With Stewart Downing becoming the latest recruit to Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool, the Merseysiders are being tipped by many to push for a top four finish next season. This position may have been unthinkable when Dalglish took the reins in January, but with Downing added to the signings of Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam this summer, and Andy Carroll and Lewis Suarez in January, things are looking a little healthier.
Whether they have enough for a top four finish, however, is a matter they’ll have to answer come the start of the season. On current standings Liverpool can be placed among the second tier of the top sides in the Premier League with Manchester United and Chelsea out in front. Also challenging in this second tier are Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham. City fans may disagree considering their third place finish last season, but in truth the title was unlikely to head anywhere but Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge. City will push for the title next season but that doesn’t remove the fact there are six teams who have reasonable ambitions to finish in the top four. This makes Liverpool’s task, despite the signings, much more difficult than it was three or four years ago.
By signing Downing, Dalglish has a clear picture in his mind of how he will get the best out of Andy Carroll next season. Without a real established wide man, the service Carroll received in the first half of last season at Newcastle was never replicated at Anfield; with Downing in the side this is sure to change. There has been the odd grumble from the red half of Liverpool that the former Middlesbrough man is not worth the fee, but with his ability to deliver accurate balls into the box there are few better in the league to get the best out of a target man like Carroll.
Taking a clean sweep of Aston Villa’s awards at the end of the season, Downing managed seven goals and seven assists last term. This doesn’t necessarily put him up there among the best in the league, but to do this in a side struggling for form in an extremely poor campaign is fairly impressive. Whether or not that is £20million impressive, however, is something Downing will have to prove next season, but with him supplying crosses to Carroll to either score or knock down for Suarez it is likely to be a very dangerous weapon.
The signing of Downing may have been done with a clear picture in mind, as were the signings of Carroll, Suarez and Adam. Henderson on the other hand is a little more questionable. Currently there appears no role for him in the Liverpool side. Many have tipped Raul Meireles to be pushed out of the centre to make way for Henderson, or to push the Sunderland man out to the right, but considering his form last season it is difficult to see this being successful. Much like Downing, Adam is coming in with the potential to get the best out of the forward players, but again with a slight question mark hanging over his ability to push Liverpool on to Champions League status.
It is understandable why this side is being tipped to make the top four. If this is to become a reality, however, each of the new faces has to hit top form almost immediately come the start of the campaign.