What a day it has been for Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers. Not only has he finally got shot of one of the names in his three little envelopes with Andy Carroll’s £15 million transfer to West Ham United, but as he peruses a fixture list that, before a November trip to Arsenal, should only truly test his side when Manchester United visit Anfield in August, the former Swansea boss will be quietly delighted.
Well perhaps not quietly given his penchant for talking and talking and then talking some more, but Rodgers will certainly think that the Premier League fixture computer has done him a favour as he attempts to qualify Liverpool for the Champions League for the first time since 2009.
For a team that finished seventh last season, 12 points shy of the top four, this may seem like delusions of grandeur but a number of things are aligning to ensure that the Reds should be much closer to the Holy Grail than they were last season.
First is the way Liverpool performed in 2013. If the season had started on January 1st, Rodgers’ side would have only moved up one place in the table but, crucially, were only three points from the top four and a similar performance over the course of a full season would be enough to have the Merseysiders in contention.
And why won’t that happen? Liverpool were the fourth top scorers in 2012/13 and only Manchester City kept more clean sheets than the Reds’ 16 as Rodgers coaxed gradual improvement after a difficult start which saw them take just two points from five matches.
That was helped by their transfer business in January, because bringing in Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho for a combined £20 million looks a steal given the impact the pair have had already, and this strategy will stand them in good stead for August.
Which brings us to their transfer business this summer, conducted, in a break with recent tradition, quickly and efficiently.
And not the sort of quick efficiency that left them lumbered with Carroll in the first place: swift, but with identified targets aggressively pursued.
Deals have already been agreed with free agent Kolo Toure and Celta Vigo forward Iago Aspas, while moves for Sunderland goalkeeper Simon Mignolet, Porto’s Ghanaian international Christian Atsu, Sevilla midfielder Luis Alberto and, most eye-catchingly, Shakhtar Donetsk forward Henrikh Mkhitaryan are all at an advanced stage.
Even allowing for the uncertainty surrounding the future of Luis Suarez, that means two things: one, there is unlikely to be any repeat of the deadline day disaster of August 2012 that left Rodgers with only one striker on the books after owners Fenway Sports Group blocked a move for Clint Dempsey, and two, that Liverpool can hit the ground running on the first day.
And to that end, fixtures against Stoke, Aston Villa, Swansea, Sunderland, Southampton and West Brom before November give Liverpool a great chance to put points on the board as they aim for the top four – and bwin go 8/5 that the Reds finish there come next May.
They are 1/2 to get their campaign off to a winning start at home to Stoke, 19/20 to beat Aston Villa at Villa Park the week after and 17/10 to beat Manchester United at Anfield in their third fixture.
Liverpool are 25/1 to win the league, 9/1 to win the FA Cup, the same price to win the Capital One Cup and 2/5 to finish above Everton.