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"It's that time again" by Simon Ward

In two weeks time, life goes back to normal. The footy is back.

 

These friendlies in a far foreign land don’t really get me interested, so the Stoke hangover is still alive and kicking, and the next game cannot come quick enough. What? It's Stoke again? D'oh!

 

Talking of the foreign friendlies, does anyone else think we have over done the travelling a bit this pre season? I know we have an army of merchandise obsessed fans in Malaysia, Thailand and Australia, and visiting them all makes commercial sense. (Where is the official LFC mosquito repellent sponsor, John?) but from a football and preparation sense though, the players have spent at least 3-4 days travelling when they could have been training. After last season it is not as if they don’t need the practice…..

 

We have plenty of fans in Wales, Ireland and Scotland as well, so maybe we’ll pop over there next summer…………..yeah, right.

 

Last season's post mortem for the fans began long before the Stoke game. After a dodgy start, much better middle and pitiful ending, with a couple of decent but unsuccessful cup runs and a poor return to the European Cup, no one was happy. It took FSG a week or so after the end of the season to officially review this with Rodgers, with the fan base seemingly split on what should happen to the manager.

 

FSG have shown a trust and loyalty to Rodgers with the 2013-14 unexpected league title challenge still carrying a lot of credibility for him. It was a massive over-achievement to get that close, and nobody predicted it.

 

It is the comparisons to the teams at the top that worry me the most about last season. The top teams in the Premier League last season – Chelsea and Man City - both had a settled, strong and experienced spine to their team. Very few teams win anything without one.

 

Courtois – Terry – Matic – Fabregas – Hazard – Costa

 

Hart – Kompany – Toure – Silva – Aguero.

 

Our experienced spine was based around Mignolet – Skrtel – Gerrard (or Lucas), with Glen Johnson offering support on the sides. In comparison, the team lacked experience, know how, proven winners, as well as goalscorers.

 

Up to now, Clyne is the only defender we have brought in. Aged 24 with three years Premier League experience and after a good season last year, he should help. The defence has never been watertight under Rodgers, and is not likely to be as he likes his teams to attack which often leaves gaps at the back. Maybe a better left back would have helped Lovren more last season, and someone better than Lovren (Agger/Carragher/My 67 year old Dad) would have helped Moreno settle in more. Both struggled, and teams soon targeted our left side as a weak point.

 

As well as Suarez, Agger and Reina leaving last year, Gerrard, Johnson, Lambert and (presumably) Enrique will have moved on this year. It leaves the squad short on experience. Balotelli too……which is actually a bonus. His signing is the most damning factor yet of FSG’s policy.

 

Even Sterling had played over 100 games for us and we knew he could handle himself. Youth can only take you so far, so players like Clyne (24) Benteke (24) and Milner (29), who all have plenty of Premier League experience, are now absolutely vital to helping us get off to a good start. If we can do that, and Sturridge returns fully fit, then we should be better than last season at least.

 

Firmino is likely to go straight in to the team once he's up to speed after his extended summer break, but like we saw last season a foreign buy is always more of a gamble. He is 23, which is older than Markovic, Can, Moreno, Manquillo and Alberto (who were all aged 21 or under), so I hope that will help him. Sakho looked much better last season than when he first arrived and Coutinho clicked very quickly, so it can happen.

 

When players like Sterling and Suarez have asked to leave when they still have plenty more to offer, and players like Agger and Reina have been moved on due to high wages when they still had more to offer than some who are still here, it is understandable that some supporters question the owners' ambition. With Coutinho’s performances attracting attention, it might happen again and again. Players like Rush, Souness, Keegan, McManaman and Owen have all left at their peak in the past though, sometimes when the team was flying, so I suppose it is not a unique problem.

 

I don’t want a player to be brought in based on potential, with one eye on what his monetary value will be in a few years, or because his wage demands might be less than someone from a bigger club. It should be about what he can bring to the team either right now, or to replace a senior player in one or two years when their time comes to an end. We are not short of money with the new TV Deal and ridiculous money spinning tours every summer. Sadly, FSG seem more interested in money than trophies. (Although as H&G were not interested in much else apart from fighting with each other and Rafa, then maybe I should be more thankful that they are here at all.)

