The departure of Luis Suarez from Anfield has led many football observers to write off Liverpool’s chances of a top-four finish in the Premier League this season.
Last season, the 27-year-old Uruguay international striker was the best player for the Reds and was key to their second-place finish in the league.
Of course, there were other players such as Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho who played important roles in a successful 2013-14 campaign, but Suarez, now at Barcelona, was by far the standout player.
Which is why Brendan Rodgers’s side are not considered by many football followers as top-four candidates. But former Liverpool midfielder Ray Houghton thinks otherwise.
‘Yes, for me they will’, he told talkSPORT when asked if Liverpool will finish in the top four. ‘They may be below Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal and Man United in the bookies’ eyes, but I don’t see it that way at all.
‘They’ve got a much stronger squad than last season. Sure, they’re just missing a key ingredient in Luis Suarez, but they’ll still be very competitive’.
It may come as a surprise to many that Houghton believes that Liverpool have a ‘stronger squad’ this campaign, but his comments cannot be dismissed rightaway.
True, Liverpool have had to sell star man Suarez, but they have made some shrewd signings. Striker Rickie Lambert, midfielders Adam Lallana and Emre Can, and winger Lazar Markovic have all come in, and so has defender Dejan Lovren.
It is the Croatia international centre-back’s signing that seems to most excite Houghton, who correctly points out the main reason why Liverpool failed to win the Premier League last season.
‘Liverpool have bought well this summer, the signing of centre-back Dejan Lovren from Southampton in particular, and they needed to because they need more depth for the Champions League’, he said. ‘But the bottom line is they need to defend better, that’s where they were found out last season’.
As great as Liverpool were to watch in attack last season, the Merseyside outfit were defensively poor. Rodgers's side conceded no fewer than 50 league goals, 13 more than champions Manchester City and almost twice as many as Chelsea.
With Suarez gone, England international striker Sturridge will have to raise his game and carry more of the goalscoring burden.
Moreover, Liverpool have to defend as a team, with the midfielders getting more involved in stopping the opposition.