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Liverpool 2015/16 Season Preview

Chief Writer for The Hype Train, Sam Austin, a diehard Liverpool fan is going to rip open the heart of Liverpool Football Club to find out what went wrong in the past season, and what they can do to improve their chances of a top-four finish next year. On his journey he will judge as to whether or not his beloved clubs players are a legitimate consideration for the upcoming 2015/16 FPL season.

To start things off, we'll state that Sam (Facts) is a fevered Liverpool supporter. Every once in a while he openly admits playing the Istanbul 2005 video to remind himself of the greatest moment in the clubs modern history, and each time he calls it a great moment and get goosebumps. That is part and parcel of being a Liverpool fan, but don’t worry this season preview isn’t going to be a delusional tale of how the Reds are going to win every game next season and finally be crowned champions, this preview details the enormous task and state of one of the biggest clubs in England. Liverpool fans, including Sam, are lost in the woods, and they can’t find out where the goals went, where the defining attacking character dissapeared to, and what the future holds. As any Liverpool supporter will declare these are uncertain times, led by a man who some idolise as the man to restore Liverpool to their glory days, whilst others see a delusional manager who has his eyes closed to the concerns of fans.

This translates to Fantasy Premier League terms quite easily, as even we don’t trust Liverpool to deliver us the points week-in, week-out. As a whole we don’t even know if they are going to score many goals next year, never before have The Hype Train routed against Liverpool for the sake of obtaining points for our Fantasy Premier League teams.

History in the Premier League

Liverpool FC is one of the most established teams in the whole of England, and one that has never been relegated from the Premier League. As anyone from Manchester will remind you the Reds have never won the Premier League trophy, and whilst they’ve been close to winning it on several occasions it was the 2013/14 season that nobody will forget…Steven Gerrard’s infamous slip leading to heartbreak for all the clubs supporters.

Going into the 2015/16 season they come off the back of finishing sixth place in the league, and to my best analysis a very underserving sixth place. With key men leaving, and fresher faces coming in the same questions are being raised as the beginning of last season, how will the club replace the goals of their top scorers? First Suarez, and now Gerrard and Sterling, these are worrying times for all the clubs supporters.

Liverpool FC Team 2014/15

Where do we start here? If anything, Liverpool’s problem wasn’t their formation as opposed to the team played. Lallana and Sterling were used as left wide-backs, Ibe and Markovic on the right wing-back positions, even Henderson had stints on either side. Pinpointing the position of Liverpool players from game to game was infuriating for FPL managers alike, the inconsistency of the team has to be a factor of their underwhelming system, and why no single player was truly standout. One minute Joe Allen would be playing attacking midfield and Coutinho playing a deeper role; it was moments like this I could see why the majority of Liverpool fans couldn’t make sense of last season.

The Red’s did however have a strong thirteen game unbeaten streak in the league just after Christmas, and this was the source of many of their points. Utilising a 3-4-3 formation Liverpool looked half decent. Here in our opinion was the best line-up when Liverpool looked at their most competitive. Note that Gerrard wasn’t in this starting eleven due to a series of injuries that kept him out the team for most the season.

More representative to the FPL, this is how Liverpool lined-up for much of the season.A similar 3-4-2-1, with top scorer Gerrard, and Markovic in the wide back position.

Used Substitutes & Rotated Players

Here were the most rotated players in the squad during the 2014-14 season. Please note the brackets indicate how many substitute appearances the player made. As you’ll see this showed the inconsistency in the starting eleven and the players dropping in and out of games, and it is worth noting that the most time of substitutes used were attacking subs.

Rickie Lambert (17)

Fabio Borini (8)

Lazar Markovic (7)

Mario Balotelli (6)

Jordan Ibe (5)

Daniel Sturridge (5)

Joe Allen (5)

Kolo Toure (5)

Glen Johnson (4)

Steven Gerrard (4)

Lucas Leiva (4)

Dejan Loven (4)

Adam Lallana (4)

Phillippe Coutinho (3)

Liverpool’s 3-4-3 system worked as it forced teams wide, allowing for Coutinho and Lallana to work more with Sterling who was repurposed as a striker for the better part of all last season, his devastating pace forced teams open and kept defenders on edge. Having less defence and more attack suited Liverpool, and oddly this gave more cover for a resurgent Simon Mingolet between the sticks. Full backs got forward and tracked back to form a five man defence when they had to defend deep, the central midfielders were able to absorb all the pressure whilst knowing they had an extra centre-back, and Can who operated at right centre-back was given the chance to roam forward from defence to force teams back into their half on the counter.

