With Simon Mignolet, Kolo Toure, Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas already on board, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has decisions to make. Peter Fraser looks at the possible new first XI at Anfield
By Peter Fraser - Follow me on Twitter @SkySportsPeteF
Last Updated: 29/06/13 6:07am
How could Liverpool be lining up in the new campaign? Manager Brendan Rodgers is doing his business early this summer in a bid to assemble a young, attacking squad who are capable of returning to the Premier League's top four. We assess how the first XI might look.
Rodgers has been adamant the Belgium international has not arrived as first choice at the expense of Jose Reina but it seems unthinkable that would not be the case. It is unlikely any club would be prepared to spend £9million, the fee reported to have been agreed with Sunderland for the signing of Mignolet, on a player who will simply warm the bench. Likewise, Reina's form has slipped in recent seasons and he has also been linked with a return to one of his former clubs, Barcelona. At 24-years-old, Mignolet is six years younger than Reina, has built a promising reputation and joins Liverpool determined to earn a place as his country's No. 1 ahead of the 2014 World Cup.
England's first-choice right-back will always have his occasional defensive lapses but he was one of the most reliable in his position in the Premier League last season. Having at first struggled to justify the £18m that former boss Rafa Benitez paid to Portsmouth in 2009, Johnson now looks completely at home at Anfield. Rodgers' fondness for attacking full-backs has brought the best out of the 28-year-old, who should now be at the peak of his career. Johnson clearly enjoys his opportunity to get forward and played the most minutes (3,630) for Liverpool in all competitions last season. With Martin Kelly's eventual return to fitness providing competition for places, Johnson will also know he needs to be at his very best to keep his place.
Martin Skrtel lost his place to the now-retired Jamie Carragher in the second half of last season and started just four Premier League games in 2013 as a result. Along with Sebastian Coates, the Slovakian does not seem to be trusted by Rodgers. Toure could therefore start the season with a first-team place if Liverpool do not sign another new centre-back. He is likely to be a back-up in the future but he has the experience of winning the Premier League with Manchester City and Arsenal amid what will be a young Liverpool squad. Rodgers could yet return to former club Swansea City for captain Ashley Williams while reports about Schalke's Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Sporting Lisbon's Tiago Ilori, Feyenoord's Stefan de Vrij and Ajax's Toby Alderweireld are not going away. Kelly and Andre Wisdom are also excellent, versatile, homegrown options.
The classy Danish centre-back is another player who has thrived from Rodgers' desire to see his team pass the ball out from the back. With an 89 per cent success rate, Agger was second only to Steven Gerrard as Liverpool's best passer last season. He is also a fantastic defender and reads the game superbly. A previously injury-plagued Agger enjoyed his best campaign for Liverpool in terms of appearances in 2012/13, featuring in 39 games before planned back surgery was scheduled to provide long-term benefits. Agger is a certain first-choice and fans voted him as their favourite to replace Carragher as vice-captain.
The Spaniard is Liverpool's unquestionable first-choice at left-back and he featured in 35 games last season despite missing a lengthy period with a hamstring injury. Like Johnson, Enrique relishes the chance to get forward under Rodgers' attacking tactics and he scored one of the best goals of the past campaign against Swansea. Enrique's physical strength also makes him a formidable defender who often brushes less-imposing wingers aside with ease. If Liverpool manage to hold on to Luis Suarez, defender Enrique has an excellent understanding with the striker and that was demonstrated in his assist for the Uruguayan's wonder goal against Newcastle United.
The Brazilian was a figure of derision in his early Anfield years but has since established himself as a firm favourite in the eyes of fans and Rodgers. After his serious knee injury in December 2011, a returning Lucas was incredibly unfortunate to suffer a thigh strain in the opening minutes of Liverpool's second league game of last season. But he made his next comeback in December 2012 and from then on again proved to be a key figure. The 26-year-old keeps things simple in terms of his passing and, despite a comparatively small stature, is tenacious in his tackling to mean he is the ultimate team player. Lucas can also be a useful communicator in a team with an increasingly Latino backbone.
Rodgers' faith in the midfielder was questioned after some uninspiring performances following his £15m arrival from Swansea last summer. But it emerged Allen had been playing in the second half of the season with a shoulder injury which required surgery. The 23-year-old can therefore not be fairly judged until he has been given time to settle but he has Jordan Henderson competing for his place. It should also not be overlooked that Allen is in the early stages of his career. Allen would likely prefer to play further forward than in the deep-sitting midfield pair but he could be given some freedom to create when positioned next to the disciplined Lucas.
Stewart Downing was used predominantly on the right in 2012/13 and was among the top-five players under Rodgers in terms of minutes played after turning around his Anfield career post-Christmas. But the former Aston Villa man has still to truly justify the £20m that Liverpool paid in the summer of 2011. Youngster Luis Alberto would appear to be a far better fit for the Rodgers profile and could become a starter. The £6.8million signing from Sevilla, who can use either foot, can play anywhere across the attacking line and is comfortable being deployed just behind the striker. When on loan at Barcelona B last season, he scored 11 goals and made 17 assists in 38 appearances.
Liverpool's captain marvel and Kop idol will inevitably keep his place. The days of his buccaneering running may have passed but he remains one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, with an eye for goal and the ability to pick a killer pass. England skipper Gerrard has undergone shoulder surgery this summer and so should be back to his best come the new campaign. Gerrard still managed to create 84 chances last season, second only at Liverpool to Suarez, and enjoyed a superb campaign in terms of appearances. He was at times used in a deep midfield role but is better further forward and remains the heartbeat of Liverpool as well as keeping a very important local element in the first XI.
The Brazilian took the Premier League by storm after his arrival in the January transfer window and the £8.5m paid to Inter Milan now looks like one of the bargains of the winter. Questions raised about Coutinho's ability to stand up to the physicality of the Premier League proved to be nonsense as his guile, balance on the ball and phenomenal passing caused no end of problems for opposing defences. Coutinho has been tipped to be Liverpool's most influential player in the new season and his form is bad news for Raheem Sterling. Five goalscoring assists in as many months at Liverpool is already a good return for Coutinho and he will remain a huge threat when drifting from an attacking left position or operating as a second striker in a two-man attack.
If Liverpool manage to keep hold of want-away Suarez over the summer, last season's second highest goalscorer in the Premier League will of course eventually be back in the starting line-up once he has served his 10-match ban. But in Suarez's absence, Liverpool will rely on Sturridge. The striker has his critics but 10 goals in just 11 league starts since joining from Chelsea cannot be argued with. Sturridge also relishes the spotlight of a central, lone striking role and that was demonstrated in his double in April's humiliation of Newcastle United and May's hat-trick against Fulham. Summer signing Iago Aspas is another possible striking option while Fabio Borini needs to try and save his reputation after an injury-hit first season followed his expensive £10.5m arrival from Roma. With Andy Carroll sold to West Ham United, Shakhtar Donetsk's Henrikh Mkhitaryan could soon arrive to add further competition for places.
What do you make of the team we've picked? Will Brendan Rodgers have similar ideas or are some of our selections way off the mark? Let us know your thoughts and pick your own Liverpool team for the new season by filling in the feedback form below?