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Premier League 2010-11 Preview: Liverpool, Ending An Era Of Blame

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Liverpool make the Premier League's Big Four and Big Three with their fall to seventh place last season. SB Nation Soccer editor Richard Farley looks at what the change from Rafa Benítez to Roy Hodgson means for the Reds' chance to rebound.

LIVERPOOL
LIVERPOOL

Can we all agree that the American owners are not responsible for the failings of 2009-10?

We can't, can we?  Okay, let's get into it.

As discussed when we looked at Tottenham, Liverpool had as many players in the World Cup as any team in the Premier League. That's not the best evaluation of talent, but it is a quick, easy, and effective way to tell somebody who says Liverpool needs investment that they don't know what they're talking about.  I'm looking at you, Fernando Torres.  I'm looking at you, Rafa Benítez. I'm looking at you, English press that bought Benítez's pitch without scrutinizing.

Let's do the press's due diligence. It doesn't take long  Elite striker (Torres). World class support at the next level (Dirk Kuyt, Steven Gerrard, and now Joe Cole). One of the best ball-winning midfielders in the world (Javier Mascherano). International caliber players in defense (Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Glen Johnson, Sotirios Kyrgiakos and the reputation of Jamie Carragher). The best goalkeeper in the Premier League last season (Pepe Reina), and considering all the Maxi Rodríguez-esque depth that does not fall into one of those categories, it seems Benítez's greatest failing was an inability to identify the talent in his own team.

That's no problem for Roy Hodgson, whose success at Fulham was built on maximizing the limited talent he was given. Consider the players Hodgson leaves behind who, under the new Liverpool manager, were playing better than at any other point in their careers: Bobby Zamora, Clint Dempsey, Danny Murphy, Brede Hangeland and Mark Schwarzer, just to name a few. That is the trademark of a good manager - making his players into the best they can be. It's helped defined the careers of managers like Alex Ferguson and José Mourinho. It also marks the most important difference between Hodgson and Benítez.

When you consider the inconsistency of Glen Johnson, you see where Hodgson will have an impact. The potential of Javier Mascherano? If the Argentine stays in Liverpool, it will be realized under Hodgson. Players like Lucas, Ryan Babel, and Emiliano Insúa stand a better chance of being stars under the new manager.

Benítez's managerial accomplishments put him far beyond most people who will ever coach in European football, but those accomplishments are years in the past. The current version of Benítez had become short-sighted, obsessed by what he wasn't being given by Tom Hicks and George Gillett when everything he needed was already at the club.

Hodgson may not get Liverpool back into Champions League, but if he struggles, he won't spend the season whining about resources. Liverpool has all the high-end talent, complementary players, and depth it needs.  It's just a matter of making the combinations work.

The Cast

Major Comings:  Joe Cole has come over from Chelsea.  Serbian attacker Milan Jovanovic was bought from Standard Liège.  Young defender Danny Wilson's been brought-in from Scotland.  Christian Poulsen provides Mascherano-insurance.

Significant Goings: Yossi Benayoun takes Cole's place at Chelsea and ... and Alberto Riera moved to Greece, but that's not significant, is it?

Still There:  See above.

Prognosis

Rk Club Avg W D L GF GA 1st Top 4 Top 7 Relegated Best Worst Range*
5 Liverpool 5.4 19.2 8.0 10.8 62.2 37.9 1.3% 33.6% 88.0% 0.0% 1 17 2-9

Why: The program isn't capable of quantifying what Roy Hodgson means to the club, so all it sees is a team that underperformed last season rebounding.  The projection puts them on the same level as Tottenham and Manchester City - all three safely into Europa League, with one qualifying for Champions League.

Best Case Scenario:  Not only does Liverpool return to Champions League, but they regain the form of two years ago, only this time they have Hodgson guiding them.  Seventh to first sounds remarkable in this era of a top-heavy Premier League, but if 2009-10 turns out to be aberrational, Liverpool is still a contender - part of a Big Four.

Nightmare: Last year was only the start of a downward trend. Gerrard is getting old. Torres is just that injury-prone. Joe Cole is not the player of a generation (actually, that's part of the best case scenario, too). Mascherano leaves. Carragher keeps aging yet still receives playing time. Riena regresses and Liverpool finishes mid-table.

Most Likely:  The program says it's a roll of the dice between them, Spurs and City for fourth. I go back-and-forth on this, but (today, at least) I would make Liverpool the clear favorite for that spot, pending what City does with the final two weeks of the transfer window.