Is LFC’s real problem simply that we over-achieved incredibly last season, and just being in the mix for Champs League places is about where we should be at? Is our squad not good enough?
The 2014/15 season was always going to be Brendan Rodgers biggest challenge to date in his Anfield career. It has now been two and a half years since he took charge of the greatest Club in the world. After his side came so close to winning their first Premier League trophy, the supporters were expecting great things. Taking the side from 7th to 2nd was almost too much too soon!
Looking back, if the Club had finished in 4th place, maybe the pressure this season would not be so great. The expectations would be lower and easier to manage. That said, last term was amazing! The way the supporters lined up outside Anfield to welcome the players on matchday and the buzz that was created in the Red half of the City was very special indeed!
The team last season showed real guts and character to perform in the manner they did. Some of the games, especially the first half performances, were simply breathtaking. Everton and Arsenal at Anfield come straight to mind.
The breakthrough into the top four and a place is the Champions League was vital. That was the aim back in August 2013. The Club belongs playing in the top European competition. The added revenues and prestige will help with the long term plan of building the squad up and being able to compete with the big Clubs in terms of wages and transfer fees.
This season began will high hopes that the side could at least continue where they left off. Not many supporters would have expected the Barclays Premier League Title come May, but more of the same was hoped for at least.
Is the squad good enough?
With the increased number of games to play, the Manager aimed to pick most of his summer transfer market targets carefully and looked to ensure value for money. The Club have a certain type of player they will almost always look towards. Most of the players brought in were when the Club thought that Luis Suarez was going to be a part of the squad for the new term.
His loss is the biggest single challenge that Rogers has faced as Kop Boss. He’s the type of player that comes along one in a generation and can’t very easily be replaced. With the loss of Luis, the injuries to Daniel Sturridge and some of the new signings failing to settle in quickly enough, this term has been disappointing to say the least!
The individual brilliance of Luis papered over some of the issues. Without him in the first team, the issues have now been highlighted. The side last season got away with conceding goals, as Luis and Daniel would just go and score for fun! That has not happened this year!
The Manager once again has brought young players and “ones for the future” and given time, most should come good. The issue is, a side such as Chelsea have entered the market, spent large and brought well. Until the Club is able to mix up their signings, between the next generation of players and genuine current world beaters, they are not likely to really push for the title. The risk of the current transfer strategy is that the Reds will start to fall behind and drop back into a side battling for a top 6 finish.
With Sturridge missing from the side for the most part of this season, the spotlight has fallen on Mario Balotelli. A great deal has been written about why and how he has failed to light up Anfield. I like many supporters can only hope that Mario will find his form and the goals will come when Daniel returns to the first team. Clearly playing him as a lone striker not does work.
If he fails to reach the highs most fans knows he is capable of, the Club should cut their losses and sell him in the summer. That will correspond with Divock Origi joining the Club on a full time basis. From the news in France, he looks to be playing well and scoring goals.
Should the Club expect to be in the top 4?
The other problem for Rodgers is last term, he was able to field a settled team most weeks. Without the burden of European football, he could afford to spend the extra hours on the training pitch, to coach his ideas and fix any issues from the previous match. This season, it seems the lack of time spent at Melwood is a real issue. From the outside it appears that Rodgers does not yet know his best starting 11.
He has been unlucky with injuries, but he has made changes which sometimes seem strange to the untrained eye. For example, he made several changes for the Real Madrid match in Spain. The players did a half decent job and maybe were a bit unlucky not to pick up a point. Then on the Saturday against Chelsea, he dropped the ones who played well. That surely sends out mixed messages to the squad?
It may be because some of the dropped players are household names and used to playing in the first team, but the Club is bigger than any one person. If an individual is not up to standard, he deserves to lose his place. The supporters want to see hungry players fighting for their spot! Nobody should be guaranteed a starting place.
That said, the side still have the means at their disposal to still enjoy a somewhat successful season. They are in the quarter finals of the Capital One Cup, two wins away from probable passage into the knock-out round of the Champions League and a couple of wins off the top four.
The side really could do with an decent run to pick up some momentum. As a rule, the Reds always seem to perform better after Christmas. Let’s hope history repeats itself! A domestic Cup win would be the icing on the cake, if the Club finish in the Champions League places.
As of last year, a top four finish is the minimum requirement. The Manager will only be able to sign the World class players required, if the Club are regularly playing in Europe.
Expertly written by Paul Baker