kopthaticon

TTT: Season Preview Part 2

By Dan Kennett, James Keen (jimtheoracle), Jon Rushton, Shaul Mitelpunkt (Serpico), Alun Evans (FirePhoenix23) and Daniel Rhodes. We asked several of TTT’s writers, contributors and top posters to dust off their crystal balls and give their thoughts on a number of questions about the coming season. This is the second instalment of their responses. Who will be our most important player? Daniel Rhodes: Daniel Sturridge. As it currently stands, we absolutely need him to stay fit and score 20+ goals in the league this season. Not only do I think he will score that amount of goals – I expect him to, because the only thing stopping him is the injury-record. If he plays 30 games in the league this season he’ll score 22+ goals. No doubt about it. With Coutinho and Sterling replacing the Suarez-shaped havoc in behind him, Sturridge could thrive and at times keep up a goal-a-game ratio. Should also excel in the Champions League, but I’m not so sure he should be playing in that many of them, even though it seems impossible to drop him. One for another symposium! James Keen: Jordan Henderson. I felt he was last season too and that opinion only got stronger after his suspension at the end of the season. Yes Suarez was clearly our best and most effective player but Jordan is most important to how the team plays. If we are to do well, he will need to play and give his teammates the space and security to play. The arrival of Can may mean it’s less critical if Hendo is not in the team but his selflessness and willingness to learn would suggest he can improve again. Dan Kennett: Daniel Sturridge. If Sturridge can play two thirds of the season then I think we’ll be fine. The problem is that he’s highly susceptible to soft-tissue injuries and I think he needs to be 100% injury free to play at his brilliant best. Even a very minor injury seems to have a big impact on Sturridge’s performance. Shaul Mitelpunkt: One way to look at most influential player is to look for the trend-setter: the one whose positive performance would frequently translate to a Liverpool victory. For me that player this season might be Jordan Henderson: if Henderson continues with his impressive development even further he would be considered among the 3-5 best central midfielders in the land. If he presses opponents the way he has throughout last season, I can see his teammates finding the inspiration, the energy, the opportunity, and the space to do what they do best, and score goals. Jon Rushton: We’re a team based around scoring more goals than the opposition, which is a pleasure to watch - reminiscent of the great Brazil teams in our joyful abandon of defence in the search for the next goal. The temptation is to pick Lovren, and suggest that we’re about to get solid at the back too – but, frankly, I can’t see it happening. I think, more likely, we’ll be seeing more of the same – and that makes Daniel Sturridge by far the most important player this season. His goals per minute on the pitch is already phenomenal – and, were it not for his injury issues, I would have him down as a 30 goals a season man. Certainly, I think he’ll take the mantle of “Star Player” with a smile on his face, and go on to hit over 20 goals this season in the central striker role. Rodgers says that Sturridge can step up to being a World Class player. I think perhaps there’s a little motivational speak going on there – because, as far as I can see, he is already a World Class player and has been for the last 18 months. He will only get better. As a parting note on Sturridge: He reportedly joined on a three-and-a-half year contract (according to the Echo) – so, although it’s not massively urgent, I would hope to see a new contract signed over the next few months. Alun Evans: The little magician, Philipe Coutinho. If he can reproduce performances like the one we saw against Dortmund on Sunday on a regular basis then there is every chance that we may be seeing the birth of one of Liverpool’s greats and we’ll be very soon wondering who this Suarez bloke was that people keep going on about. Even if he maintains his customary inconsistency then he is still going to be a key creative player, one of the only players on the side that can produce something that makes you rewind the television to try to work out how he managed it. And Daniel Sturridge dances when he scores … key man this season? A player to be phased out or sold Daniel Rhodes: Glen Johnson. I suppose it’s the wages primarily, more than having him in the squad. Because he’s an excellent back-up to any potential upgrade on either side. Unfortunately, there are no stats on a player’s attitude for us to compare and contrast, but if I was in the business of making stats up on the spot, then Henderson is the benchmark with a maximum score of ten, and Johnson is the current wooden spoon holder at the club with a worrying five. But what does attitude mean and how do you define it and explain it? Working back to defend after trying to burst forward; positioning on corners and when a cross comes in from his opposite side; not learning that cutting back and shooting with your left foot is a bad decision; at times, his distribution and first touch, especially when you see him thread superb weighted passes sometimes; failing to even attempt to block a cross from a wide player attacking his side, and probably the worst one, half-heartedly wafting a leg or turning sideways to the cross, and becoming a much smaller target. He managed each and every one of the above examples at least once last season, and that is restricted to a sample including the goals we conceded and nothing else. I rated him before I went through all the goals, and one of the concrete conclusions I came away with was that Glen Johnson was a weak link for us last season. Which I never would’ve predicted before the campaign started. Dan Kennett: Martin Skrtel. Skrtel has never really convinced me but here we are seven years on and yet another Liverpool manager looks to be building a defence around him. James