Liverpool in 2014/15 – Life after Suarez

Read Leicester City in 2014/15 – Can the Foxes maintain their momentum?

Read Man City in 2014/15 – Mangala can help push European ambitions

Brendan Rodgers guided Liverpool to a very respectable second place finish last season, and came close to bringing the title to Anfield for the first time since 1990. His brand of direct and fast-flowing attacking football stunned defences and won plaudits all season, with the performances of Luis Suarez leaving fans of any allegiance with their jaws dropped. Many of their victories came in games that were over by half-time, with the Uruguayan and Daniel Sturridge leading the demolition men.

The young and dynamic squad had a strong English contingent which led to Roy Hodgson calling up Sturridge, Gerrard, Sterling, Henderson and Johnson to his World Cup squad; all five players started the opening group game against Italy. Rodgers had created a ruthless but cohesive attacking unit which netted 101 goals in the league, helped hugely by the influence of the controversial Suarez, who was banned for the first five Premier League games. His partnership alongside Sturridge was devastating, while Sterling, Coutinho and Henderson all showed development as the season progressed. Ex-Swansea manager Rodgers was recognised for his achievements by taking home the LMA manager of the year award in May.

Aims for this season

After seeing Luis Suarez depart to Barcelona for £71m, a staggering amount for a player who turns 28 in January, Rodger’s main aim in 2014/15 is to try to match the extraordinary feats of the Uruguayan striker. Suarez scored 31 league goals last year, accounting for almost a third of their total and ten more than Sturridge managed. He also notched 12 assists last season, as many as both Sterling (5) and Coutinho (7) combined, so the manager’s task is not going to be an easy one. New signing Lazar Markovic scored only five goals and created four assists for Benfica last season, while incoming Adam Lallana equalled Sterlings tallies of nine goals and five assists.

His ex-Southampton teammate Rickie Lambert’s performances last season seem to suggest that he could be a surprisingly natural successor to Suarez. Both managed over 100 shots last season, with Lambert’s 51% shot accuracy only slightly shy of Suarez’s 53%, and narrowly edging Sturridge’s 49% from 99 shots. Lambert, as well as scoring 13, made ten assists last season, three more than Sturridge, and created 53 chances for his teammates compared to Suarez (87) and Sturridge (29). The ex-Southampton man also scored two direct free-kicks last year, compared to the three Luis Suarez netted. Obviously, Lambert lacks the mobility and dynamism Suarez boasts, and Rodgers will have to find a way to utilise his new striker within his existing system if he is to get the best out of him.

Worringly for Rodgers, without Saurez’s contribution to goals and assists, Liverpool’s goal difference would have been only +6. A slightly silly argument, granted, but it highlights the ease in which teams found the net against their defence last season. With 50 goals conceded, only Tottenham, Stoke and Newcastle yielded more in the top ten. Dejan Lovren has been brought in to plug the leaky defence, again from the Saints, while the club have made no secret they are in the market for a left back after Aly Cissokho’s unsuccessful loan spell. Rodgers may also be wary of Simon Mignolet who certainly must be held at least partially responsible for the Reds’ weak backline. The Belgian stopper made the most goalkeeping errors that led to goals conceded in the league with five, while his overall save percentage was a lowly 68.15%, compared to Petr Cech (77.14%) Tim Howard (75.17%) and Wojciech Szczesny (73.03%).  Mignolet also only managed ten clean sheets last season compared to Cech (16, Howard (15) and Szczesny (16) and with the news that Pepe Reina has joined Bayern Munich, Rodgers may well seek out some competition to truly test Mignolet’s right to the No.1 spot.

Key summer signing so far

Dejan Lovren. While Martin Skrtel was probably Liverpool’s standout defensive performer last season, the Croat’s performances for Southampton weren’t too far behind. Lovren (48) won 12 more tackles then Skrtel (36) last season, and around twice the amount that Sakho (25) and Agger (20) managed. He also made more interceptions than the other three with a total of 84, compared to Skrtel (61), Sakho (27) and Agger (27). And while Skrtel achieved the highest totals in the amount of blocks, clearances and aerial duels, Lovren surpassed Sakho and Agger across all three categories, most notably in aerial duels won – with Lovren (98) more than doubling the totals of Sakho (46) and Agger (45).

Predicted finish: 5th

Sadly, I think Rodgers is going to struggle to find the cohesion in his side so immediately this season, as Luis Suarez really was the provider and finisher of so many important goals in the league. He is actively looking to shore up his defence which is must, but I sense the introduction of frequent Champions League fixtures into his calendar may test the limits of such a young and inexperienced side. This season will be mostly a transitional season, laying the foundations for life without Luis Suarez.

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