Liverpool hope for new era with Henderson at the helm
03 August 2015, 18:31
London - When Liverpool walks out against Stoke at the Britannia Stadium on the opening day of the season, a new man will lead the way.
Steven Gerrard's departure for the MLS means a captaincy change at Anfield for the first time since the iconic midfielder wore the armband in October 2003.
Gerrard's last appearance in a Liverpool shirt ended in humiliation with the Reds suffering a 6-1 loss away to Stoke City — the club's heaviest defeat since 1963.
Liverpool returns to the scene of that season-ending rout with newly-installed leader Jordan Henderson at the helm as it begins an era without its once talismanic figure.
Manager Brendan Rodgers has been among the biggest spenders in the transfer market, adding eight new faces to his squad. Despite some calls for his exit following the disappointing end to last season, the club's owners have yet again backed their manager's lavish spending spree.
Christian Benteke arrived from Aston Villa in a 32.5 million pound ($50.7 million) deal while Brazilian forward Roberto Firmino joined from German side Hoffenheim for a reported fee of 29 million pounds ($45.8 million). Rodgers bought eight players last summer with none failing to justify their lofty price tags. He can ill-afford a repeat this season with his future almost certainly chained to the success of his summer signings.
Rodgers remained manager despite the club sliding from 2nd to 6th and out of the lucrative Champions League places. But his long-serving assistant Colin Pascoe departed with first-team coach Mike Marsh. Former Liverpool midfielder Gary McAllister is one of three new coaches Rodgers has brought in for the upcoming season.
As Liverpool kicks off another league challenge, here's a couple of things to know:
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
Rodgers arrived at Liverpool in the summer of 2012 an advocate of the 4-3-3 formation. It had brought him success at Swansea where he oversaw the club's promotion to the top flight and subsequently an 11th-place finish in the club's inaugural season in the Premier League. However, since moving to Merseyside he has experimented with a series of systems.
Rodgers must decide on how best to accommodate his new recruits with Henderson, Philippe Coutinho and James Milner all expected to start.
A decision on a center-back pairing is also pivotal. Neither Dejan Lovren nor Mamadou Sakho have shown the consistency that would merit a starting berth alongside the ever-present Martin Skrtel. If Liverpool is to reclaim a Champions League berth, it will need the sort of defensive stability that has eluded the side since Rafael Benitez's tenure.
When Liverpool came to within touching distance of winning the league in 2014, Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge played together up front, in a 4-4-2 supported by a midfield diamond. When Sturridge returns from his latest injury setback, a potential partnership alongside Benteke awaits. If the pair can recreate the sort of form that brought Liverpool a record 101 goals two seasons ago, an immediate return to the Champions League beckons.
Away from the captaincy, Milner appears to have been identified by Rodgers as a natural replacement for Gerrard. Milner said Rodgers has promised to deploy him in central midfield and this was a key factor in his decision to leave Manchester City, where he was played in a number of varying roles.
The unproven claim that Gerard often hindered the performances of those around him will serve little purpose when the season begins. Players will no longer be able to look to him for rescue.
Rodgers will hope that his squad can collectively find solutions when needed. Long gone are the days of the charge that Liverpool is merely a one-man team.
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