Keen: It pains me to say it but Lucas Leiva is done as a top level Premier League player. I love Lucas and wish him nothing but success but there’s no place for him at Liverpool anymore. He deserves a huge thank you and a great deal of love from everyone associated with the club. He was so nearly the player we hoped he would be. But for him I suspect a move to Italy, Spain or France would do him good. He’s a liability in the tackle now and we cannot afford to give away cheap free kicks. Shaul Mitelpunkt: We are a young team so beyond Toure who might retire next summer, few jump to mind as ‘phased out’ candidates. Somewhat counter-intuitively to our generally sound strategy of grooming your players, I would say that should some young player perform decently but fall just short of really impressing, we should look to move them next summer for a relatively hefty (circa 15 mil) sum. Suso, Kelly, Coates, and maybe Ibe could be on that list. Jon Rushton: Reportedly Kolo Toure will be on his way, which is no huge surprise. He started well enough, and is no doubt a great character to have around, but I don’t think he’s really at the same level that he used to be. If Kolo does depart, it raises an interesting question: given that Skrtel will be our only senior remaining right-sided centre-back​, will we then be back in the market for another? I would assume Agger is going, and – even if not – won’t be starting on the right hand side of centre defence. Lovren clearly prefers the left-side, with Sakho either rotating into the left or playing as back-up. And, in terms of players who could step up – Wisdom is already on loan, Kelly seems to only ever play as full-back (I’m not sure I’d want him as our only option if Skrtel was injured) and Ilori seems certain to be loaned. Coates could be an option, although that also seems a stretch. My prediction is that Kolo and Agger will depart, and we’ll be seeing another centre-back arrive. Alun Evans: I am sad to write this but the player most likely to be phased out is Lucas. I actually don’t think he’ll be sold as Brendan has specifically stated that he want’s strength in depth and having Lucas around gives us that, but with Emre Can performing well in pre-season and looking like he can offer everything Lucas does, and more, there doesn’t seem much chance of the Brazilian troubling the starting 11. Maybe a farewell season with captaincy of the League Cup side would be a good way to show him we appreciated what he did and now we’ve moved on. Who most needs to improve on last season? Daniel Rhodes: If he gets a run of games, see my answer above. Otherwise, this is a tough one. All the players who played a majority of the league games just need to continue with the form they showed in taking us to the verge of the title. If I was to be ultra-critical, I’d say Mignolet, especially dominating and communicating with his defenders. Thankfully, he did this superbly in the Dortmund game; both he and Lovren were very vocal and constantly making gestures to the rest of the defence. Another factor was the diagonal ball to the full-back situated near the halfway line. This happened at least five times, and I’m sure we won four out of five. Is that the ability of the full-back heading it, or the keeper for picking him out? Probably a bit of both. Dan Kennett: Simon Mignolet. James Keen: Mignolet. I’m still not convinced he is the answer between the sticks, there’s still a whiff of the temporary about him. He seems to have all the tools if only he can be persuaded to dominate the way his frame suggests he can. He is an excellent shot stopper and clearly a nice bloke. But is he nasty and shouty enough for a keeper? I’m not sure. Shaul Mitelpunkt: Lucas can still reclaim his position as the best defensive midfielder in the league, and be our rock in a title-winning team for the next seven years. Alas, should he continue his form from last season (when to be fair he was still recuperating from bad injuries), he would struggle to find his name on the team sheet. Should Rodgers and the physios manage to bring ‘the old’ Lucas back we have earned something immense. Should Lucas not improve this season, I’m afraid club and player would need to move in separate ways. Jon Rushton: Mignolet was pretty good and, to be fair, didn’t get much cover in front of him. He also improved his ball distribution massively, which can’t have been easy. But in terms of pure shot stopping and catching crosses (the goalkeeping “bread and butter”), he’s not a top class goalkeeper on the basis of last season. This season is his opportunity to come in and prove that he has what it takes to hold onto the gloves for a number of seasons. I do think goalkeepers are a bit like managers – if they are a disaster in their first season, sell them. If they are looking ok but not setting the world on fire, judge them on their second season. Goalkeeper can often be a role you grow into, especially if younger and having just changed clubs. Alun Evans: Glen Johnson. The right-back was all kinds of poor last season. With little or no competition for his place it looks like the England man has fallen into bad habits and really needs a proverbial kick up the behind (I think he could do with an actual kick up the behind, but advocating violence against one of our own players is possibly outside the scope of this piece). Competition for places is being introduced and if Johnson wants to keep his place in the side he’s going to have to get his head down and work. What position in the first XI still most needs addressing? Daniel Rhodes: We need a direct replacement for if Sturridge gets injured. Urgently. Dan Kennett: Left-back. James Keen: Left-back. A choice between Johnson, Enrique, Robinson and Flanagan is not really any choice at all for a Champions League club. If Moreno comes in, it would suddenly appear that we have depth there but I wouldn’t want any of the above to be our first and only choice at left-back. Shaul Mitelpunkt: With Enrique, Johnson, Flanno, Kelly and Manquillo all vying for the full-back spots, I