"An early fun stab at next season's finishing positions: 1. Man Utd 2. Chelsea 3. Liverpool 4. Man City 5. Arsenal 6. Spurs 7. Everton" – Michael Owen
Think it's too early for predictions about next year's final standings when this year's finishes aren't even set? I would agree with you. Michael Owen, however, does not. On his Twitter page, he made this bold prediction for the top seven teams in 2014. Of course, this holds no weight on next season, or really anything. The soon-to-retire player who has sported the Liverbird in the past (and unfortunately, the Red Devil) merely tweeted his thoughts. And that's all they are: thoughts.
But let's ignore the fact that this is just a man tweeting his speculation for a moment and look to the obvious. Liverpool in third place?! If you read the replies to his tweet, you can see many others thinking the same thing. Now, I'd love to see the club in third next year; it's been too long since we've competed in the Champions League. But considering the team has placed 7th, 6th, 8th, the last three years, and are on pace for 7th this year, this is a very courageous speculation.
Now, this got me thinking about next season. I would never claim to know what will happen next year, nor do I care to guess. But I would like to think, how can Liverpool make that 3rd place prediction plausible? Since the January transfer window brought us Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho, Liverpool have been much improved from the beginning of the season. This can be attributed to a number of factors, including the new signings, adaptation to coach Brendan Rodgers' system, improved chemistry between the players, and the recent form of players like Jordan Henderson. Nonetheless, Liverpool still struggles with consistency, epitomized by the 6-0 result at Newcastle and the scoreless draw in the Merseyside derby. It's fairly obvious that if the team could more consistently play at the level they did against Newcastle, Liverpool would certainly be in the top four conversation. But what is the fix to the team's ebbs and flows in form? I can't say.
What I can say is that to return to the club's past glory, management will have to get some new talent in the squad. With Andy Carroll all but sold to West Ham, as well as the potential for a few loans for the next year, Liverpool will have some money coming their way that could fill in some of our missing pieces. Stewart Downing has been markedly better than last year, but he is not the right winger of the future. While Raheem Sterling and Suso may blossom into great players at the position, they are not yet fit to fill in. The purchase of a solid starting right winger is crucial to the club's performance next season.
That sentiment is shared by most Liverpool fans, so it's an obvious thing to say, but it cannot go unaddressed. Now I'll attempt to enter the murkier waters of our back line. When Carragher leaves, who will replace him? Will Martin Skrtel return to his earlier form, or will he be the Skrtel we painfully watched this season? Are Martin Kelly and Sebastian Coates suitable backups, or even starters? I can't answer those questions, but I can offer an opinion. Martin Kelly is worth keeping around: as a natural right back, he may be needed to step up if Glen Johnson continues on this downward spiral. I am unsure about his long-term capabilities as a centre back, but his versatility makes him worth testing. Sebastian Coates, if he is given time to develop, may be as good as Skrtel in his old days; if this happens, he is a worthwhile long-term investment. But I haven't seen enough of him to cast judgment: Rodgers simply has not played him. If we have money to invest here, I think the club should go for a player with starting ability. Not potential: we have that with Kelly and Coates. Proven ability.
Then and only then do I think we can enter the backup conversation. Lucas is our only defensive midfielder, and the team suffered without him during his injury. This is not a place to splurge, but a backup should be added. This should come cheap, perhaps from the academy. And then, if we're dreaming or swimming in cash, another striker could be put into the rotation. Perhaps this would help us keep the good Sturridge, the stud, and less frequently see Sturridge, the clown we saw against Everton.
The club will not be able to buy everyone the fans want. And there are countless opinions on who is worthy of a purchase during the offseason. But if Rodgers and management are wise during this offseason and provide some good additions, for the first time in a few years I could realistically see a top four finish for the Reds.
Agree? Think I'm deludedly optimistic? I'd love to hear from you either way. Thanks for reading my first post!