Thursday, 28 August 2014

Back in the big time: Analysing Liverpool's Champions League group stage opponents

The Champions League group stage draw on Thursday gave Kopites some cheer this week following Monday night’s dismal defeat against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. 

Selected in Group B, the draw was kind to Liverpool, giving them a good chance of progressing to the knockout stages but also throwing up fixtures against the reigning Champions that will really make the Reds feel they are back where they belong in the big time.

In this article, I take a closer look at who the Merseysiders will face when they play among Europe’s elite for the first time in five years.

Real Madrid

Liverpool’s long European exile left them in pot three, making it inevitable that they would be drawn alongside one of the big boys from pot one. Avoiding the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid, Liverpool were picked to face Spanish giants and current holders of the Champions League Real Madrid.

Real Madrid beat local rivals Atletico 4-1 in the final last year
Carlo Ancelotti’s side will pose a stern challenge for the Reds in two tantalising matches back-to-back at the end of October and beginning of November. The 10 times European Champions have a spent an eye watering amount of money amassing a squad full of Galacticos, including Cristiano Ronaldo (£80 million), Gareth Bale (£85 million) and new arrival James Rodriguez (£63 million). 

However, impulsive club president Florentino Perez’s glamour signings are not always conducive to a cohesive squad, and Ancelotti faces the challenge of keeping so many star names happy.

Last time Liverpool faced Real Madrid, they smashed them 4-0 at Anfield to win 5-0 on aggregate and knock the Spaniards out of the Champions League at the last 16 stage. Rodgers would love to replicate that success this season, although he’ll settle for two points against the toughest team in the group.

Basel

Swiss side Basel could be the dark horses in Group B. The dominant force in Swiss football for the last decade, Basel have won the Swiss League seven times in the last ten years and are capable of causing an upset on their day. In last season’s Champions League, they secured a shock 2-1 win at Stamford Bridge in Jose Mourinho’s first Champions League tie since returning to Chelsea.

Basel celebrate a shock win at Stamford Bridge
They also beat the Blues 1-0 in Switzerland, but fell short of qualifying for the knockout stages, finishing third and entering the Europa League, which they exited in spectacular fashion at the quarter final stages. Their seemingly insurmountable 3-0 first leg lead over Valencia was remarkably overturned on a crazy night at the Mestalla, as the Spaniards stunningly beat the Swiss 5-0 to reach the semis and embarrass Basel.

Liverpool have unpleasant memories of matches against Basel; in 2002, they travelled to Switzerland on the final matchday requiring a win to progress and, despite staging an Istanbul-esque fight back to recover from 3-0 down, they could only pull it back to 3-3 and were thus eliminated. Rodgers will be hoping to avoid a repeat of that outcome when Basel visit Anfield for the final matchday at the start of December.

Ludogorets Razgrad

The little known Bulgarian side with a name that hardly rolls off the tongue were founded only thirteen years ago. However, they have managed extraordinary success during their brief existence. In their first season in A Group- the imaginative name of the Bulgarian top division- they became only the third Bulgarian team to achieve a treble, winning the League, the Bulgarian Cup and the Bulgarian Supercup. In doing so, they emulated the more established and well-known sides CSKA Sofia and Levski Sofia.

The Eagles, whose stadium has a capacity of only 8000 and thus will not be used for Champions League matches, have won the Bulgarian A Group for three seasons running, and reached the group stages of the Champions League for the first time in remarkable fashion this year.

A prize for anyone who can name a single Ludogorets player
After progressing from the second qualifying round via victories over the amusingly named F91 Dudelange and Partizan Belgrade, Ludogorets beat Steaua Bucharest 6-5 on penalties with a little help from their 29-year old defender Cosmin Moti, who went in goal after keeper Vladislav Stoyanov saw red in the last minute of extra time. Moti stepped up to the plate and produced some heroics, saving two spot kicks after converting his own to send Ludgorets through.

Ludogorets should prove little more than whipping boys, and Liverpool must secure six points against them if they are to reach the knockout stages, although a trip to Bulgaria at the end of November is hardly an inviting prospect.

Conclusion

Liverpool couldn’t have wished for a better group. Group B is the perfect mix of beatable teams and big names, providing the Reds both the realistic prospect of progression and a couple of tasty European ties to get their teeth into too. 

I cannot wait until it all begins in 19 days’ time!

YNWA

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Classy City a cut above poor Reds

Liverpool suffered an early-season setback as they fell to a disappointing but deserved 3-1 defeat at Manchester City last night.

