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Season 2009/10 Preview

August 14, 2009
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After our best season since we last lifted the League Title all of 19 years ago, expectations surrounding Liverpool FC has reached new heights for the forthcoming season. Last season a lot of supporters (including myself) would’ve been happy if we’d put in a genuine challenge that didn’t fall away by January. We did that and then some as we finished 2nd with 86pts (a record for us since the Premier League began), only losing two league games in the process and scoring 77 goals (the most in the league) and conceding 27 (second best in the league). The stats looked great in the end but it still wasn’t good enough to land us the elusive 1st Premier League title we all so badly want. To make matters worse, the Rags equaled our record of 18 league titles in the process.

Genuine Challenger

We are now finally seen as a genuine title challenger after so many false dawns and missed opportunities under previous managers. Rafa has built an excellent squad of players which are starting to gel together nicely and it looked as if all we needed to make the final step up was a couple of top quality additions before the new season got under way. In signing Glen Johnson and Alberto Aquilani, I believe Rafa has done that, although the latter is a bit of a gamble due to his poor fitness record over the past two seasons. Aquilani won’t be fit for around 6-8 weeks so he’s going to be up against it when he is finally able to pull on the red shirt.

Not only does he have to adjust to a new country, new language, new faster/intense league and new methods on the training pitch but he’s also missed pre-season which is a valuable time for a new player to get to know his new team mates, how they play and what the manager wants from him out on the pitch. We may not see the best of Aquilani until next season but he still has enough quality to add a new dimension to our midfield once he’s fit. He’s more mobile than Alonso and looks to be more capable of supporting players like Gerrard and Torres than Alonso was. He has a cracking shot on him and is also handy from free kicks, so overall I’m quite excited to see how Aquilani will fit into our team. He won’t be able to match Alonso’s fantastic long range passing ability but he’s not a like for like switch so I think we’ll see us play a different, more direct & faster style of football this season now that Alonso has moved on.

Run and Deliver

Glen Johnson on the other hand is under far more pressure to bring his form from 08/09 into the new season and build on it. He’s excellent going forward using his pace and strength to support and get past whoever is playing right midfield and his crossing ability is going to be a big asset to us. His defensive game has also improved over the past couple of years and I believe Rafa can improve his positional sense, awareness and tactical nous without impeding on his natural ability to go forward. With a big fee hanging over his head, he simply has to at least match his performances from last season, after all he doesn’t have to learn a new language (although Spanish Scouse can be a bit tricky 😉 ) or get used to a new league so he should be able to settle into our system quite quickly. Big things are expected from Glen Johnson this season from me, so I hope he can deliver.

As for the Alonso saga, I was pretty annoyed it took so long for a deal to be concluded for his sale to Real Madrid but I believe Rafa was right to hold out for as much money as possible for him. Rafa is clearly working on a tight budget so there was absolutely no way he was going to let Real bully him into accepting a lower fee, despite Alonso making it clear he wanted to leave at the end of last season. We will miss his ability to control the tempo of a game with his short and long range passing ability and his composure on the ball, but once a player decides he wants to leave then it becomes a case of getting the best deal for the club sorted out. Rafa has spent at the most £37m on two players and has recouped almost that from selling Alonso, Arbeloa, Leto, Anderson, Hammill and other fringe players. I’m wondering where this mythical £20m “war chest” that Rafa was supposed to get (before any player sales) has gone to! 😐

Is Our Squad Good Enough?

After injuries to Carragher, Agger and Skrtel, we are left looking very vulnerable in defense now that Hyypia has left so it’s unclear just how much money Rafa has available to strengthen other areas of the squad. We’ve been linked with players such as Slyvain Distin from Portsmouth and Hull’s Micheal Turner. Neither are better than the 3 senior center backs we already have so anyone we do sign is going to be nothing more than a squad player in reality, once our main men are fit. Before pre-season I would’ve suggested giving some of our younger players such as San Jose, Ayala and Kelly a chance but out of the 3, only Kelly has impressed during pre-season (the other two look like they have the quality to succeed but they need more time to develop) so it would be a massive gamble to go into the new season relying on kids as back up to our 3 main center backs. Then again, why spend millions on a player that will make up the numbers when we could have some very good defenders this time next year coming through the ranks. It’s a tough decision and I don’t envy Rafa having to make it.

