A mini-crisis. A title wobble. Cataclysmic shift in momentum. All possibilities as Liverpool travelled down to Brighton on Saturday afternoon.
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With the current English Premier League season fast approaching, we put the current Liverpool squad under the microscope to find who is on the rise and who needs to perform.
Ádám Bogdán – The 193cm Hungarian goalkeeper joined on a free transfer from Bolton Wanderers, where he made 104 appearances across the Premier League and the Championship. Bogdán is certainly no world-class shot stopper, but he was brought in to be a hand back-up to Mignolet similar to Brad Jones’ role in the 2014-15 season. Bogdán is unlikely to see much Premier League action, and will need to be ready to take any chances he’s given in Cup ties.
Nathaniel Clyne – Another Saint comes marching in! Clyne is possibly the player most needed by the club. The right back position has been one of the most troublesome positions for the Reds in previous seasons, but this year could be different. The Englishman was a stand out for Southampton, in what was a breakout season for the club and is definitely the man that Liverpool were after.
Joe Gomez – The £3.5 million 18 year old from Charlton Athletic, was bought as a future star and is likely to be loaned out to gain first team experience. After the recent pre-season tour though, Gomez has given Rodgers more than enough reason to not only keep him at Anfield, but to feature him in the first team. Although he is a central defender by trade, Gomez adapted well to the left back position seeming comfortable and in control. The future is already looking more solid with this man in charge.
James Milner – Arguably the most important player bought in this window, Milner along with Henderson will rule the midfield and be the base that the team will be built around. Although he isn’t even close to a Gerrard replacement, both in quality and position, he is the proven Premier League player that Liverpool were so desperately after. One of eight key men to watch this season.
Roberto Firmino – A relatively unknown player to most Liverpool supporters, myself included, Firmino was a risky buy, but could also prove to be the best one. In the 2013-14 season, he finished as Bundesliga’s 4th highest goal scorer with 16 goals as well as 11 assists (2nd highest). After being named the league’s breakout player, he backed up his performance in the 2014-15 season, finishing with 10 assists (3rd highest) and 7 goals. As long as he doesn’t feel the pressure of his hefty price tag, his Brazilian link with Coutinho makes him one of the key men to watch for the season ahead.
Danny Ings – After finishing the season with 11 goals and 4 assists for a Burnley side which were valiant in their effort to stay with the best in English football, the only question regarding Danny Ings was where he would end up. The English U/21 striker is a player who is most likely to lead the line in the Cup games, but with the injury plague that all Liverpool strikers have, there will be plenty of opportunities for Ings to show his quality in the Premier League. A dominant player who can find the back of the net is just what Liverpool need, and while he might not be there yet, he isn’t far off.
Divock Origi – Signed after a breakout World Cup with Belgium, Origi was immediately loaned back to Lille for the 2014-15 campaign. The 20 year old scored 8 goals in 33 games, and was named in the Ligue 1’s worst team of the season. A player with enormous promise, who lacks hard work on the pitch. Unlikely to feature in many of Rodger’s first choice starting teams, he could prove to have an impact off the bench.
Christian Benteke – The man who seemed to have the whole Premier League watching – a long term target of Rodger’s, Benteke has been the overpriced man that most Liverpool fans (reluctantly?) knew would eventually end up at Anfield. The £32.5 million price tag that he brings means that he will have little time to adjust before big things will be expected. A lot of quite reasonable questions have been raised about his suitability to Liverpool’s style of play. Will he be the head in the box that the wider men will be aiming for, or will he adapt to Liverpool’s possession game and be the quality finisher that we’ve been looking for? Injuries aside, the former Villa man is a key player for Liverpool. His 42 goals in 88 games and 13 in the 14-15 campaign mean that Benteke could be the 20+ goal striker that everyone was so desperately craving.
The First Team Players
Simon Mignolet – Although he finished the 2014-15 season with 13 clean sheets (EPL’s 2nd highest), Mignolet is still far from a fan favourite. Poor distribution and a lack of control from the back have led to calls for another top level keeper to be brought to Anfield. Mignolet won’t be looking over his shoulder initially in the 2015-16 campaign, but will know that his performances will drastically need to improve if he wants to keep the #1 job.
Martin Škrtel and Mamadou Sakho – The two key experienced players who will line up in central defence to start the 2015-16 campaign. At 30 and 25 respectively, both players are well and truly in their prime and will need to show assertiveness and dominance over both the opposition but also the younger defenders playing outside them. Škrtel is known as a rough defender who is prone brain snaps and picking up the occasional card, while Sakho is often injury prone and can get caught out of position by a lack of pace. Both will be key players and will play a big role if Liverpool are to have a successful 2015-16 campaign.
Kolo Touré and Dejan Lovren – Two players who are at opposite ends of their respective careers, Touré is firmly into the twilight years of his career, while Lovren is fighting to regain the dominance that led to his £20 million switch from Southampton. Both players are coming off shaky seasons in the previous campaign, with Touré struggling to keep up with the pace of the younger players, while Lovern is battling hard to rediscover the physical dominance and control of the back line he had during his time with the Saints. An injury to Škrtel or Sakho will be needed for either player to see regular first team action.