The Reds failed their first major test of the season on Monday evening, losing comprehensively in the end to a classy City side that just seemed a cut above Liverpool. Despite arguably being the better team for 40 minutes, the Merseysiders never looked like coming back into the contest once a defensive error from debutant Alberto Moreno allowed Stevan Jovetic to give the hosts the lead moments before the break.

The on-form Jovetic’s second and a goal from substitute Sergio Aguero only 23 seconds after entering the action killed off any lingering hopes Liverpool had of getting back into the game, with Zabaleta’s own goal under pressure from Lambert seven minutes from time proving scant consolation for Brendan Rodgers’ disconsolate troops.

The game came too soon for Liverpool’s new signing Mario Balotelli, who watched on from the stands as his new employers faced his former team. Alberto Moreno was handed his debut by Brendan Rodgers at left back and performed promisingly until his fatal error on the stroke of half time, while Joe Allen was preferred to Lucas in the middle of the park.

For the first 40 minutes, Liverpool looked the better team and City seemed not to be at the races. Defensively disciplined, the Reds had the stamina to quickly get men behind the ball to regain their defensive shape after committing numbers forward.

In attack, Philippe Coutinho was particularly impressive, while Sterling’s pace caused City’s backline problems on numerous occasions and, although he was arguably quite quiet, Sturridge had the away side’s best chance of the half just after the half hour mark, testing Hart with a decent effort from a narrow angle after bamboozling Vincent Kompany with some clever footwork.

Apart from that, though, goalscoring chances were disappointingly few and far between for Liverpool, who couldn’t convert their control of the game into goals. In contrast, City, despite rarely getting out of second gear during the first period, were clinical in front of goal and ruthless in punishing Liverpool’s mistakes. As a result, the Citizens entered the interval with the all-important lead.

A ball into the box was weakly nodded away by the poorly positioned Lovren and Jovetic exploited Moreno’s hesitancy to pounce, stealing possession from the dumbfounded Spaniard and smashing home from close range to open the scoring. It was lazy defending from the former Sevilla left back, who stood still and swung a leg in hope instead of reacting quickly and clearing the danger.

Jovetic fires home his first goal
He must do better to justify his £12 million price tag. However, to be fair to him, his superb tackle to deny Dzeko as he ran through on goal four minutes after the restart went some way to compensating for his earlier error.

Now in full stride, the confident City couldn’t be denied for long, though, as their attacking brilliance exposed the flaws that remain in Liverpool’s defence despite heavy investment over the summer.

Man City’s Montenegrin striker Jovetic was like a new signing for the home side throughout the match, and he started and finished the move that culminated in his second goal of the evening on 55 minutes. After the number 35’s flick sent Nasri clear down the right, he fired home the Frenchman’s return pass to double both his personal goal haul and City’s scoring tally. 

Jovetic was like a new signing for City
Jovetic could have secured a hat-trick minutes later, but his shot went wide of the post after Liverpool failed to clear the danger inside the area.

Noticeably superior to Liverpool, City seemed a far more cohesive unit, which is understandable considering the number of new arrivals at Anfield this summer. Despite going neck-to-neck with City in the title race last season, Liverpool struggled to live with the Manchester side in the second half, and Pellegrini’s men set about embarrassing their visitors.

With twenty minutes remaining, Sergio Aguero entered the fray and made an immediate impact, timing his run perfectly to evade the attention of Lovren and latch onto Navas’ fantastic through ball, slotting home past the helpless Mignolet to make it 3-0.

Aguero had an instant impact
City could have quite easily gone on to score a couple more goals, but thankfully they were restricted to three, and Liverpool managed to grab a late consolation as well. Lambert headed Sturridge’s cross goalwards from close range and saw Hart make a good save. Unfortunately for the England keeper, he only succeeded in pushing the ball against his teammate Zabaleta’s knee, and the ball rolled into the net as a result.

Zabaleta's own goal proved scant consolation
Despite that slight positive, the night ended badly for Liverpool. First, Lambert squandered a gilt edged opportunity to score a second soon after Zabaleta’s own goal, confusingly deciding to cross when he really should have had the confidence to fire goalwards when presented with a wonderful goalscoring opportunity.

Then, our defenders seemed to drop like flies. Johnson limped off with an injury, leaving Liverpool with ten men as they’d already utilised all three substitutions. Skrtel and Moreno also had to endure a painful few final minutes, as they played on despite picking up knocks, the latter suffering a particularly nasty looking turned ankle.

