Let’s get this out of the way right off of the hop — there’s no such thing as a “big year” when you’re a club that has the weight of expectation that Liverpool does. You can talk transition, you can blab on about re-structuring and you can certainly say what you’d like about proving ambition, but you can’t say this “season is important” without sounding redundant to the point of ridiculousness.
Go ahead and name me a season in the past 30-years that wasn’t important for the Reds? If you’ve won the title, the next season is crucial because you’re expected to win it again; likewise, if you don’t finish on top, then the expectation is to make a charge for the summit. Did we qualify for the Champions League? If so, pressure is intense to not only progress in the competition, but to secure a return. Didn’t qualify? The heat is coming down to get yourself back in the top four, right?
That, of course, has been become a familiar story for Liverpool with the disappointment of the previous season still stinging ahead of Sunday’s Premier League opener against Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium — the very place we closed out last season with a humiliating battering at the hands of the less than glamorous Potters. The romantic in me would like nothing more than to place an inordinate amount of importance on that match setting the tone for the rest of the season, but the mathematician, of which I’ve never professed to be much of, has taken over as of late; conceptualization isn’t as important as it used to be when the realization that just shy of forty more matches await after things kick-off in Staffordshire — and that’s just in the league.
Each of them are worth three points and are is just as important as the one before and the next one.
With that being said, if we don’t hit the ground running, things in the stands and on the dreaded social media could turn ugly before you can have a whip around to hire a plane to fly a daft banner over the ground. It came as almost a shock to some that Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers retained his spot at the helm of a ship that’s looked rudderless over the past year after such a disastrous campaign, but with the ownership group eschewing the chance to bring in one of the big name mangers currently taking some time away from the game, it’ll be the Northern Irishman that’ll be tasked with improving on a year that’d he’d have a hard time doing worse than; an unenviable task if I’ve ever heard one.
This term, much like the last, he’ll have a host of new faces at his disposal with the club bringing in seven players thus far this summer with just under a month still left in the transfer window. The high profile departure of Raheem Sterling, who has been angling for a move since confirming he turned down a big contract offer form the Anfield outfit in an unauthorized interview with the BBC back in April, has been tempered somewhat with the arrivals of Roberto Firmino from German side Hoffenheim and the imposing figure of Christian Benteke from Aston Villa in big money moves as Rodgers looks to not only fill the void that’ll be left by the 19-year old, but finally address the departure of Luis Suarez to Barcelona the summer before.
You’d do well to forget how badly that turned out. With Rickie Lambert already out the door and Mario Balotelli and Fabio Borini soon to follow, Danny Ings and Divock Origi will be looking to impress where that trio could not. Still, the fitness of Daniel Sturridge, who could return to action following hip surgery sooner than expected, will likely be more important to the Reds fortunes in the front of the net than either of their newest arrivals with the England man clearly more than a cut above his younger, inexperienced and far less prolific teammates.
Our problems in front of the opposition net last season were only exacerbated by those in front of our own — something that really hasn’t been addressed as of yet. The additions of youngster Joe Gomez from Charlton Athletic and Nathaniel Clyne from Southampton has brought a touch of new life into a stagnant backline, but the same concerns remain with the trio of Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren and an increasingly marginalized Mamadou Sakho expected to duke it out for a spot in the heart of the defence. Rodgers has already hinted that the Croatian, who failed to inspire anything by way of confidence during his first season on Merseyside, could be preferred in the trip to Stoke than the vastly superior Frenchman.
This could be of little consequence with 37-more matches just over the horizon and a whole lot of tinkering to be done, but as I’ve already pointed out, a poor start to the season could see the tide quickly turn against the Reds boss and kicking the season off with such a glaring selection gaffe — especially against a side you shipped six goals against only a few months ago — could end with a start to the campaign that no one wants to see.
One could argue that a large share of Liverpool’s defensive problems originate in the midfield and you wouldn’t be wrong in the least bit. Where creative players like Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana are sure to play increasingly larger roles up top as we try to find the goals that went missing last year, it could be that newly appointed captain Jordan Henderson and ex-Manchester City man James Milner, who’ll do his best to fill the experience vacuum left by the departure of Steven Gerrard, will outshine them, but in a vastly different way. Their tireless running and ability to execute the kind of pressing game that the boss wants is absolutely vital to our success both going forward as well as at the back, an underrated component to our game that was lacking in spades when we last met.
A shake-up in Rodgers staff could see us finally get the best out of the likes of Alberto Moreno and Lazar Markovic as we watch Jordon Ibe, often tipped as Sterling v2.0, evolve into the kind of player that his former teammate is now starting to show glimpses of becoming. Utilizing our fringe players effectively during the early stages of the domestic cups and in the Europa League will be paramount to our standing in the league table, but there’s no question that both the fans and the owners will be keeping their eyes out for silverware come the end of the season — that, at the end of the day, is what Liverpool football club is all about.
So, I suppose, I could cap this off by saying this is one big-fat important year for the Reds, but I’m not going to do that, not only because I said it was stupid in the opening paragraphs of this terribly generic season preview, but because I don’t really believe it myself. The expectation is always going to be on this football club to excel regardless of what happened the year before — the faithful demand it and our history, which we fall back on far too often, stands as a benchmark against which all future sides will measured. The sooner the players, the coaching staff and the ownership group begin to understand that the better.
We’re Liverpool and we expect to win every year — not just the ones you deem important.