After the delight of seeing their side at the top of the table at Christmas, Liverpool fans received a harsh reality check after back-to-back (and very similar) defeats at Manchester City and Chelsea. A convincing 2-0 win against the fighting Hull City at home has meant that the team is shaken off its 2-match losing streak and at the end of 20 matches, the team is at the 4th position in the league table, 6 points off the table toppers Arsenal.
While it might still require another season for Brendan Rodgers at the club to make the team a strong contender for the league title, there has been considerable progress made. The fact that Liverpool were placed 10th in the league table (21 points behind leaders Manchester United) at the start of 2013, the team’s present standing illustrates that the work done by Rodgers has started to bear fruit.
Rodgers’ style of play has meant that Liverpool have scored goals in large numbers and have a healthy goal difference. Apart from that, they have also played some entertaining football and have to an extent managed to establish Anfield as a fortress where opponents fear coming to play. The team has also done reasonably well on its travels with a thumping 5-0 win over Tottenham at White Hart Lane.
Luis Suarez has been in imperious form after returning from his suspension, while Daniel Sturridge was prolific in goal-scoring as well prior to his injury. However, the defence has been vulnerable this season and new goalkeeper Simon Mignolet has managed to keep only 6 clean-sheets out of 20 matches.
Player of the season (so far): Luis Suarez
It has been an incredible transformation of Luis Suarez from being a hated traitor during the summer transfer window to a much-loved hero now after his exploits following the conclusion of his suspension. A return of a rich haul of 20 goals from just 15 matches has resulted in Suarez being rewarded with a bumper contract which makes him the highest paid player in the club’s history.
There is no guarantee that Suarez will see out his full contract at Liverpool, or there won’t be another transfer saga in the summer of 2014, but Liverpool fans must truly relish watching Suarez play for their club at the moment and enjoy the dream goal-scoring run while it lasts.
Most improved player this season (so far): Jordan Henderson
Always under a huge burden of expectation following his big-money (at an arguably inflated price) transfer from Sunderland, Henderson had struggled to make his mark in the Liverpool team on his arrival. After being initially deemed surplus to the team’s requirements by Rodgers at the start of last season, Henderson gradually managed to find a place for himself in the team.
The 2014 season has seen Henderson cementing his place in the Liverpool first-team, and his role in the team gained more prominence when Steven Gerrard was ruled out for a few games due to injury. Henderson stepped up to the occasion and developed a fine partnership with Suarez and was instrumental in setting up many goals in Suarez’s goal-scoring spree in the month of the December.
Such has been Henderson’s impact on the team this season that it’s often easy to overlook the fact that he’s just 23 years old and should get better and improve his game with time. From not featuring in the manager’s plans last season to becoming a key contributor to the team’s success illustrates the impressive turnaround that Henderson has managed to achieve in his Liverpool career.
The performances of Lucas Leiva and Glen Johnson have been below par this season, compared to the higher standards they have set. While Lucas has struggled to provide the defensive steel against strong opposition like Manchester City and Chelsea, Johnson has been very average in his performances both defensively as well as offensively.
New signings Iago Aspas and Luis Alberto and loan signings Victor Moses and Aly Cissokho haven’t managed to make a significant impact to the team, and have mostly been confined to the bench, and an odd appearance due to injuries.
Activity required in winter transfer window:
Brendan Rodgers made two excellent signings in Daniel Sturridge and Phillipe Coutinho in last season’s winter transfer window and he will be keen to replicate the success this time round too.
After missing out on Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Diego Costa and Willian in the summer, Rodgers will be keen to sign a goal-scoring midfielder or a striker to the team. Signing a defensive midfielder to provide competition to Lucas is also likely to high on Rodgers’ priorities.
Realistic targets: Mohamed Salah (Basel), Cristian Tello (Barcelona, loan), Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (Udinese), Danny Ings (Burnley), Will Hughes (Derby County)
Prediction for position at the end of the season: 4th place in the league table
The table-topping feat at Christmas notwithstanding, it will be unrealistic for Rodgers’ Liverpool to jump from last season’s 7th place to a title this time. But if the team can continue the fine run, the fans should be able to get a much coveted place in next season’s Champions League, something which the team has been missing out on in the last few years.
The team can look to build on this season’s success and try to mount a strong challenge for the next year’s league title.