It was a disappointingly apt way to end a frustrating evening, which evidenced the gulf in class between the two teams. On the basis of this match, City will certainly be title contenders, while Liverpool will probably have to settle for fighting for a top four finish. City are just a cut above Liverpool currently.

Next up for Liverpool is a trip to White Hart Lane on Sunday to face Spurs, a team who the Reds are in danger of emulating in terms of their response to the sale of a world class player to one of the Spanish giants. With Tottenham on the up under Mauricio Pochettino, it should be a tough test at one of Liverpool’s historic bogey grounds. Hopefully Super Mario will make a difference and help the Reds to bounce back quickly from this disappointing and potentially damaging defeat.

YNWA 

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Mario Balotelli

Mario Balotelli is an enigma wrapped in a mystery- and that's putting it mildly!

There has been one question overshadowing Brendan Rodgers’ spending spree this summer following the £75 million sale of flawed genius Luis Suarez to Barcelona; how are Liverpool going to replace the seemingly irreplaceable Uruguayan?

The answer, up until a few days ago at least, appeared to be that the Reds had accepted the impossibility of replacing Suarez; his intoxicating yet infuriating blend of magic and madness simply cannot be replicated.

Instead, they decided to spend the money raised by his sale on building a squad deep enough to cope with Champions League football; quantity replaced quality, with Rodgers hoping that the sum of his eight new signings would be at least equal to the one and only Luis Suarez.

However, with deadline day looming and big name targets such as Monaco’s Falcao and PSG’s Cavani turning down the chance to join Sturridge and Lambert in Liverpool’s attack, Rodgers has gone back on his word and signed a talented player with destructive tendencies similar to Suarez, namely the notorious Mario Balotelli.

Balotelli and Sakho share a joke in a pre-season friendly in America
It was only 20 days ago that Rodgers ruled out signing Super Mario. To quote the Northern Irishman verbatim: “I can categorically tell you Mario Balotelli will not be at Liverpool.” Now, just shy of three weeks later, a £16 million fee has been agreed with AC Milan, as have personal terms with the player, and all that remains for the deal to be wrapped up is the completion of Mario’s medical, which should be a formality.

The news has shocked the football world and divided Kopites. Many are excited about signing a world class talent at a bargain price, although most are at least a little reticent about his erratic and unpredictable behaviour. All are bound to be talking about the good, the bad and the ugly of Mario Balotelli throughout the season.

The Good

Balotelli is a world class talent with plenty of medals to prove it. From 2007-2010, he was an integral part of an Inter Milan team that won three Serie A titles, two domestic cups and the Champions League. Moreover, the last time he was in the Premier League at Manchester City, he helped them win the FA Cup and the title, providing the assist for Sergio Aguero’s famous last minute strike at home to QPR which won the Citizens the League in 2011/2012.

He also has a solid, if not spectacular, scoring record, netting 88 times in 222 career games, which averages out at just over a goal every three games. The biggest goal haul of his career came last season at AC Milan, where he scored 14 League goals in 25 starts.

Furthermore, Super Mario has a soft side off the pitch, which has endeared him to supporters. In Christmas 2011, Mario wandered into a pub in Manchester and put £1000 behind the bar. Clearly in the festive spirit, Balotelli also dressed up as Santa Claus and drove around giving out money to bemused Mancunians. Heart-warmingly, he also dealt with a young fan’s bully after he turned up to City’s training grounds asking for an autograph during school hours.

The Bad

Mario is egotistical in the extreme, as humorously evidenced by the photo of a Panini sticker album filled with images of himself that he posted on Facebook at this summer’s World Cup. As a result, he tends to strop and kick up a fuss when he is not the team’s focal point, which sets him at odds with the emphasis on the team that Rodgers has instilled at Anfield.

For Mario, it's always all about him
Often seen as lazy and inconsistent, Balotelli has a tendency to go missing in matches when he is simply too bored to take an interest in the game, which will infuriate Kopites who prize a good work ethic and expect nothing less than 100% every week from those wearing the famous Red shirt.

Moreover, his disciplinary record is poor, the 24-year old picking up a career high ten bookings for AC Milan last season. More importantly, he rarely has a good relationship with his managers, with his boss at Inter, Jose Mourinho, declaring him ‘unmanageable’ and Roberto Mancini saying that he felt like punching Balotelli at times.