would not be too concerned if we eventually fail to sign Moreno for left-back. In central defence as well as in central midfield we have a real embarrassment of riches. On the wings we have Sterling, Coutinho (depends on the formation), Markovic and Lallana, and this is before we consider Ibe, and even Borini potentially. Borini aside, there is plenty of pace and imagination in that group to make things happen. The one concern is a striker. Should Sturridge get injured (which will inevitably happen if hopefully not for long periods of time), we would currently need to rely on pace-less Lambert, or on Sterling, who is amazing but also a relatively unknown quantity when it comes to leading the line. Whoever it is needs to be fast, determined, and needs to have had at least 10 goals a season in him in the recent past in a decent league. I’m fairly confident we will sign *someone* for that position in the remaining weeks, though surely it won’t happen fast enough for the league opener against Southampton. Jon Rushton: Left-back is a bit shaky, although I ​appreciate both Johnson and Enrique have put in great performances in that position (as has Flanagan, in fact). But it doesn’t feel like its obvious who would start there – there’s room for someone like Moreno to come in and establish himself. But, given how we play, the key area for me is striker. If Sturridge gets injured, I’d love to see Sterling given a go at centre forward – but there’s no doubt we’d finish higher up the table if we went out and signed a versatile forward who has the ability to play up front. Alun Evans: Prior to our business in pre-season I would probably have said that full-back and centre-back needed the most attention, but with the addition of Manquilo and now Moreno, along with a hopefully rejuvenated Johnson, a year more experienced Flanagan and a returning Enrique, the full-back spot now looks strong. Lovren will help to beef up the previously porous defence. So, it looks like we’re just a striker short to replace Suarez (although you can never truly replace him, we do need someone who can bear the goalscoring burden along Sturridge). Surprise package – which player will push on more than expected? Daniel Rhodes: By the way the pre-season’s shaped up, Coutinho looks awesome. He’s like the new trigger for the rest of the team. As soon as he picks up the ball, Sturridge, Sterling and Henderson – as well one (or both) of the full-backs – push forward, making different runs but trying to offer plenty of options. He now, at will, seems to be able to find a team-mate, or just glide past his marker. I can’t really say direct opponent, because that’s the beauty of his movement, he drifts all over the place; in-between the lines, dropping deeper than the halfway line, he can pop up near both flanks and also presses well when required. It is pre-season, but if he carries this improvement into the season, then he could be a shoe-in for legendary status at the club or a £75m transfer to Real Madrid, depending how cynical my mood is at the time of writing. At this moment in time, he’s going to be a hero, and take your breath away at least once during every match he plays in. Dan Kennett: Joe Allen. He seems to be a largely forgotten man at the moment but I think he’s going to have a big role to play throughout the season. James Keen: Jordan Ibe can make a leap this year. He looks to have bulked out and looks strong and direct. We know he has the tools to succeed and hopefully Rodgers’ team can push him on towards where Sterling is. Shaul Mitelpunkt: He is hardly a surprise since he is one of our top billings, but I think Coutinho might move this season to the Mata/Silva/Hazard category of the most dangerous (and goal scoring) attacking midfielders in the league. His shooting is really close even when it misses – maybe Rodgers can calibrate that? If he does, Coutinho might be our brightest star come May. Jon Rushton: Ibe! If he can push his way in, he’s got it all. Although, I’m not sure he’d be a surprise at this point – we all know he’s excellent and a potential future star. I get the feeling Emre Can has been bought to go straight into the first eleven – and he might be more important than we think. ​ Alun Evans: It’s a tough one this, because I don’t think there are many players who didn’t perform last season as expected and those that did, have been replaced. Coutinho is ripe for a breakout season, but it would hardly be classed a surprise and I don’t think there are any young players on the verge of breaking into the first team like Sterling did. So, taking all of that into consideration I think Enrique could be our surprise package. The forgotten full-back is fit again and will be shielding the ball out of play at a pitch near you soon enough. He may just be vital to our success this season. Then again, he may get injured and spend the rest of the season on the bench. Which young player will make his 1st team Premier League breakthrough? Daniel Rhodes: Rossiter if Lucas leaves; Yesil, if he recovers from his injury; Suso, if he doesn’t go out on loan. Dan Kennett: Jordan Ibe. James Keen: Teixeira is now 21. We must be getting to the point where a decision has to be made one way or the other. If he’s not a regular at some point this season then I would expect him to move on before next season. Shaul Mitelpunkt: Obvious candidate here is Ibe. I rarely saw him play but the consensus seems to be that he is special. I would just add that I think Emre Can looked very comfortable in preseason and could be what Matic has become for Chelsea. I can easily see him fortifying his position before Allen and Lucas in our 3-man midfield. Jon Rushton: Ibe! Although, if the question is which player will make his debut (rather than breakthrough) – then Jordan Rossiter might get a chance.