New manager Brendan Rodgers has been asked to reshape Reds as a league force but cut wage bill at the same time
Guardian writers’ predicted position: 6th (NB: this is not necessarily Andy Hunter’s prediction, but the average of our writers’ tips)
Last season’s position: 8th
Odds to win the league: 16-1
There has been no talk of a top-four finish from the powers-that-be at Liverpool this summer, no “major disappointment” quote that can return to haunt the manager should he win the Carling Cup, reach the FA Cup final but limp home lame in the Premier League. It is just as well. The Champions League is key to Fenway Sports Group’s vision in a world of Financial Fair Play and a formidable target for Brendan Rodgers with the players currently at his disposal.
Putting the truth on the record has not always been easy for Liverpool managers as they balance huge expectation with increased competition from their rivals, some better financed, others having made fewer mistakes. Refreshingly, Rodgers has adopted that course amid some fierce resistance to perceived negativity. He will have to stand firm on his ideals and beliefs – as he did when accepting the job – in a season that could shape the short-term future of Liverpool.
“The challenge here is immense,” Rodgers has said. “Let’s be under no illusion. The club and where it was at over the years – will any club ever do that again? That’s a big question. I certainly think with a club of our status and value to the football world, that we can go again. It’s going to take time and whether it will be in my time, I’m not so sure.”
This from a manager who signed a three-year contract with Liverpool on 1 June. The man from Carnlough cited the financial might of the “top six or eight clubs” as cause for caution, adding: “They are some of the superpowers of world football and we are competing with that, but it’s not all about money.” Liverpool must hope not, despite lavishing £120m on new players in 2011.
It is premature to deliver a verdict on Liverpool’s transfer policy under Rodgers with the window still open and several targets being pursued, even if the club’s competitive season has begun. That fortunate 1-0 win over FC Gomel in the Europa League third qualifying round first leg last week, incidentally, illustrated how Liverpool are lacking in the kind of players who bought into Rodgers’ methods at Swansea City. As Rodgers said: “The make-up of the group will change before the season starts and that will change the dynamic of the team also.”
On the evidence so far, Rodgers has been tasked with rejuvenating Liverpool as a Premier League force while trimming the wage bill associated with one. Fabio Borini has arrived for £10m from Roma and the Italian international striker should have few problems adapting to Rodgers, the pair having worked together at Chelsea and Swansea. But otherwise it has been all about outgoings at Liverpool following last year’s splurge under Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli. Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodríguez, Alberto Aquilani and Fabio Aurelio have gone since the end of last season, Craig Bellamy will soon follow, Daniel Agger’s future is uncertain amid strong interest from Manchester City and Andy Carroll will go should Liverpool get their way.
The four confirmed departures are no cause for alarm necessarily, although the £1m release clause in Kuyt’s contract was another inherited headache for FSG, but raise doubts over the strength of the squad in the absence of replacements. Joe Allen, Swansea’s £15m-valued midfielder, is a confirmed target and Clint Dempsey another possibility. The appointment of David Fallows as head of scouting has been held up, however, after he was placed on six months gardening leave by Manchester City.
As Rodgers insists, it is not all about money, and hopes of a Premier League recovery rest both on the clear purpose of their young manager and a myth that has attached itself to Dalglish’s one full season in charge – namely, that he had to go on account of a dreadful league campaign. Eighth was, without question, unacceptable but did not reflect a performance level often more dominant and more attractive than results following the Carling Cup final indicate. That is not to absolve Dalglish of responsibility for Liverpool’s lowest top-flight points tally since 1953-54 or to buy into the argument that 33 attempts against the woodwork and seven penalty misses represent bad luck and not bad finishing. Merely to suggest there is ample room for improvement from within.
Rodgers will be reliant on Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, José Enrique and, in the unlikely event he stays, Carroll, to rectify last season’s collective failure for that to happen. Carroll’s ludicrous price tag detracted from the meagre contributions of other new signings last season, notably Downing, who flourished at Aston Villa after a quiet debut campaign and is under pressure to do likewise at Anfield, and also from his own transformation come spring. That does not appear to have convinced Liverpool’s new manager as he looks to Luis Suárez, now secured to a new contract despite interest from Juventus among others, and Borini to develop a potent understanding.
It is through Rodgers, of course, that FSG hope to realise their initial vision for Liverpool and his refusal to enter their beauty parade when first approached to replace Dalglish, and to work under or alongside a proposed sporting director, shows they have appointed a man convinced of his own worth and ideas. He will need everyone to buy into them.
Rodgers will be under far more pressure to take the game to opponents at Anfield than at the Liberty Stadium and, for a new manager implementing new ideas with few new players on board so far, the fixture list has not been kind. Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United are Liverpool’s first three home games of the new season. Rodgers will require further assistance in the transfer market by then.
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