By Bill Farnham
There are many questions surrounding LFC this offseason, but perhaps the most important is whether or not a top four finish is even a realistic goal for the club in the 2012-13 season. On the face of it, Liverpool would have needed 18 additional points to have finished the 2011-12 season tied with Arsenal, leaving Spurs in fifth place with 69. Unfortunately there is no shortage of matches one can point to where Liverpool “dropped” points last season, the question remains whether or not Liverpool can do better next season than four out of the seven teams that finished ahead of them in 2011-2012.
Looking at Liverpool’s competitors for a position in the top four:
- Manchester City:
Liverpool is quite simply unable to compete, financially or otherwise, with Manchester City at the present time. This is a squad with multiple world-class players and the resources and opportunities to attract as many more top talents as they want. A top two finish is surely the minimum expectation for Manchester City in the upcoming season.
- Manchester United:
Significant questions remain surrounding the depth and quality on offer in the Manchester United midfield, the signing of Shinji Kagawa aside. However the bottom line is that Sir Alex Ferguson continues to extract the maximum possible results from his squad, and a finish outside the top three in 2012-13 would be unexpected.
Prior to the signings of Eden Hazard and Marko Marin, Chelsea was one of the squads that Liverpool had a realistic chance of passing. However, given the way they ended the season, with wins in both the FA Cup and the Champions’ League, and if terms with Hulk have been agreed as the Guardian reported then Chelsea must be seen as a favorite for a top four finish.
With both Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud already having completed moves to the Emirates, Arsenal have strengthened their first XI considerably, and the proposed changes in the club’s wage structure seem to indicate that Arsenal will make a significant effort to extend Robin van Persie’s contract. With a healthy Thomas Vermaelen, Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere in the lineup next season, and the emergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as a top talent, Liverpool will have a hard time overtaking the Gunners in 2012-13.
Surpassing Spurs remains a real possibility for Liverpool next season, especially given the fact that André Villas-Boas remains unproven at the highest level in England. If Luka Modric leaves in the summer and Emmanuel Adebayor is not retained, then Spurs could easily drop several places in the standings.
In many ways, the Magpies had the season that Liverpool was supposed to have this past year. A manager in his first full season at the helm bought shrewdly in the transfer market, instilled a visible team ethos, and improved dramatically on the results of the previous season, climbing seven spots from twelfth to fifth and challenging for a spot in the top four until the final weeks. If Newcastle’s dealings in the transfer market are as shrewd this offseason as they were last year, then a finish in the top six is a distinct possibility. However, this is a team that Liverpool should aim to leapfrog in the standings.
The Toffees finished the season strongly, as they signed Steven Pienaar, who was on loan from Tottenham, plus Nikica Jelavic and Darron Gibson seemed to provide David Moyes’ squad with an injection of creativity and an abundance of goals. Jelavic was particularly impressive, as he finished the season with 11 goals to lead the squad, despite not arriving until early February. Moyes consistently produces a hard-working capable team, but for Liverpool to finish behind Everton again in 2012-13 would be classified as a severe disappointment for the Reds.
Despite all this, there are still reasons to be optimistic for next season. For starters, it is inconceivable that the trio of Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, and Jordan Henderson will combine to contribute a mere six league goals as they did in 2011-12. With a healthy Lucas Leiva, a full season from Steven Gerrard, and no eight-game ban for Luis Suarez, there is every reason to believe that Liverpool can improve on last season’s eighth-place finish. Breaking into the top four is the target for Liverpool next season and hopefully it can do just that. Champions League football is a must for 2013-14.
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