​ Alun Evans: As I mentioned in the previous question, I’m not sure there are too many youngsters ready to make the break into the first team. Markovic and Manquillo are both youngsters who will make an impact on the team this season, but as they’ve both been playing first team football for their respective clubs I don’t think they can be classed as a breakthrough. Which leaves us with Jordan Ibe. Probably the only youngster likely to make a significant dent in the first team plans, assuming he’s not shipped out on loan (he may have already, I haven’t been paying attention!) but if not there’s a chance that Ibe could “do a Sterling” and terrorise unsuspecting premier league defences. How should the Reds approach the Champions League? Daniel Rhodes: Consensus seems to be Rodgers will adopt a more reserved attitude, changing the pace, tempo and focus on attacking to a more balanced approach… I say we blitz each team, regardless of the opponent. Why not? Because we’ll lose? Common consensus also said we’d never score a hundred goals or challenge for the title, so let’s try it, and maybe get turned over – but at least it’ll benefit us long term and the players will constantly know how to treat each game. Many better minds than mine though seem adamant that it will be a humiliation, and that might be more detrimental than attempting to win a few cautious one-nils. Dan Kennett: Very seriously. We need to see full strength teams throughout the group stage until we’ve either qualified or been eliminated. James Keen: We should prioritise the league but the Champions League should not be dismissed. We are not yet in a position to guarantee Champions League next season, until we are we cannot take our eye off fourth spot. We need to have a go at the Champions League this year but if it’s a choice between players playing a Champions League game or an important league game, the league game wins every time for me. Shaul Mitelpunkt: Go for glory. In order to entice the biggest prospects we need to not show ourselves as also-rans, but to make headlines across the world. Beat Real Madrid, defeat Juventus, outsmart Bayern. This is the difference that might make the next Alexis Sanchez decide he has always loved the Beatles. In practical terms – I would take top-4 finish with group stage elimination over 6th spot and half-final exit. Nevertheless, I could be convinced to accept 6th spot and CL trophy number 6… Jon Rushton: All guns blazing, as they approached the Premier League last season. No-one will begrudge the team an early exit if they get the fans off their seats and remind us why we love those European nights. And that would be playing to our strengths. ​Frankly, we could win the Champions League this season. ​ ​That might sound fanciful after City’s struggles since qualifying, but we’re a very different beast – there’s no team in the competition that we couldn’t beat on our day. Alun Evans: With caution. We have a manager who has never coached in the Champions League before and a team that have very few experienced at that level. Of course, we want to win it, or at least to go as far as we can, but we need to appreciate that this season should be seen as a fact-finding mission for future forays onto the continent. However, success in the Champions League is the way we will attract better players to the club, so it shouldn’t be written off too easily. How should the Reds treat the domestic cups? Daniel Rhodes: With a huge dose of fringe and youth players. Dan Kennett: League Cup should make full use of the squad.  FA Cup should be prioritised much more seriously. James Keen: As opportunities for the fringe and youth players. Again we cannot allow anything to jeopardise our qualifying for Champions League again. It’d be nice to win something but we cannot have another season like Kenny’s. It would set us back again and we cannot allow that to happen. Shaul Mitelpunkt: Personally I cannot work myself to be bothered in the abstract. I want to see us play to win and I think we have the squad to compete, but I never want it to seriously jeopardise our league or CL runs. In other words and without beating around the bush, JoeP has converted me… Jon Rushton: Training for the youth and fringe players. Its a well worn debate, so that’s all I’ll say!… Alun Evans: On the other hand, nobody ever said they wanted to join a club because of their rich history in the Capital One Cup. Crap pitches, potential banana skins, lower-division clubs wanted to kick five shades of the brown stuff out of our players because they can’t get near them. Let’s leave the cup campaigns on the shelf this year and concentrate on consolidating ourselves as a top four side and improving our experience and reputation in Europe. Give Lucas the armband, Brad Jones the gloves and see which of the fringe players fancy pushing themselves into contention for a place in the proper match day squad. First team players should stay at home. Where will the Reds finish? Daniel Rhodes: Heart says top, head says third. Dan Kennett: Third. I don’t see how we finish above City or Chelsea over 38 games but I fancy our chances against all the other contenders. James Keen: Very very difficult this one. It could realistically be anywhere between 5th and 1st. I will stick my neck out and say 3rd though. Shaul Mitelpunkt: As Paul’s work has shown, title-winners in PL era were almost always either the winners or second place the preceding season. So… why the hell not? In important ways you could say we got stronger across most positions during the summer. Anything can happen with that many good teams out there, but I think that with the pressure again mostly on our rivals, we just might win the league… Jon Rushton: 1st. We’re going to win the league. I won’t be disappointed if we don’t, and I understand how difficult it is – but I have belief for the first time in years. We’re an awesome team, we’re going to do it. Alun Evans: It’s difficult to tell. There is a massive amount of change going on with 8 (EIGHT) new signings, most of whom can be expected to feature at some point in the league squad. How those signings gel together and gel with the existing squad is going to be key. That’s not even taking into account the other teams in the division and the likelihood that United are going to hoping to get back