Wednesday 18 July 2018

Ronnie Whelan: Pray for Brendan Rodgers and bet on José Mourinho for title

Read Ronnie Whelan's column every Monday exclusively in The Herald

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers

For four or five seasons now I've been hoping and praying that Liverpool would spend money on footballers who can make a difference.

Not young, hopefuls, not players with potential but lads who will make a real impact in the here and now. I actually think we've got some of them this time.

Last summer, it was Lallana, Markovich, Lovren and Balotelli and most Liverpool fans are still scratching their heads and wondering what that was all about.

I'm not saying that James Milner will light up Anfield. I'm not suggesting that Nathaniel Clyne will win Liverpool a title or even help qualify for the Champions League but I believe that the men Brendan Rodgers has spent money on this time will improve the squad.

Not that we weren't starting from a very low benchmark. Raheem Sterling's departure gave Rodgers cash to spend but he had plenty to do to bring in enough good players to make the squad competitive again.

Read more: Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge expected to return to action in September... against Man United

Sterling was very important to Rodgers last season. In fact, you could say he saved him from the sack when it looked like Liverpool couldn't win a game last November and he pushed his start to turn into the striking role.

He could never stay and Liverpool were right to cash in but it must be a concern that the club has been forced to sell its two best players in successive seasons. Luis Suarez went Barcelona last summer and before that, Fernando Torres left for Chelsea.

I'm not saying that the money received for Suarez, Torres and now Sterling is not welcome and decent business but there is a pattern of selling now established and I don't think that this should be a surprise to fans.

The big test for me will come next summer if Christian Benteke delivers on his big transfer fee and knocks in 20 goals or more for Rodgers in the coming nine months.

Then we will see if Liverpool is a selling club and the job of dragging themselves back to the top table in European football made doubly difficult.

Liverpool have only qualified for the Champions League six times since the ban on English clubs in Europe and it is fair to say that the norm is a season when there are no big European nights at Anfield.

Read more: John Giles: I like ruthless Louis van Gaal but Mourinho's the man for me

I don't expect Liverpool to be in the Top Four shake-up this time either though I have some hope that they might surprise me.

The reason for this is the profile of the players Rodgers has bought and I sense that he was more involved in these deals than he was last summer.

His back room staff has been changed and I'm not altogether sure that this was his idea but with the signings, I get the sense that he banged the table and made some demands and not before time.

In Milner, he has experience and Premier League nous. Danny Ings and Benteke are players who look like they will score goals and Firmino is an exciting talent who can play any attacking role.

Clyne in one of the most exciting full-backs in England and Adam Bogdan is an international goalkeeper.

Mind you he's not Petr Cech and I would much prefer to see Rodgers signing a goalkeeper of that class than someone relatively untested.

But still, there's experience and talent in the mix and I do think that Rodgers has addressed many of the weaknesses which showed during last season's difficult months and there were more than a few of them.

I am very concerned that Mario Balotelli is still at the club. He has nothing to offer other than disruption and I do not believe for one second that Rodgers has some magic formula which he is using to rehabilitate his problem child.

Perhaps he will emerge as a butterfly this season but I won't be betting any of my hard-earned on it and I would advise against anyone thinking about it. He's trouble. Full stop.

Liverpool have to play seven of their top rivals away from home before Christmas and to say that the fixture computer has not been kind to Rodgers in as an understatement.

He will be in the spotlight like never before for the opening months of this campaign and if things do not run for him, I would not be surprised to see John Henry and his pals take action.

In the broader scheme of things, I find it hard to bet on any team to win the Premier League League other than Chelsea although Jose Mourinho does appear to be handicapped by the Fair Play rules and has had to watch while Louis van Gaal has been emptying the vault. I'm sure that van Gaal has more buying to do before the window closes but I still think that Chelsea will win the title. Mourinho is the best manager around at the moment and he has added Falcao to his attacking line-up.

He is a better man manager than van Gaal and I woulnd't be a bit surprised to see Falcao in top form from the very start.

Funnily enough, I give Arsenal a great chance this season and would rate them as my runner-up if I was making a bet.

Arsene Wenger survived another summer without anyone calling for his head and I think Arsenal fans believe that their patience is about to be rewarded.

I think they will finish ahead of Manchester United because they are much more settled, still have better midfield players and van Gaal is a work in progress at Old Trafford.

Once again, on paper, Manchester City should be the title favourites but I can't see them as that. They have Sterling now and he will make them stronger but is he good enough to make them better than they were last season?

I'm not so sure about that. The management structure at the Etihad is such that Manuel Pellegrini seems to have little or no say in the plays who come and go and while that remains, he will struggle to foster a sense of community.

At the bottom, I'm looking forward to watching Bournemouth, for one to see a bit more of Harry Arter but also to see if they can continue to play with as much flair as they did on the way up the ladder.

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