Few teams were more disappointed with their finish last year than Liverpool in the Premier League. Just two years ago, the Reds were just two points away from winning their first ever Premier League title and the striking combination of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suárez looked poised to set the league alight. 2014/15 took a different turn, however, after Suárez left for greener pastures in Barcelona and Sturridge was forced to watch the majority of the season from the sidelines through injury. A heavy spending summer and a discovery of style at the end of last season has Brendan Rodgers’ men looking more and more like title contenders, but is it enough to push them to a title?
The effects of Luis Suárez’s departure last summer are still being felt at Anfield. Last season, Daniel Sturridge was the highest scoring forward in the club with four goals, despite playing in less than 15 league games. The introduction of players like Ricky Lambert and Mario Balotelli proved ineffective as the strikers combined for just three goals. Balotelli, in particular, never came close to justifying the £16 million price tag that Liverpool spent to bring him to the club. As the summer draws to a close, it’s looking more and more likely that neither of these two signings will be returning to Anfield. Lambert has already departed for West Brom, and if media reports are to be believed, Balotelli is edging closer and closer for a return to Italy. The exit of these two has paved the way for a string of high profile strikers joining the club this summer and there’s optimism that they may finally be able to replace Suárez.
When Liverpool opens the season against Stoke City this weekend, four new strikers could be suiting up in their famous kit. Christian Benteke (Aston Villa), Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim), Danny Ings (Burnley), and Divock Origi (returning from loan with Lille) will all be competing for starting positions and the absence of Sturridge through injury leaves another opening in the squad. The favorites, however, have to be Benteke and Firmino. The big Belgian has already proven himself as a dominant striker in the Premier League, and Benteke already has a highlight reel goal to his name in a Liverpool kit. Firmino, on the other hand, provides a nice contrast to the size and physicality of Benteke. The Brazilian is a pacey striker with a trademark Brazilian flair on the pitch. Sturridge isn’t expected to return until a month into the season, and in that time frame these players will have to prove they deserve to stay in the squad.
Behind the strikers sit two of Liverpool’s newest icons: Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho. Henderson, 25, has been named the latest captain following the departure of Steven Gerrard and his style of play is very similar to that of the club legend. Usually sitting in more of a defensive role, Henderson relies mainly on his ability to read the game to break up attacks rather than physical strength. The Englishman also led the club in assists with nine, and racked up six goals along the way as well. Henderson’s midfield partner, Coutinho, made a habit of scoring highlight reel goals last season. His £8.5 million price tag is looking more like a bargain by the day and his influence on the field should only increase this season.
Another issue that plagued any top four hopes of Liverpool last season was their near porous defense. Out of the top ten finishers, the Reds had the third worst goal differential with just +4. At the end of the campaign, they had given up 48 goals and in just the last two matches they gave up nine goals. The addition of Nathaniel Clyne as a wingback and the continued growth of Emre Can at center back could mean a brighter future for the Anfield back line, but a lack of depth could cost them as they fight through the Europa League. You can’t win without defense and that may be what brings Liverpool out of title contention this year.
When May rolls around, I don’t think we’ll be talking about Liverpool as a title challenger. As seen by Everton’s drastic drop in finishing position, playing in the Europa League can bring on fitness issues and exhaustion into the fold and the farther they go into the tournament the more problems it can cause. A title push may be out of the question, but if they can stay fit a top four spot is more than attainable.