When I recorded my thoughts at the start of last season I was full of trepidation. As my worst fears were realised it was little comfort that I’d thought it all possible. And I don’t want to be wrong this year. So with total certainty, I can declare that this season is uncertain. We are stepping into the unknown.
Most importantly, our league challenge (for fourth place) could be over by September or, more worryingly, before the transfer window shuts. With tough early fixtures against top sides and bogey teams, Hodgson’s budget honeymoon may come to a shattering end.
We can also be fairly certain that Liverpool FC will have new owners at some point during the year. The Hicks and Gillett LBO nightmare is playing out its final stages but we don’t know whether the new owner will be a rich knight, a dodgy speculator or RBS.
There are rational reasons to be optimistic for the team’s chances. We haven’t signed bad players; as a unit we know they are almost as good as any other (it’s not a wholly different team from the one that finished second) they can’t be as bad as last year and whatever happened last summer (remember how bad pre-season was as an omen) is now consigned to history. None of the other top sides – Manchester City excluded – are demonstrably stronger this year.
But there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the team’s chances. We haven’t signed particularly good players at the peak of their careers. You’d expect the early start to the season and a long Uefa Cup run will be damaging at some point. We will always be playing catch-up on a Sunday afternoon. More importantly, Roy Hodgson has been unable to deal with any of the most obvious weaknesses in the team:
- a lack of defenders that attack the ball,
- a lack of height in important positions
- Second striker
There are a number of factors which are up in the air. A new medical team was recruited to lessen the prospect of soft tissue injuries – but when will they have an impact? Carragher says that training was as hard as he could remember in pre-season, but will that mean we fade away at the end of the season?
The factors that worry me most for the medium term are:
- Goalkeeping. The happiness of Pepe Reina is immensley important. And it’s one area where teaching all the youngsters in the same way was clearly having an impact. But now Hodgson wants to sign Brad Jones. And who is the goalkeeping coach?
- We don’t know what will remain and what will change of the team’s structure. Frank McParland has said that he hasn’t talked to Hodgson yet about what he wants from the young sides. Will they be playing the same formation as the first team? Or will LFC be abandoning 4-2-3-1 just as world football adopts it as a standard?
- We don’t know what chances there will be for young players coming through. Benitez or a member of his staff were always t reserve team games. Will Roy or Sammy be as committed?
A month ago, I would have settled with a 7th place finish this season. With the futures of Torres and Gerrard uncertain, not going backwards was the key objective. Now, I’m not so sure. But would any of the big players hang around if we finish again outside the Champions League places and fail to win a significant cup?
I haven’t lost that tinge of excitement at the start of a new football season. But I also know what an emotional investment it is; that it will end up in disappointment but there will be flashes of ecstasy and despair on the way. Will this season be worth it?