Alberto Moreno – The 23 year old Spanish left back showed plenty of promise and heart in his debut season with the Reds. An attacking player by nature, he often pushed further forward in attack and subsequently was caught out by opposition attackers. With the current defensive shambles that Liverpool are facing, his defensive workload will need to improve if he is to nail down regular first team football.
Joe Allen and Lucas Leiva – At 25 and 28 respectively, neither player would be content with spending a large majority of the season on the bench. Both players look to have slipped (further) down the pecking order with new arrivals. Lucas is seen as a holding/defensive who may be called upon if Liverpool’s new look midfield and defence start leaking goals, but until then he looks like a second choice starter. Allen is far from a fan favourite at Anfield as he lacks a finishing quality, in both his passing and shooting game. Neither player is likely to feature in a full strength line-up, however Lucas is the more likely of the two to play a role in a successful campaign.
Emre Can – After great success for Germany at the U/21 Euro’s in the off season, Can has sent a message to Rodgers that he may be ready to dominate the midfield of the Premier League. After spending the majority of his debut season in defence, it seems time that Can gets a run in his preferred midfield role. A solid all-round player who can find the back of the net and has been touted as a future club captain and legend, Can can be expected to have another breakout season with his quality shining through. A definite key man to watch.
Lazar Marković and Jordan Ibe – Two more promising future stars for Liverpool. Marković may only play a minor role this season, but will get his chance to show his worth. With the departure of Sterling, Ibe has been thrown in the deep end, so it’s lucky he can swim. Another stand-out player on Liverpool’s pre-season tour, Ibe looks set to have a big season and has the potential to be a star performer in the years ahead. One of the key men to watch.
Philippe Coutinho – The only Liverpool player to make the PFA team of the Year last season, Coutinho’s recent form for Brazil shows he has no intentions to slow down. His 5 goals and 5 assists don’t highlight how important he is to the Reds. It was the manner and time, usually in key games, that he scored his goals, and his general all round dangerous play that made Coutinho stand above the rest in the 2014-15 season. Having his Brazilian teammate Firmino at the club is likely to make him even more dangerous, making him possibly the most important men for the 15-16 campaign.
Daniel Sturridge – The forgotten man of the Liverpool attack, it was only 2 seasons ago that Sturridge was part of the lethal SAS attack, scoring an impressive 21 goals and backing it up with a handy 7 assists. Injuries limited his 14-15 campaign to only 12 starts and 6 substitution appearances, which yielded a measly 4 goals. A full pre-season of rehab in top American facilities might mean that Sturridge can finally get back to his damaging best. He won’t start the season as a key man for the Reds, but if he can keep his injuries at bay, he could prove to be another lethal striking option.
Adam Lallana – The former Saints skipper had an indifferent first season at Anfield. Persistent injuries stopped him from getting on any real roll of form, but 5 goals and 3 assists showed the promise he has. His finishing ability was highlighted by his performances on the pre-season tour and his English connection with Milner, Henderson and Ibe could prove advantageous for the Reds, making him another man to watch.
The Fringe Players
Tiago Ilori – Signed in 2013, Ilori has been loaned out for the last two seasons, however after a strong showing for Portugal at the U/21 Euro’s, he has staked his claim to stay at Anfield, if only to gain experience around top level players. Ilori won’t likely leave much of a mark on the coming season, but is another rising star for the coming years.
Jon Flanagan – Looked to have broken through in Liverpool’s 13-14 campaign, however back-to-back injuries meant he endured the 2014-15 season from the sidelines. At 22, he still has plenty of time to develop and fully recover from his injuries, so he shouldn’t be disheartened if he doesn’t see much action this coming season.
João Carlos Teixeria – Another young Portugal player who has spent the last few seasons on loan. There has been talk of another loan lined up for Teixeria, or possibly a permanent move, but at 22, he deserves his chance to show what he’s got with a full season at Anfield. He has stated his desire to stay with the Reds, and is looking to prove his worth. Whether it be in cup ties, or Premier League games, he will need to make his mark as opportunities may be few and far between.
Mario Balotelli – What else needs to be said about Mario Balotelli. A £16million failed risk, Liverpool are doing their best to offload their misfit man to almost anyone who will take him.
Fabio Borini – Described by his manager as a “Lion in a cage” at Liverpool, Borini has been offered a route out of Liverpool many times previous. Along with Balotelli, he is the man most Liverpool supporters hope to offload before the window closes.
The Main Men
Jordan Henderson – The new skipper will be looking to repay the faith Rodgers has shown in him. Finishing the season in fine form last season, Henderson has started to look more comfortable ruling the midfield as Gerrard did for so long. Henderson and Milner will be the two men that the midfield will revolve around, the no frills player will provide the team a stable go forward and is starting to string together quality performances on a more regular basis. Another of the key players for the season, will be aiming to reach double figures for both goals and assists for the season, and if he can achieve this target, it will go a long way to a successful season for the Merseyside club.
Brendan Rodgers – Rodgers is arguably the most under fire man at Liverpool this season. After a mixed bag of coaching performances last season, where he never really settled on a set style or formation, he will be looking to bounce back this campaign with consistent results and dominant displays. With talk of Jürgen Klopp a real option, Rodgers knows he doesn’t have long to prove to the owners, but most importantly the fans that he well and truly the man for the job.
An interesting season ahead for both the Liverpool players and fans alike. Whatever happens, remember, You’ll Never Walk Alone!