All-in-all the Reds had something great. Then successive games against Manchester United and Arsenal found them out, including the infamous red card for Gerrard against the bitter rivals from Manchester. This was followed by a drumming against Arsenal, and a change to the 4-3-3 system was which a dire mistake and one that didn’t work. Sam will admit these were the days of United Keyboard Warriors at full steam posting and encourage The Sport Bible to publically shame Liverpool. Between March and June none of us couldn’t go onto Facebook without seeing the repetitive article of ‘You wouldn’t guess how low the career of Steven Gerrard has got, classy act from Manchester United fans!!!’

Naturally, we'd always click the link, and sigh. As an honest review of the past season the only reason we can say that we'd sighed was because most of the time the authors of everything we had read were cruelly right. We are not even going to address the Stoke game as we all saw the massacre that occurred. Gerrard had a great career, but it was ending on a particularly sour note, we're sure the stories he tells his children of his amazing career won’t comprise of the last year at the club. Gerrard’s departure from Liverpool summed up where the club was at…established players leaving, the club as a whole was struggling to find an identity, they were struggling to play any kind of convincing football, and before the transfer window it felt like as a collective Liverpool were exactly where they had had been when Brendan Rodgers had taken over.

What you read may sound incredibly harsh, but that is the bad with the good. Sure, Liverpool had times when they looked the real deal, and then when the crunch time occurred they crumbled like a badly stacked deck of cards. ‘Nearly men’ they chanted, ‘Demba Ba’ they chanted, it was a brutal season to watch as a fan. As we said in our season review, the funeral for Luis Suarez being a Liverpool player had rattled everyone involved, but the coming season is the chance to move on from his tragic loss. We'll end this section of the review with what we think the major crux was…Liverpool lost their attacking identity, and they definitely didn’t deserve their final league place over Southampton who had a great season in comparison, we are surprised Liverpool didn’t finish any lower if brutally truthful. Liverpool was eleven men not playing together, and the fans are right to question the clubs decision to keep Brendan. Without Gerrard at the club anymore, Sturridge permanently injured, and with Sterling’s inevitable exit the question is going to be: where are the goals coming from now?

Liverpool’s Key Men & Stats

This is a controversial section, especially in particular in regards to the name Phillippe Couinho, a man who was in the PFA Team of the Year. We thought Coutinho had a brilliant season, but we can understand why others were overlooked for his inclusion. Then again Liverpool have a complete lack of striker presence, and almost no ability to score goals last term. Buying Balotelli might be the one thing that Plague’s Brendan until his grave, nobody is going to forget it if he leaves after only scoring one goal.

Goals

Steven Gerrard: 9 goals

Raheem Sterling: 7 goals

Jordan Henderson: 6 goals

Phillippe Coutinho: 5 goals

Adam Lallana: 5 goals

Daniel Sturridge: 5 goals

Rickie Lambert: 2 goals

Lazar Markovic: 2 goals

Alberto Moreno: 2 goals

Fabio Borini: 1 goal

Joe Allen: 1 goal

Glen Johnson: 1 goal

Martin Skrtel: 1 goal

Emre Can: 1 goal

Mario Balotelli: 1 goal

The problem with Liverpool was that there points were so hard to pin-point due to the inconsistent nature of the team and the formation they played. During weeks against Sunderland and Hull people were confident with Liverpool’s attackers, only to find a drab 0-0 draw awaited them where the defence hauled the majority of points. Other games it was the total reverse, and as already mentioned with nobody playing in their correct position it was a safe move to stay clear of Liverpool players for most of last season. Asking if a Liverpool striker was going to score goals a year ago was an easy question to answer, but now it was a legitimate riddle people were trying to solve. Every week tacticians and Gary Neville were quick to remind everyone that the LFC forward line (Balotelli, Lambert, Borini, and Sturridge) only clambered together and produced a measly eight goals between them. Charlie Austin in a struggling QPR put all of them to shame, and he didn’t have Coutinho or Lallana to help him, he had Alex Sandro and Adel Taarabt.

