SOMEONE was always going to have to do this. It might as well be me, writes NEIL SCOTT. I’m going to level with you. I’m concerned.
Now, as a Liverpool supporter in the post-Suarez age I know that’s an admission of personal weakness. It’s a position destined to raise hackles. In fact, you’d probably elicit a similar level of sympathy by expressing a fondness for freestyle seal-clubbing. Blatant knee-jerkery, nothing that can’t be fixed by a quick wobble of the head and a reality check.
But right now, with the embers of last season barely extinguished and a fresh campaign on the horizon, I’m prepared to go out on a limb and say it.
I’m concerned. I’m worried. I have doubts. Forgive me.
I look around and in some quarters I see wild, unflinching optimism. Granted, it’s been tempered by the defeat to Manchester United, although any major shift in outlook on the back of a loss after five largely meaningless games in 12 days against quality opposition verges on the perverse.
I see those who are convinced we’re going to improve on last year’s performance. I see those who predict we’ll be a more balanced side without Suarez, as Rodgers will be able to revert to his preferred formation rather than enforce the bespoke strategies he developed to accommodate the available personnel. I see those who look to Raheem Sterling as our saviour-in waiting, primed for the chance to prove himself the natural successor to the volatile Uruguayan.
I see those people and I understand where they’re coming from. Their arguments are valid, even if they may be prompted by an element of instinctive defiance. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. It’s just that, right now, with the season almost upon us, I’m struggling to share their conviction. I accept that this does, without question, make me a bad person.
But hey, it’s pre-season. Everyone has the right to dream, to visualise the triumphs to come. Because if not now, then when?
And as Liverpool supporters, we have a broader capacity to dream than just about anyone. Last season’s ride, with its spills, thrills and bellyaches proved it.
So, as Robin van Persie said to Ruud van Nistelrooy in an imaginary conversation dripping with comic potential, why the long face?
Well, first off, it was always going to be incredibly difficult to emulate, let alone surpass, last season’s achievements, even had the league’s outstanding player chosen to remain at Anfield. 26 wins, 100+ goals, an 11-game winning streak, 84 points. Compared to Brendan Rodgers’ first season in charge, that represented an astounding leap forward – 10 more wins, 30 more goals, 23 more points.
Don’t underestimate the scale or the speed of the improvement. It’s virtually unprecedented in our history. It’s a smack in the eye to the notion of linear progression.
By Rodgers’ own admission, we overachieved, working on the assumption that 76 points (an average of two points per game) was the priority. This time last year, I don’t think anyone would have predicted we’d exceed all expectations quite so emphatically. It makes sense, then, to ensure that we now consolidate our position. And, as 76 points has been enough to guarantee a top-four finish in every one of the 19 seasons since the introduction of a 38-game campaign, perhaps we should again take that as our primary objective, at least until we have some idea how the season looks like panning out.
It might sound defeatist, and I admit, as someone brought up on the ‘First is first, second is nothing’ credo of the ‘70s and ‘80s, it’s not something I find easy to rationalise, but context is all. We can’t pretend that the last 24 years haven’t happened. The title has become our Kryptonite and a new generation of billionaire Lex Luthors are on the march. The first step is to establish a means to compete on a consistent basis. With Suarez gone, that becomes an even tougher challenge.
Suarez. You can’t have this discussion, unpalatable as it may be, without acknowledging the potential effect of his loss. It’s not just about the goals, though obviously they’re a luxury every team would prefer to have, given the choice. Because there’s no actual guarantee that we will see an increase in the goalscoring contribution from the likes of Henderson, Sterling, Allen and Coutinho as a means to compensate, just as there was no guarantee that Suarez would have been as prolific had he stayed. We’re venturing into the realm of the unknowable here.
But it’s also about his presence, about the psychological impact of having Luis Suarez on our teamsheet and on the pitch. Without doubt he became a symbol of this new Liverpool, its totem and its focal point. When things turned against us, we could look to him and know that here was someone who would sweat blood for the cause, yet who also had the quality to make the difference. There was a comfort in that.
Similarly, opposing teams would take the field knowing that they had to work out a way to neutralise his threat. More often than not they failed. It bred unease and fear in defenders. However much we’ve strengthened the squad, and it would be churlish to overlook the greater depth at Rodgers’ disposal, we’ll miss that.
Talking of opponents, it may not be a popular view but it is certainly plausible to suggest that, while we have to negotiate the integration of a raft of new players, all our main rivals will enter the new season in stronger positions than they were last time round.
Chelsea have recruited wisely, while somehow managing to offload Sideshow Dave, the only man to sport a potato where his football brain should be. It would be a surprise if they stuttered quite as markedly as they did last term.
