So it seems this will be another season to be placed in the 'transitional' category. It's been four years since we were last in the top 4; now is surely the time for us to make the jump from 'team in transition' to 'force' again?
Opinion on Brendan Rodgers appears split, although favour was encouraged with the positive end of season form. I am firmly in the pro-Rodgers camp; I like the way we're playing, the way he's solved our goalscoring problems, the way he's gotten the best out of failing players like Downing and Henderson, I like his tactical nous and I like his signings- yes, even Joe Allen! That said, he has had a far from perfect season, and our progress under him has been less than hoped- no Liverpool fan can be satisfied with seventh place. But clearly changing manager again would not work. Our best chance of making a push on top 4 is, in my opinion, with Rodgers kept in place for next season, making some astute signings and hoping the end of season optimism continues from the off in 2013-14.
And clearly, top 4 is where we need to be. Trophies are fantastic, and I like most laughed with derision when Arsene Wenger suggested claiming 4th in the Premier League is like winning a trophy. It isn't. But it's necessary, to get us rubbing shoulders with Europe's finest again. And that, in turn, will lead us to more silverware.
So how should we improve the team to do this?
For me, Rodgers has sorted the attack quite nicely. I would possibly add another striker-come-winger to give us another option if Borini keeps misfiring, and have enjoyed previous links with Andreas Weimann for that role and the more recent links to the highly-rated Iago Aspas appear promising. But by-and-large, I would only look to make significant changes to the forward line if someone were to leave. I like the 4-3-3 best, and feel Coutinho, Suarez and Sturridge is an excellent threesome up front. With Downing, Sterling, Suso, Borini, Teixeira, Ibe as well as a possible new signing all waiting in the wings, we would have great strength in depth there. In fact, this number of faces surely would open the door nicely for some loans for our talented youngsters.
Rodgers seems quite insistent we don't need a strongman in midfield. I disagree. We have surely seen opponents waltz through our midfield far too often now to know there is a problem. Without strength, our midfield- and indeed, the whole team- seems horribly unbalanced to me. Victor Wanyama impresses me greatly, and I would love to see him anchor a three man midfield with two of Gerrard, Allen, Lucas, and Henderson sat ahead- or even Coutinho given one of the central three roles and the freedom to play as the number 10.
Lucas is our current anchorman, and has been for some time now. I think we as a club have gotten too used to him in that position and we overlook his shortcomings. Lucas is a fine passer, and a nippy tackler, but in his attempts to shield the backline, he is pulled out of position too easily, which leaves great big holes in the middle for opponents to walk through. Lucas, for me, should be a linker between defensive midfield and attacking midfield- like Allen- and not the defensive midfielder itself.
It seems like Carragher, Coates and Skrtel may all leave this summer. It will be a shame to see Skrtel go, but I think his lack of ability to deal with powerful forwards has been exposed too much this season, and I would not be too upset to see a change. Ashley Williams has been rumoured to come in and whilst I can see how he would benefit us, I don't think he is Liverpool-standard. Although he might offer more resistance against the Bentekes of this world, I think a Mamadou Sakho would represent a more exciting, and more talented purchase. Similarly, Kyriakos Papadopoulos- who has been strongly linked recently- appears to be a fantastic option. However, if we do lose three centre backs, how many should we bring in?
This may sound perculiar, but there may be an argument that only one is really needed. I would like to see Kelly, Wisdom and maybe even Sama come in as back up to Agger and the new purchase. Though that may be a tad idealistic. The more sensible option may be to recruit two; and that's where Kolo Toure comes in- as a free, and a replacement for Carragher's experience, that could be quite a shrewd bit of business.
As for the full back positions, I do not feel we should recruit anybody new. Johnson is an outstanding footballer and as such I don't feel we should be looking to alter the right back berth at all. I would like to see Ryan McLaughlin come in as his back up with, as previously stated, Kelly and Wisdom given more time in the centre. Perhaps if there is money spare, it may be worth finding a new left back- one who is more defensively reliable than Enrique- Lucas Digne has been suggested, however I would be happy enough simply seeing Jack Robinson and Jose Enrique competing for the spot next season.
Should Reina leave or shouldn't he? I'm in two minds. Until about four months ago, I'd have said he has not been so good for two, maybe three seasons, and as such, why not let one of our highest earners find a new challenge? But as the 2012-13 season ended, Reina's form improved massively. Added to the retirement of one of our other stalwarts in Jamie Carragher, I'm now leaning towards keeping him and hoping he can carry on his renaissance into next season. But if he does go, particularly likely if Barca come calling, there are decent replacements out there. Begovic and Mignolet have impressed in the Premier League, and there are a whole host of outstanding young goalkeepers in Germany worth looking at.
So how would these changes look going into the new season? Perhaps something like this:
Johnson Agger Sakho Enrique
Henderson Wanyama Gerrard
Suarez Sturridge Coutinho
What do you think? Could this team crack the top 4? What would you do differently? Do you think Rodgers was a mistake- would you bring in a different manager? Let us know what you would like to see this summer below.