Assists

Jordan Henderson: 9 assists

Raheem Sterling: 8 assists

Phillippe Coutinho: 6 assists

Adam Lallana: 3 assists

Daniel Sturridge: 2 assists

Mario Balotelli: 2 assists

Ricky Lambert: 2 assists

Steven Gerrard: 1 assists

Fabio Borini: 1 assists

Joe Allen: 1 assists

Copying the last part just wrote almost seems fair, but it perfectly illustrates the point that Liverpool was not a source of FPL points last term. With both goals and assists converted into total attacking returns it is a pale season compared to 2013/14. Scoring goals wasn’t just a problem; it was having the players to create them in the first place. Further to my point on attacking returns at any time barely any active FPL players had Liverpool players in their teams, especially the Joe Allen’s and Borini’s, which doesn’t breed confidence in future FPL returns for your teams. If you are going off a solely Liverpool standpoint then Jordan Henderson deserved a place in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year more than Coutinho.

Clean Sheets

Simon Mingolet had a rollercoaster of a season last term, from barely being able to make a save and being dropped to Brad Jones he recovered strong in the second half of the season as Liverpool embraced the 3-4-3 system. In total he kept 14 clean sheets, and actually achieved his highest ever points tally in the FPL.

When we did the preview for Bournemouth we asked if Boruc would be worth the risk for next season, and we ask the same question with Liverpool, not specifically Mingolet, but can Liverpool find any kind of defensive form for the upcoming season? This is a hard situation to read into, but in contrast to other teams and their runs, especially with Liverpool’s away run, it is probably in the best interests of FPL managers to side-step putting Mingolet into your starting team at least until you know the early form of the Anfield club.

Disciplinary

Liverpool held the best disciplinary record out of any club last year, for two straight years it has held the title of cleanest club in the Premier League. Here are the top players booked for yellow and red cards last season:

Jordan Henderson: 9 yellow

Martin Skrtel: 8 yellow

Steven Gerrard: 7 yellow, 1 red

Raheem Sterling: 6 yellow

Lucas Leiva: 5 yellow

Mario Balotelli: 5 yellow

Alberto Moreno: 4 yellow

Fabio Borini: 2 yellow, one red (same game)

This might not be encouraging for FPL managers, as the top points earners for the club where also the main culprits of potentially losing you points. As if getting points from Liverpool players was hard enough, they’d then go and get themselves recklessly booked to leave a sour taste in your mouth. In all honesty with Mario achieving 5 yellows last season it would have eliminated the points for his sole BPL goal last year anyway at home against Spurs. Worthless signing, literally, numbers don’t lie.

Overall Record

In last season’s Premier League they won 18 games of their 38 games, lost 12, and drew 8 times last season in the Premer League.

The goals and goals conceded were almost levelled out last year; with the inability to score or create chances combined with the also equal power to not keep clean sheets in mundane games was a source of a +4 goal difference last term. If any stat from this preview/review of Liverpool shows anything of the torrid time last year was that we were just as bad at not scoring as we were good at conceding goals. For Liverpool to achieve their higher aims they must reverse this trend, improve defensively and in attack, which is a huge ask for a club that can’t do either at the same time.

Home & Away Form

No surprise here, Anfield was the main stomping grounds for Liverpool last year. Ten wins at the iconic stadium was the main source of their points, along with five draws, and four losses. Away from home were consistent against teams in mid-table and the bottom half, but as ever Liverpool’s main problem (and reason why they didn’t win the league in 2013/14) was that they struggled going to the big grounds and big teams and picking up results.

All Liverpool supporters will want to rebel against these stats and declare that they will improve, but deep down the facts in even Sam knows that going to the Emirates, Etihad, and Stamford Bridge will bring back sore memories next season. The form they have at home will most likely be where LFC pick up most of the points next season for their players, and the only time FPL players may consider putting in Reds players into their starting elevens.

