Liverpool: 10 Realistic Goals for 2013
Liverpool are facing just one final fixture in 2012—away to bottom-of-the-league QPR—before heading into the new year, it's time to take a look at the realistic expectations that should be placed on the club over the next 12 months.
With plenty of inconsistency to work through in both performances and results, individuals and the team in general, manager Brendan Rodgers has certainly got his work cut out to get the Reds improving and moving up the table.
It was always going to be a case of "slow and steady wins the race" as the Reds assigned their third new manager in three seasons to the task of turning around the club's fortunes, but 2013 is a year when there should be certain objectives reached nonetheless by the current incumbent.
Here are 10 very realistic goals for Liverpool to hit over the coming 12 months—if they start finding themselves falling short a year from now, more questions will be asked.
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Bring in January Targets Early
We kick off with an important task for Liverpool and Rodgers, and one that the manager himself fully appreciates the importance of.
Equally as vital, Rodgers believes that the Reds can indeed get much of their January transfer business done early on in the month.
Not only is this important to ensure that other clubs do not jump in late on and try to take the Reds' targets away from them, but also because Liverpool are facing some tough fixtures in January, including away trips to Manchester United and Arsenal.
Daniel Sturridge is, of course, the main striker that the Reds are expected to bring in, but Jack Butland could be close to a move and Tom Ince remains a target, while there is also a chance that Lewis Holtby could be another target—though it now seems he will have to wait until summer.
A Run in the FA Cup
Winning the FA Cup might not be top of Liverpool's priorities—it certainly wasn't the owners' last year—but there is no doubt that winning a few cup games can boost the morale of the players and supporters.
The Reds face a trip to Mansfield in the third round, which, despite probably being billed as one of those potential cup upset games, should realistically hold no fears at all for the Reds.
Last season Liverpool got great results against the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United in the domestic cups—and the FA Cup will provide another chance to do the same. While the results in the early rounds and progression to the latter stages is secondary to improved league performances, Liverpool should still be looking to go as far as they can in the Cup once more.
Be Within Five or Six Points of the Top Six by the Start of March
Over the past month, Liverpool have been alternately just a couple of wins away from the top four, or in danger of losing touch with the top seven or eight altogether.
Right now they sit 10 points off third place and 10 points off 18th—smack in the middle of the table.
Away trips to Old Trafford, the Emirates and the Etihad will be hugely difficult tests for the Reds—but home matches against West Brom and Swansea City at the end of February need to be marked down as "must-wins" to gain back crucial points on the top six.
If Liverpool can take five wins from their next eight games between now and the beginning of March, the gap between themselves and sixth place (currently eight points) should be significantly reduced.
Even lowering it by three points can be enough for the Reds to mount a challenge going into the final stage of the season, assuming, of course...
Find Consistency in Final Quarter of the Season to Finish in the Top Six
...that the Reds achieve what they have so far failed to do—find some consistency.
It's going to be near-impossible for the side to do that in early 2013 with those tough trips to London and Manchester spaced between more winnable games, but from March onwards (with the possible exception of the Europa League and pending FA Cup games) it should be more of a possibility.
Liverpool need to improve both at home and on the road, but Rodgers will have a stronger group of players by then and will be expected to have had long enough with the current crop to eke better results out of them.
Liverpool need to target 60 points this season—most campaigns, that will be enough for a sixth- or seventh-place finish in the Premier League. Depending, of course, on the cup winners, either position may yield a Europa League spot for next campaign.
That would require Liverpool to take 20 points from their final 11 matches of the season, a very achievable total if Rodgers has his squad focussed and playing the way he wants them to.
Have Three Players End the Season with More Than 10 Goals
Luis Suarez has already shown he is likely to surpass last season's tally of 17 goals in all competitions with ease—but the Reds need to share the goals around a little more.
Percentage-wise, Suarez is not overly relied upon; he has scored 39 percent of Liverpool's league goals, which is lower than what Demba Ba, Michu and Steven Fletcher have all been required to contribute, but the Reds absolutely need more players to hit the target more often.
Three goals in his last three games shows that Steven Gerrard still remembers where the net is; with four for the season so far, he should certainly still make double figures for the league campaign despite his more withdrawn role this term.
After those two, Liverpool are still looking for another player capable of reaching the 10-goal mark.
Fabio Borini has only half a season to recapture fitness and form so, though he should add a few, is unlikely to reach that target, and no other Red player looks capable of doing so this season.
