The dark cloud that was the end of the Hicks/Gillet reign has been lifted by the approach of John Henry and his team at the Fenway Sports Group. FGS have quickly compensated for their lack of footballing knowledge by surrounding themselves with a group of qualified, determined and experienced minds. Damien Comolli joined the club and since January has helped oversee the introduction of a series of very interesting, if expensive, signings. The new policy of recruiting young, hungry and mostly British stars at the expense of older, highly paid, overseas players has been met with the universal approval of the fans. In Comolli, Henry and Co have found a very knowledgeable “soccer (football) scout” who takes a similar statistical and analytical approach to scouting players to the methods they employ so successfully at their more familiar baseball franchise across the pond. Liverpool supporters are often noted and derided for there over exuberant pre-season optimism. “This is our year” has become a bit of a comedy catch phrase when referring to supporters of the Anfield side during the summer months. Unfortunately, for the red half of Merseyside, it dates back to the time when the Premier League was formed. In recent years events such as the 2005 Champions League victory as well as the second place finish in the 08-09 season have helped exasperate and magnify this perennial sentiment.
To counter this cliché I did a quick straw poll of my own and asked friends and peers via Facebook and Twitter for their thoughts. I learned that Liverpool fans, in general, are being more realistic. Those Liverpool fans that answered with their hearts suggested that 3rd place was an achievable goal this season, those that followed their heads considered 4th or 5th place to be more realistic, but that would of course depend on how ready Arsenal are to crumble and give up their perennial right to Champions League football. In contrast, those that follow other clubs felt that Liverpool could, at a stretch, make the top 4 but the dreaded battle for Europa League football would be a far more likely scenario.
The one key area for optimism, that as yet has gone unmentioned, is of course the return of the King. Kenny Dalglish replaced Roy Hodgson in January and has never looked back. He took charge of a team that were hovering around the relegation zone in January and delivered the kind of form between then and the end of the season that would have seen them as comfortable Champions League qualifiers, had he been in charge all season.
This feel good factor is something that Kenny Dalglish will have to maintain and the return of the triumphant Luis Suarez from an extended summer break will of course help boost the morale of the team further, after what has been a mixed bag of preseason results.
This summer Dalglish has taken advantage of Comolli’s heavily statistical approach to transfer policy. The arrivals of Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson to the club show that Dalglish is clearly working to a similar formula to the one that served him so well in his first stint as manager. These three players can provide the kind of quality passing, crossing and set piece delivery that is the right ammunition to help the likes of Andy Carroll and Suarez score more goals. Comolli’s influence is clearly underlined here as well; his experiences at both Arsenal and Spurs in the past have taught him that British player’s bed into the premier league far quicker. However, if for whatever reason these don’t make the grade at Liverpool, they are far more likely to maintain some resale value if they need to be moved on, with British players having an added premium for, well, being British, especially if internationals.
When reviewing Liverpool’s transfer activity thus far, it also looks like the club is also going to give youth a chance. The squad already boasts a number of young talented defenders in the form of John Flanagan and Martin Kelly in particular, who look like they are going to get the opportunity to build on their introductions to regular first team involvement at the end of last season.
The new signings across the midfield as well as the younger home grown players coming through, like Jay Spearing, mean that Liverpool now have something they have lacked in recent years; genuine competition for places.
In terms of squad development however, Liverpool are still a few steps behind Manchester United, Manchester City and possibly even Chelsea, but surely in a position to challenge Arsenal and Spurs for 4th place. This is especially prevalent when you consider they don’t have the distraction of European football this season.
For me, Liverpool’s final position will be dictated by three key factors. The first being a good start to the season and if Dalglish and staff can maintain the optimism of the entire squad. The second being that Suarez maintains his form from the Copa America and the third will be the return of Steven Gerrard from injury, how he fits into the “new Liverpool” lineup and if he still has the motor in him to lead the team to glory.
In summary, Liverpool fans should be happy, confident and looking to return to the top four. Should they be saying “this is our year?” Maybe not just yet.
Predicted Finish: 4th
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