It’s been a strange season for Liverpool and could get stranger still
By Guest Writer Thomas Watt.
Liverpool have effectively been out of the title race since October, and look like being too far outside the Top Four to qualify for next season’s Champions League. Cup humblings by Arsenal, Reading and Fiorentina have only served to amplify further the problems off the field at Anfield, as the cold war in the Liverpool board room continues.
Yet, against this background there is still the chance of compensation in the Europa League, with Liverpool being strong favourites for the trophy. In any normal season, it would be scant consolation, but with it looking ever more likely that Manchester United will end the season with just the Carling Cup, success in Europe may taste a little sweeter.
The problem then is where they choose to go from here. With no Champions League football there will be less money available to spend next season, and so a full frontal assault at the Premiership title is an absolute must. Liverpool will remain an attractive proposition for almost any player, but it will take investment to get the personnel in. The majority of the squad that came so close to the title in 08/09 are still there, but the new faces that could make them contenders will not come cheaply.
Will Rafa Benitez position as manager be under threat at the end of the season? Until this season, doubts over Benitez had always seemed unfair, as the manager had delivered year on year improvement to the side, and relative success. In the past five years Arsene Wenger has not enjoyed anything like the success the Liverpool manager has, and yet his position remains arguably the most secure in the league. Managers are only ever as successful as their last season, and while Wenger’s side look as if they are constantly on the brink of greatness, Benitez’s Liverpool have endured a torrid time in the past nine months. Were Gillett and Hicks not looking to sell the club, the manager’s position would have endured further scrutiny.
Rafa Benitez has had a fractured relationship with the owners at Liverpool, but while his popularity amongst the fans may not quite be at the same level it was last year, he is still revered by the red half of the town. However, with positions opening up at Juventus and the possibility of Real Madrid looking for another new boss, perhaps a parting of ways would be beneficial to both parties.
The current owners have made no secret of their attempts to speak to other potential candidates in the past, and even if they were to sell, a new board may well want their own man. There would certainly be no shortage of candidates were the position to become available, with Jose Mourinho unsettled in Italy, Laurent Blanc having made waves at Bordeaux and Alex McLeish looking like he would be well suited to managing at a higher level.
Even if, as we expect, Benitez remains the Liverpool manager next season he is going to need money to turn the fortunes of the side around. As the last few years have shown, breaking into the Top Four is no small task, and with Manchester City’s new found riches it may be harder than ever to get back into the Champions League.
The Anfield faithful won’t lower their expectations in light of this year’s setbacks, and whoever is in charge at Liverpool next year will be expected to win the title. Benitez has suggested that he needs £60m to turn Liverpool into Premiership contenders next season. This may well be the case, but will the board be willing to back him with that level of funding?
During the current manager’s tenure, Liverpool have spent some £200m on players. Last pre season around £40m was spent on Alberto Aquilani and Glen Johnson. Johnson has been a success, but was probably overpriced, especially when the budget needed to stretch further. Aquilani may yet prove his worth, but hasn’t been anything like the replacement for Xavi Alonso fans were hoping for. Were the board to sanction another spending spree it would take considerably more influential players than this to compete at the top of the table.
The sides’ shortcomings this season have been obvious; fewer goals away from home than Burnley or Wigan tells its own story. Aquilani needs to find his feet in England in time for the next campaign, and the goalscoring and creative burden needs to be shared amongst at least one more top class forward to complement Torres. Such quality will not come cheap. A quality wideman will also be high on the priority list, with Reira likely to depart and Ryan Babel having never progressed beyond fleeting displays of ability. If there is any money left then an experienced centre back would be desirable, as Kyrgiakos has had problems in big games. To some extent, Liverpool have still never replaced Sami Hyypia.
The Manchester City factor is probably the biggest single problem for Liverpool to negotiate. With the World Cup this summer, there will be plenty of opportunity for the best players in the world to put themselves in the shop window.
Liverpool will have to fight for quality players with a Manchester City side who have infinitely deep pockets, and in all likelihood, will have Champions League football as an extra incentive. Should City qualify for Europe’s elite competition, there will be little chance of them resting on their laurels, and the chequebook will be out again this summer.
Liverpool may find that to get back into the Top Four positions in the Premiership they have to force another one of the traditional Top Four out. Whether that is through drastic surgery this summer, or finding new character from within, this summer promises to be one of the most intriguing in years at Anfield. And they might even have a European Trophy to celebrate with.
What do Liverpool fans think is the best way forward for the club? Please leave your comments below…
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