We're finally at the doorstep of the Premier League season, a reality that seemed so very far off during the early summer months. From exciting to excruciating and back again a few dozen times, this summer has provided plenty to talk about. As always, though, we're here for the football, and we're only days away from what feels like one of the most important league seasons in recent memory. No pressure or anythingh.
With that in mind, we have a look at the most important fixtures and players in the squad for the coming season, along with a guess at where Liverpool finish the season points-wise. Each of the writers on staff chipped in except Noel, who wasn't quite back yet when we got this thing going. Just assume he thinks Liverpool are going to win the league and stuff. His words, not mine. Maybe not quite verbatim.
Anyhow, settle in, and feel free to add your own thoughts below. As long as they include warm fuzzies.
Most Anticipated Match(es)
Elizabeth: Arsenal at Anfield, February 8. I love Arsenal, or at least I love Arsenal as much as I can considering I am a Liverpool fan. I love watching them fail spectacularly, and I love watching them beat teams I hate. If anyone other than Liverpool has to win the league, I would always want it to be Arsenal. I consider Arsenal and Liverpool to be kindred spirits, two clubs with storied histories and enviable collections of silverware, but not much success to speak of in recent seasons. The Arsenal fans I know always seem to be in good humour, and the banter usually has an undertone of commiseration rather than the kind of nastiness you sometimes get between big clubs.
I love this fixture. It's a big enough match that a victory feels like nine points rather than three, but it fails to bring the stress and anxiety that I feel when Manchester United or Chelsea come to town. I don't feel the hate or sense the red mist that comes with other fixtures. It brings me only the parts of football fandom that I like, and none of the parts I hate.
Jake: Stoke at home, August 17th. There are many, many exciting fixtures to anticipate, but in true Liverpool fashion I can't look past the first game. The football is back, ladies and gents, and it is a sight for sore eyes. I can't distinguish between United at home, both Everton games, or various others, but I can definitely say I am ridiculously excited for this coming Saturday. So, yeah, cop-out, perhaps. But I have no choice.
Trevor: Two games for me because I'm a rebel who plays fast and loose with the rules and you can't pin me down, copper.
1) Home game vs Stoke City - This is simple. I CANNOT wait for the season to start and I need to erase the horror of last season's opener against Dishevelled Steve's boys. Also, the opportunity to see whatever collection of new boys Rodgers chooses to give playing time to is wonderfully exciting. I've written off Suarez in my mind so I have HIGH hopes for the Phil and Danny show.
2) Home game vs Manchester United - Again, a simple rationale for this choice. I'll be there. Doing some fun stuff that weekend and it would be lovely to begin the systematic reversal of fortunes with the Mancs at the first opportunity. The season ahead fills me with a special kind of glee and David Moyes is a huge reason for this.
Conor: Away to Arsenal on November 2nd. They're always a good litmus test, and with the whole will-he-won't-he with Luis Suarez this summer that they've done nothing but antagonize, I'm looking forward to Liverpool hopefully thumping them.
Chuck: Liverpool v Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. 28 December 2013. The last game in this Gregorian Calendar for 2013. Hostilities renewed? Mourinho versus Rodgers? Brendan Rodgers spent quite a while as a youth and reserve coach under Mourinho and it'll be fascinating to see him tussles with an old mentor. According to Rodgers, Mourinho was the man who gave him belief to be a manager so I suppose we'll know by late December whether we should be thanking The Special One or not. Heading into the New Year, this game might set the tone for the rest of the season. Rodgers will have to contend with Mourinho's range of tactical and psychological tricks.
Ed: Pretty much all of December, but right now the two away fixtures to finish off the 2013 calendar year are just terrifying. There are seven in that month alone, and the cherries on top are trips to Manchester City and Chelsea on a Thursday/Saturday split. I doubt it stays as-is, but that's a hell of a back-to-back, and with much being made of the relatively gentle start to the season, that three day stretch (which is only two weeks after the trip to White Hart Lane) is going to be insane.
Player Worth Watching
Elizabeth: Philippe Coutinho. There can be no other. Expectations on the young Brazilian are already stupidly high and it will be a tragic day when those with a predisposition towards dramatics turn on young Phil when he goes through his inevitable first rough patch. NOT ON MY WATCH. We've spilled thousands of pixels of digital ink waxing lyrical about Phil's positive attributes, and I am borderline giddy at the idea of what kind of player he'll be at the end of a full season with the club. Phil is a delight.