Arsenal, as is their wont, fell away badly after impressing up to Christmas. Although their defensive frailties are yet to be fully resolved, the signing of Alexis Sanchez is a signal of intent and clearly boosts their attacking options. There is also the nagging feeling that Wenger has one more big season left in him. Excuse me if I’m getting a bit technical here.
And then there’s United, a club that paid the price for hiring a man who saw Marouane Fellaini as the cornerstone of a successful football team rather than something that had just crawled out of a skip on Sesame Street. Having a manager who knows what he’s doing is a step in the right direction. With van Gaal at the helm there is a sense that, at the very least, they’ll stop going backwards, though the mental scars of the Moyes experiment may run deeper than imagined.
All three have scope for improvement this term. As do Tottenham, maybe even Everton. For Liverpool, the potential to progress is limited by the scale of last season’s accomplishments. That’s going to be quite an obstacle to overcome.
Now I’m aware this is threatening to sound like a catalogue of despair. That really isn’t the intention. But there are clearly some issues that are yet to be fully resolved, with barely a few days to go before the campaign starts.
We are no nearer to knowing the precise composition of our first-choice defence than we were three months ago. We remain short of specialist goalscorers, a skill that is easily overlooked but, as we saw last year, is crucial to any team looking to seriously challenge at the top end of the table. You can create as many chances as you like but unless there’s someone there capable of bouncing the ball over the line, with knee, toe or arse if required, all the pretty football in the world is ultimately wasted.
As for Raheem Sterling, I absolutely believe that he will come to be recognised as a player of genuine world-class standing. I’ve felt that since the day he scored five at Anfield in the FA Youth Cup in 2011. But he’s still just 19. We can’t load all our hopes on his deceptively robust shoulders. We can’t rely on him to solve all our problems.
If it’s any consolation I’ve always been a bit of a worrier. When we were pillaging trophies in the 80s like crazed Visigoths on shore leave, I spent much of the time convinced that we’d lose every game. As a general rule my glass is neither half empty nor half full. It’s cracked.
And there are genuine reasons for optimism right now. A team bursting with exciting young talent; a manager who seems to grow into the role by the week; the experience gained from an intoxicating title chase. But I worry people now have expectations that are almost impossible to reach. And I worry that any failure to scale the heights of last season will be seen as a catastrophe.
If I’m right, we’re going to need patience, level heads and an understanding that sometimes you have to go back to go forward. If I’m wrong, forget everything I’ve just said. I’m just another jaded old grouch who’s too scared to dream.
Either way, things are about to get interesting. Time to strap yourself in.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda
Whilst I can (kind of) see the reasoning behind being cautious about the new season. The omission of sturridge as the proven goal scoring threat is baffling. He has scored goals for fun since his arrival and today’s showing implies there is no reason to suspect he’s about to stop. Yes Suarez was a freak last season and had a season few could hope to emulate, but league titles have been won without those sorts of players and the league this season Is devoid of that world class player who will single handedly win it.
If today’s performance is anything to go by then some of your worries can be put to the back of your mind.
I know, I know….it’s only a pre-season game….yada, yada, yada. But it’s all we’ve go to go by post Suarez and the purchase of new recruits. And we have looked pretty good pre-season, topped off by a great display today.
Add a goal poacher to the mix and we should be good to go.
That’s what i always find amusing among the perpetual miseries that appear to be writing on here more and more these days, Liverpool take Dortmund to the cleaners with a lovely display of fast, slick passing and great finishing. The two new lads look like they have played with us for years… but it’s only a friendly etcetc if the score had been 0-4 then the wailing and gnashing of teeth, calls for the manager and FSG to be booted would have been deafening.
So fucking cheer up the season starts next weekend and if we play in that style its going to be a good one.
These are all legitimate concerns. Liverpool must make up 30 goals. They must come from Sturridge, an alternate to Sturridge, new signings, existing players stepping up, and better defence.
The evidence against Dortmund is that the defence is on the way to being sorted and that’s a big key. What’s missing, that you brought up, is that player who can take the game and put it on his back.
The likes of Henderson, Lovren & Sturridge must become the leading characters that were Carragher & Kuyt to name 2 of several. Lovren looks the biggest leader but there must be someone with goalscoring prowess as well. Most of this team is still too young which is good for the long-term but Liverpool may be just a little short of greatness for a couple more years.
With that said, I still see the Reds as better than Arsenal and Chelsea over the course of the whole season. I expect Manchester United to improve but not enough. The title is a possibility, 2nd or 3rd is more realistic.
Don’t get so hung up on doom and gloom.This is a new season.Just don’t go if you feel like that!
There’s no point.Why beat yourself up about what might go wrong when you can breeze in next week and prepare for another roller coaster of great football?
It wasn’t’ all Suarez last season.We’ve got some pretty good players here.
Anyway I guess you think that City have no chance this year?And if you read some of the papers ManU will walk it! City got battered by Arsenal and ManU beat us?
