With £130million spent to aid the post-Suarez recovery, Liverpool have started the current campaign in a sluggish fashion. Only seven points from the first six games – including three losses – presently sees the Merseyside club occupy 14th in the Premier League, with their form becoming irrepressibly worrying too.
So far we have yet to see the fluid, attacking football Liverpool became widely accredited for last season and, with results like the 1-0 home defeat to Aston Villa and the Champions League reverse of the equivalent score-line away to Basel, the signs aren’t looking positive either.
The loss of someone with the ability and influence of Luis Suarez would be detrimental to any club, but have Liverpool inadvertently followed a similar path to Tottenham, who lost Gareth Bale to Real Madrid last summer for a world-record £85million fee? Was last season a ‘one-hit wonder’ for Rodgers’ men?
Manchester United spent £163million on a vast array of predominantly attacking talent this summer and so much attention has been placed on them and deservedly so.
However, Liverpool’s transfer outlay wasn’t far behind and they are doing even worse, especially considering, bar Suarez – and admittedly he is a massive loss – this was primarily the same side, before the new investments came, that came inches from the Premier League title last term.
Mario Balotelli has been brought in to try and fill the Uruguayan-shaped void left by Suarez, and at £16m everyone was ranting on about what a brilliant deal it was for the Reds. Is it though?
He’s been sold three times for a reason. 63 shots, producing only a solitary goal since moving to Anfield is an abysmal conversion rate and despite curbing his temperament in recent seasons, there still remains the doubt over his on-field personality and aggressive nature.
Undeniably, the injury to Daniel Sturridge threw a spanner into the works concerning Liverpool’s early season preparation and he has been a huge miss but I can’t help but feel the new faces at Anfield have largely flattered to deceive on the whole.
Emre Can and Rickie Lambert have both only featured sporadically, causing many to question the basis behind their transfers in the first place. The latter, in particular, raised a few eyebrows and as much as I personally love Lambert and the fairy-tale story behind his meteoric rise from my beloved Bristol Rovers to boyhood club Liverpool and a World Cup in Brazil with England, his signing seems to have been completed purely on the basis of fulfilling his individual dream.
Lazar Markovic has moved over with bags of potential but his adjustment to the Premier League and the physical rigours involved with the English game has been uncomfortable, to put it kindly.
Last season, the Merseysiders main problem was at the back. The collapse away to Crystal Palace, for example, where the Reds threw away a three-goal lead to draw 3-3, highlighted their defensive incompetence and it’s what ultimately cost them a first league title since 1990, the most recent of their 18 successes.
Dejan Lovren was brought in to sure up this particular department, with £20million spent on the Croat. He is a quality defender at this level but what gets me is how he, Mamadou Sakho and Martin Skrtl, three extremely physical centre-halves, have been so vulnerable and susceptible from set-pieces. Basel’s goal in the 1-0 Champions League loss is a prime example, with Marco Streller’s decisive goal coming from a corner.
Simon Mignolet still strikes me as a risk and is capable of a mistake or two, such as the one he made against Ludogorets in the Champions League group opener.
Steven Gerrard’s form, too, will be of great concern to Brendan Rodgers. The former England captain looks to have lost his edge in recent weeks and teams suddenly know how to nullify his impact in the deep-lying role he plays these days.
Everton fielded Steven Naismith as a free-roaming, shifting man-marker, if you will, to Liverpool’s leader, functioning in the spaces Gerrard usually operates to stop him controlling the game. Aston Villa also worked a similar tactic during their 1-0 win at Anfield last month, with Gabby Agbonlahor the man utilised as Gerrard’s tormentor.
At present, in the wake of Suarez’s exit, the Anfield outfit also seem so overly-reliant on teenager Raheem Sterling who, after a breakthrough campaign last term, appears to be more or less carrying the weight of the fans’ expectations on his shoulders.
It’s worth remembering that he’s still only 19 years old, with only one full season of regular first-team football under his belt, so placing so much pressure on his shoulders at such a tender age may be more damaging the more demanding it gets.
We saw last year how much Spurs struggled without their talisman Bale to carry them through the difficult spells and it looks as though Liverpool are on course to a comparable destiny.
However, we are still only just entering October.
The league is only six games old and notwithstanding three points in two Champions League games against the likes of Ludogorets and Basel, with tournament holders Real Madrid to come in a gruelling double-header, there is still plenty of time for Liverpool to improve and reignite last season’s heroic form that saw them come so close to glory.
Time will tell how they fare but rapid improvement is required from Rodgers and his flat team.
Time will also tell just how big the Luis Suarez-shaped hole really is. Spurs are still yet to recover from the loss of Bale – Liverpool will be keen to avoid a matching fate.
By Neil Vincent – Manchester United/Bristol Rovers fan – @