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The Liverpool Preseason Roundtable

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With the new Premier League season about to kick off, a hopeful mood surrounding the club, and a summer full of transfer insanity mostly put to bed, it's hard to believe that less than three months ago the 2010-11 season had only just come to an end. Back then, we did our best to digest all the highs and lows, from Roy Hodgson and Chrisitian Purslow and Joe Cole to Kenny Dalglish and Luis Suarez and Lucas Leiva. And we were lucky enough to rope a handful of top bloggers with Liverpool leanings into the madness with us for a series of polls and roundtables.

So with Sunderland heading to Anfield on Saturday, we thought it would be a good time to get in touch with some of the people who helped us wrap up last season and ask them what they saw when they looked ahead to the 2011-12 campaign. Lucky for us, nate of Oh You Beauty, steven. of Paisley Gates, and Mike of Avoiding the Drop were willing to put up with our pestering:

It's hard to deny Liverpool have spent in the transfer market in a way they haven't in recent seasons, and that perhaps most importantly they've shown an ability to buy without having to sell first. On the other hand, even if the late-window rumours turn into actual acquisitions, many would suggest much of that spending has bolstered areas the club was already strong at while ignoring positions that have been crying out for reinforcements for years. So, has it been a successful summer, or do you still have reservations?

Mike: If we go into September without having signed a new center back or leftback, I will consider this window a failure.  I have confidence in our first choice eleven (whatever it is up front, with Johnson, Carragher, Agger, and Aurelio at the back) to qualify for the Champions League.  However, I do not have confidence in three of those players staying fit for more than two thirds of the season.  Johnson is already injured, and while Kelly looked good against Valencia, he had some problems closing down during the preseason.  For me the goal this season must be the top four.  Not only does it mean we can attract better targets, but more money to spend on them as we will see additional match and prize revenue, as well as the bumper in the Standard Chartered deal.  I can see them buying these positions in January, but we cannot afford to be thin in defense this year. I’m thrilled with the signings we’ve made – mostly – but could be furious with the signings we don’t make.

steven.: Despite the cash splashed out, there’s still one or two positions that are need not only coverage but a proven, reliable starter. Transfer deadline day last January showed that FSG are able to think on their feet and aren’t shy about spending money so this show is far from over. We now have a glut of quality depth in the centre of the park so it’s time to focus on the flanks and a replacement for Jamie Carragher.

nate: Can't it be a successful summer even if I still have reservations?

If Liverpool don't get a left back, it'll be hard to call it successful. A center back would be the cherry on top; there's room for improvement but depth (if not top rate quality) means it's not a primary concern. Left back is a primary concern. It was last summer too. Otherwise, Liverpool's reliant on a man made of breakable stage prop glass, a 17-year-old, and three right backs.

I like Downing, Henderson, and Adam, especially Downing. That's why I'm tempted to call it successful regardless. I'm not really bothered one way or another about the fees or British passports. No matter the cost, Henderson's more for the future than next season; I expect him to take the longest to settle. Adam was immensely fun to watch at Blackpool, and while it's taken me time to come around to his purchase, preseason's helped encourage the belief he'll fit well in this side, even if at the expense of someone like Meireles or Aquilani (sacrilege!). However, buying both Henderson and Adam makes little sense if Liverpool expect a full season from Gerrard. Not that they're wholly interchangeable, but I can't help but think Dalglish and Comolli were so intent on getting the former Sunderland player this season because of worries over the captain's fitness.

It'd also be nice to get a forward after all the early talk of Wickham in and Ngog out, but a strike force of Carroll, Suarez, Kuyt, and Ngog isn't the end of the world.

Especially in light of all the new signings, what do you see as Liverpool's best eleven—assuming everybody is fit and up to match speed—for the coming season? And just how likely do you think it is you'll ever get to see what you consider that best eleven?

Mike: Oh lord have mercy:

dirk kuyt liverpool
All work and no starts make Dirk a dull boy.

Reina
Johnson Carragher Agger Aurelio
Lucas Gerrard
Downing Meireles Suarez
Carroll

I think it depends on Gerrard but I think we will see this a bit. I haven’t had this much difficulty answering this question in years.

nate:

Reina
Johnson Carragher Agger TBD
Gerrard Lucas Adam
Suarez Carroll Downing

TBD = Aurelio for now, in the expectation Liverpool will buy someone (for the love of God) before the end of August.

It could be 4-2-3-1 (the formation we've seen most in preseason) as much as 4-3-3; the personnel works (in theory) in either set-up. My main concern is Suarez on the flanks, probably further from goal, in the former.

I expect to see a fair few different line-ups (and formations, for that matter) during the campaign. Whether it's horses for courses and tactical curveballs like three at the back against Chelsea and Stoke, or playing different players and systems home and away (Carroll more often on the road, Kuyt in big games, etc). And as with the last three months of last season, the usual injury concerns will prompt adaptations as well.

