What Now For Liverpool?

It was pizza day in the canteen -- the lads LOVED pizza - Clive Brunskill

With the final pieces emptied from the jigsaw box, Brendan Rodgers now faces the reality of fitting them together in the hope of creating a pretty image of that Champions League logo. Admit it, you're top-four dreaming, aren't you?

Expectations are funny things. Yesterday evening, for example, I had every expectation of going to the gym, having a nice dinner and writing this piece before 1 am. The obnoxious reality was very contrary to my expectations, however, as I instead spent five hours mired in a hellish and astoundingly pointless argument with a loved one. Cobbling some thoughts together this morning before work, I am given a timely reminder that even the most basic of expectations can go awry and even the most modest, unembellished plans can fail spectacularly to come to fruition.

Brendan Rodgers' squad is now shorn of much of the personnel who were uncomfortable links to recent eras of underachievement. The resilient and doggedly impressive Jordan Henderson is all that remains of the unfortunate Brit-pack signed under Comolli and Dalglish and long-time squad members like Danny Pacheco and Jay Spearing have finally severed links with the club. Rodgers, in a reassuringly ruthless way, has even seen fit to farm-out one of his own initial buys, Fabio Borini, as much in order to maintain a highly-functioning group as to allow the young Italian a chance to develop. Poor Fabio didn't see that coming after all his previous wandering and, to be fair, neither did Rodgers. Again, expectations confounded.

Conor has been taking an insightful look at our most recent arrivals and the majority of Reds fans are understandably content, if not a little smug, as they reflect upon the latest additions to the club. In Mamadou Sakho and Tiago Ilori, the manager appears to have recruited some genuine talent, with the former already boasting an impressive amount of senior club and international football.

With Martin Skrtel remaining, Martin Kelly and André Wisdom developing and Daniel Agger and Kolo Toure in situ as the first-choice pairing, Liverpool look relatively healthy in the centre-back area. It's been tempting to make mental team-selections and I've already been part of two conversations in which the notion of three centre-halves has been flagrantly bandied about.

The easiest way for a manager's hopes and schemes to be dashed is by the always threatening specter of injuries. Aly Cissokho's unfortunate knock on his debut has delayed the much-anticipated competition at left-back and now Glen Johnson's injury complicates matters further. Comparative depth has morphed into comparative shallowness and once more all planning is compromised.

Of course, only the most morose of individuals would see the current defence as anything other than an improvement and in Simon Mignolet, the manager seems to have a very capable replacement for the on-loan-with-a-view-to-Barcelona Pepe Reina. He has been in impressive form and when he adds a more dominant physicality to his sublime shot-stopping, he will be quite the presence. That will be scant comfort to Brendan Rodgers, who simply wanted  to fully utilise his shiny new squad for a spell without any medical drama. Cue injury to the worryingly fragile Joe Allen.

Henderson, Steven Gerrard and Lucas Leiva are the trio in possession of the most critical midfield roles, but with Luis Alberto showing a nice amount of poise in his cameo roles to date, there may be some reason for a modicum of optimism here. There aren't too may fans who would have lamented the arrival of some cover for Lucas, and his particular skill-set is one the squad cannot replicate, but Brendan Rogers has shown a refreshing tactical adaptability and this is a soothing balm to the troubled nerves of angst-ridden types like your humble scrivener.

A capacity for adaptation will be vital should injury strike one of the midfield linchpins, especially given Allen's failure to establish himself thus far. Under the stewardship of Brendan Rodgers, the team has showed a pleasing inclination towards ball retention. Possession football is nothing new to Liverpool Football Club, although it took the return of the inestimable Kenny Dalglish to remind fans damaged by the previous regime, that pass-and-move was indeed the Liverpool groove.

With Victor Moses swelling the ranks of an attack recently boosted by Iago Aspas, one cannot help but envisage some potentially mesmerising inter-play amongst the Liverpool forwards. Those two, Daniel Sturridge, Jordon Ibe, Raheem Sterling and, for a while at least, the magical talent of Luis Suarez will make for a genuinely exciting Liverpool offence. Each of the aforementioned are technically proficient and mobile. Aspas and Sterling, on the basis of the United game alone, could benefit from some more physical strength, but both are threatening when given the space to play.

Should Suarez reintegrate effectively into the first team -- and to do that he will have to allow Daniel Sturridge to play in the central role he's earned -- the potential for this squad to score goals is immense. Pleased and all as we would be with another thirty five one-nil wins, it is not a reliable strategy over a season. Goals will eventually be conceded and teams will need to be outscored. Let's face it, many more second half sieges on our goal and most of us will be worrying the coronary treatment departments of our local hospitals. Pleasingly, one can have a real feeling of certainty that those goals will come, and with them an increased authority as matches wear on.

The future then, is a thing of possibilities that excite and fears that bite. We will march on, under the leadership of a man who himself has gained stature and resilience, with a cautious hope that Liverpool Football Club can be a force at the upper end of the Premier League once more. I counsel against lofty expectations, however. Those things never work out.

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