Jake: Lucas. Coutinho will get many of the votes here, Sturridge is going to be very exciting, and the new signings are full of promise, but arguably no one is more important to Liverpool's success this year than Lucas. Not only that, but rarely in recent seasons have I felt as proud to be a Liverpool supporter and proud of Lucas than when seeing him boss the likes of City and Chelsea. There's something about a player who can dominate without being flashy. I've got a great deal of respect for the man, and seeing him do his thing is one of the finer sights in football.
Trevor: This is easy. Kolo Toure. I have little faith in the arrival of The Greek and in his absence, Kolo is a personality and a half. He could prove to be excellent or he might be shocking, but I'm willing to bet we love him. I've been impressed with Aspas, Mignolet and Alberto pre-season but of the new boys, I want to see Kolo, ALL THE TIME. Of the players we already know, it's just as easy. Phil. Just Phil.
Conor: Coutinho did wonderful things last season without the advantage of a full preseason with the club. As he learns, grows, and improves, he could become even more special than we've already seen.
Chuck: Daniel Sturridge. We've seen what he can do in half a season in red and we've even seen the heights he can reach in half a match in red. What can he really do in a full season in red? I can't wait to find out and he's much more than pace and finishing. He has shown intelligence, movement, and slick combination play. He turns 24 next month and this will be his first season where he'll be a regular starter up front. This could be his real breakout season.
Ed: Daniel Sturridge. He needs to stay fit, he needs to stay committed, and he needs to be the striker that he thinks he is on a consistent basis for a full season. We've seen what he's capable of, now it's a matter of being healthy and turning in the effort required to be the man to lead Liverpool's attack. He's surrounded by enough support and has the talent, and there's no question he has the potential. Now comes the doing.
Final Points Tally
Elizabeth: 68. A seven point improvement over last year's tally might sound disappointing, but I don't think it's an unrealistic target. Last year Liverpool had 16 wins, 13 draws, and 9 losses; converting two draws and one loss into wins sees the club finish with 68 points. Changing the fate of three matches should not be a task of Sisyphean proportions, and it's a reasonable expectation that the club improves its table position given the current improvements made to the squad and the improved team cohesion that should come after a year of playing under Brendan Rodgers. I've bought into FSG's and Rodgers' project, but as optimistic as I am about the long term aims of the project, I think they take longer than two seasons and four transfer windows to accomplish. I want Champions League qualification, but I'm not yet convinced that this is the year. So much is still up in the air with Arsenal and Spurs and their own transfer activity that it's hard to get a handle on how things might shake down between them, Liverpool, and Everton for good measure. Suffice it to say there are a lot of teams who think that fourth place spot should be theirs and only one will end up occupying it.
Jake: Not going to touch this one.
Trevor: This type of thing, beloved of so many of you wonderful folk, tends to make my mind bleed. I have only a few guidelines as I fear anything too detailed is bunkum and hearsay based on the potential performances of a team we haven't even seen. I tend to use negative marking here. We lost only twice in our run to second in '09. If we were to lose 7 times and draw the same amount that's a maximum of 35 points dropped from 114. Thats 79 points - enough for second last year. 9 losses and 9 defeats would yield 69 points, which would have yielded a fifth placed finish last season. I'm going to split the difference and say that the eminently attainable achievement of restricting ourselves to 8 losses and 8 draws, for a total of 74 points and a fourth placed finish would do for me.
Conor: 70 - 20 wins, 10 draws, 8 losses. That only would have been good for 6th last season, but I'm expecting the top 7 or so to be more of a slugfest and finish tighter this season.
Chuck: An improvement can be reasonably expected considering the squad will be leaner with no European football. Will it be meaner offensively and defensively? Much will depend on Daniel Sturridge being fit and the right signings made to strengthen various areas of the team. Midfield arrangement remains an impediment for real progress yet the second half of last season might indicate that we can be in the top four conversation. Legitimately. Liverpool finished with 61 points last season but a cautious prediction of 68 points to match the season under Rafa in 2006-2007. It would not be a surprise to reach 70 points.
Ed: It's a cop-out, but I think a lot depends on the next few weeks and business on the way in. With more depth and one marquee Willian (doesn't have to be him, but maybe it does), I think Liverpool can make a genuine push at cracking back into the top four. If it stays as-is, we're looking at them finishing fifth through seventh and having at least one injury-ravaged spell of doom. If I'm optimistic to the extreme, 70-75 points and a spot in Europe. That's where I'll leave it.
So that's that--every match is critically important, and every player is worth watching during a season that will see Liverpool finish between seventh and fourth. Or first. However you look at it, we're almost there, and once things get underway on Saturday against Stoke, there won't be anywhere to go but forward.
A little primer to get you in the right frame of mind courtesy of the inimitable LFCIndex: