Liverpool Prepare to Defend a Season's Gains

Clint Hughes

Having guaranteed Champions League action next season, Liverpool will need to invest heavily in the squad to hold on to this season's gains, and Ian Ayre says they're prepared to do just that.

Having guaranteed a top three finish and in doing so secured their return to the group stages of the Champions League, Liverpool will soon find themselves once again saddled with the inconvenience of regular mid-week fixtures against European competition. At least if one uses the rationale of those poor delusional souls crediting the absence of mid-week fixtures against European competition as the key ingredient in Liverpool's current title challenge.

Delusional because in 21 previous Premier League seasons, the side that has finished first or second the year before has gone on to win the title 17 times—or slightly more than 80% of the time. On the four occasions a side that didn't win or finish runners up the year before has won the title, it has gone to the side that finished third. For those slow on the uptake, that means Champions League involvement and winning the Premier League so far has 100% correlation.

One imagines, then, that if a lack of Champions League involvement was such a grand thing, it wouldn't have taken until the Premier League's 22nd season for a side to be so well placed as Liverpool is to potentially win the title without it. Still, beyond the bile that shows nothing quite so well as the inability towards critical thought on the part of those spewing it, there is some obvious truth to the idea that Champions League involvement places greater demands on a squad.

Given Liverpool have a strong first eleven but rather lack in the depth department, there is equally some rather blindingly obvious truth to the notion that the club will have to strengthen or risk being undone by achieving the very thing Brendan Rodgers et al set out to do. According to managing director Ian Ayre, the club is aware of said blindingly obvious truth and will seek to do just that, with various sources suggesting a budget between £40-70M is already in place.

"It has always been tougher in the transfer market when you are not competing at the highest level," said Ayre. "We had the issue with Luis Suarez last summer because he wanted to play in the best games against the best players. That is always a factor. We have always been fortunate to be able to bring great players here despite that but there is no question it opens up a few doors for us and makes it a little bit easier.

"Even when you step through that door, there are still a lot of others trying to get the same players. There is no question we always expected that the squad we need for next season will be very different to the squad that we have needed for this year when we were not playing in Europe. That has always been on the cards. It will cost what it costs when we decide who the manager wants to buy."

Already, the rumour mongers are abuzz with speculation. Most of it does little but regurgitate names that have been linked to the club in the past: Kyriakos Papadopoulos, despite that his knee remains a question mark; Henrikh Mkhitaryan, despite that he chose Dortmund over Liverpool last summer; Christian Tello, despite that he's been linked to Liverpool since before Rodgers arrived and that Barcelona are currently saddled with a transfer ban.

There is truth, though, in the suggestion that, boosted both in prestige and finances by their return to the Champions League, Liverpool will now find it easier to sign the kinds of big name targets that in the past have turned them down. One only has to look to last summer's failed signings not only of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but also of Diego Costa and Willian. Liverpool won't be able to simply snap their fingers and sign any player they want of course, but things should be easier.

That the will appears there to support Rodgers in significantly strengthening his squad is comforting, too—even if the fact there would and should be seems about as obvious as that clubs in the Champions League are a bigger draw for players and that Liverpool right now don't have the depth to compete across multiple fronts. This is a squad that needs strengthening if Liverpool are to hold on to their gains from this season. And it appears that it will be.

"What we achieved on Sunday was massive," added Ayre. "This isn't just about getting in the qualifiers. We are guaranteed Champions League football. It is an unbelievable achievement from where we were. It is what we set out for but if you were taking bets at the start of the season, you would have said fourth place would be a great achievement. Now we are guaranteed third and we are determined to push on. It is all important for what we are trying to achieve."

Liverpool have upset the status quo and overcome heavy odds by rising up the table as quickly as they have. Naysayers will abound, but their deluded rantings cannot lessen the achievement. Now, though, having achieved what they set out to do, comes the equally hard job of holding on to this season's somewhat unexpected gains.

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