This feels like a seminal season for Liverpool. A tipping point has been reached, where the Reds can continue their climb back to the perch they so long occupied, or slip back into the downward slide they had been on before last year’s resurgence.
Last season, Liverpool put together an unexpected title challenge after four years of mediocrity. They went close to winning their first top-flight title since 1990 – they have never won the crown in the Premier League era – and gave fans the sense that they were on track to recapture their domestic glory. But the Reds let it slip from their grasp with a late implosion, losing to Chelsea and giving away a three-goal lead against Crystal Palace in the last 10 minutes of the game. Manchester City won the title instead, by just two points.
Still, the season was a success. Manager Brendan Rodgers, in just his second year in charge, has rightly been feted for turning the club’s flagging fortunes around. His predecessors, now-England manager Roy Hodgson and club legend Kenny Dalglish, had let the team spiral out of contention in short order.
But this summer, star striker Luis Suarez left for Barcelona in a $127 million deal. His many antics – he is currently serving his third suspension for biting an opponent – will not be missed; his many goals will. Last year, the fantastically talented yet totally erratic Uruguayan equaled the Premier League scoring record with 31 goals and tallied 12 assists, second-most in the league — trailing only teammate Steven Gerrard’s 13.
Liverpool relied heavily on Suarez’s imagination, his uncanny way of summoning goals out of thin air. The Reds scored a monstrous 101 league goals last season – just two shy of Chelsea’s single-season record. And they needed them to compete, because the fifty goals they conceded were the most of any team in the top five.
The departure of Suarez, such a critical and frankly irreplaceable player, could stop Liverpool’s resurgence cold. Liverpool are hoping, instead, that Suarez’s departure proves a catalyst for even greater success. The Reds, entering the grueling UEFA Champions League this year, have used all of the money Barca paid them to deepen a rather sparse talent pool.
"Our squad was very thin last year so we needed to bring in players of quality to strengthen the group," Rodgers said during Liverpool’s preseason tour.
That they did. For right around the amount collected on Suarez, Liverpool picked up central midfielder Emre Can from Bayer Leverkusen; striker Ricky Lambert, defender Dejan Lovren and Alberto Moreno; attacking midfielder Adam Lallana from Southampton; and winger Lazar Markovic from Benfica. Then they spent a little more to ensure that striker Divock Origi will came over from Lille in a year’s time. A deal for Queens Park Rangers striker Loic Remy collapsed during the medical. But Rodgers has suggested he would like to add another forward and perhaps another fullback.
If Liverpool aren’t better this year, they are at least deeper, but bringing in so many players at once carries a certain amount of risk as well. Just last summer, Tottenham Hotspur sold Gareth Bale to Real Madrid for a stupefying sum and leveraged the funds to bring in a whole slew of new players of their own. The result was a shambles, as Spurs stumbled through the season.
Rodgers predicts a smoother assimilation for his recruits. "We’ve brought in specific players for specific roles – players that have the profile of how we work," he told FOXSoccer.com when asked about a potential turnover backlash. "Of course, it’s going to take them a little bit of time in terms of their introduction. But a lot of the players who have come in, their transition has been very smooth."
Most of all, Rodgers said, they fit into the team’s tight chemistry and trademark character. "They’re good characters, they have a good personality," he said. "They fit the criteria that we want in terms of the model of our game. That should make the adjustment a bit easier. Of course, some of them are young and coming to a different country so that will take a little bit of time."
How much time will likely come to define Liverpool’s season. If the sum of the parts bought with the Suarez cash proves greater than the player they lost, Liverpool could be positioned to make a years-long run at the Premier League title and have laid a solid foundation for European success. But if their new batch of recruits includes fewer aces than duds, like so many of their purchases in recent years, the Reds might be as far away from ending a 25-year title drought as ever.