in the mix after a year in the wilderness. We’re a young squad so will say a small step back positionally but a step forward in experience and cohesion. I’m going to say 3rd. How many points will the Reds finish with? Daniel Rhodes: 78. Dan Kennett: As always I’m going to give a range. Based on our long term performance since the outstanding January 2013 transfer window, we should be looking at 76 points as the minimum target for this season. As much as we all want to think we can improve on last season’s amazing points return, I don’t see that as very likely. For me, if we get 84 points again this will be a massive achievement and very much above expectations. I think a ‘par’ score for us this season will be 76-79 points. Anything over 80 will be a good campaign. If we slip into the 72-75 point range then I think that will be a disappointing return. If we slip to less than 72 then Rodgers could be in trouble when it comes to his end-of-season review with John Henry. James Keen: We have to aim for 90 I think. I suspect the points totals for the top 6 will be higher this time so we should look to pull in mid 80s again. So 85. Shaul Mitelpunkt: I looked at the stars last night, and I saw Saturn was retreating. I also read in my coffee this morning and recognised the face of Bob Hope. Therefore, I project the not very modest 85 points! Jon Rushton: 88. Alun Evans: Somewhere in the mid-70s… I’ll plump for 74 Prediction for top 6, in order Daniel Rhodes:  1)    Chelsea 2)    Man City 3)    Liverpool 4)    Arsenal 5)    Man Utd 6)    Spurs Bonus: 7)    Everton Dan Kennett:  Man City Chelsea Liverpool Arsenal Man United Spurs James Keen: Manchester City Chelsea Liverpool Arsenal Manchester United Tottenham Shaul Mitelpunkt: Liverpool Arsenal City United Chelsea Spurs —- Oh my, Chelsea falling to 5 would be the cherry on the cake of our league title! Jon Rushton: Liverpool City Chelsea Utd Arsenal Tottenham ​ Alun Evans: Manchester City Arsenal Liverpool Manchester United Chelsea Tottenham Hotspur

Details
kopthaticon

TTT: Pre-Season Preview Part 1

By Chris Rowland, Mark Cohen, Andrew Beasley (Beez) and Dave Cronin. We asked several of TTT’s writers, contributors and top posters to dust off their crystal balls and give their thoughts on a number of questions about the coming season. This is the first instalment of their responses. Who will be our most important player? Dave Cronin: At the time of writing it will be Sturridge as we look like being over-reliant on his goals. I’m still hoping we will sign a striker or two to remedy that situation and, if so, I think our most important player will be one of Sterling or Coutinho. I see both being key to how we attack and I expect both to improve on their levels from last season. With or without new strikers to relieve the pressure on Sturridge, we will need increased goal returns from this duo but equally, for Sturridge and possible new recruits to be prolific, they will need Sterling and Coutinho to be creating chances for them. I have an inkling both are ready to really shine. Mark Cohen: The easy answer here is somebody hugely exciting like Sterling. While that will hopefully turn out to be the case, I would say that Gerrard will start the season as our most important player, especially in the light of Suarez leaving. I have been pleased with our procurement in the off-season but am worried that without Suarez, the side has not only lost its biggest talent, but also one of its most experienced players. Last season, our go-to guys were not only the best players but also the most respected in the dressing room. This is not always the case. Gerrard will be vital in stemming this lack of experience when the going gets tough. Chris Rowland: There are several contenders – Mignolet, Gerrard, Sterling, Coutinho, Sturridge - but in the end I’m going for Henderson, because he’s increasingly looking like our mojo, our metronome (if we’re to play the fast tempo, high pressing, energetic style of last season), and eventually our talisman as Gerrard fades from that role. Beez: As the squad currently stands, it’s nigh-on impossible to look past Daniel Sturridge, but I’m going to. Even had Suárez stayed I’d have expected Liverpool to score fewer goals this season, so now I’m even more convinced that they will. It will therefore be largely up to Dejan Lovren to ensure that the Reds rearguard can help Liverpool towards a good goal difference despite scoring fewer goals, so he could easily become our key player. A player to be phased out or sold? Dave Cronin: Always a hard question to answer. I am expecting Agger to leave before the transfer window closes so I think the established players mostly likely to be phased out are Lucas and Gerrard. The smart money suggests Can will edge out Lucas while Rodgers has already intimated that Stevie will be used more sparingly this season as he approaches the grand old age of 35 (that’s 63 in footballer years). It will be interesting to see whether Gerrard is rested for the bigger games or the lesser games. You could argue each way where his strengths will be most useful and where his weaknesses less costly. The day we go into a clash with City, Chelsea, United, Arsenal or Everton with a fully fit Gerrard on the bench will be a milestone day. Mark Cohen: Same answer as above – Gerrard. As the season wears on and the youngsters like Coutinho, Sterling and Markovic come into their own and realise that they are on a par with the best in the division, so should Stevie G finally find a place on the bench with sparing use being his main contribution. Chris Rowland: It may be that Reina, Agger and Lucas have all gone before the season begins, or at least by the end of the summer transfer window.  