Sunday, August 5, 2007

Premiership Preview--3. Liverpool

3. Liverpool have one goal in mind this year: winning the Premier League. The Merseyside Reds haven't won the domestic title since 1989-90, and though they're arguably the most successful club in England as far as European competition goes, the fans at Anfield are clamoring for a return to domestic glory. Liverpool finished a whopping 21 points behind Manchester United last season and new American co-chairmen George Gillette and Tom Hicks have spent a lot of money this summer to bring in players for manager Rafael Benitez in the quest for a Premiership title. Benitez has developed a reputation as being a great manager in Europe, probably the best out of any other manager in the Premiership, but far from a wizard in the Premier League. He'll have to shake that label if he wants to lead his club to the top of the table this season.

It's been a flurry of activity at Liverpool this summer. 11 new players have made their way to Anfield and 9 will be playing somewhere else this season (though Adam Hammill and Danny Guthrie are only on loan). At just 23 years of age, Spanish striker Fernando Torres cost Liverpool $40 million US but that investment could turn out to be well worth the cost. Torres played previously for Atletico Madrid, where he scored 82 goals in 214 league appearances, and also stars for the Spanish national team (14 goals in 40 games). He joins a striking corps that, quite frankly, is less than intimidating, and his presence and production will be important from day one. Another young player, 20-year old Dutch winger/attacker Ryan Babel, will also play a critical role this season. He'll play a lot on the left wing as incumbent Harry Kewell is constantly injured and fellow new signing Yossi Benayoun is more of a natural central midfielder. Benayoun made the move from West Ham, where he often played behind the striker as an attacking midfielder. He also figures to get his share of playing time as Rafael Benitez has been playing Steven Gerrard on the right side with increased frequency. Benayoun will probably get a chance on the left side as well, but he's never played there before and with quality options there already he'll end up playing in the center. Striker Andriy Voronin came on a free transfer from Bayer Leverkusen, but at 28 years old, he's no spring chicken and returning Liverpool forwards Dirk Kuyt and Peter Crouch are better Premier League options. Liverpool also lost their share of talent this summer. Though he's hot-tempered and always surrounded by controversy, Craig Bellamy is actually a decent player and will score his share of goals for West Ham this season. Two wingers, Bolo Zenden and Luis Garcia, also left Merseyside (though not for greener pastures). Garcia was an important player for Liverpool in his time there, Zenden was a depth player who didn't factor into Liverpool's future plans. Robbie Fowler will be taking a helicopter to new club Cardiff City every day as he's keeping his home in Liverpool, where he earned his legendary status through numerous big, important goals in his decade-long stint there.

After a tough trip to Aston Villa to begin the season and a home game with Chelsea the following week, Liverpool play 13 league games in a row in which they'll be favored to take full points. A road game at Portsmouth in that span will be very tricky, but it's the kind of game Liverpool will need to win if they harbor realistic title hopes. Same goes for home games against the two North London clubs, Tottenham and Arsenal, and a match at Blackburn. Liverpool play host to Manchester United and Portsmouth for the last two games before Christmas, then embark on another long stretch of winnable games. This one's easier than the 13-game run mentioned earlier, as out of the 7 games involved a home game with Aston Villa is the toughest. Trips to Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, and Tottenham (to close out the season) mark the second half, so Liverpool don't get the benefit of home-field advantage against the Premiership's best teams when it matters most.

Bottom Line: Unlike Manchester United and Chelsea, Liverpool's primary focus will be the Premier League. However, Liverpool don't have the same caliber of players up and down their lineup like those two teams do and that's what is most important. The points gap between the top 3 teams will be much closer than what it was last season, so Liverpool won't be fielding second-string lineups at the end of the year like they did last season (resting players for the Champions League had a lot to do with that as well), and March 22 will be their most important game of the season as it's away at Manchester United. Liverpool will have to "settle" for a run at the Champions League final in Moscow, as they just don't have the firepower to compete with Manchester United and Chelsea.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Liverpool FC all the way. The Reds have it. Tough defense, great middlemen, and the finest pitch in the Commonwealth.