what I do know of Liverpool, the players and the management, a few of my educated guesses may prove to be true.
If by the end of next season it turns out that I was just blowing hot air, I'm quite willing to be held accountable, and you can always send me hate mail through Bleacher Report if that turns out to be the case.
10. Glen Johnson Will Be Converted into a Midfielder
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Glen Johnson may be the best winger who doesn't play as a winger in the Premiership.
Although no one would argue that he isn't an enormously talented player, he has never really won the fans' affections. The accepted opinion on Glen Johnson is he is great going forward, and awful at defending. But if he is placed in the right wing, rather than right back position, his poor tackling ability will no longer get in the way of him becoming a Kop hero.
Johnson is one of the most expensive Liverpool signings of all time, yet he isn't even the best right back in the squad. Martin Kelly has the correct combination of skill on the ball going forward, supporting the attack, and ability to track back and mark opposition wingers out of the game. Like last season, Kelly is sure to be the first choice in the RB slot.
And the club are almost certain to sign another left back before the summer ends. This leaves Johnson out of a job in defence, so the most logical thing to do is to fit him into midfield as a winger. There are currently no true right wingers in the squad, and the ones who have been linked with a transfer to Liverpool (Downing, Mata, N'Zogbia) are all left-sided players, which means Johnson will have a fantastic chance to own the right wing.
Should Johnson be moved into a more attacking position, I think he will be a revelation and finally live up to his billing as one of the best English players around. Glen Johnson will have a breakout year like Gareth Bale did when he was moved from left back to left wing.
9. Liverpool Will Not Use One Strict Formation
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The thing that changes most frequently within football is the popularity of various tactical formations. Despite the frequent changes in formations, at most times in history it seems that the choices on hand were quite limited, usually to just two options. Fifteen years ago, managers could choose between 3-5-2, or the constantly popular 4-4-2. About eight years ago, the choice seemed to fall between 4-4-2 again, or 4-5-1. These formations were rigid and players were strictly confined to their assigned position.
Today, I believe that top teams will have to abandon the old idea of formations and adopt more flexible, fluid modes of play. The clearest example of what I am referring to is that of Barcelona. On paper, Barcelona set out with a 4-3-3, but in practice their players are constantly changing positions. Midfielders will drop into the backline when needed, and fullbacks are given license to play as strikers.
When Kenny Dalglish took over from Hodgson, he implemented what people refer to as the old "pass and move" style. The contrast between Dalglish and Hodgson's styles could not be sharper. Hodgson set out his players isolated from each other, knocking around hopeful long balls. Dalglish gave players free movement and stuck to short passes.
Liverpool will vary formations within a game, going from 4-6, to 4-5-1 and 4-3-3. Teams will not be able to easily set out strategies to stifle Liverpool because they will not be able to anticipate Liverpool's setup.
8. The Long Goodbye to Anfield Will Begin
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At some point during the coming season, a decision about where Liverpool will call home in the future will finally be made. Sadly, as John Henry recently said, the difficult logistics of renovating Anfield will force the club to build a new stadium in Stanley Park. The club's owners have almost certainly made their decision already and, with their recent public comments, are simply giving supporters time to brace themselves for that difficult day when it is made official that Liverpool will be moving to a new stadium.
Grown men will cry in public and there are sure to be some protest marches as well.
On the bright side, Anfield will be designated a historical landmark and will not be torn down. Fans and the families of those who have had their ashes scattered on the Anfield pitch will make certain that whatever the future of the stadium is, it will be dignified as befits one of the great cathedrals of world football.
7. Martin Kelly Will Make His Senior England Debut
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At the end of last season, one of the positive points Liverpool fans could not stop talking about was how good our young players coming out of the Academy are. And the best recent Melwood graduate is, without a doubt, Martin Kelly. Personally, I thought Kelly, and not Arsenal's Jack Wilshere, should have been named PFA Young Player of the Year. Of course, I am slightly biased though.
Kelly has all the markings of becoming a great defender. Glen Johnson, the senior England right back since Gary Neville's retirement, has had his place stolen by Kelly at the club level. This year, Johnson will likely see his place in the England squad also taken by Kelly.
6. Liverpool‘s Attack Will Be One of the Best in the League
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Last season, Liverpool scored a paltry 59 goals in the league; 19 less than Manchester United (who scored the most). But, if Liverpool had showed the same form through the whole season as it did when Kenny Dalglish took over, Liverpool would have scored a projected 72 goals (using the second-half season statistics as a guide). Such a number would have tied the team with Arsenal in second place for goals scored.
This season, I expect Liverpool will easily surpass the 70 mark, maybe hitting 80. Depending on fitness, of course, Andy Carrol and Luis Suarez will get at least 40 league goals between the two of them. And, if you look at the midfield, there should be lots of goals coming from many different players. Steven Gerrard, Stuart Downing, Charlie Adam, Raul Meireles, Alberto Aquilani , Maxi Rodriguez and Dirk Kuyt should combine to score another 40 goals easily.