It is in the expected new signing of Daniel Sturridge, then, that Liverpool will have to hope for goals.
To reach that tally he will certainly have to hit the ground running, but getting plenty of game time and with the Reds creating lots of chances he will have the opportunity to do so—and perhaps become the first big success of Brendan Rodgers' signings so far.
Needless to say, adding a significant number of goals to the team will aid in chasing a top-six finish as well.
Generate Upwards of £40 Million Through Sales for Brendan Rodgers to Reinvest
The summer will bring not only a chance to fully and properly assess Brendan Rodgers' first season as Liverpool manager, but the opportunity to analyse the playing staff in the same way.
Regardless of where the club eventually end the season in the Premier League, players will have to be sought out in the summer, and others will make way for them as the boss continues to add players to make the squad his own.
Indeed, next summer will be the most important transfer window for Brendan Rodgers. A manager needs three windows to be able to shape the team in his own image, and that will be his third—after that, the squad should be shaped to his will.
To bring in the necessary players, funds will need to be raised and, though the owners might be called upon to add some net spend, the Reds have still got players to offload who are underperforming and can raise money for the manager.
Some others might have a strong place in the squad—but can also be sold and replaced without losing quality.
Five New Signings Minimum to Bring Balance, Depth and Quality
With the funds raised and whatever additional money is given to the manager by the board, Brendan Rodgers will need to bring in at least five new players.
Between January and the summer it is likely Liverpool will want to add a goalkeeper, a left-back, a holding central midfielder, an attacking playmaker, two forwards and potentially a centre-back to their squad, depending on who leaves.
Players who could be targeted range from those UK-based such as Sturridge and the likes of Hatem Ben Arfa who is top-half quality playing for a bottom-half team, to foreign-based talents including Lewis Holtby and on-loan Real Madrid midfielder Nuri Sahin.
Whichever players Rodgers identifies as targets, Liverpool need to end August 2013 with cover in all the major areas of the pitch, quality in several key positions that are currently lacking and no last-day scramble to cover those who have already left.
Balance Found Between Defensive Solidity and Attacking Intent
Liverpool have had matches this season where they have been in terrific form going forward, but lack the scoring touch on too many occasions.
They have also managed to string a run of clean sheets together and look very tight-knit at the back.
Unfortunately, there have not been too many instances where those two strengths have come together in the same match.
The home defeat to Aston Villa was a prime example; Liverpool dominated the play in the final third without having the cutting edge to actually score, but were woefully open to the counter-attack and failed to stop Villa scoring three times from three half-decent chances.
The biggest issue Brendan Rodgers will have with new signings coming into the club is not to ensure a better striker is waiting to bury the chances, but to strike a balance on the pitch between committing players forward and ensuring that they are positionally aware enough to avoid being killed on the counter.
Strength in defence was exposed against Stoke City too—Liverpool need to be much better at both ends of the pitch.
Start 2013-14 with a Settled First-Choice 13-14 Players
A key part of finding the solidity and consistency they will need will be to determine which players are going to make up the team at the beginning of the season.
Of course injuries, suspensions and form will dictate how the team evolves over the months that follow, but the ideal scenario for the Reds is to have 13 or 14 players fit and ready to start the season in Rodgers' preferred formation.
This smaller group will allow enough room to be flexible for any given match's requirements but also demands that those in the team play well to retain their place, with up to 10 others awaiting their chance.
Liverpool will need to start fast next season—hopefully they will not face as demanding a fixture list in the opening weeks as they did this year, but points will need to be put on the board regardless.
With no major international tournament next summer, all the players will get a good break, the management will have time to arrange incoming and outgoing transfers and preseason will provide plenty of opportunity to select those players who can get Liverpool off to a good start.
End 2013 in the Top Four, or at Worst Within Three or Four Points
The 2013-14 season has simply got to see Liverpool aim for the Champions League spots once more.
If the team had gotten their act together a little quicker this season it might have been attainable a year quicker; as it is, next season the absolute demand will be a top-four finish.
To ensure they have a chance to do that, Liverpool need to be going into the new year—12 months from now—either in the top four themselves or within touching distance of it, perhaps one or two victories' difference at most.
A strong first half of the season will give confidence that the top-four aim is attainable, might attract new signings in the subsequent January and will prove that the Reds have been on the right track.
This is, perhaps, the least-easily attained objective that Liverpool might have for 2013—but it's also the most important one, which might define Brendan Rodgers' time at the club.