No point in going then is there?
It’s all very easy to say and, at times, I have felt the same. Suarez lining up with Sturridge helps Sturridge regardless of whether or not he passed to him or scored. With Suarez next to him, Sturridge would inevitably get more space. Now the defenders can spend all their time focusing on Sturridge and eliminating his threat. Right? Wrong?
The threat is still coming from Sturridge, Coutinho, Sterling, Gerrard, Henderson, Lovren and Johnson. If anything, this season may see a reduction in teams parking the bus (at least at the beginning of the season). We will be playing B-Rod’s first choice system(s) and finally look like we can adapt tactics in-game due to the subs. What we need is coverage for Sturridge rather than a replacement for Suarez. If Sturridge gets injured we will look horribly under-prepared for the season having received £75m.
Also, the stats don’t lie. I would understand a perceived over reliance on statistics if we were drawing conclusions from a 3-match ban, but he was banned for 18 games and we won 11, drew 5 and lost 2. The first ban was during a real transition (W3 D3 L2), with half the current squad missing from that team. The second ban of 10 games represents a massive chunk of any season – W8 D2. We can draw conclusions from these results.
It’s okay everybody.
We’re going to win the league!
Everyone is worried that Sturridge will get injured. What about Costa? If the guy who missed the biggest games at the end of last season manages to get a tackle too rough, do they go back to Torres?
Meanwhile, even if we don’t get a new striker – something that seems implausible at this stage – it seems clear that Sterling is entirely capable of leading the line (or playing FB, for that matter). The team on the pitch against Dortmund could simply absorb Lallana and we’d still be a fearsome prospect.
Add to the mix Jordan Ibe to come on as an impact player, something Aspas, Alberto, and Moses distinctly did not offer last season.
Personally, I don’t think we need to add 31 goals back – we’d certainly enjoy it, but that’s not exactly the mother of invention. With the quality of Sakho sitting on the bench yesterday, Lovren’s presence suggests our goal difference may continue to impress.
Why does everyone assume the new signings at all the other big clubs are going to bed in better than ours? And as others have said – just roll with the ride and enjoy it. If we can play anything like we did in the 30 minutes I saw against Dortmund yesterday, the it’ll at least be fun…
Any team would miss Suarez but it isn’t actually a 31 goals loss is it.? That figure presumes that his replacement would have scored no goals .( Ok , maybe Aspas could have managed that ) But say we’d had , oh, Loic Remy last season-surely he’d have scored 12 to 15 league goals..
Agreed we need a good, solid striker . Doesn’t have to be a superstar -John Aldridge wasn’t , was he.?
But look at the plus points-
It’s just about guaranteed that we will concede less this season if Lovren stays fit.
And ,unlike last season, we now have tons of game changing creative talent to come offl the bench .
And our young players will have the benefit of a year’s development and the vital experience of a title tilt.
We may struggle to match those emphatic wins over Arsenal, Everton , Spurs and the hapless Mancs but we finally seem to have mastered the art of putting away the lesser teams and I can’t see why that should not continue.
You and Jim are leading a cavalcade of despair that’s threatening to ruin the high I got from watching us dismantle Borussia Dortmund. Kindly stop. You’re making me feel as if I have to resort to knee-jerking to the opposite extreme, wherein our pre-season friendly triumph is, in fact, entirely indicative of what our League, F.A. Cup, and UCL form will be.
Cheers for all the comments. Plenty of good points. Though I’d dispute that this site has more than its share of ‘perpetual miseries’, myself aside – if anything, I was trying to provide a bit of balance in light of the admirably optimistic tone of other contributors.
I think my main contention is that there are a lot of assumptions being made about our prospects this season: that Sturridge will have as good a season as last, that the midfield will make up the balance in goals scored, that Sterling will be able to shoulder greater responsibility while receiving closer attention than he’s been used to previously, that the new signings bed in to our way of playing quickly and smoothly. And while it’s entirely plausible that these assumptions will be borne out, it’s also possible they won’t. We’re probably not going to have any idea until Christmas at the earliest. I just choose to rein in my expectations – doesn’t make it any more valid than someone convinced we’ll win the quadruple. But it also doesn’t mean we all have to sing from the same hymn sheet.
The reality is I’m getting quite excited about the season now. Amazing what a good win can do for you. Just don’t tell anyone, there’s a love.
Funny thing as it is, we are stressing so much on things that we can’t control i.e. the future of predicting the Premier league table. i will still watch a match with the curiousity and excitement of a 10 year old than be an 80-year old cynic. It’s football, and as long as we get to see BR and Liverpool play the way they did against Dortmund, i wouldn’t worry a lot about the next game. Pre-season or Champions League final, imagine that Coutinho assist to Sturridge. Nerve tingling, titilating.