Reasons Liverpool will finish in the top four

Posted: June 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

1- Liverpool is a Champions League pedigree club.

There are only two teams certain to finish within the top four next season : Manchester United and Chelsea. The other two places will be between Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham, and Manchester City. Against two of these teams, Spurs and City, Liverpool have a particular advantage – Champions League pedigree.

Pedigree counts for a lot, and it is something you can’t just go out and buy. When I talk about pedigree, I am referring to certain qualities engraved upon the psyche of a club. The norms, expectations, philosophy, and attitudes of the club. Qualities of a club which are built up over generations, and in the case of Liverpool, have the given the club a fearlessness which only the elite have. There’s a reason “This Is Anfield” sends waves of fear through visiting players in a way that a “This is White Hart Lane” sign could never possibly replicate.

Liverpool’s European Cup tally is bested by only AC Milan and Real Madrid. In the last 10 years the Reds have only failed twice to qualify for the Champions League. For Liverpool, failing to qualify is an aberration and not the norm. On the other hand Tottenham and Manchester City have between the two of them only qualified twice for the Champions League in the last 20 years. Liverpool see the European Cup as a birth right, for Tottenham and Manchester City it is a novel privilege.

Should the fight for fourth spot go down to the wire next season, it is the confidence bred from the club’s pedigree that will carry Liverpool over the finish line.

2-  Bad ownership and management are no longer obstacles

For a period of roughly 18 months, from the end of the 2009/10 season to the appointment of Kenny Dalglish as manager this past January, bad ownership and manager were holding back Liverpool from performing as they should.

I think everyone knows the damage wrought by Tom Hicks and George Gillet- the poisonous atmosphere they created, failing to properly invest in the first team, and the economic uncertainties brought about by their leveraged by-out.

Gone also is the worst manager Liverpool have had in the post-Second World War era. Roy Hodgson, who had “no qualms” with losing the city derby was a bad appointment which resulted from the bad ownership. King Kenny’s return means nothing short of victory will ever be considered acceptable.

Now that Fenway Sports Group hold a controlling interest in the club, we have owners who have been voted as the best in North America for their handling of the Boston Red Sox. From day one their usage of the term “club” as opposed to calling Liverpool a “franchise” showed a better understanding of the culture around Liverpool. Financially Liverpool are no longer in a sell-to-buy position. This will allow real progress in the quality of the first team.

3- Liverpool has one of the strongest spines in the league

Believe it or not , of the six teams competing for next year’s Champions League spots, Liverpool is the only club which does not require any major changes to the spine of the team.

The roster of Reina- Carragher – Lucas & Gerrard – Suarez & Carroll means the basis of a title-winning side is already in place. The additions which Liverpool will be making to the squad will have the aim of improving options from the bench and out wide.

On the other hand Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, and City have to make changes to their squad in the most critical positions – changes which if not handled properly could cause a crisis on the pitch next season.

Manchester United have to replace Edwin Van Der Sar and Paul Scholes. A very unenviable task for Sir Alex, especially given his poor record in signing goalkeepers. It took him years to find a suitable replacement for Peter Schmeichel, and if he doesn’t do any better this time around United may struggle next year.

At Arsenal goalkeeping has also been an issue for years. Wenger for some reason or other does not take this problem as seriously as he should (to the benefit of the rest of the league). In central midfield there is a great deal of uncertainty, with Fabregas almost certain to leave, and Samir Nasri also voicing dissatisfaction. Wenger will have to make major changes to Arsenal’s engine room if either or both leave.

Tottenham, again also have no quality in goal (notice a trend?). Hilario was universally recognized as the worst keeper in the in EPL last season, and so far Redknapp has given no indication that Tottenham will be much stronger in this department next season. Upfront, Tottenham need a complete overhaul of their strike force. This will be very expensive to properly resolve, and Spurs likely don’t have the cash to sign A-list strikers such as Kun Aguero.

Manchester City also have a serious problem up front. They have been far too reliant on Carlos Tevez who is desperate for a move to Italy or Spain. City’s other strikers- Ballotelli, Dzeko, Jo – have all been very expensive flops.