 

The amount of gambles we seem to take every summer in the transfer market is creating a revolving door though. Only Lucas and Skrtel have survived from the first team since FSG arrived in 2010, when Hodgson was sacked. The squad turnover has been huge:

 

Comolli signed nine players in 2011, including Carroll and Suarez, and only Henderson and Enrique (soon to go) remain.

 

In 2012, we signed five in the summer, then added Coutinho/Sturridge. Three have already left, with Borini soon to follow.

 

2013, we signed eight players, and four left the next year, and as of yet Ilori has not kicked a ball.

 

2014, we signed eight more, and at least three (Lambert, Balotelli, Manquillo) will be off after a year. Maybe Markovic on loan too, but I hope not.

 

So this year it is seven in, plus Origi arriving – and how many of these will be here next season?? It is inevitable that players come and go, but why do we need seven eight or nine new players every year?

 

I will tell you why. It is because so many other people apart from the manager are playing a massive role in picking these players. After a year or two, when it is clear they are not in the managers plans, they are moved on to be taken off the wage bill. Damien Comolli questioned how many players we were buying year after year, and he was right for once……(even though taking transfer advice from him is like asking Fred West to lay your new patio.)

 

From what I have heard this year Rodgers' influence has increased, so that’s a positive. If the manager chooses the players there is a better chance they will suit what he wants the team to do, and if they don't at least we know who to point the finger at.

 

I honestly do not know what to expect from this season. Last season there was a lot of talk from Rodgers about “Now we must win a trophy” and I was delighted to see us have a good go at both domestic cups. Henderson has repeated this in pre-season, which is positive. The Villa game at Wembley was horrible but Rodgers probably knows now that his job is likely to be on the line if we don’t qualify for the European Cup, as that is the owners priority. So, expect big changes in the team for the cup games.

 

I have mixed feelings about Rodgers. I never wanted him in the first place – basically because he lacked experience and is not a proven winner at any level. After three seasons our defending is still very inconsistent and the centre backs are often left exposed by marauding full backs. I don’t think he has it in him to play in a Rafa/Houllier/Mourinho way of playing two banks of four and shutting a game out. Now I don’t want to see that every week, but sometimes you just need to do it to get a result. Also, last year he didn’t seem to know his best team, and changed things about too often. That maybe goes back to who makes the recruitment decisions though….

 

However, Rodgers still deserves massive credit for 2013/14, and we play great football at times. More than anything, he has been hampered by the restrictions of the committee and FSG’s policy. He has not had as much influence on who we sign or what we pay for players unlike other managers at top clubs, but that is all his critics talk about, as they did with Dalglish.

 

When we were struggling early on last season, his decision to change the formation to 3-4-2-1, was bold, creative (Can in defence/Sterling upfront) and certainly worked very well for a few months. He has already talked about the need to press from the front this season which was certainly lacking when Lambert and Balotelli were in the team. It is a key element of Rodgers philosophy, so playing quicker forward players like Firmino, Benteke, Origi and Ings should help him get what he wants.

 

Is this his last shot? Probably. In a strange way, I think the tough run of away games in the first half of the season could buy him some time even if results don’t go well. The view that things are likely to improve in the second half of the season just based on the games to come could help him. If we do start well despite these fixtures, then expectations will soar again. He was responsible for that before, and I hope he can pull it off again.

 

The lack of winners and proven experience in our squad, and Rodgers unwillingness to change how we defend against the better teams, are still the big worries for me. FSG have shown faith and loyalty to Rodgers this summer when managers like Benitez, Ancellotti and Klopp were available and looking for work. All of those managers have bags of experience and are winners at the top level.

 

Our owners, manager, new captain and the majority of our squad are not.

 

So with that in mind, I guess it is not really a surprise that FSG have stuck with Rodgers.

 

Anyway, we're about to go again. All the best, Reds! YNWA.

 

Simon Ward

@SiWard2505


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