Taking recent events into consideration, my hopes for the new season have taken a bit of a battering. If we’d signed Johnson and kept Alonso and the rest of our key players I would’ve fancied our chances of going one better than last season. Now we are looking a little short in defense and midfield (especially while Aquilani is unavailable) and with a tricky game against Spurs away on Sunday, I’m less confident that we will better what we did last season. On the flip side, I’m very excited to see how Aquilani will fit into our side. He could be just the type of player we need to make that final step…

The “Big Four” and Man City

I think we have a very strong starting XI and around 4 or 5 good subs who can contribute to the team if and when they are needed but after that, our squad is still lacking that real strength in depth that seemed to cost us last season. Saying that, none of the other teams who finished in the top four have drastically improved their squads either. On paper, Man Utd and Arsenal look weaker after the departures of Tevez and Ronaldo from the former and Adebayor and Kolo Toure from the latter. It will be interesting to see how Owen and Valencia fit into the side. Arsenal are always unpredictable due to Wenger’s insistence on bringing through the young players he’s signed but Arshavin looked dangerous last season (I will never forgive him for his 4 goal salvo against us last season 😡 ) and the return to full fitness of Eduardo could make them a very dangerous team. Chelsea’s squad is pretty much the same as last season, apart from the addition of the Russian left sided player Zhirkov. Having a fit Joe Cole back will also boost their team, aswell as a fully motivated Drogba.

Man City should cause a lot of teams problems this season too after spending big money on some proven quality Premier League players. It’s going to be interesting to see how Mark Hughes shapes his City side and whether they can handle the extra pressure that spending a lot of money will now place on the team. They are definitely going to be a threat and should be considered as dark horses to break into the Champions League places. Outside of those teams, I can’t see any other team threatening at the top of the table. Everton, Villa and Spurs should be fighting it out for the Europa League places but I don’t think any of those teams have the quality to crack the “Big Four” monopoly that currently exists.

Optimist v Pessimist

The optimist in me thinks this will be our year to finally lift the league title. We have a very strong spine to the team and with the addition of Johnson and Aquilani, we should be a more fluid attacking force. With Gerrard and Torres in the side we have two of the most dangerous attacking players in Europe who work very well as a partnership. A lot rests on keeping those two fit and avaialble. Kuyt and Benayoun have proven themselves as important players too and I’m hoping they can reproduce their form from last season.

Having a fully fit and focused Mascherano available is also going to prove vital to how we play, especially with Aquilani and Lucas being more offensive minded than Alonso was. A lot also rests on Daniel Agger’s fitness. He can make a difference in tight games at home with his runs from defense and he is probably our biggest goal threat out of our three center backs, which is one area we are going to be lacking in even more now that Sami Hyypia has left.

The pessimist in me thinks our squad is just lacking some quality players to step in when the inevitable injuries and suspensions hit. Ngog looks like a promising player but he’s a handy player to have on the bench to bring on late in the game to use his pace, rather than someone you can rely on to deputise for Torres. Ryan Babel has to make an impact this season. He’s got the pace, power and ability to succeed but I question his mentality and decision making which makes me think he’ll never make it in this Liverpool team, unless he proves otherwise. Andriy Voronin’s return from his loan spell with Hertha Berlin intrigues me a little too. He can add something to the squad with his link up play but again, I wouldn’t trust him to deputise for Torres or Gerrard at this moment in time. He’s a bit of an unknown quantity but he does make our squad a little stronger.

We have some very promising young players that can boost our squad such as Nemeth, Pacheco, Kelly, Spearing and Plessis but it may prove too risky to use them this season, cup games aside, especially if we’re fighting for the title come March and April.

Prediction?

I think we will definitely challenge for the league this season, which is a big improvement over the past 19 years. We’ve rarely challenged for the title so to now be viewed as genuine challengers has to be seen as a good thing. No team has a devine right to win the league but some Liverpool supporters have unrealistic views because of our history of winning trophies. We should be happy that we are seen as a genuine force once again and look to maintain and build from that.

I think we can win the league this season but I don’t think there are any clear favourites for the first time in a long time. It’s going to be an interesting season that’s for sure…

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