The last few weeks have seen critical variables swing in the club’s favour to reinforce their claims to the Premier League title that had seemed to have fallen far from their reach.
Things couldn’t have gone much better for Liverpool in the last few weeks. Between the appointment of Roy Hodgson and Fernando Torres affirming his desire to remain at the club, Liverpool have gone from no-hopers to outside bets for the title. After all, it is still essentially the same class-flecked squad that Rafael Benitez guided to second place in the league only two seasons ago. Last season’s incongruous seventh place finish was generally down to a degradation of manager/player/boardroom relations, and Liverpool fans are now daring to dream that with a fresh start, the new manager has the nous to reassert Liverpool’s once strong title credentials. Of course, any assertions of title ambitions are premature, and the squad still has its deficiencies that may need to be addressed before Liverpool can realistically hope to compete for the title.
Much hinges on the performances of Fernando Torres, arguably the best striker in the Premiership, and among the elite few with a claim to being the best in the world. Nobody is quite sure which Torres we will see in the Premier League this season, the majestic presence that glides through the protein-shake-fortified defences of the Premier League with graceful ease, or the morose, injury-blunted and troubled striker with clear confidence issues. The most recent indications to go by are his dejected performances in the World Cup where his finishing was slovenly and his explosive instincts dulled, but last season, despite his injuries and the critical response to his slump in form, he still managed 18 league goals from 22 appearances. Although David N’Gog has recently moved to prove his worth with his first brace for the club against Rabotnicki in the Europa League, the slight striker is probably still not conditioned for full-scale Premier League football just yet. Torres is therefore perhaps the only reliable goal scorer at the club meaning it is imperative for Liverpool’s coaching staff to keep him fit, sharp and motivated to help provide the goal scoring outlet needed at the head of a midfield filled with supportive talent.
With the acquisition of Joe Cole to complement Steven Gerrard and Alberto Aquilani, Liverpool’s midfield looks like a powerhouse of visionary craft. Aquilani though is perhaps the forgotten man at Liverpool. The £17m recruit from Roma showed precocious talent in his days in Serie A, and if Hodgson can harness this sublime ability he will have the welcome problem of having to select between three of the most potent attacking midfielders in the league.
However, despite the strong attacking element Liverpool possess, the defensive department of the team is not so reassuringly strong. Javier Mascherano’s future looks uncertain, and the defensive midfield role he fulfils within the team may be difficult to restock or to manage without. The bellicose Argentinian made 178 tackles last season, more than anyone else in the league, and this helped to protect what was already a beleaguered defence from further deluges. Lucas seems an improving player, and he also ranked high on the tackles table last season, but he struggles to match the high levels of industry and anticipation that Mascherano brings to the side.
As for the back four, Glen Johnson has yet to settle and prove he is truly a fullback as competent in defence as he is in attack, and Hodgson has had to move to bring back the formerly released Fabio Aurelio to provide cover at the left side of defence. Jamie Carragher has probably left his best days behind him, and the other centre-back options of Martin Škrtel and Sotirios Kyrgiakos are equally as uninspiring. Daniel Agger remains the most able of Liverpool’s back line, a cultured player as confident on the ball as most top-level midfielders, but without adequate defenders around him and lessening cover in front of him, Liverpool’s defence looks suspect and Hodgson will look for options to tighten it.
As Roy Hodgson looks to gauge his ambitions for the season now fast-approaching, he will be confident he can improve on last season’s seventh place finish, and may even fancy himself to better his own achievement of last season and win a European final. However, there may be too many balls in the air for Hodgson to juggle to really expect Liverpool to mount a title challenge. Hoping that Torres, Aquilani and Cole will all stay fit for the entirety of the season is optimistic at best, and the cover to accommodate for the inevitable injuries a league campaign will bring is still not there. Liverpool fans can be hopeful, but there is work to do yet.
- Ciarán McManus