Liverpool can't panic, if they falter
Life after Luis Suarez began for Liverpool this week with a subdued defeat to Brondby in Denmark. On the internet, some supporters immediately interpreted the result in much the same way as a caveman interprets a thunderstorm -- a terrifying portent of doom.
This, of course, is palpable nonsense. Preseason friendlies, especially the early ones, are little more than glorified jogging sessions. But the truth is this could be a challenging campaign for Brendan Rodgers' team. Those supporters given to hysteria should brace themselves, just in case.
The loss of Suarez will obviously have a profound effect on their chances of success. As one of the best players in the world -- outside of the pantheon occupied only by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo -- any team on earth would be hurt by his departure. You can rattle off all the statistics you like, but it is his intangible qualities they will miss the most: the way he played every minute of every game as if it were the last minute of the World Cup final and the inspirational effect he had on the men around him. But he is not the only factor with which Liverpool must contend.
This past season, the Merseysiders played just 43 games, compared to Chelsea and Manchester City's 57 and Arsenal's 56. Not only were Rodgers' players fresher, but he also had more time to work with them in the buildup to critical games, time that was extremely well spent. No other side switched systems as seamlessly and effectively as Liverpool. But it is Manchester United that will have that advantage now.
This is partly why the club has spread the Suarez money across a range of players, rather than lumping it all on one expensive replacement. With perhaps as many as 15 more matches in the diary, Rodgers needs to get more names on the roster. But you only have to look to Tottenham Hotspur to see how difficult it can be to integrate lots of new players at once.
It might well be that Emre Can settles immediately, that the pace and flair of Lazar Markovic makes an instant impression, that Adam Lallana brings the same dynamism he displayed at the St Mary's to Anfield and that Rickie Lambert provides a new option for apparently unlockable games. But then again, it might not.
Defiant Liverpool fans who refuse to entertain the idea of a step backward would do well to remember what happened five years ago, the most recent time their club finished in second place. The following season, they came in seventh. That bleak campaign led to the sacking of Rafa Benitez, the recruitment of Roy Hodgson and, by mid-October the following season, the disconcerting sight of Liverpool in the relegation zone. Things can change very quickly in football.
This is not to suggest Liverpool are on the brink of meltdown. It is only to highlight the potential ramifications of hasty decisions. If Rodgers does experience a difficult start -- if early games are lost -- it will be crucial to maintain perspective.
Liverpool, after several years of instability, are now sensibly and, as Manchester City might put it, holistically managed. The faith in youth of Kenny Dalglish, who gave Premier League debuts to Raheem Sterling and Jon Flanagan, has been thoroughly maintained by Rodgers. Stories of his commitment to the youth team are legion.
Rodgers has embraced the history and traditions of Liverpool, so it's no surprise he has opted for a dynastic style of management. He certainly keeps a close eye on everything that goes on at the academy. Coaches have spoken warmly of his desire to have all levels of the club working to the same plan, and young players remark on how much effort he makes to welcome them when they move from the academy to the senior squad.
On May 8, just three days after the trauma of that 3-3 draw with Crystal Palace, Rodgers turned out for the signing of 28 youngsters to the club's under-9 team and posed with each child and his family. He had done the same the year before.
Even Liverpool's most enthusiastic critics would have to admit they are an excellent and exciting young football team. They are technically adept and tactically aware. But if they do wobble -- even if it's all the way out of the top four -- panic must be resisted. The club is well run, well coached and well on the way to a brighter future than anyone would have guessed just over a year ago.
Rodgers has done an extraordinary job in his first two years. Regardless of short-term events, the long-term project must be continued.