So, here we are! At the start of a new season, with little knowledge as to what awaits us or our teams in the long journey over the next 10 months. With 2 months of madness and mayhem behind us, we can finally look forward to some real football. Oddly enough, this summer has flown by more quickly than most others because of United’s increased involvement in the transfer market, and, of course, our protracted transfer saga for a certain Dutch maestro. But, enough of all that. I’ve got my freshly minted Aon shirt ready and the fixture list printed out and plastered on my walls. I am as ready and excited as I’ll ever be for a new season.
One of my routines just on the verge of a new season has always been to check the predictions that the usually ABU British press come up with. I find doing this really exciting because you always know that there will be a few dumb people predicting United for a non-automatic CL spot (i.e. 4th) with some even tipping us to finish outside the CL spots. Just going through them is enough to get you pumped up, not to mention that there are also a few laughs to be had.
This season, however, a few surprises awaited me. For one, the press were acting in an unusually non-ABU manner with almost every top paper and journalist picking United as comfortable favorites for the title. While I would normally take this as a bad omen, I am over-confident enough of our chances to not be perturbed at all this love we are getting. The other surprise is how almost nearly every paper has tipped Liverpool of having a comfortable top-4 berth with some of them even giving them an outside chance at the crown. And I couldn’t help but thinking: why are Liverpool being mentioned in the equation at all? If I am going to be entirely honest and unbiased with you, nothing about the Liverpool side put together by King Kenny has me worried enough to consider them our challengers in any sense.
First of all, let’s look at some of the positives for them, shall we? Their biggest highlight of the summer was Luis Suarez’s performance in the Copa America, where he was named the Player of the Tournament, and justifiably so. Despite being a United fan, I have to begrudgingly accept that Suarez is a fearsome talent. He may not be lightning fast but he’s got pace to burn, is skilled with both feet and has unrivalled control with the ball at his feet in that Liverpool side. He is most certainly world-class, one of the few they have, and will prove to be an excellent signing (at a relatively cheaper price tag at that compared to who I am about to talk about) in years to come.
And then, there’s Andy Carroll and Charlie Adam. By my measure, these two are “prospects” – mere journeymen – who would probably not have been touched by any of the other top 4 sides. While you can definitely argue that Carroll’s price wasn’t his fault, I don’t think he has lived up to any reasonable expectations one might’ve had and though Sir Alex stated that Adam’s free-kicks are alone worth 10 million, I personally have never rated him that highly and was praying the rumors of him joining United were just that. It remains to be seen whether he proves me wrong or whether my prayers to God were worth it.
They’ve also added Jordan Henderson to their midfield ranks who didn’t impress me during the U-21 Euro Championship. In a weird sense, it was déjà vu again for us United fans with a lower-quality Liverpool player (Henderson) forcing a much better United player (Tom Cleverley) out-of-position to the wings; like a certain Steven Gerrard did with the untouchable Paul Scholes. He has certainly been rated highly by Captain Keano, so I’m giving him the benefit of doubt until he settles in to the Liverpool side. In addition to that, Liverpool already have youth players coming through – names such as Raheem Sterling, Conor Coady and Suso, of whom I’ve seen very little but heard people signing their praises – which is always good to see even if it is in favor of the Old Enemy.
Of course, even the cynic in me will have to accept that Stewart Downing and Jose Enrique are two of Kenny’s best dealings in the market over the summer. Those two signings provide incredible speed and power to the Liverpool side on the left which is bettered only by our very own options. Pool have missed someone with the ability to cross the ball like Downing which is exactly what the need to effectively utilize Andy Carroll as well. If Downing/Enrique can get a solid partnership going, that is going to prove invaluable to the Scousers.
Finally, we come to their shining light savior – “King” Kenny. Despite my hate for the man, there is little doubt that his return galvanized the Pool last term. However, that always happens when any team in trouble is taken over by a new manager – it is called the “New Manager Syndrome”. Plus, by the time he took over, Liverpool were in dire straits and the only way was up , which is what it proved to be. This is the real acid-test for him. The fans obviously consider him to be the Messiah, but the new owners may not be so kind once they realize the travesties of his dealings in the transfer market.
You can tell anything about U.S. owners, but the one thing they understand is business. With the asking price of a player of the quality of Wesley Sneijder being 35 million, that puts Kenny’s business dealings into perspective given he bought Carroll at the same price. Whether Kenny Dalglish is a good manager or not is secondary, but his transfer dealings have essentially been money flushed down the drain. He has paid over the asking price more often than not, and that is one of many reasons why the British transfer market finds itself in the current state of overpriced, not-quite-top-class British players. Elsewhere, some Pool fans are also arguing that he hasn’t done enough to address the defensive situation which was further highlighted by their leaking of goals for fun in the summer pre-season. Kenny is walking a tightrope here and should some of his summer signings not prove as useful as he expects them to, then you can expect some serious questions to be asked from the higher echelons at Anfield.
After all that analysis and digressions, we still haven’t addressed the original question yet: Where will Liverpool finish this season? Though die-hard Pool fans would love to believe that they can match us with 19 this season, that is hardly reasonable, is it? I expect the battle for the crown to be between ourselves, Chelsea and City; with Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs and Everton playing spoil-sport with their results against the former three. The latter four can be expected to slug it out as usual for the coveted final Champions League spot. And that should be Liverpool’s aim for this season – to get back into the top 4 where they feel they belong. However, even that is not going to be as easy as people would like to think. If Arsenal strengthen their defensive steel with signing someone like Cahill and Old ‘Arry continues to pull some magic at Spurs, Liverpool can expect a tough slog to finish ahead them into the Champions League slot.
Author: Balaji Silvaraman – [email protected]