Liverpool’s exile from the Champions League places stretched into its fourth year as the 2012/13 campaign drew to a close with the Reds in seventh place, but the Anfield club are just 13/8 to nab a top four berth next season – a price which looks far too short.
Under Brendan Rogers, Liverpool – after some initial resistance – seem to have improved in a variety of ways during 2012/13. Multi-million pound failures Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson have been re-cast as confident, valuable players, 24 more goals have been registered than the season before and their record against the teams who finished above them has vastly improved.
The question is how can the Reds step up again next season in their bid to finish three places further up the heap? Given they’ve improved as an attacking force, whilst their defence has conceded just three more goals than in 2011/12, it seems that bringing in better players may be the only way to eke out a sufficiently drastic improvement.
Unfortunately there is precious little money left in the coffers for such an undertaking after Kenny Dalglish’s lunatic spending spree bottomed out the patience and the pockets of owner John W. Henry two seasons ago.
It may be that the sale of troublesome goal machine Luis Suarez represents the only way of freeing up capital to invest in more general squad improvements and then there’s the retirement of Anfield bedrock Jamie Carragher to contend with.
Rodgers may have tried to launch the Reds into life post-Carra at the beginning of the season, but he was forced to welcome the influential scouser back into the line-up in January – a decision that reaped instant rewards, with Liverpool losing just two of the 16 matches he started between January 30th and the end of the campaign.
Finding a centre-half of commensurate influence won’t come cheap, with low cost replacements such as Man City’s under-used Kolo Toure having their drawbacks.
Liverpool are left looking to an increased comfort with and knowledge of Rodgers’ style of play and further maturing of their younger players for the improvement required to gain a Champions League place.
The Anfield club will also need to hope that three of the six clubs to finish above them this term fail to improve or go backwards next season, which seems unlikely.
Whilst Everton and Tottenham – should Gareth Bale leave in the summer – may not leave them for dust, the current top four incumbents will have riches to spend in the transfer window and if they’re not careful, Liverpool may find the distance between themselves and the Champions League regulars growing rather than shrinking.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publication