Also, I find it hard to believe that a Liverpool best XI doesn't include Kuyt. Don't worry. You'll still get a steady diet of Dirk Diggler this season.

steven.: It’s hard to pick a best eleven without knowing what sort of formation will be deployed. We’ve seen a few different approaches during pre-season and Dalglish has shown he’s a wily tactician that’s able to adapt to the oppositions strengths so we could be in for some surprises. With that said and the current squad in mind, my choices would be: Reina, Kelly, Carragher, Agger, Johnson, Lucas, Aquilani, Downing, Gerrard, Suarez, and Carroll. Hard to say if we’ll see these players consistently together on the team sheet since at least one of them, you know who, could be gone by the time the transfer window closes.

Where do you see the club ending up in the final table? And regardless of league results, do you think there's a chance for them to snap the trophy drought that's lasted for five seasons now?

nate: Fourth. Recent history has beaten me down in regards to potential cup runs, but at least a trophy's approximately 5015% more likely than last season.

steven.: Despite the positivity buzzing around Anfield, I think 4th is going to best the best we can hope for. It’s going to be a dogfight up at the top of the table and I still don’t think we have what it takes to finish much higher quite yet. A Champions League place should be the focus but a domestic cup could be a reality considering the depth we can now call on coming off the bench.

Mike: Fourth. If we hang on to the deadweight like Cole and Poulsen I can see us winning one of the domestic cups.  Hopefully the deadweight like El Zhar and Insua do not take up spots for the youth, as they don’t really add much, but the other two can certainly perform against lesser competition to give the big names a rest and still keep us from crashing out early.  If we don’t have one cup semi-final this year I will be disappointed.

Do you see Suarez continuing the blistering pace from his first half-season in the Premier League, ensuring his place as Liverpool's most important player? Or do you see a darkhorse pushing his way to the front of the line as Lucas did last year?

steven.: Suarez is going to be one of the most important players in a Red shirt next year but I think the defence will be paramount to our success. We shipped far too many sloppy goals last term which cost us far too many points and possibly a European place. If Daniel Agger can stay fit and has license to start attacks from the back rather than hoof it forward for Carroll, he could be the lynchpin that keeps this side together.

daniel agger mohawk kelly
Happiness is a warm tattoo gun.

Mike: Suarez is the best striker in the premier league.  I don’t think anyone can really challenge that statement, he causes more havoc than anyone since Ronaldo.  I think he will thrive with the new additions, and will be our best player.  Most important player, however, if he stays healthy: Daniel Agger.  He is one of the most gifted defenders in the game and if he can get a full season under his belt I think he can cement his place as world class.  I have not seen someone as comfortable on the ball as him coming from the back in ages, and to have that added to the squad when Skrtel and Carragher provide no real forward push, I think it can be a whole new gear.

nate: Others have a chance; Downing and Carroll should both have a big impact, but my "darkhorse" is Charlie Adam. Not that I'd put money on it – I haven't drank that much Kool-Aid – but if Liverpool are to perform above and beyond expectations, the Scot will be a focal point. His central, pace-setting role in preseason leads to me believe he'll be key part of the team. Like with Blackpool – but to an obvious lesser extent – when he plays well, Liverpool will play well and if he plays badly, I fear Liverpool will play badly. Nonetheless, it'll be Suarez.

Looking around the rest of the league, where are you putting your invaluable blogger bucks when it comes betting on the who will end up in the top four and bottom three come next May?

nate: 1. United
2. City
3. Chelsea
4. Liverpool
---
18. Newcastle
19. Wigan
20. Swansea

Mike: 1. United
2. City
3. Chelsea
4. Liverpool
---
18. Swansea
19. Wigan
20. Wolves

steven.: There’s no less than 6 sides that could run away with the Champions League places and each of them have their obvious flaws. It’s somewhat refreshing that it won’t always be the usual suspects occupying the top of the table even if it could be at our expense. Chelsea and Manchester United will battle it out for the title while Arsenal, Manchester City, Tottenham and us will all be looking to pick up the scraps. The bottom of the table is a different story though and just about anyone could go down these days. Any of the promoted sides are a decent pick to go down but I wouldn’t be all too surprised to see Aston Villa and Newcastle battling it out for survival by the time May rolls around.

Well then, looks like it's time to mark four more down as part of the growing chorus picking Liverpool to pip Arsenal for fourth. I'm not sure whether to feel buoyed or nervous by the sudden unanimity of opinion. It's also quite surprising to see everybody leave Dirk Kuyt out of their preferred eleven. I rather expected one person might omit the industrious Dutchman, and after years keeping the likes of Rafael van deer Vaart on the bench for the Netherlands and being top of the teamsheet for Liverpool I wouldn't be so quick to count him out, but for now at least the nays have it.

Make sure to let us know your take on the coming season in the comment section, and once again a big thank you to Mike, steven., and nate for giving us a hand with looking ahead to it. They're good people and you should send them gifts and bookmark their sites.