Transfer Activity

Again, no surprises in what we expect to find here. Liverpool has been once again busy this summer, but to the relief of every fan they haven’t spent £20 million on every player brought into the club. The Hype Trains personal view is that acquiring James Milner from Manchester City has been the best business done so far, and it would be ironic that all the money we have spent in the last two years and it turns out the players we got on free transfers would most likely turn out to be the best business Liverpool have done in that time. As of 13th July here are the players that have joined Liverpool:

Player Name Former Club Fee

James Milner Manchester City Free Transfer

Danny Ings Burnley Free Transfer (w/ tribunal fee)

Adam Bogdan Bolton Free Transfer

Joe Gomez Charlton Athletic £3,800,000

Nathaniel Clyne Southampton £12,000,000

Roberto Firmino Hoffenheim £29,000,000

Based on what we've have seen it has been a very exciting and interesting summer. Bogdan is an improvement on Brad Jones, Nathaniel Clyne is in every way a better player than the departing Glen Johnson who joined Stoke City recently, Roberto Firmino looks like to be a potential lynchpin for the team’s success next term, James Milner will provide dexterity in midfield and hard work, whilst Danny Ings is a promising striker who should start next to Sturridge when he is fit and no longer injured. We are not going to rush into expectations because we remember last year, and FPL managers should be warned, at the moment we see Liverpool as a false prophet.

The prospect of points is high, but until the reality is realised we post a strong warning against considering any Liverpool player. We will add in two notable transfers that we know will hurt Liverpool next season, without the pace and trickery of Sterling and the steely and inspirational Captain Fantastic Steven Gerrard in the side it could affect Liverpool’s chances of a top-four place, and also player potentials. Jordan Henderson, however, now named as the new captain and penalty taker may be a source of some hope to get a consistent return for FPL managers looking at Liverpool as an option.

Player Name New Club Fee

Raheem Sterling Manchester City Daylight Robbery (£49,000,000)

Steven Gerrard LA Galaxy Free Transfer

Additionally, we have listed three loan players who have back into the team who could be squad rotations for this year, and players we hope stay with the club this season and not farmed out on loan.

Returning Loan Players of Significance

Andre Wisdom: Returning after a strong loan spell during first half of last season at West Brom, would be a good backup to have for Clyne, especially with Flanagan currently still nursing injuries.

Tiago Ilori: We have been high on this guy since he signed back in 2013, and after a stellar performance for Portugal at the Under-21 Euro Championships it is looking like that he could finally break through if he isn’t loaned out again. Liverpool’s defence is bound to be questioned again so we think Ilori should be offered a proper chance this season (also he would be a cheap option to have in your FPL teams!)

Divock Origi: Selected in the French League’s Worst XI is the Belgium Striker who we are sure is hoping to erase that with a strong first season at Liverpool and prove his doubters wrong. Scoring on his debut in pre-season Liverpool fans and FPL managers alike would consider Divock a viable option if he found his scoring boots in the Premier League.

Current FPL Squad

As of the 24th July 2015 this is the full FPL Squad for Liverpool FC for the upcoming season. Under the ‘position’ column we have added the positions the players are most known for playing and can play.

