Final Table Position – 6th
Total Points - 62
It is a team sport. No one player can do it alone. Well tell that to Liverpool fans in their first season without Luis Suarez. It seems like a lifetime ago but Suarez was still a Red this time last year. Then, he got a bit too hungry during World Cup play and because this wasn't the first time he lost control of his chompers, Liverpool felt the controversy was too damaging to allow him to continue on with the club. Off he went to Barcelona, while the Reds decided to splash plenty of cash on many new names. The result was a disappointing season, made all the more forgettable by the final days of Steven Gerrard, who did not enjoy a storybook ending to his Anfield career.
The nature of the sale of Suarez meant that Liverpool would not be getting back his true worth, but even though he was let go at a discount, the Reds had plenty of money to dole out in last summer's window. Among the acquisitions, the big star names included:
Rickie Lambert – Forward – Southampton – £4m
Emre Can – Midfielder – Bayer Leverkusen – £10m
Adam Lallana – Midfielder – Southampton – £25m
Lazar Markovic – Forward – Benfica – £20m
Dejan Lovren – Defender – Southampton – £20m
Divock Origi – Forward – Lille – £10m
Javier Manquillo – Right-back – Atletico Madrid – Loan
Alberto Moreno – Left-back – Sevilla – £12m
Mario Balotelli – Forward – AC Milan – £16m
A quick scan of these names and respective positions reveals that the Reds had a new toy to play with at every position except keeper. Several of these names were key contributors for parts, if not all, of the season but it could not make up for the consistent individual brilliance that Suarez and only a handful of other men in the world possess.
The season was broken up into three chapters: The first was where the Reds came out of the gate a bit slow, as they immediately showed they are not the club they were a season ago - challenging for a league title down to the wire. Instead, they found themselves struggling for goals, with a major injury to Daniel Sturridge a few weeks in exacerbating the situation. Then, chapter two saw Liverpool find their identity. Brendan Rodgers began to deploy a 3-5-2 formation that paid immediate dividends. The wingback approach opened up the attack a bit more, but even more crucial was the improvement seen in defense. Liverpool were racking up clean sheets on the regular during the bulk of the season but the wheels began to fall off just when it seemed they might find their way back into Champions League spot. Chapter three instead saw the club regress, as they began to concede with more regularity while still failing to find that consistent attacking form.
With the step backwards from a season ago, it has sent a ripple effect through the clubs, especially now that their captain has jumped ship for the United States. The disappointing results from this past season means a major overhaul is in store this summer, and some key figures, most noticeably Raheem Sterling, may not want to stick around to see what the team will look like at the end of August. And of course, if Pool are losing more key players, it will be all the more difficult to lure the very best in.
Fantasy Stars – When it comes to fantasy, the Reds dominated at the midfield spot. Without so much production there, their season would have been a major disaster. Raheem Sterling was the best of the bunch, aided with the fact that he was deployed several times further up the pitch as a forward. Phillipe Coutinho saw a major positive step in his young career, easily enjoying his most productive season at Anfield to date and Jordan Henderson was the real surprise, morphing himself into the "Gerrard of the future" before our very eyes. Gerrard himself was effective in many fantasy formats whilst on the pitch as these four midfielders were the Top 4 scores for Liverpool in the Yahoo game. Martin Skrtel was solid, leading the way for defenders, especially during that long stretch of stellar defensive performances by the team.
Solid Contributors – Simon Mignolet enjoyed the riches when the Reds were so tight defensively, as he racked up many points during the period when Liverpool kept six consecutive road clean sheets - an absolutely fantastic accomplishment. Alberto Moreno was in defense during that same period and for the majority of the season, earning him "solid" status, and Adam Lallana was relevant in the time he spent on the pitch, but could not be a star with so much time lost to injury. Dejan Lovren was ineffective in the first half of the season, but wound up with decent numbers once the season completed and Emre Can was much better in real life than he was in fantasy as he was a victim of playing reverse out-of-position - in defense but without clean sheet bonus due to his midfield classification.
Afterthoughts – The forwards. Daniel Sturridge missed the majority of the season due to injury and wasn't nearly as goal proficient when fit as he was the previous season with Suarez around. Mario Balotelli was an absolute disaster, making many more headlines with his antics than he ever did with his actual play. Ricky Lambert gathered cobwebs on the sidelines most weekends. Mamadou Sakho missed time but also couldn't wrangle a spot away from Lovren for very long. Joe Allen and Lucas are simply not fantasy-friendly in their holding midfield roles and Lazar Markovic is still a project that has yet to earn significant playing time.
The forwards. Not to sound like a broken record, but it is clear this is where the major priority is. Even if Daniel Sturridge is fit and plays 35 games in the league next season, the Reds really need another consistent, dependable striker. Names are being floated around every day, with Aston Villa's Christian Benteke and Danny Ings frequently rumored, but one will have to be signed as it looks like it may be one-and-done seasons at Anfield for Rickie Lambert and especially Mario Balotelli.
Even with a departing Gerrard, Liverpool have tons of talent in midfield, but Raheem Sterling has made it public that he wants to go, and if that should happen, the Reds will surely shop for another dynamic attacking midfielder. They have already captures James Milner from Manchester City early in the offseason, which will provide an engine veteran English midfielder with leadership - a move that can only be seen as a way to buffer the loss of Gerrard, who possesses all those same characteristics. They may want to add a bit of depth with a conventional wide midfielder who has the ability to work in a wingback system to offer Rodgers a bit more flexibility between formations. Pedro from Barcelona has had his name bounced around so far.
Things To Look For Next Season
If you check out the Minute-Adjusted Age column, you will find Liverpool to be the second-youngest club in the top flight behind only Tottenham. There is plenty of optimism to be had for the club to take a step forward this season despite losing Suarez last summer, Gerrard now and possibly Sterling as well.
Upside – Emre Can was truly underrated in the influence he brought to the club. No one was more steady during their best run of the season and one can only imagine better things from him. Jordan Henderson and Phillipe Coutinho took major steps forward in their careers and considering the age of each, they probably have yet to reach the limits of their potential. While still involved in European competition in their next season, a spot in Europa should not take as heavy a toll on players as Champions League would and that might help them earn a few extra points over the course of 2014-2015. Pool have deep pockets as well, there should be plenty of optimism that money will not be the reason standing in the way of making a few more major signings this summer.
Downside – Can a lack of a Champions League spot hider the Reds' ability to get big names in, in spite of the cash they have at their disposal? Will the mood of the club change for the worse with Gerrard out of the picture? Will a slow start ignite a never ending media blitz regarding the future or Brendan Rodgers, only to add more fuel to the flames as a result? Right now the Reds, while loaded with many outstanding players, are a very sensitive team. They appear to be one good decision away from being a force next season but just as equal, they seem one bad choice away from sinking down the table.