Liverpool: They Really Can Cope Without Suarez

The talk is of Liverpool 'doing a Spurs', but they showed last season they can cope without Suarez. It would be foolish to write them off entirely...

Last Updated: 15/08/14 at 10:30 Post Comment

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LAST SEASON
Premier League
2nd, 84pts, +51 GD FA Cup Fourth round League Cup Third round Top league scorer Luis Suarez 31 Bookings 51 (19th) with one red card

Manager Brendan Rodgers (since June 2012; age 41) Odds on being first out of his job 33-1 (15th=)

Players in Adam Lallana (Southampton, £25m), Dejan Lovren (Southampton, £20m), Lazar Markovic (Benfica, £20m), Alberto Moreno (Sevilla, £11m, subject to terms), Divock Origi (Lille, £10m), Emre Can (Bayer Leverkusen, £9.75m), Rickie Lambert (Southampton, £4m), Javier Manquillo (Atl├ętico Madrid, two-year loan)

Players out Luis Suarez (Barcelona, £75m), Martin Kelly (Crystal Palace, £1.5m, subject to terms), Conor Coady (Huddersfield, £375,000), Luis Alberto (Malaga, loan), Iago Aspas (Sevilla, loan), Andre Wisdom (West Brom, loan), Brad Smith (Swindon, loan)

Club turnover in 2012-13 £206m, 5th

Wage bill in 2012-13 £132m, 5th

There are worse mistakes than saying Luis Suarez would not leave Liverpool this summer - biting someone, biting someone else, biting a third person, saying whatever he precisely did to Patrice Evra. Nonetheless I was wrong in the immediate aftermath of the Uruguay striker's four-month global ban when I wrote here that his latest piece of misconduct would put off suitors. Barcelona were not deterred, paid the £75m, and Liverpool have busily gone about spending it on a range of players and maybe some strong detergent.

Some reports said the Reds wished to keep the player but such whispers may simply have been a ploy. The Court of Arbitration for Sport has upheld the playing aspect of his suspension, which would be a stern corrective in most circumstances, and yet such is the manner in which the Uruguayan succumbs to impulses that it can surely only be a question of time before he once again offends. Regardless, John W Henry and co succeeded where Suarez failed and got their pound of flesh, picking up well over three times what they paid Ajax in January 2011. Though Barca have admitted to early contact with the player, Brendan Rodgers was spending anyway, strengthening his squad in most departments. The question is whether the pluses elsewhere can make up for or even surpass the minus up front.

It should be noted that Liverpool fared well enough in his absence after he bit Branislav Ivanovic in April 2013. In the nine Premier League games played, Rodgers's side lost just once, winning seven. Indeed, the manner in which Daniel Sturridge rose to the occasion, with nine goals in those matches, was arguably the making of a forward whose new manager and captain argued he was on his last chance when he moved from Chelsea a few months before.

There is no direct replacement for Suarez - probably impossible to find given his brilliant improvisational talent - and the closest approximation to an attempt ended in failure when Alexis Sanchez opted for Arsenal instead. Many of the prices look steep, though the attacking personnel have been boosted with the acquisition of Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert from Southampton, the Serbia winger Lazar Markovic from Benfica and the Belgium striker Divock Origi from Lille.

When Liverpool's title prospects were weighed up last spring, it was usually defensive weakness that was held against them. At £20m Dejan Lovren has a lot to live up to but his acquisition, along with the conclusion of the Alberto Moreno saga, should address some of the weakness and Emre Can should offer protection from midfield. The 20-year-old right-back Javier Manquillo, loaned from Atletico Madrid for two years, looks more one for the long term.

Inevitably, comparisons are drawn with Tottenham's spending last summer in the wake of Gareth Bale's move to Spain. But unlike Spurs' signings, all imports, the Southampton contingent are English anyway or acclimatised to the Premier League and there is another comparison to be drawn with 12 months ago, namely with Liverpool's own transfer activity, when they missed out on Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Willian and Diego Costa. Or two years ago, when they could not sign Gylfi Sigurdsson or Clint Dempsey. Instead of frustration you have a seemingly impressive array of fresh talent added to the runners-up squad. Then again, Rodgers has had plenty of transfer misses - look at Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas - with Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho being the stand-out exceptions.

Looking back at last season, of course the dramatic reversals at the end draw the attention. If Steven Gerrard never wins the Premier League then he will wake up decades from now remembering the Chelsea defeat and Palace draw; even if he does finally succeed, he will still probably have nightmares about that slip and Demba Ba running away from him. The one red card picked up by the fair play champions, in the dying moments against Manchester City, cost the midfield the steadying influence of Jordan Henderson for the final three matches. Rodgers could have settled for the win rather than chasing goal difference at Palace, at least putting pressure on to City.

Still, before the 11-game winning streak began with the 5-1 thumping of Arsenal, Liverpool were eight points behind the Gunners and six behind City and Chelsea. The draws with Aston Villa and West Brom stand out from the new year as missed opportunities; had either of the narrow Christmas losses at Eastlands or Stamford Bridge, both featuring controversial decisions, been drawn then the title would have wound up at Anfield, all else being equal bar the Reds keeping their nerve when 3-0 up at Palace if the point was gained at the expense of Chelsea.

Liverpool kick off their latest attempt to end their title drought at home to Southampton on Sunday lunchtime, offering an early reunion for three new players, before two big away matches: at Manchester City on bank holiday Monday evening, then six days later at Spurs. There are a couple of easier-looking games on Saturday teatimes after the international break, at home to Aston Villa then away to West Ham, before a lunchtime Saturday home derby against Everton. If they come through these games, featuring three of the top six, in decent shape then another title challenge will be a strong possibility.

Liverpool have lost their and the Premier League's top scorer but, uniquely in the history of the top flight, Liverpool had the outright second highest scorer, too, in Sturridge. There is the extra burden of the Champions League but there is the extra experience for young talents such as Raheem Sterling and Coutinho. Teams know what to expect but pace and skill are signally hard to combat, and Liverpool should have more variation plus the confidence of knowing what they are capable of, too. Important as Suarez was, Rodgers knows his side won a lot of matches without him and can do so again. You never know...

Philip Cornwall

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