Captain: Jordan Henderson

Category/Position/Price

Goalkeepers

Mignolet – GK – 5.0

Bogdan – GK – 4.5

Defenders

Clyne – RB – 5.5

Skrtel – CB – 5.5

Moreno – LB/LM – 5.0

Wisdom – RB – 4.5

Lovren – CB – 5.0

Sakho – CB – 5.0

Touré – LIV - 4.5

José Enrique – LB – 4.5

Ilori – CB – 4.5

Midfielders

Henderson – CM/RM – 7.0

Coutinho – CAM – 8.0

Milner – CM/RM/LM – 7.0

Lallana – CAM/LB – 7.5

Can – RB/CB/CM/CDM – 5.5

Allen – CM – 5.0

Markovic – RW – 6.0

Lucas – CDM – 4.5

Ibe – RW/LW – 5.0

Seyi Ojo – LW/RW – 5.0

Firmino – CAM – 8.5

Forwards

Ings – ST – 7.5

Lambert – ST – 6.0

Sturridge – ST/RW – 10.5

Balotelli – ?? – 7.0

Borini – ST /RM – 5.5

Origi – ST/LW – 6.0

Benteke – ST – 8.5

This is the part that pains us to say, not as one of us being a Liverpool fan, but as players of the Fantasy Premier League. Putting it simply: Liverpool players are too expensive. Based on last season’s performances and the popularity of the players we can safely say that most of the team are not value for money in an FPL team, Liverpool being in the Europa League will mean the risk of being rotated heavily, and always meaning nobody is ever assured league starts. All six of the strikers are overpriced, especially Ings and Balotelli. How can a player with one goal be higher rated than more than half the players? Also, the the rumousr of Ings becoming a bit-part players are true not one manger will consider him in their teams. Unproven Firmino has been given an £8.5 valuation which may scare people of experimenting with him in their line-ups, and at £6.0 and a season of cameo appearances Markovic looks like to be selected by zero percent of active players. The defence is reasonably priced but with better and cheaper options this is a problem for selecting a Liverpool defender. The forwards are still the most insulting part of this pricing, we can’t keep our eyes from looking at it in disbelief. In short here is no feasible way that all of Liverpool's forwards who failed to score a handful of goals between them is worth a staggering £42.5 million in FPL value.

Liverpool FPL Options

The only players we are even considering start with Jordan Henderson, although we agree with the pricing he will be a consistent outlet of points, he is good for both assists and goals and will take set-pieces and penalties. £7.0 may be too much for the new Liverpool captain but it is reasonable compared to ninety percent of the squad. Nathaniel Clyne is our second option for Liverpool, the right-back is good enough and will start enough games to justify him in your team, he can create chances and score goals, and at £5.5 million he will need to be a marquee defender, we have a good feeling about Clyne this year so he may very well be worth a gamble. James Milner is also our next pick, and if given the protection of a holding midfielder his surging runs and interplay with the attack could see him with a goldmine of assists, and when you factor in his free kick ability he could be as just as good a pick as Henderson, he was brought to Liverpool to do a job and he very well could be the missing link in Liverpool’s midfield that starts making it tick once more.

Lastly, with the absence of Raheem Sterling a creative playmaker needs to step up, and if Coutinho improves on the previous seasons he could very well come in to his own at Liverpool. Our theory is that Coutinho will be the next big Liverpool player to leave after a huge season, and that could very well happen this year. With Roberto Firmino next to him and with the support of Milner and Henderson it could finally be the year of the plucky little Brazilian.

Here is a recap of my picks:

1. Jordan Henderson

2. Nathaniel Clyne

3. James Milner

4. Phillippe Coutinho

5. Christian Benteke

Set-Piece Takers

FPL managers will be looking to use set-piece takers in the squads in hopes of getting that free kick scorer on their books, or an assist from a corner or set piece situation. Ever since the Balotelli-Henderson penalty incident there has been a lot of debate over who takes what at Anfield since the departure of Steven Gerrard. Based on what Liverpool currently have, and what they have brought in, this will be the most likely order of business.

Penalties: Henderson, Balotelli

Direct Free Kicks: Henderson, Milner, Coutinho, Balotelli

Indirect Free Kicks: Henderson, Milner, Coutinho, Balotelli

Corners: Henderson, Coutinho, Lallana

Henderson and Milner look the strongest options for set piece duties, as well as generally starting games. Balotelli if he stays may merely be a squad rotation player at best next season and not worth the risk at an expensive £7.0.

Potential Squad for Opening Day & Season

Selecting Liverpool’s opening day formation is tricky, with many camps split down the middle of going to playing three at the back, with others opting for a 4-3-3. Adding Clyne to the ranks means that either formation is likely to happen. Assuming they use their best formation from last season they make begin with a 3-4-3 once again.

With Benteke's arrival, this is what we believe the team will be against Stoke on the opening day. Benteke with Ings and Coutinho behind him.

Alternatively Liverpool could once again adopt a 4-3-3 formation. This could be an alternative line-up on the first day, and from what I have seen what is most likely going to be the starting XI. Can holding the midfield is his strongest position, leaving Henderson and Milner to provide industry and energy in support of the attacking three. Coutinho and Firmino linking up are once again going to be a pillar of this potential team. Like the other formation having Sturridge fit will be a big factor in the success of this formation, and provide a quality striker and FPL option.