So for me it has to be Glen Johnson. I’m not sure what’s happened to him, as I wasn’t with Agger when he suddenly seemed to forget how to defend and Reina who suddenly appeared to forget keepers are allowed to try to stop the ball. But our right-back, although still capable of supporting the attacks down the right-hand side, seems prone to poor decision-making and possession loss when attacking and being either actually absent or bypassed as though he was absent when defending. Beez: It pains me to say it, but with the money invested in Sakho and Lovren over the last twelve months, it’s hard to see an Anfield future for Daniel Agger, and whilst he still has some form of resale value it would make sense to cash in now. I’d say Lucas Leiva is very much next in line here too… Who most needs to improve on last season? Dave Cronin: Simon Mignolet. I watched the 2013/14 Season Review the other day and it was notable from the highlights how many really good and crucial saves he made during our start to last season’s campaign. In spite of questions over his distribution and management of his goal area, his shot-stopping marked him out as a top goalkeeper. Then he hit a period where he made a succession of costly gaffes leading to goals conceded at City, Chelsea, Stoke and in the 2-2 home draw with Villa.  These were arguably as costly as Stevie’s slip, Skrtel’s oggies and Toure’s ‘own goal assist’ at West Brom. It may be a statement on a par with ‘if my aunt had balls she would be my uncle’ but if Mignolet hadn’t palmed Negredo’s highly saveable effort into his own net at the Etihad and everything else had stayed the same, Liverpool would have won the League. A top goalkeeper is crucial and Mignolet has this season to convince he is more than just a good shot-stopper when in form. Mark Cohen: For me it’s gotta be Coutinho. First, let it be said that ‘improve’ is all relative, because he is coming off a very high base performance wise. What I would like to see is the consistency emerge to his game to finally add him to the pantheon of Liverpool greats – because he is that good. If at the end of the season, Coutinho is mentioned in the ‘player of the season’ bracket, then you know we will be right there near the top of the league. Chris Rowland: Although still a decent shot-stopper – and that’s an asset to be under-rated in a goalkeeper! – Simon Mignolet needs to improve on two key aspects of his game, I believe. His distribution, though not as poor as some make out, could be better. But the big weakness is in dealing with crosses. He must be more assertive, more positive, almost more Grobbelaar-esque. There were times when Brucie came for a cross when he really shouldn’t have, but he was never going to die wondering. It would help the defence a lot and improve their collective confidence to be certain that the keeper was going to come and take charge. Beez: Will anybody say anyone other than Glen Johnson here? Hopefully the signing of Javier Manquillo will provide some serious competition which will inspire Johnson to regain his former glories. Beyond that, if Sturridge could improve his fitness record then I think we’d all be pleased. What position in the first XI still most needs addressing? Dave Cronin: At the time of writing, we need at least one more striker capable of scoring 20+ goals over a season. On average Sturridge misses around 30% of games and last season he also played many times when not fit. With Suarez gone and no adequate replacements signed, the need for Sturridge to play will be even greater and when he is unavailable, we look weak up top. Last season, defenders couldn’t just focus on Suarez with Sturridge also around. This season, they will be able to focus their attentions on dealing with Sturridge unless we get another dangerman in there. I want opponents to be as scared when facing us this season as they had to be last season and right now that is simply not going to be the case. Sturridge cannot replace Suarez because last season we had him as well as Suarez. If Sturridge replaces Suarez, who replaces Sturridge? In Suarez, we haven’t only lost a player who scored 31 goals and was credited with 12 goal assists (though his contribution to our goals scored column was much greater). We’ve also lost his ability to create goals out of nothing to change the course of a game that might otherwise not go our way. Look at the opening goals against West Brom (h), Norwich (h) and West Ham (h). Moments of genius from Suarez led to eventual maulings when frustrating 90 minutes might otherwise have been on the cards. Mark Cohen: Again, there’s an easy answer and an intuitive one. Striker is the easy answer, but for Rodgers system to flourish like never before, multi-talented full-backs are a must. When you are developing an attacking system to overwhelm defences, having seven attacking players is one of the modern secrets to achieving this. Since Suarez cannot be adequately replaced, it would probably be better to try and get world class attack minded full-backs to address the loss of the Uruguayan’s goals and assists. Chris Rowland: Full-backs are very important positions in Rodgers’ system, and given my reservations about Johnson (above), I think this is a vital area for us. But is it more important than striking options in support of Daniel Sturridge? We’re not trying to replace Suarez because you can’t. But you can offer another individual who represents a goal-scoring threat to the opposition, and I mean a first-team-ready attacker who can play alongside Sturridge rather than an occasional bit-part Plan B like Lambert (that sounds harsher than it’s meant to on Lambert, but he’s not going to be a first team regular starter, whereas this person must be). Beez: At the time of writing I would say left-back. The friendly with Dortmund suggested that Johnson may be deployed there, and Emre Can has experience of playing there, but they feel like ‘sticking plaster’ solutions. I’m still hopeful that Alberto Moreno will be brought in, but it does appear to be the weak link in the starting XI at present. Surprise package – which player will push on more than expected? Dave Cronin: I’m rubbish at answering this question. I hope it will be Mignolet. I expect the wider Premier League audience to be surprised by how much Sterling and Coutinho improve this season, though that probably won’t surprise Liverpool supporters. Mark