How exactly does a club with the weight of history on its shoulders follow its best season in ages? Well, it started by selling its best player.
Luis Suarez, he of 31 Premier League goals last term (along with a four-month ban from the sport due to yet another biting incident at the World Cup), is gone to Barcelona in a $126 million deal. That leaves one of the EPL’s most exciting teams with a big hole to fill. Yet replacing Suarez’s goals is just one of two big challenges Liverpool will face in attempting to one-up last year’s fantastic season in which it narrowly missed out on its first league title in 24 years.
The other is dealing with a far more compressed schedule. Last term, the Merseysiders had the luxury of challenging for the title without playing in any European competition. Meanwhile, each of their nemeses in the top six had to deal with the travel, high-level games, and associated fatigue and injuries such competitions can inflict on a squad.
Luckily, the solution to one problem lay within the other. Instead of splashing the Luis Suarez cash on a big-time signing, manager Brendan Rodgers smartly elected to use the influx of income to improve Liverpool’s depth at multiple positions over the transfer window. Liverpool can thank fellow EPL side Southampton for a lot of that depth – defender Dejan Lovren, tricky winger Adam Lallana, and goal-poaching striker Rickie Lambert all made the move from St. Mary’s to Anfield over the summer.
It’s tempting to point to the club’s youthful squad as a reason it won’t repeat its challenge for a Premier League title, with only four squad members aged over 30, and three of those serving primarily as backups (the fourth is Steven Gerrard). However, the club still captured the imaginations of soccer fans everywhere with a similarly-aged unit last season, thrilling observers with intricate, speedy offensive bursts that will still be the norm if their final preseason friendly is any indication.
The key, then, will be maintaining that level throughout a much-longer season, and without the man that so often made up for it when things weren’t quite clicking.
KEY ARRIVALS: F Rickie Lambert (from Southampton), D Dejan Lovren (from Southampton), M Adam Lallana (from Southampton), M Emre Can (from Bayer Leverkusen), M Lazar Markovic (from Benfica), D Javier Manquillo (loan from Atlético Madrid), D Alberto Moreno (from Sevilla)
KEY DEPARTURES: F Luis Suarez (to Barcelona), D Martin Kelly (to Crystal Palace)
PLAYER TO WATCH: Philippe Coutinho enters his third EPL season in as good a position as ever to take a big step toward stardom. Suarez’s departure will open up more opportunities for the Brazilian magician to contribute to the attack, something he can do via neat passes, sublime skill, or pure finishing ability. Striker Daniel Sturridge built an incredible chemistry with Suarez last season, but if there’s any man that can step right in to that void, it’s the adaptable Coutinho.
KEY STAT: Liverpool scored the second-most goals in the EPL last season with 101, one behind Manchester City and an astounding 30 more than third-placed Chelsea. That means that, even without Suarez’s 31 goals, Liverpool would still have had the third-best scoring output of the entire league.
Whether by virtue of their adventurous playing style or lack of talent in the back, Liverpool’s defense wasn’t nearly up to that level, conceding 50 goals, by far the worst among the EPL’s top four.
STADIUM: Anfield (Built in 1884; Capacity 45,276)
Originally the home of Everton, building owner John Houlding needed a new team to fill Anfield once Everton left for Goodison Park. In walked Liverpool. Anfield’s Spion Kop was arguably one of the most famous fan terraces in English soccer and at one time held 30,000 fans with a roof to cover them all, the largest at the time.