At Chelsea the signing of Fernando Torres will be a source of headache for whoever replaces Carlo Ancelloti. To get the most out of the most expensive centre forward in the world Chelsea will require an equally expensive signing in either midfield or upfront. Torres’s success at Liverpool was directly connected to the service he got from Steven Gerrard. Chelsea currently have no one in midfield with the same aptitude for killer through-balls. And there other two strikers, Drogba and Anelka, are not suitable strike partners for Torres. All three senior strikers play better alone up-front, or with a deep-lying forward (roles performed by Kuyt and Gerrard for Torres when he was at Liverpool).

4- Kenny’s record against the competition.

Since taking control of Liverpool, Kenny Dalglish has proved that the team is more than capable of competing against our closest rivals in head to head games. Convincing wins against Chelsea, Manchester United, and City was a clear declaration to the rest of the league that Liverpool will be aiming for not just a top four finish, but a genuine title challenge.

Included among some of the LFC’s more impressive performances was also a draw away at Arsenal with a team that relied heavily on reserve and academy players. The only loss against any of the top five sides was a loss to Spurs at home near the end of the season, in which the team as a whole looked fatigued. With a healthy team and enhanced squad depth, Liverpool will be looking to collect wins against both Tottenham and Arsenal next term.

Even while Roy Hodgson was in charge of the team, Liverpool scored a win against Chelsea, and a draw against Arsenal. In the first half of the season, the games Liverpool lost against Manchester United, City, and Spurs were all by a narrow margin. That’s a clear indicator that the problem was never with the players, but with the management. Now that Kenny Dalglish will be at the helm for the entire season, don’t be surprised if Liverpool manage to do the double against most of the five Champions League rival sides next season.

5- Gerrard will be back and fit

One of the more surprising facts about Liverpool’s revival is that it happened largely without Steven Gerrard. Some (foolish) observers have tried putting forward the idea that Gerrard’s abilities are now in terminal decline since he is now in his thirties. While it is true that these past two seasons have not been the skippers best, this does not mean he is no longer the best midfielder in England.
Gerrard underperforming has probably had more to do with the depressing atmosphere around the club before Dalglish returned (he has commented on this), and fitness issues. Last season was a World Cup year, which often affects many of the top players. And of course there was the matter of the groin injury he had picked up – a problem that has reportedly been successfully resolved with a minor surgery. All of these obstacles have been removed, and I have every confidence that Gerrard will silence the few critics he has. Look for Gerrard’s goal tally to hit double figures as usual.

6. The most terrifying front line in the Premiership

Three reasons defenders will hate playing against Liverpool : Luis Suarez, Dirk Kuyt, Andy Carroll.

Even without taking into account the additional signings the club has promised it will make, Liverpool already one of the most potent attacking lines in England. The chemistry and balance which Kuyt, Suarez and Carroll have between the three of them could not have been better designed. Each striker has their own unique skill set which perfectly compliment the others.

In Dirk Kuyt we have a striker who defends from the front, harassing defenders, causing them to make costly mistakes. Kuyt’s link-up play between midfield and the targetman is among the best in the Premier League. Johan Cruyff didn’t say he was “worth his weight in gold” for nothing.

In Andy Carroll Liverpool have one of the most physically imposing forwards around. His height will add the extra dimension of a genuine aerial threat to the attack (a quality that has been missing for years). Aside from these qualites is his rather impressive strike-rate. At only 22 years old he is already averaging one goal every two games over the past three seasons. Expect this ratio to increase now that he is playing with more talented players compared to his Newcastle days. Should he stay fit, he will easily hit 20+ goals next year.

And on a final note, I think I’ll mention a certain Luis Suarez.

I don’t think there has ever been a more phenomenal start to a career in the Premier League than what Suarez accomplished last season. Jamie Carragher has already said that should Suarez have a nice long stay at Liverpool “he’ll become a bigger legend than I ever will”.

Statistics can’t properly indicate the extent of influence he can have on a game, but expect him to bag at least 15 goals and many more assists in 2011/12. With a full preseason to train with his strike partners he will only improve his form. He may be a smart bet to win the PFA player of the year.

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