The Ugly

Mario’s antics may be amusing, but they are often ugly as well. Ranging from the bizarre to the barbaric, Balotelli has made headlines on the front pages as much as the back pages during his career.

Training ground fights with teammates and managers, throwing darts at youth team players and setting off fireworks in his own bathroom are just some of the crazy things that happen on a regular basis in the weird and wonderful world of Mario Balotelli.

Conclusion

Weighing up the costs and benefits of bringing in Balotelli is difficult because, unlike his good aspects, his bad, and particularly ugly, side are unquantifiable. You can count how many goals he scores in a season, but it is much more difficult to put a number on the amount of goals that weren’t scored because his attitude lowered team morale or the amount of damage that was done to the club’s reputation due to his antics.  

If no other alternative was available, Balotelli is a good signing at £16 million. Having Mad Mario to contend with is better than struggling along with just Sturridge and Lambert. However, there is a huge risk that he won’t fit into Rodgers’ set up, and he may well clash with rather than complement Sturridge, since both will be vying for the main striker’s role and Balotelli doesn’t like playing second fiddle to anyone.

Muscular Mario is as mad as a box of frogs
Moreover, however many financial incentives for good behaviour are included in his contract to try and mitigate his many misdemeanours; you simply cannot legislate for some of the crazy stuff that Balotelli gets up to.

Let’s hope this transfer works and he finally matures into the world class footballer he has the potential to be but, at the same time, not naively believe that this time he’ll be different. Unfortunately, the good, the bad and the ugly of Balotelli are seemingly inextricably linked. When you sign Super Mario, you sign him warts and all.

YNWA

Monday, 18 August 2014

Sterling and Sturridge strike to sink Saints

Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge struck to eke out a 2-1 win in a nervy opening day at Anfield.

Unconvincing and vulnerable, the Reds were thoroughly tested by a Southampton side determined to prove that their re-built squad is good enough to keep them in the Premier League following their summer fire sale.

The fact that nearly half of the players sold in that fire sale left to join Liverpool only provided the Saints additional motivation to perform well in their opening day fixture at Anfield, although they only came up against one of their former employees, at least to start with.

With Lallana injured and Lambert on the bench, Lovren was the only former Southampton player to start for Liverpool, being routinely booed by the travelling contingent of fans, but impressing Kopites. His calming presence at the back and passing range are promising, although the Reds’ defence undoubtedly has much more work to do; they were exposed by the Saints’ attack on several occasions during a difficult second half.

However, the hosts began in the ascendancy, enjoying 70% of possession during the first 15 minutes. Frustratingly, though, their cutting edge was blunted, Sturridge’s 20-yard shot the only attempt at goal of note.

Thankfully, his strike partner Raheem Sterling started where he left off last season; in top form. After seeing Forster easily save his shot following clever work by Coutinho down the left wing, the 19-year old broke the deadlock midway through the first half. Henderson did very well to win the ball back in his own half, shrugging off Schneiderlin and sending a perfect pass through for Sterling, who calmly slotted home when in a one-on-one situation with the keeper.

Sterling could be a star this season
Undeterred, Southampton responded, and were arguably the better team for the rest of the first half, if not the rest of the match. They tested Simon Mignolet twice five minutes before the break, the Belgian easily collecting James Ward-Prowse’s curled effort and then superbly turning want-away Schneiderlin’s effort over the bar.

Little changed after the interval; Ronald Koeman’s men continued to play pressing football, noticeably growing in confidence, while the Anfield crowd became increasingly nervous. It came as no surprise when the visitors equalised in quite impressive fashion.

Nathaniel Clyne played a clever one-two with Dusan Tadic in the box, the latter excellently wrong-footing Lovren and back-heeling beautifully into Clyne’s path. The 23-year old right back rocketed the ball into the net from close range, giving Mignolet no chance whatsoever.

Confidence flowing through their team, Southampton didn’t settle for a point, instead attempting to exploit the gaps in Liverpool’s defence, capitalise on their momentum and clinch all three points. They went extremely close to doing so only seven minutes after Clyne had levelled.

Tadic fed the free James Ward-Prowse, who squared to the unmarked Steven Davis. One-on-one with Mignolet from ten yards out, the Northern Irish midfielder who shares a name with a snooker player bottled it, his weak effort easily saved by Mignolet.

