...so Louis van Gaal really needs to get his thinking cap on. Does he abandon his favourite formation to make room for Adnan Januzaj? It's also big for Arsenal's Germans and Big Sam.
After the departures of Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois to Chelsea, plenty are saying Atletico Madrid won't retain their title. Tim Stannard thinks otherwise...
"I'd love to be a mole on that dressing room wall," said Kevin Keegan. Thanks to this new documentary about Liverpool, you can experience the sort of crystal-clear insights that a creature of the famously myopic family Talpidae, clinging to the plasterwork of the Anfield changing room, might regard as "slightly blurry and unclear".
So what to make of Channel Five's buy-in of this new production from the USA's Fox Soccer channel? Being: Liverpool (stupid colon: production's own) offers the chance to 'go behind the scenes' at the famous club, with unprecedented access and all the rest. This sounds good, but in fact really means that you are watching an in-house video, a piece of corporate puffery. 'Propaganda' is perhaps too emotive a word, but there will be those who see this series as such.
Narrated by the actor Clive Owen, it sets out to achieve two things. Both are extremely difficult if not impossible to do. The first is to produce a diary of the day-to-day workings of a large institution as it goes through a period of major upheaval, showing enough drama and conflict to make it interesting while allowing the club's major figures to appear noble, inspirational and even heroic.
The first episode allowed us access to the family home of Steven Gerrard, for a lengthy, hugely sympathetic portrait of the legendary captain in his ginormous house with his beautiful wife and beautiful children, to say nothing of his beautiful marble breakfast bar. The message? Steven Gerrard is a good man, because he loves his family.
Similarly, Brendan Rodgers welcomed cameras into his equally splendid abode (an abode which features a large picture of himself on the wall, which surely must be illustrative of some sort of psychological condition) where he had seemingly gathered the entire Rodgers clan. Football fans, if you have ever wondered what Brendan Rodgers' brother-in-law looks like, this is the show for you. He also introduced his teenage daughter and her male friend or perhaps boyfriend (hilariously identified as "her special friend" by Rodgers, on this evidence one of those dads who is not quite ready to admit to himself that his girl might have a sweetheart other than himself). The message implied by the Gerrard section was made explicit by Rodgers, who said: "This is why we do it. For our children."
You might think that this is laying it on with a trowel, but the second thrust of the show was that the footballers, coaches and supporters of LFC are good people, trying to do a good thing, and that there is something inherent in Liverpool FC that is unique and noble. The word 'crusade' was used; there was repeated discussion of 'the Liverpool philosophy', said to be that it is 'not just about winning, it is about winning well, on and off the pitch'. Rodgers applied the Brentian observation: "Player plus environment equals behaviour," and, justifiably proud of what he has achieved from humble beginnings, noted of his career and family life: "To be successful, you have to have happiness."
This, unfortunately, is absolute bollocks. Anger, hatred, desperation, unfettered ambition, bloody-mindedness, massive wealth, greed and simply being a sociopath are all other established routes to success. More to the point, family contentment and impressive soft furnishings have not, as yet, brought Rodgers much success at all at Anfield. Of course, it is early days, but the show is a hostage to fortune to an unmanageable degree. Nodding firmly that "it would take something incredible for Andy Carroll to leave" is the sort of pronouncement that is by nature risky, as is the touting of a callow Italian forward as being an exemplar of the club's bright future.
It's hard to know what to make of such a programme. It is interesting but as much for what it doesn't say as to what it does. Clearly, no-one at Liverpool really wanted to talk about anything difficult or controversial, so it isn't an unflinching portrait of an organisation - it's far too air-brushed for that.
If the series was called Being: Everton or Being: Colchester United, what would have been different? It has not yet managed to show anything that is fundamentally unique to Liverpool. The fans love the club, the manager works hard, the players have families, everyone wants to win football matches. If the viewer had never heard of Liverpool Football Club before (and given that the show had to explain to the audience that Liverpool was in England and that the FA Cup is a knock-out tournament, that is a possibility), the only thing on this evidence that would make the club so different, so wonderful, so unique is a lot of people telling you that it is unique.
Liverpool FC is a fascinating organisation with an extraordinary history. It has a very distinctive fan culture that is both self-reverential and self-critical: not everyone, despite what this programme would tell you, is singing from the same hymn sheet. How and why this has come to be the case and how it affects the actual football club is not explored here. This is the glossy magazine approach, which is a shame and means that ultimately the programme lacks grit and substance.
Rodgers is obviously an interesting and unusual chap but we see only the tip of the iceberg, leaving it unclear if he is a modern football philosopher or a modern football David Brent.
There is much that is unique about Liverpool but Being: Liverpool spends too much time merely telling us rather than showing us. Still, if you want expensive home décor tips, you'll not go short of inspiration.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
Alan has ghost-written a book for Premier League legend Ronnie Matthews. It is called 'I Kick Therefore I Am' and you can check it out here.
And read Johnny's book, 'The Meat Fix' here.