Only Arsenal and Manchester United might be expected to score more goals, but I think the final goals tally will be quite close between the three of them.
5. Liverpool Will Do the Double Against Manchester United
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Last season proved that with adequate time to prepare, Kenny Dalglish can put a team on the field that is capable of destroying Manchester United. The 3-1 victory at Anfield was so comprehensive that it is was, in a sense, anti-climatic. Liverpool were so much better that it hardly seemed like a fair competition.
The last time Kenny Dalglish was the manager of Liverpool, supremacy over Manchester United was to be expected every year. With the King reclaiming his rightful place, Sir Alex will simply be known as "that other guy from Glasgow."
4. Alberto Aquilani Will Become a Fan Favourite
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Looking at the midfield roster, it's clear that Kenny Dalglish will be spoiled for choice. The current midfield goes something like: Gerrard, Lucas, Meireles, Henderson, Adam, Aquilani, Rodriquez, Shelvey, Downing, Spearing, Cole. Clearly some of these players will have to either be sold or sent on loan, as it will be impossible to accommodate all these players. Jonjo Shelvey will likely be loaned out. Joe Cole will surely be sold, and Raul Meireles is also looking unlikely to stay.
Rodriquez, Henderson and Downing will spend most of their time on the wings. This will leave Gerrard, Adam and Aquilani as the central creative options. Out of these three, Aquilani is easily the best passer (in fact, his passing stats in the last two seasons have been some of the best from anyone in Europe). And, although his skill set would probably best be utilized in European Cup competition (which Liverpool won't be in this year), 38 league games will give him plenty of opportunities to prove his class.
One problem Liverpool have had recently is the lack of a player who can control the tempo of games. Sometimes, when the team go a goal or two up, it's necessary to slow the game down. As an example, this is one of the roles performed by Xavi at Barcelona. It requires a player with excellent composure on the ball—something that Aquilani has in spades. Barring injury, Aquilani will improve the overall balance of the team, increase the amount of ball possession, provide the strikers with plenty of ammunition and knock in the occasional 20-yard screamer.
3. Jamie Carragher Will Lose His Place in the First Team
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Although he is coming off the back of a good season, and is still one of the best defenders at the club, Carragher's role in the first 11 will probably be of declining importance. This prediction does rest on one important variable, however: the fitness of Daniel Agger.
When fit, Agger is the best Liverpool centre half by some margin. As the most skilled defender, he will be guaranteed to start. Pairing up with him will be Martin Skertl, who was the only Liverpool player to play every minute of the previous league season. Although I'd rather see Skertl sold for a ball-playing defender like Gary Cahill or Michael Dawson, this looks unlikely to happen. Carragher will be rotated, alternating between Agger and Skertl as third-choice centre half. Occasionally, Dalglish may also opt to play three centre halves, as he did against Chelsea.
2. Luis Suarez Will Be Named PFA Player of the Year
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My two biggest complaints of this offseason are the repetitious transfer gossip, and not being able to watch Luis Suarez in a red jersey.
Suarez blew everyone away with his explosive start to his Liverpool career. Next season should be even better because he will have time to develop his partnership with Andy Carrol and with the additions of Downing, Adam, Henderson and the return of Aquilani; the quality of passes to the strikers is certain to improve.
Better passes will obviously mean more scoring chances and goals. I expect that next year's goalscoring race will be between Suarez, Carrol, Robin van Persie and Chicharito. But Suarez will get more assists and be more integral to the team's overall play than his other competitors.
1. Liverpool Will Finish in the Top Three
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I am certain that Liverpool will get back into the Champions League this year at the very least. As for whether or not Liverpool will win the title, it's impossible to say while the summer transfer activity is still at its busiest point.
What I can say, is that Liverpool will achieve a top-three finish because the core of the team is one of the strongest in the league, and along with the high level of player quality is the management team of Dalglish and Clarke—which is one of the best in the Premier League.
Last season, Manchester United didn't so much win the title, rather Arsenal and Chelsea chose to lose it. This year, it will also be important what the other rival teams do. Currently, Arsenal seem to be in the position Liverpool were in this time last year—desperately trying to keep hold of their big stars. Van Persie, Fabregas, Nasri have all voiced a desire to leave and at least one of them will make the same decision as Gael Clichy to seek pastures anew. Chelsea are in need of a rebuild, and have a young, inexperienced manager with no Premiership experience who I think will struggle in his first year.
And then there's Manchester City, who are about to lose their leading star, Carlos Tevez.
The coming season will see Liverpool and Manchester United fighting it out at the top, with either Manchester City or Chelsea making up the numbers in the title race. But, at the end of the season, the quality of players and managerial stability will see either Liverpool tying United with a 19th title, or Manchester United getting No. 20.
Whether or not Liverpool make the right signings (a left back, and a centre half) before the transfer window closes, may be a decisive factor.