According to returning Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho, six teams will vie for the Premier League title this season. Five of those six teams have managed Top 4 finishes in the last two seasons, with only Chelsea and Tottenham not present each time. The sixth team in Mourinho’s equation, Liverpool, have encountered a spectacularly underwhelming run in the last four seasons, finishing 7th, 6th, 8th, and 7th respectively in the last four years.
While it is difficult to ascertain whether Mourinho actually meant what he said, there is no doubt that the Champions League places for this season will be very tightly contested. With Tottenham looking stronger than ever despite the potential departure of Bale, the North Londoners are being tipped as dark horses for the Premier League title. The threat of Arsenal should also never be counted out, as the Gunners still possess a strong starting eleven.
Liverpool, on the other hand, are being tipped as the dark horses for the coveted 4th spot, having built an exciting, young team under Brendan Rodgers, while successfully retaining the services of Luis Suarez. But is a mere Champions League position all that Liverpool are capable of? Can the Reds of Merseyside upset the bigger favourites and actually manage to sneak in a Top 3 finish, thereby guaranteeing an automatic Champions League berth in 2014-15?
Here are some reasons why you can expect the unexpected from the Reds:
Youthful talent and potential
Simon Mignolet, Daniel Sturridge, Phillipe Coutinho, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson are some of the key players in this side, and continue to improve on a daily basis. All of these players are on the good side of 25, and there exist other exciting young talents such as Luis Alberto and Jordan Ibe, who are yet to display their skills to a large majority of the Anfield faithful, but have the talent to make a difference.
The controversial Suarez himself is only 26, and given that a footballer generally peaks around the age of 28, it is extremely possible that Suarez can become an even better player in the coming years, which would only serve to increase Liverpool’s chances of a brilliant finish this season.
Fabio Borini and Joe Allen are also under 25 years of age, and both players will have a point to prove this season, after the disappointments of last season. Both players have shown potential in the past, and there is reason to believe that they can end up as world-class players, provided they are able to grab their chances.
Sturridge – Suarez – Coutinho axis
Liverpool’s very own ‘holy trinity’ is one of the best first choice attacking units that the Premier League can offer, and can stand up to the very best of defences. The trio will be largely responsible for Liverpool’s creativity, goals, and attacking outlet, and is undoubtedly Rodgers’ first choice attacking triumvirate, barring injuries and suspensions.
Coutinho’s movement, dribbling, and ability to pick out a key pass has made the young Brazilian the de facto creative head for Liverpool. His arrival greatly relieved the burden on Suarez, and coincided with Liverpool’s good run in the second half of the 2012-13 season. His partnership with Sturridge, another revelation at Anfield, has been Liverpool’s main threat in the first two league games and will be the main focus of United’s defence at Anfield on Sunday.
Sturridge’s transformation from Chelsea reserve to the best English striker on current form in the league has been delightful to watch. His pace, deadly eye for goal, and excellent movement with the ball, as demonstrated by his goal against Aston Villa, has greatly improved a previously one-dimensional Liverpool attack.
If Sturridge and Suarez can score 30-40 goals, in the league, between themselves, then the Reds of Merseyside have a genuine chance of a surprisingly high finish.
Ability to see out a game
The Reds possessed only one game plan last season, attack, attack and attack, and when that failed, it often resulted in a negative result for the side. The Merseysiders were also unable to see out games, often falling prey to single chances for the opposition, with both games against Manchester City last season an example of this phenomenon. When the Reds would have a bad game, it would undoubtedly end in defeat last season.
Against Villa, the Reds were able to stay in the game and continuously thwart a dangerous Villa side, and settled for a 1-0 win, after being overrun for most of the second half. More such hard-fought victories will be required for Liverpool’s progression to the upper echelons of the league table, and only need to look at hated rivals Manchester United’s excellent ability to win, when not playing well.
Reasonably better depth
Except maybe Arsenal, all the other four major sides have better strength in depth than Liverpool, while Tottenham don’t necessarily have great quality in their depth. On the positive note, the Reds will not be crippled with the absence of a key player like Suarez, which was the case before January 2013. Iago Aspas, Fabio Borini, Raheem Sterling, Luis Alberto, and an untested Jordan Ibe can take up the attacking mantle, should a few key players fall prey to injury.
The defence was reinforced with Kolo Toure, but now three injuries threaten to cause a defensive crisis in the squad, and Rodgers is actively working on trying to secure a new centre-half.
With Shay Given rumoured to be heading to Anfield to be Mignolet’s understudy, he would be a huge improvement over the shaky Brad Jones, and his experience would be a great addition to the squad.
Given the squad additions over the summer, the strong finish to last season, and the continued presence of Suarez beyond August 2nd, there exists an air of confidence that hasn’t been seen at Anfield for quite a while now. The players believe, the fans believe and the manager believes as well, and a victory over Manchester United on Sunday will only increase the confidence further.
A good start will do wonders for any team, and it is imperative that Liverpool builds on their winning start to the 2013-14 Barclays Premier League season, as just believing isn’t enough.