Liverpool: A Top Three Finish & FA Cup Should Be The Minimum Expectation
Apparently England played on Friday night. Apparently they lost. A lot of people appear to be quite upset by this outcome. There was, by all accounts, a degree of booing. Me? I watched Children in Need, safe in the knowledge that Terry Wogan would be a damn sight more entertaining than Roy Hodgson even at Roy's bumbling, owlish, comic best.
Which tells you exactly where England international friendlies rank in my priorities; beneath charity telethons featuring the wonders of McBusted and JLS' seemingly endless farewell.
Another wasted fortnight breaking up the flow of what is turning into a wonderfully unpredictable Premier League season, the average Reds' fan's only passion in this being ' Steven Gerrard better not be having pain killing injections to face Germany. To face Everton? Yes, quite definitely. Germany? Sod that, they're sending the reserves over, get him back to Melwood now'
What this uncalled for break does give us though is the chance for reflection; where are we now, where are we going?
Everything starts in January; any hope of a concerted attempt at glory last season was over by then, a difficult start to the season dashing expectations almost immediately and making Brendan Rodgers impact less than impressive. The purchase of Sturridge and Coutinho signalled a different emphasis for Liverpool, we're now a club that could allow talent that hadn't had an opportunity elsewhere to flourish.
Summer purchases were of a similar stripe; not the AAA players that a Champions League team would swoop for (although we chased and lost a handful of those) but the next rung down - players on the up like Mignolet or supposedly in the twilight of their careers like the mighty Kolo Toure.
Other signings have been mixed; Iago Aspas showed initial promise in a Craig Bellamy style, small and bustling, good movement, threatening but faded quickly. Mamadou Sakho looks as though he may have a huge amount to offer at the back while Aly Cissokho appears more likely to stay for a year as a footnote in the Anfield annals. Our other loanee, Victor Moses, could yet contribute in an orthodox wing position; he certainly wasn't the right fit as a replacement for the injured Coutinho. Luis Alberto, via flashes and cameos, and Thiago Ilori, via nothing other than reputation as he is yet to make any impact on the first team squad, appear to be set for the future.
Of the pre-existing playing staff Sturridge has continued in his ridiculously rich vein of goal scoring form, Skrtel has convincingly reinvented himself at the expense of Daniel Agger, Glenn Johnson may well be the key to our playing style as the wing back position in a 3-5-2 is tailor made for his game, Gerrard seems shackled by the deep lying position that he currently occupies (although three assists in his last game may give the lie to that), Henderson gives boundless dynamism and effort but Lucas is yet to approach the level that he was performing at before his injury. It is possible that he never will, we may have seen the best of our Brazilian midfielder.
And then there's Luis Suarez.
If Suarez harboured any resentment over being unable to force a move in the summer he hasn't let it show. Joint leading scorer in the league despite missing the first 5 games (something to do with a bite? I don't actually remember any longer) and in what is quite possibly the form of his life, Luis is quite clearly forgiven. His dreams of Champions League football are in his own hands; on current evidence he has no need to move anywhere to make them reality.
It could be argued that we have faced no real challenge yet with the majority of our big games in front of us (Everton twice starting next Saturday, City twice, United away, Arsenal yet to visit Anfield) and that when we did face our first real test at The Emirates we failed it but the fact remains, we have only lost twice this season (to the tems currently directly above and directly below us in the table) and sit relatively comfortably in second place in the league.
Last season we grew stronger after the close of the January transfer window. There is a very real possibility that we will do so again in the second half of this campaign. Bear in mind that we have managed to start Sturridge, Suarez and Coutinho together only once to date and on that occasion they appeared (admittedly against a woeful Fulham side) unplayable.
We should assume that Rodgers is as aware of the side's weaker areas as the fans are and will be looking to strengthen a midfield that has appeared porous at times and a left back area that remains a long term problem. He has spoken of the need, having strengthened the squad, to now strengthen the first team itself with players of real quality who can make an instant impact. If our buying this January can be as intelligent as that of the start of the year, if incoming players can be of the quality of, and have the impact of, Sturridge and Coutinho then the second half of the season provides an excellent chance to push on.
And all this without mentioning the returning Joe Allen and the promise of Sterling and Ibe, three players with a point to prove to the manager.
I was roundly ridiculed in August (including some charming comments from fellow Liverpudlians) when I said that I wanted top three this season. I'm not changing my viewpoint on this.
Come May, a top three finish. And the FA Cup.
Onwards and upwards.
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