Liverpool: Will The Old Weaknesses Remain?

If Luis Suarez stays, then Liverpool have a significantly improved squad from last season. However, if they continue to struggle against their betters, they won't progress...

Last Updated: 12/08/13 at 15:20 Post Comment

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LAST SEASON

Premier League 7th FA Cup fourth round League Cup fourth round Europa League last 32

Manager Brendan Rodgers (since June 2012) Odds on being first out of his job 33-1 (13th=)

Players in Simon Mignolet (Sunderland, £9m), Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo, £7.2m), Luis Alberto (Sevilla, £6.8m), Kolo Toure (Manchester City, free)

Players out Andy Carroll (West Ham, £15m, after loan), Jose Reina (Napoli, loan), Jonjo Shelvey (Swansea, £5m), Suso (Almeria, loan), Jamie Carragher (Sky Sports, retired)

Club turnover in 2011-12 £169m (5th)

Handicap betting to win Premier League +18 points (6th)

There are plenty of candidates for Liverpool's low points of last season - many of them featuring in the club-approved documentary - but oddly there were many fine moments, too. Art lover Brendan Rodgers's side won three matches 3-0, twice won 4-0 and 5-0, and scored six without reply at Newcastle. Across the second half of the season, the Reds had the best goal difference in the division. We heard too often about how they performed as Rodgers talked his incessant game if they failed to score; remember the "near-on perfect performance" that was a 2-0 defeat at Zenit St Petersburg; but once they did find the net his side could score and score again.

The home game against Chelsea excepted, though, Liverpool showed precious little bite against their betters; only once all campaign, in a fortunate victory against a generous Tottenham, did Liverpool beat a side that finished ahead of them. Not that Rodgers' side restricted their off-days to the major opposition: Mansfield were unfortunate in the FA Cup before an Oldham who barely escaped relegation to League Two deservedly triumphed in round four.

Still, in a season with much to forget the worst moment - Luis Suarez's absurd assault on Branislav Ivanovic - lingers on. The Uruguayan still has six games of his 10-match ban to serve, and after initially railing against England and his treatment here the striker is now just keen to leave Merseyside, as you may have read.

Whatever the outcome of the dispute it will have a significant impact on the season, even if the first four matches of the ban produced three wins and a draw, with 10 goals for and just one conceded. The probable outcomes seem stark. Liverpool will have a disaffected player, whose latest pronouncements have alienated a fan base that had stood by him despite everything; or they may sell him (especially if the right offer came in from abroad, rather than Arsenal) but not have time to spend the money well, a reason John W Henry gave for holding Suarez to his contract for now. The likelihood of reconciliation between Rodgers and his £40m plus player looks slim.

Suarez's spoken desire is for Champions League football, which has eluded Liverpool since the 2009-10 season. Leaving aside questions of whether the controversial striker has a greater duty to be loyal in light of events, there is a case that Rodgers has a decent chance to correct that failing. With the acquisition of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge in January Liverpool strengthened considerably, and while the league results still had them running sixth they were within a win of third in the post-Boxing Day table. Last August Rodgers was starting from scratch with the squad and has now had the benefit of a full year with his charges.

The replacement of the loaned-out Pepe Reina with Simon Mignolet was a surprise to some - not least Reina - but the Spaniard comes off rather worse in a significant errors count last season, making six to the Belgian's two, while being under rather less pressure. The mooted departure of Stewart Downing should be more than compensated for. If the approach of Barcelona for Daniel Agger is fended off and Suarez stays and plays, then with Kolo Toure, Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto this should be a significantly stronger squad than last season.

Of course Liverpool won't get to play against their 2012-13 side and their rivals have not been idle. Still, of the teams that finished ahead of them only Tottenham and Arsenal have the same managers and there may be weaknesses to exploit. Or at least there could be for a united club. If Suarez leaves there is a risk of a repeat of the striker crisis of last autumn. At least Rodgers has been planning for the Uruguayan's absence for six more competitive matches.

A home game against Stoke is followed by a trip to Aston Villa, and after the international break there are games at Swansea and Sunderland, either side of hosting Southampton at Anfield. Sandwiched by those sets of games, though, is a Capital One Cup tie against Notts County at Anfield - a chance for Rodgers to put last season's cup embarrassments behind him - and more significantly David Moyes's return to Merseyside.

This Manchester United game is the only one against a side that finished above Liverpool until a November 2 trip to the Emirates. Defeat to United and it would suggest that the failings against the top sides remain, whatever is achieved against anyone else. Victory on the day before the transfer window closes could yet be a message to Suarez that having to play another season at Anfield might not be the worst fate in football.

Philip Cornwall

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