It was a wake-up call for Liverpool, who should have been one goal behind by that stage. Missing the departed Luis Suarez, the Reds seemed stuck for ideas as to how to regain the ascendancy and grab a winner. It was the sort of game that, in previous seasons, the Merseysiders would have relied on a piece of magic from the talented Uruguayan to secure a win. Without him, Liverpool laboured for long spells with nothing to show for it.

That was until the introduction of Rickie Lambert gave the Reds the added impetus needed to push on and claim the victory. The ex-Southampton striker was welcomed onto the pitch by both sets of supporters and instantly made a difference, lifting the crowd and providing a focal point for the Reds’ attack.

It seemed all set up for Lambert to net the winner and ensure a fairy tale ending, but it didn’t quite go to plan, not that relieved Reds will be complaining that it was Sturridge rather than Lambert who nicked the decisive goal.

A direct ball into the box was half cleared to Sterling, who cleverly headed it in the direction of Sturridge. Despite having little impact on the game up to that point- out of the 22 players who started the match only Forster had had fewer touches- Sturridge got something on the ball and managed to turn it into the net to score what turned out to be a scrappy winner.

Sturridge scored a scrappy winner
Of course, Liverpool didn't make it easy for themselves in the closing stages. Having only 20% of possession in the final ten minutes, the Reds were pinned back by Southampton, who pressed relentlessly and went very close to scoring the equaliser their performance merited.

Just like the opening match of last season versus Stoke, Liverpool had to rely on some brilliance from Simon Mignolet to secure all three points. This time, the Belgian stopper superbly tipped Schneiderlin’s powerful effort onto the underside of the bar, and Long fortunately squandered a great chance from the rebound, heading the loose ball wide when he really should have scored.

The fact that the match ended with Liverpool keeping the ball in the corner spoke volumes about the nature of the contest; nervy and uncomfortable, the Reds just did everything they could to eke a win out by any means. In the end, they won while playing badly, which is said to be the sign of champions.

Brendan Rodgers’ men will have to perform much better than that for the rest of the season, though, if they are to have any hopes of lifting the title.

YNWA

Sunday, 17 August 2014

2014/2015 Season Preview: Will this be Liverpool's year and nine other questions

For the first time since 2009, Liverpool begin the season with title hopes grounded in something more than just blind hope. After taking the title race down to the last day of the season in 2013/2014, Liverpool will look to go one better and finally clinch their nineteenth League title in 2014/2015.

Will this finally be Liverpool’s year? That’s one of several questions I answer in my preview of the upcoming 2014/2015 campaign, which begins for Liverpool at Anfield against Southampton at 1.30pm on Sunday.

What are the key lessons Liverpool need to learn from last season?

There are two main lessons that Liverpool need to learn from last season if they are to improve on their second placed finish:

1. Goal difference matters- the Reds finished the season with a goal difference 14 goals worse than Manchester City, who eventually pipped them to the title post on the final day of the season. The Citizens’ superior goal difference was due to their defensive superiority- they only scored one more goal than Liverpool but conceded 13 fewer- and effectively widened the gap between them and second placed Liverpool by an extra point. Rodgers’ troops will need to cut out results such as 3-6 away to Cardiff and 4-3 at home to Swansea since, even though three points were gained from those fixtures, sloppy goals were needlessly conceded, undermining the Merseysiders title credentials.

2. Philosophy is great, but you need a healthy dose of pragmatism to win titles. In the two games that lost Liverpool the title last season, Brendan Rodgers demonstrated a perhaps noble but ultimately na├»ve dedication to his footballing philosophy, when a more pragmatic approach could have steered the title away from Manchester and in the direction of Merseyside. Against Chelsea at Anfield towards the end of April Rodgers set his side up to go all out for victory, even though a draw would have left the fate of the title in their hands. Chelsea played the perfect counter-attacking game and punished the Reds as a result, winning 2-0.

Then, in the penultimate fixture at Selhurst Park, Liverpool kept on trying to add to their total, rather than shutting up shop at 3-0. Crystal Palace went on to exploit their defensive weaknesses and remarkably scored three times in the space of ten minutes to all but end their title dreams.

Where are the Reds’ strengths and weaknesses?

Liverpool’s strengths lie in attack, and their weaknesses in defence. Even without Suarez, their attack is one of the most formidable in the League and has the potential to continue to frighten defences in 2014/2015, as demonstrated by the four-goal demolition of German giants Borussia Dortmund in the Reds’ final pre-season friendly.

