By Alex McMahon
Liverpool have looked like genuine title contenders at times during the second half of this season
After finishing as runners up to Manchester City last season, Liverpool have failed to reach the heights of their 2013-14 campaign this year.
Brendan Rodgers’ side are currently fifth (where we predicted them to finish back at the start of the season) in the Premier League and, after Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to archrivals Manchester United, sit five points behind the Red Devils with just eight matches remaining in the season.
However, it has not all been doom and gloom for the Reds. After a poor start, they have improved throughout the season and still have a chance of winning the FA Cup. We take a look at eight reasons why Liverpool will challenge for the Premier League next year, and discuss our thoughts on how the Reds can win their first domestic title since 1990.
Brendan Rodgers has found the right formation
The former Swansea City boss appears to have found a formation to suit Liverpool’s attacking style of play, with a 3-4-3 system that has bamboozled defences throughout the second half of the campaign.
With Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho dropping into the pockets between the opposition’s midfield and defence, the energetic Jordan Henderson and Alberto Moreno bombing up and down the field, and the committed Martin Skrtel and Emre Can as part of a back three, Liverpool pose a formidable side.
They have been cutting other sides to shreds, and will continue to do until the opposition can combat the attacking threat.
Their form suggests they will go into next season with confidence
Liverpool’s performances throughout the second half of the season should give them confidence, and they may head into August with a renewed sense of belief. Prior to Sunday’s defeat, Rodgers’ side had gone 13 Premier League games without defeat, while also progressing through the FA Cup.
Liverpool seem to improve as the season goes on, and if they can start on the front foot next year then they will certainly be there or thereabouts at the business end of the season.
Coutinho and Sterling will create numerous chances in attack
The Brazilian has been one of the standout performers in the Premier League this year, and has impressed with his range of passing, dribbling ability and fantastic goals. With Coutinho and Sterling on either side of Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool are likely to create numerous chances during matches.
If the striker can stay fit for the majority of the campaign, the England international is likely to score plenty of goals and may end the season as one of the league’s top scorers.
Simon Mignolet has regained his composure
After a poor run of form, Rodgers dropped the Belgian from the Liverpool starting line-up. Since returning to the side, Mignolet has looked composed – on the most part – and has been one of Liverpool’s best performers, ensuring that the Reds have kept a number of clean sheets despite late pressure from opposing sides.
Although he’s not quite up there with the Premier League’s best goalkeepers, his improvement bodes well for the future.
Their defence is keeping clean sheets
Liverpool’s defence may have looked shaky at times over the past season, but they have stopped conceding goals on a regular basis and that is vital. Unlike last year, they are compact and tight as a defensive unit, while looking to use their pace on the counter-attack to expose opposing sides.
Liverpool have kept seven clean sheets in their last 10 Premier League matches, only conceding to Tottenham, Manchester City and most recently, Manchester United. If Liverpool can remain defensively astute next year, they will be up there. After all, attack wins matches, defence wins championships.
They will no longer be troubled by the ‘moral dilemma’ of Steven Gerrard
The Liverpool captain has struggled for form ever since his slip against Chelsea last year, but the Reds have performed better without the club stalwart in the side.
Jordan Henderson has picked up the mantle and has started to boss games, while getting his name on the scoreboard in recent times too. On his return to the team, the 34-year-old was dismissed after just 38 seconds for a stamp on United’s Ander Herrera, and will miss Liverpool’s next three games.
If they win all three matches, it would be hard to stake a claim for Gerrard to return to the starting line-up, and, on current form, the Reds will do just fine without him in the future.
Their new kit deal should mean there is more money to spend
In theory, Liverpool’s new kit deal with New Balance should provide the club with some additional funds to go after transfer targets. The Reds were active in the transfer window last season, selling Luis Suarez to Barcelona while bringing in the likes of Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli in an attempt to compensate for the lack of goals.
With some sources estimating that this deal will give the club an extra £300 million, it would be no surprise to see Liverpool sign more players in the summer transfer window.
Rodgers will already have transfer targets lined up
Even if the new kit deal does not allow Liverpool extra transfer funds, it is likely that Rodgers will seek to enhance his squad in the summer as they bid to win their first Premier League title in the club’s history.
The Reds boss will already be eyeing up certain players and will be looking for another defender, central midfielder and a striker, while also looking to secure the services of Alberto Moreno on a permanent deal.
If Liverpool are going to challenge for the title, another world class striker is an absolute must for the Reds, while a solid defender and a holding midfielder wouldn’t go amiss either.
Do you think Liverpool can win the title next season, or is that a stretch too far for Brendan Rodgers’ side? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.