Unless you’ve been on Mars for a while, you’ll be well aware that Alex Ferguson is finally stepping down from his position as manager of Manchester United and that David Moyes is to leave Everton to take over from his fellow Scot.
What’s more, it has been very strongly rumoured that Manchester City will be replacing Roberto Mancini (possibly with Manuel Pelligrini) and it is widely anticipated that Chelsea will dispense with Rafa Benitez, in favour of restoring Jose Mourinho to the top job.
After my joy at the news that Ferguson is retiring at last subsided, my thoughts quickly returned to Liverpool FC and how our club might be affected by these high profile managerial switches involving four of the six teams who’ll finish above the Reds this year.
New managers bring new styles with them; they affect the continuity of the club; they may bring new training techniques; they have different personalities, attitudes and back room staff. These differences can be subtle or pronounced and they can achieve positive or negative results, both in the long and short term. What is guaranteed by replacing the manager is that change will occur and, more often than not, that change requires a bedding-in period.
Liverpool are heading into next season in a position of relative strength. For the first time since the beginning of the 2009/10 season, the Reds will begin the season under a manager who has already overseen first team affairs for a full season. This is something of a novelty these days, and Reds fans may find that they’ve forgotten the advantages that simple continuity can bring.
Rather than having to construct a team from the ground up, Rodgers task is now to supplement the squad he has by adding quality in key areas. There is no bedding in period to get through – that’s been taken care of already. Rodgers is now totally familiar with his players and they, likewise, are now well versed in both his personality and his methods.
This has begun to show, more and more as the season has progressed, in results and performances. The team is coming together nicely, and a strong finish to the season has come as a welcome surprise to those who might have expected a less committed end to the campaign.
Since the 0-2 defeat away at Zenit, Liverpool have lost just once in 12 games in all competitions; winning 7 and drawing 4, scoring 29 goals and conceding just 10. Although squad augmentation is necessary in the summer, particularly in defence, for the first time in a long time wholesale change will not be the order of the day.
Most Liverpool fans are agreed on the areas which are in the most urgent need of strengthening. Jamie Carraghers’s retirement and Martin Skrtel’s fall from grace would indicate that at least two top centre-backs will arrive in the summer. Their identities remain unclear however, with Williams, Alderweireld and Douglas amongst those who’ve been linked heavily to the club in the press.
A strong defensive minded midfielder is also likely to be sought (one who’s a little happier mixing it with the Premier League’s bully boys) with Celtic’s Victor Wanyama a candidate. A covering left-back and a good second-choice goalkeeper are also high on the priority list this summer in order to bolster defensive options, with Lucas Digne of Lille and Guillermo Ochoa of Ajaccio reported targets.
It has also been widely suggested that the Reds are very keen to bring Christian Eriksen of Ajax to the club. The Dane is an attacking midfielder of immense promise and would, should Liverpool win the race to sign him, be a fantastic addition to the squad.
There will, of course, be some movement the other way. It seems certain that, providing a buyer can be found, Andy Carroll will be moving on and, despite recent protestations by the manager, Skrtel appears likely to go too. Jay Spearing, recently named Bolton’s Player of the Year, may well finally leave Anfield permanently. There could one or two more departures, with question marks over Jonjo Shelvey and Stewart Downing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t.
The scouting team has been in place for some time now, and should be well positioned to follow up on the successes of securing Sturridge and Coutinho by identifying and targeting players who can make just such a seamless transition to life at Anfield. Another savvy transfer window and all of a sudden the Reds would begin to look menacing; with added depth and quality, and much more to come from the likes of Joe Allen and Fabio Borini, Liverpool’s squad would be a genuine concern for the new men in charge in Manchester.
There’s every reason to be optimistic about the summer and season ahead. The Reds are a resurgent force, finally beginning to look stable after years of lurching from crisis to crisis. The current side is performing well, playing exciting, attractive football, scoring goals and winning games even without its “star” performers. With a full complement of its best players, a good, sensible pre-season and the benefit of continuity – something others won’t enjoy – there’s no reason to think the Anfield club can’t hit the ground running in August.
It’s been a long season, a frustrating season at times, but Liverpool certainly look a better side for it. After several years of instability, uncertainty, frustration and disappointment, the shoe is finally going to be on the other foot.
Four of the Reds biggest rivals face a certain degree of upheaval in the season ahead and, as a consequence, the next campaign is likely to be one of the most open competitions in Premier League history. For the first time in a long time Liverpool are in a position of relative strength, and may be well placed to take advantage.
You can follow Neil on Twitter @Neil1980 and on his blog http://itsallinthegameblog.wordpress.com/
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