A lot of work needs to be done to sure up Liverpool’s defence, although hopefully the signings of Dejan Lovren, Javier Manquillo and Alberto Moreno will go a long way to tightening up the Reds’ back line. Rodgers has shown that he can produce wonderful attacking teams; he now needs to prove this season that he can add defensive rigour to the attacking brilliance that his squad unquestionably possesses.

Who will be the key player?

2013/2014 was the season that Jordan Henderson proved that he was good enough to play for Liverpool and justified his £16 million price tag. His abundant dynamism and energy in midfield, which so often went overlooked, were sorely missed in the final few games after his injury time red card against Manchester City. They will be needed now more than ever as the Reds face a more demanding fixture list this season.

Hendo proved his worth last season
Philippe Coutinho is another player who could come into his own this season. He’s been offered a bumper new contract by Brendan Rodgers and was the stand-out performer in pre-season. If he can step up to the plate and take over Luis Suarez’s mantle, the Reds’ attack won’t suffer in the Uruguyan’s absence.

Can we cope without Suarez?

Following on nicely from the previous question, yes; but with certain qualifications. Firstly, Sturridge, Coutinho and Sterling must progress further and remain injury free. If they do, Sturridge and Sterling could form the next SAS, while Coutinho will be the playmaker pulling the strings in between the lines.

Secondly, we need to sign another striker as back-up to Sturridge. Lambert will be much more useful off the bench than Aspas, but I wouldn’t trust him to be the sole striker for an extended spell if Sturridge was on the side-lines for a significant amount of time.

Will we ‘do a Spurs’?

A £100 million spending spree is always fun, but not always wise. Funded by the £75 million sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona, Brendan Rodgers has been spending money like it’s going out of fashion this summer, splashing out £20+ million on three occasions. Although most of his signings make sense in isolation, whether or not they do as a whole is less clear.

There’s a very real possibility that so many new arrivals will disrupt squad cohesion and negatively affect the team’s performance, replicating Tottenham Hotspur, who struggled last season after selling Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for a world record fee and spending the proceeds on seven new signings, whose cumulative goal tally was only one better than Bale’s from the previous season.  At the end of the day, only time will tell whether we ‘do a Spurs’, but it’s rightly a real worry for many Reds supporters.

Is our defence good enough?

One of Rodgers’ transfer priorities has been sorting out Liverpool’s weak and vulnerable defence, which leaked 50 goals last season, more than most teams in the top half of the table. As a result, Lovren and Moreno have been brought in from Southampton and Sevilla respectively in order to solve long term problems at centre back and left back. Meanwhile, Manquillo has signed on loan from Atletico Madrid to provide Glen Johnson with some much needed competition at right back.

Lovren has arrived from Southampton
All three appear to be quality players with plenty of potential and, if they can gel as a unit, then our defence should show a marked improvement on the 2013/2014 campaign.

Where will we finish?

I would love to say that I think Liverpool will go one step further this year and win the Premier League title for the first time, but I just cannot see it happening unfortunately. The loss of Luis Suarez is significant and it will take time for the fresh faces in the squad to gel. The demands of Champions League football will also put a strain on the squad, making a title tilt more difficult. A top four finish is certainly realistic, though, and I think the Reds will finish third and secure automatic entry into the 2015/2016 Champions League.

How far will we go in the Champions League?

It depends to a large degree on how difficult a group we are given in the draw on 28th August. Liverpool have been out of the Champions League since the 2009/2010 season, hence we are in seeding pot three alongside the likes of Galatasaray and Sporting Lisbon. That means there is a strong chance that the Reds will face a European giant such as Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Juventus in the group stage, which could reduce our chances of progressing far.

The goal should be to reach the knock-out stages and, if Liverpool get out of their group, who knows how far they might go with the backing of the Kop behind them on magical European nights at Anfield once again?

Can we win a domestic cup?

We certainly can, whether or not we will is a different matter. The Reds’ focus will be on the League and European football this season, so FA Cup and League Cup campaigns will probably be sacrificed in order to secure progress on those two fronts. Expect to see youngsters such as Jordon Ibe given the chance to stake a claim for more frequent first team action in the domestic cup competitions.

Will this be our year?

If ‘our year’ means the year that we finally win the League after almost a quarter of a century of heartache, then no- I think Liverpool are still a season away from winning the title. However, this could be our year to show that we are a genuine force in European football by going far in the Champions League and automatically qualifying to compete in arguably the game’s biggest competition once again in 2015/2016.

YNWA

This article was originally posted on This is Anfield.