Cohen: Sterling. “Aah!” you say  – “that’s not a surprise package!” Again, the answer lies in the fact that ‘surprise’ is relative. I would say that, such is his ability, that by the end of the season, he’ll be in the 60m bracket. By end of next season, “world’s most expensive player” stuff will be thrown around. He is a simply breathtaking talent that will take the league by complete storm this year. Chris Rowland: I don’t know enough of most of our new signings to say for sure what sort of impact I think Can and Markovic will have. I will expect decent contributions from Lallana and Lovren. I can’t answer Sterling to this because I already expect him to push on to greater heights. So my vote here goes for Coutinho. I want to see his patchy brilliance become more sustained and consistent, as pre-season suggested it might. Beez: Hands up who said Flanagan this time last season? This is a very tricky one to answer, as Rodgers seems to have a startling ability to get the most out of players more often than not, so who knows who might come to the fore? It’d be nice to think it might be Markovic, and he can progress swiftly from five goals and four assists in the Portuguese league to approaching double figures for both in the Premier League. No pressure, like… Which young player will make his first team Premier League breakthrough? Dave Cronin: I think Ibe might make the breakthrough to being an established squad player. He is raw and I can see him conceding a lot of possession and blazing a lot of shots high and wide to the frustration of better placed teammates but with his pace, he is the sort of player who could be utilised in many in-game scenarios (e.g. cruising to victory; shutting up shop and looking to counter-attack; chasing a game, etc.) so it wouldn’t surprise me to see him get some games under his belt. I’ll predict he scores his first senior goal this season. Mark Cohen: It looks like Ibe has a hand on that particular mantle. Chris Rowland: I wonder whether Ilori’s chance will come this season – he may be out on loan before the month is out. He looks an accomplished and speedy central defender, if a little slight. But I might opt for Ibe here (though the same applies!). It might be the season where he establishes himself in and around the first team. He’ll surely get chances, especially in the domestic cups. Beez: If he doesn’t go out on loan, I’d expect Jordon Ibe to feature more regularly this season, though I guess as the likes of Can and Markovic are only twenty years old, perhaps they should feature in this section too! How should the Reds approach the Champions League? Dave Cronin: Bus for home games.  Plane for away games. Re-qualifying for next season’s Champions League is this season’s No.1 objective, but a good showing in the competition this campaign will (a) help strengthen our reputation which will help both commercially and in terms of attracting quality players to the club in future transfer windows, (b) will offer reward and incentive for the players that got us into the competition in the first place, and (c) be great fun for the supporters. I don’t think it’s asking too much to field competitive XIs in both the PL and CL throughout the group stage. After that, you just have to go for it and see where it takes you. For the supporters, this feels more like 2004-05 where Liverpool go into most CL games feeling like underdogs after years of doing nothing in Europe (literally nothing in two of the last three seasons). It is very different to our final CL campaign under Rafa where we were just expected to emerge from the group and it felt a bit beneath us to be playing Debrecen, Lyon and Fiorentina having been used to eliminating the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter. Whoever is in our group, I expect carnival atmospheres at Anfield and a real buzz around this competition. Mark Cohen: This may sound churlish, but it should be approached like a glorious League Cup for now. The sadness of modern football is that it has become far more important to qualify for the greatest club competition on earth than it is to win it! On another note, there is really only one holy grail for us at the moment, and it starts with “the 19th….” Therefore, I would select sides more in tune with the weekend’s game than the weekday fixtures as the league is all important. If we get the knockout stage , well then – let’s have a go hey. Chris Rowland: I don’t see us as realistic contenders to win the thing – and before anyone says 2005, I know! The draw will give us a better idea of what our prospects might be, but getting through the group stage into the knock-out stage would be as far as I can really expect us to travel. We’ve got to get used to this caper all over again. But the league is top priority, ahead of the CL – and that’s not a stance I’ve always had in the past, given our love affair with Ol’ Big Ears. Beez: With the aim of finishing first, second or fourth in their group! Liverpool are in quite an enviable position here in a lot of ways; they won’t be expected to do too much, as both the manager and the majority of their squad a rookies in the competition, yet at the same time they have the ability to tear some very good teams apart. If push comes to shove, then getting back into the Champions League is more important than going far in it and finishing (say) seventh in the league, so any players carrying niggles should play in the league games and not Europe. I doubt Brendan will see it that way though! How should the Reds treat the domestic cups? Dave Cronin: When you’re in the Champions League, the League Cup is an unwelcome distraction. I would hope we field only fringe players/kids for as long as we are in the competition. In this season, I can’t see any scenario in which we should take the FA Cup seriously. Whether we’re chasing a top four finish or the title come January, we need to do anything and everything to optimise our chances and with the potential of further CL involvement post-Christmas, we don’t need an additional strain on our resources. Even