The starters who have a place nailed down in this team are: Milner, Henderson, Moreno, Clyne, Coutinho, and Firmino. Ings or Firmino will be expendable for Benteke. Based on the two starting eleven’s there isn’t actually a change in personnel as this is the strongest team they have to offer, and because Brendan recruits players to use in multiple positions it is mostly likely he will trust a few players in his main team. Mingolet retains his place in the team following a strong second half of last season; only an injury will see Bogdan make the call to the main team.

The experience of Lucas may provide uncertainty for Can in holding midfield, and the position of striker is hotly debated. Origi looks like he is set for a season of cameo’s and cup runs, unless there is a major injury to Ings and others such as Balotelli and Borini may have already moved on by the opening day. Sturridge returning may affect Ing’s place, and with the possibility of recruiting another striker there is a huge question mark over this position.

The two centre backs are also contested, Skrtel is a trusted defender but I have no faith in this area, and Sakho alongside him normally spends half a season injured so he is always a doubt week-to-week. Based on these two teams they are very diverse team in which Milner and Henderson could play anywhere in that team, they are now the core of the team and don’t be surprised on the opening day to see the team focused around this midfield partnership. All that said, this should be the Liverpool starting XI based on the core strengths of the individual players, and a formation that will allow Liverpool to hit teams on the break quickly and in numbers, and if on the defence Emre Can will link up with the defence.

The eventual line-up will go a long way in determining if Rogers will still be in a job by Christmas. Especially given that there are away days at Man United and Arsenal in the first five.

Verdict

Liverpool if played in the right formation and manner could go on to do great things this year, remove the ‘nearly men’ label and actually win a trophy. We don’t think they will win the Premier League, but Champions League qualification could be achieved along with a good cup run if they push themselves and pick up points in the places they tend to slip up, *cough* Crystal Palace *cough*. On a personal level Sam's two hopes this year won’t change from last year, firstly victory at the Etihad over Manchester City, the one game they always play their best football until Aguero mocks the defence. Second hope, and one that was achieved last year, was doing the double over Tottenham Hotspurs, there is nothing like going to White Hart Line and plundering an easy three points. Providing that they continue to remove the deadwood from their camp and sign a big-name striker to fit into the new system we think Liverpool will have a strong season. Benteke could very well be that man now that he's signed on the dotted line.

The Hype Train predicts that Liverpool currently will finish 5th in the Premier League, but with a proven goal scorer to fill the void left by Daniel Sturridge’s eternal injury then The Hype Train predicts they finish 4th. Last year Phil (sweatymongoose) said that choosing not to sign Remy would mean we would miss out on Champions League this year, and we don’t want to doubt him again. Whilst Bob (Pownage) forcasted that Liverpool would replace the divine intervention of Suarez with players that would earmark Liverpool as the next Spurs after they lost Bale to the white section of Madrid.

On an FPL standpoint we are divided by Liverpool this term, we only trust four players to be integral to the team and earn enough points. Yet, we are not fully convinced that all four of my picks would satisfy the FPL hunger for consistent points. Players in the top thousand will be hesitant in placing Liverpool players in their starting teams for good reason, and that goes for the rest of the season. It is early days, and their form could change the opinions of many, but we can imagine that people will only be settled on Liverpool’s abilities this season when they face Stoke on the opening day of this season, the very reverse fixture which they were humiliated 6-1 and sent Gerrard off to the MLS in their worst ever defeat on the final day of 2014/15. Victory over Stoke, a comprehensive victory, would turn the cheeks of many.

This time round it won’t be the same score line, but we know that going into that fixture we are all going to be incredibly nervous. The following week they take on Bournemouth at Anfield, and if they surprise a few people during a rainy Sunday at the Britannia Stadium then we can all expect an influx of Henderson and Clyne transfers into their teams. If you are a smart, you will play the waiting game like us, as until the time comes we don’t think we will be able to find the answer to the question: where are Liverpool’s goals coming from?

All aboard?

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