So he’s gone. The undisputed master of mayhem – both on and off the pitch – has finally packed his bags and left, with only the memories, sublime and ridiculous, remaining. A fair price has been exacted; perhaps not in terms of sheer ability, but Suarez was never judged on ability alone. In the wake of his departure, much has been made of Liverpool’s spending spree. Comparisons to the ill-fated splurge by Tottenham last year have been plentiful, likewise the doom-laden reminders that Manchester United never quite recovered from selling Ronaldo. The narrative has been established; Liverpool will suffer this season, drop out of the top 4 and drift into Europa League obscurity, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Against this background, it’s hardly surprising that examples where teams have sold their best player and gone on to improve – Arsenal after Henry spring to mind – have been few and far between. Last season, however, Liverpool benefited from a lack of media faith in their ability. It enabled the team to operate without the pressure of expectation for much of the year, and the same could well be true this campaign. In addition, Liverpool’s failure to win the league last season did not come from the lack of a competitive team, but rather a competitive squad – the drop-off in quality from first team to the bench was not enough to sustain a title challenge. In general, Liverpool’s buys this summer have gone some way to addressing this problem – the main exception being in defence, where improvements were a necessity.

Building from the back – the defence.

Liverpool’s defensive problems last year were evident, even to the most dim-witted observers. As Shearer, Townsend et al never failed to point out, conceding 50 goals in a season (9th worst record in the league) is not good enough for a side with title pretentions. A spate of injuries throughout the season led to nervousness and inconsistency at the back, not least in Simon Mignolet. The similarly erratic form of Glen Johnson and Kolo Touré was exacerbated by Sakho’s adjustment to English football and the tendency for Martin Skrtel to turn tail and hare back towards his 18 yard box whenever the opposition had the ball, like a man who has suddenly realised he left the iron on. Whilst the Slovakian’s impressive number of blocks, clearances and headed duels won gave him the honour of being WhoScored’s ‘Defender of the season”, this accolade merely gave truth to the old adage of lies, damn lies and statistics. As the season wore on, it became apparent that Skrtel’s natural inclination to drop off and defend reactively was causing problems for the defence, both for his central defensive partners but also for an ageing Gerrard who was being asked to cover the vast gaps that would open up in front of the Reds’ back line. Physically impressive, well-suited to the league and quick, Skrtel is very capable of playing in a high-line, and his improvement on the ball has been excellent over two seasons of Rodgers’ tutelage. That said, he plays best next to an organiser, someone who can control his urge to sit back at the first sign of trouble, and marshal the defence effectively. Since the retirement of Carragher and the resurgence of the injury problems which have plagued Daniel Agger’s career, there has been a lack of this kind of player to complement Skrtel at the club. Enter Dejan Lovren.

An assured debut against Dortmund and a clear desire to be at the club coupled with no apparent qualms about barking orders, Lovren could yet prove to be an inspired signing for the team. Capable of playing on either side (and therefore comfortable with both Skrtel and Sakho), at 25 years old Lovren has all the tools to be a mainstay of the Liverpool defence for seasons to come. Likewise, the acquisition of talented left-back Alberto Moreno and his compatriot Javier Manquillo seem to have provided good depth and quality on the flanks, another component that was missing last season. A new-look defence, to be sure, but perhaps just what was needed after last year.

Strength in depth – midfield and attack.

The team that starts against Southampton on the 17th is likely to only have one change in the front six, namely the addition of Emre Can. Even had Adam Lallana not been out with injury, it is unlikely that figure would change, with either the new signing from Southampton or Coutinho dropping back alongside Henderson in midfield. This consistency in personnel belies the myth that Liverpool have overspent and changed too much this season; rather, it highlights the increased number of options available to the manager to change a game. When the squad is fully fit, Rodgers will have the option to call on the likes of Allen, Borini, Markovic, Lallana and Lambert to change a game, a blend of experience, hunger, youth and pace which shows up the insipid nature of the subs’ bench last season. With more depth expected to arrive in the striking department (the precise nature of which remains unknown, with the club keeping their cards very close to their chest) it is easy to see how the club have spent wisely in the early post-Suarez era.

Conclusion

In sharp contrast to Spurs last season, Liverpool have not decided to change their team fundamentally, save in the one area it arguably needed changing. A large number of new arrivals has meant also that the spotlight will be shining less brightly on any individual in the team as a supposed ‘replacement for Suarez’, a point reiterated by Rodgers in his latest press conference. With a rejuvenated squad, a fit-again Sturridge, an improving Sterling and Coutinho and another year of experience for the highly regarded manager, the season looks bright for Liverpool football club.

Brighter than it does for United, anyway? 4th? Who do they think they’re kidding…

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About The Author

Toby Podmore

is a Liverpool-supporting cuckoo from a rugby-mad South African nest in north London, Toby Podmore was brought to Liverpool football club through a soft spot for Michael Owen. With that well and truly gone, his love for the club has remained with him from France to the UK and back again. He now spends his time reading, writing and watching the club from Belfast.

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