if we were far behind the top-four challengers, I would still rather we focused on reining them in than do as we did under Kenny and prioritise cups while allowing our League season to descend into farce. Mark Cohen: With utter disdain. Chris Rowland: I’m not prepared to write them off. As Jordan Henderson said this week after the Dortmund game, “the aim is to go as far as we can in every competition.” Yet I do think all the fringe players and maybe a few from beyond the fringe should be employed to balance the burden on some of the mainstays. I think there’s a case for horses for courses here – I don’t want to see us taking on a heavyweight opposition with a shadow XI and risking humiliation, but nor do I want to see the full gamut of first teamers selected to play lower league opposition and risking injury and burn-out later in the season. The question is balance. Our squad strength is now greater, so hopefully we can cope better with the additional demands of the CL without needing to utterly dismiss the domestic trophies. The FA Cup is obviously the more significant of the two, and may assume greater significance come January if we fail to make it our of the CL group stage (although then we may find ourselves with the even greater demands of the EL to contend with). And for Rodgers to win his first trophy, even if it is a domestic cup, might be an important phase of the process not to be dismissed too lightly. Arsenal are talking of a load lifted after their FA Cup triumph last season, and the media say it’s taken five years off Wenger! Beez: It’s an obvious answer, but they should be reserved for the likes of Jones, Flanagan, Coates, Lucas and Lambert and anyone else who is not starting games regularly. However, I get the impression that Rodgers is keen to win a trophy (understandably so, as he has yet to do so) and I’m sure a number of the players do too; it may seem strange to us, but players tend to prefer medals to a pat on the back for finishing fourth, or whatever. Where will the Reds finish? Dave Cronin: I could envisage Liverpool finishing any position between 2nd and 6th. I think our good start last season was a key factor in our unexpectedly brilliant campaign. It gave us belief that we could compete and an incentive to keep performing unlike in other recent seasons where it has felt like the title race, and indeed Champions League qualification race, had sailed off without us before we’d even got going. With a much trickier opening fixture list to begin this campaign, the key questions will be (1) can we pick up enough points to put ourselves in the thick of the competition come October, and (2) if instead we should find ourselves trailing the top 4 pretenders at that point, can we draw on last season’s experiences to find the belief that we can string together a winning run to put us back into contention? Our previous campaigns immediately following 2nd place League finishes were characterised by mental fragility with the team never recovering from a bad start in 2009-10 and struggling to escape from a winless run stretching to 11 games in 2002-03. I’m really hoping this season will be different and will see us consolidate rather than drop back having peaked. Mark Cohen: The impossible question. In an alternate universe, Suarez stays, we don’t have to play CL and I reckon we win it. Now, much of the foresight in the question has been removed due to us all being unsure over ‘how good Rodgers is’ vs ‘how good Suarez was’. My guess is that we have one of the most remarkable group of youngsters ever to grace the game, and they have all been trained in the deadly art of ultra-attacking football. If they all fire and stay fit, we could win the title. Chris Rowland: I see a stronger Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal this season, and probably Spurs too. City have hardly weakened either. Utd have the advantages of no European football (hah!), an easy-looking first seven games to get confidence and points built up, and allegedly a fortune still to spend. Getting into the top 4 means finish above one of City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Utd. That’s going to be tough, but I’m going for 4th, with City the ones to fall out. Beez: Somewhere between third and fifth. Heart says the former; head says the latter….. How many points will the Reds finish with? Dave Cronin: 75-78 Mark Cohen: Probably around 84 again, with a similar amount of goals. One of Rodgers’ greatest achievements so far has been to remove the old noose round our necks of being a small-game struggler. Last season we smacked all and sundry below 10th in the table, and we will do the same again. This means that, provided we fight tooth and nail in the big games, we will have an excellent chance of achieving a similar points tally to last year, especially given Rodgers’ team propensity for improvement as the season wears on. Chris Rowland: I expect a drop from last season, but I expect that from all last season;’s top 4 as points are shared out a bit more. 75-78. Beez: This is so tricky to forecast. As great as we were last season, I think that on the whole the narrow margins tended to go in our favour when they hadn’t for a couple of years before. I think two points per game should be achievable though so I’ll say 76. Prediction for top 6, in order Dave Cronin: This may be a tad optimistic (which seems odd to say given I’m predicting we drop a position from last season) but: Man City Chelsea Liverpool Manchester United Arsenal Tottenham Mark Cohen: Liverpool Chelsea Arsenal Man United Man City Everton Chris Rowland: I’m backing us to finish ahead of at least one of the four teams who might be rated above us. I’m plumping for City, on the basis that they’re likely to be more focused on the CL this season. (PS This prediction was written BEFORE the Community Shield, honest, and is not just a knee-jerk reaction to it!) 1 – Chelsea (that hurts) 2 - Arsenal 3 – Man Utd 4 – Liverpool 5 – Man City 6 -Tottenham Beez: Man City Chelsea Arsenal Liverpool Manchester United Spurs

Details