Sometimes in the football world, new phrases are coined, new ideas are propagated that at the time sound good; provide optimism and convince eternal pessimists that things aren’t so bad after all. The problem with these labels are that they can come back to haunt you. So to all those who bought into the ‘New Liverpool’ tag that has been circulating on various websites, forums, television panel shows and radio phone ins, don’t worry, you’re half right.
A lot of people may be forgiven for tittering at such a potentially nauseating tag but this is a new Liverpool, a new era. It may not have particularly looked like it during large parts of the opening day 3-0 defeat, but make no mistake, Brendan Rodgers wishes to reshape this dwindling squad from top to bottom.
Already, several high profile players have been shipped through the exit door. Dirk Kuyt, who spent five years at the club, was not given another chance to stake a claim in the side. Maxi Rodriguez, something of a luxury player, but one with bags of experience didn’t interest Rodgers who is after young players for the future. In that regard, not that much has changed in the transfer policy. Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Sebastian Coates were all under the age of 23 when signed. What has changed is the utterly confusing policy of paying way over the odds for both young and older players who have done very little to justify such fees.
Fabio Borini, a young Italian striker who earned a place in Cesare Prandelli’s Italian squad for the summer Euros, was signed for £10 million pounds. Joe Allen, one of Swansea’s fundamental players last season cost £15 million. Some may raise eyebrows and claim that this is still too much money for such young and largely unproven players but now Liverpool have combated this the reduction of extortionate wage bills; Craig Bellamy, a good but aging squad player (with bags of injury problems) has also been let go back to his former club Cardiff City. Andy Carroll was meant to be sold – the fact that he’s still at the club is more down to his distinct lack of interest in joining newly promoted West Ham for much smaller wages rather than any real plans for him in Brendan Rodgers. Charlie Adam and Jay Spearing have been told they are free to leave the club now that there are several central midfielders who are above them in the pecking order. Instead of being bullied into paying players high wages such as Gylfi Sigurdsson, who opted for Spurs because of wage demands or signing players who are coming to the last few years of their careers like Clint Dempsey for too much money, Liverpool are now prepared to walk away.
There are several issues that still remain and do little to quell any concerns. Joe Cole, seemingly Harry Kewell Mark II, appears to be in favour with Rodgers despite his growing injury problems, unjustifiable high wages and lack of suitability to Rodger’s long term plan. When players like Joe Cole and Jamie Carragher come off the bench instead of exciting young prospects like Raheem Sterling, Adam Morgan, Sebastian Coates or Andre Wisdom it riles the fans that are desperately trying to look towards the future rather than being stuck so helplessly in the past. Stewart Downing remains a perplexing signing and instead of starting the season afresh, looks as off the pace, slow and uninspiring as ever. Perhaps the out-the-blue signing of Oussama Assaidi from SC Heerenveen of Holland for a small fee of £3 million pounds has been brought in to act as Downing’s replacement. It is these types of signings that the fans would often rather see than large amounts of money paid for players who are simply not worth the money; players who are something of enigmas, risk free who have less pressure on them and often more ability. Think Albert Riera or Luis Garcia.
The opening game of the season was extremely disappointing. To start any campaign off with a loss is never good but to lose 3-0 and have a player sent off is a nightmarish start, particularly for a new manager. However, I do feel that the first half signs were promising; the team aimed to be fluid and the possession stats were heavily in favour of Liverpool but a failure to take our chances once again cost us. West Brom’s first goal, a brilliant effort from Zoltan Gera came at a horrible time for Liverpool just before half time and once Agger saw red it was a long way back, particularly with another penalty awarded that I feel was a little harsh, given the fact that Martin Skrtel had no genuine knowledge of Long darting in front of him before going to clear what he thought was the ball, but that’s football and Liverpool should have shown more mental strength and not let their heads drop as was often the case last season in the league.
Joe Allen had an impressive debut, perhaps the only Liverpool player to come out of the game with credit. The game has to be a signal to Rodgers that Luis Suarez should not be the focal point of the attack; rather he is at his best coming inside from wide positions and playing off a front man. The problem Rodger’s faces is who should be this front man that is going to score 15 to 20 league goals? Borini is too young and needs time to acclimatise to this league whilst Carroll is clearly neither a poacher nor in favour. Liverpool do not seem to be in for a striker either with reports suggesting a lot of the last week was focused on trying to bring in Nuri Sahin from Real Madrid, an attacking midfield player, and perhaps trying to work out a deal to bring Adam Johnson to the club from Manchester City, a winger. Of course, these are just transfer rumours and as the signing of Assaidi showed, it is only the club that really know what transfers are being worked on and that is how it always should be.
In terms of the next few weeks I feel it could be a bumpy ride. Manchester City are next up in the league and sandwiched in between that game and Arsenal at home is a tricky away match at Sunderland. There’s no doubt about it, it’s going to take time for Rodger’s to get this team playing the way he wants them to play; with fluidity, with possession, with intricate passing and most importantly with plenty of goals.
This Liverpool side may not yet look all that ‘new’ but the addition of Joe Allen to the midfield along with the return of Lucas, a pivotal player in the side, dramatically improves a key area of the pitch from last season in which Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and Jay Spearing played far too many games. Defensively, Rodger’s must keep hold of Agger and aim to get them used to playing out from the back as quickly as possible as the first game showed this isn’t easy when teams press high up the pitch. It is the problems up front that are Rodger’s biggest test but with time it will come. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.