For Liverpool fans this summer transfer window has gotten off to a decent start with the signings of Rickie Lambert from Southampton and German U-21 international midfielder Emre Can. With the World Cup beginning this week in Brazil, there is likely to be a rather large speed bump in transfer activity. But that doesn’t mean Liverpool fans should lose interest these next few weeks of the World Cup. Obviously with the large number of LFC stars on the English squad, clearly we will all be watching and rooting for the Three Lions to play well and avoid injury. In addition to the great football and the “diamonds in the rough” about to be discovered, there are some really good reasons Liverpool supporters should pay attention to more than just the England games. Broken out per group, here are my eight things to watch out for in the upcoming 2014 World Cup:
GROUP A (Brazil, Cameroon, Croatia, Mexico)
While Brazil is the clear favorite to take top honors in this group, the most likely pick to join them in the knockout stage is Croatia. They are a dangerous European squad loaded with talent, and that includes 24-year old defender Dejan Lovren. Liverpool has taken a keen interest in the Southampton defender, with some rumors indicating that the club will be announce his signing at the conclusion of the World Cup. There is no question that Liverpool needs to shore up their defense, and recent talks with Sevilla seem to have stalled in the Red’s attempt to snatch 21-year old Spaniard Alberto Moreno. Perhaps Lovren would make for a great Plan B if the deal with Sevilla cannot be reached. Lovren has played in all of the Croatian matches leading up to the World Cup, starting three of their preparation friendlies in recent weeks. He should have the chance to showcase his play in the coming weeks, specifically when the entire world will be watching this Thursday’s tournament opener against host nation Brazil at 4 PM EST. I’ll be watching to see how he plays against some of the sport’s most dynamic and skillful attackers, wondering if his play could be good enough for Liverpool.
GROUP B (Australia, Chile, Netherlands, Spain)
After suffering through a miserable campaign last year, Manchester United decided that perhaps David Moyes was not the answer they were expecting and handed over the reins to Louis van Gaal. The only problem with that plan is that van Gaal is the current manager of Netherlands. The Dutch national team is trying to duplicate their fantastic 2010 World Cup run with only one more win needed for ultimate glory in Brazil. Louis Van Gaal is an arrogant Dutch manager with modest success at a number of different clubs. While he had some good results with smaller Dutch clubs like AZ Alkmaar, he has had as many failures at more established clubs like Bayern Munich. Take it for what it’s worth, but when you are on your way out the door at a club like Bayern and you are quoted as saying that you couldn’t win because the “club has too many egos in the board room getting in the way” then perhaps you may not be the best fit at Manchester United. Regardless van Gaal is still simultaneously in charge of two different squads. As long as the Netherlands are still alive in the World Cup, that must be his primary focus. He won’t have time to worry about what transfer moves to make, nor will he have time to start assessing the talent pool still under contract at Manchester United. The longer that the Dutch last in this tournament, the longer United has to wait. In addition to that, nothing would feed the Dutch manager’s ego more than being the first man to bring home the World Cup for his starving countrymen. The sooner the Netherlands get eliminated, the sooner he will shift his focus to improving the current abomination that is the Manchester United roster. As a Liverpool fan, ask yourself what you would prefer: van Gaal getting to Old Trafford in late June with a bruised ego ready to take on the task of rebuilding the Red Devils, or that same man with an enlarged ego not getting to Old Trafford until late July with little time to assess the roster, add some players in the transfer window at inflated prices, find time to “collaborate” with former-manager-board-members, and instill his preferred style of play in preparation for a mid-August start to the Premiership. That’s a no-brainer. Come on Oranje!!!
GROUP C (Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan)
People that have read my posts before know that I am not a big fan of Kolo Toure. I have been quoted as saying that he is one step away from the glue factory, which admittedly may be a bit harsh. There is no denying that he lost the confidence of both the coaches and the fans towards the end of last season. That being said, he was still named to the 23-man roster for the Ivory Coast. I’m not sure if they just don’t have the great depth that they once had, or perhaps it was a move of familiarity for the once-stalwart defender (whose brother is also one of the best midfielders in the game). Regardless of the reason, he is still technically under contract with Liverpool. It’s true that he can go anywhere on a free transfer, and he probably will. But maybe he can rediscover some of the skills that convinced Brendan Rodgers to take a chance on him. A good showing in Brazil might rejuvenate his career, and perhaps give him another shot. Certainly it’s worth keeping an eye on. Another reason that I am keenly interested in watching this team is Wilfried Bony. The kid was a scoring machine for Vitesse Arnhem two seasons ago and he was rumored to be on the short wish list for Rodgers. That never materialized (instead we got Iago Crapsas), but Bony had a decent run with Swansea last year and now the young striker is looking to take his game to the next level. He won’t get there playing in Wales, so once again the rumors of a move to Merseyside start to surface. It’s highly unlikely now that we’ve brought home Rickie Lambert to play the role of reserve striker behind Suarez and Sturridge, and at a much lower fee than we’d have to pay for Bony. That’s probably good business. But you never know what may transpire in the waning hours of the transfer window, so I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see that move made. The play of both Kolo Toure and Wilfried Bony are enough reason to keep me watching the Ivory Coast play the group matches against three other relatively uninspiring squads.
GROUP D (Costa Rica, England, Italy, Uruguay)
I shouldn’t need to give you any reason to be interested in this group. Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, now Rickie Lambert, possibly Adam Lallana, and why not… even Glen Feckin’ Johnson. The bulk of players that make Liverpool such a dangerous team in the Premiership now get to take their show to Brazil for an extended pre-season of their own. It is certainly exciting to watch our boys play for their country, and we hope they do well and remain healthy. But you can’t deny that this extra time together will help these cogs continue to strengthen their communication and cohesion together. Obviously we cannot overlook the world’s best player either. Last season Uruguay’s Luis Suarez won practically every possible award an individual footballer can win. Your calendar should already by marked: Thursday June 19 at 3 PM. That’s when England plays Uruguay in the second match of this difficult group. Watching Suarez work his magic against his Liverpool teammates should make every Liverpool fan salivate. But I also want to keep an eye out for Sebastian Coates, who people sometimes forget is still property of Liverpool Football Club. It’s true that his play had been disappointing and he’s coming off a major knee injury, but it wasn’t long ago that he came out of the Copa Sudamerica as a highly touted player in a position that we desperately need to improve. He made the 23-man roster for a country that many consider a dark horse threat to win the World Cup, so he must be doing something right. It’s certainly worth looking at.
GROUP E (Ecuador, France, Honduras, Switzerland)
This is another tough group to get excited about and it’s should be no secret that the French are favorites to advance to the knockout round. Mamadou Sakho had a decent inaugural campaign for the Reds last season and he most likely fits into Brendan Rodgers’ plans for central defense moving forward. France is loaded with solid defenders: Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny and Bacary Sagna along with Manchester United’s Patrice Evra have all proved themselves to be solid Premiership defenders. Those three have rightfully earned their spots on the French squad. Sakho is competing with Newcastle United’s Mathieu Debuchy for that final spot. They both started in France’s final friendly match against Jamaica on Sunday, but Debuchy was replaced at halftime while Sakho played all 90 minutes. He scored a few big goals for the French in qualifying last year, so it would stand to reason that Sakho has earned that spot in their starting XI. I am going to be watching to see if that is the case and hope that he can continue develop into an elite defender and elevate his game for the good of Liverpool.
GROUP F (Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria)
I’ll admit that Javier Mascherano was never my favorite player for Liverpool Football Club. He was young and chippy, the sort of player I used to despise playing against in my days. He took stupid yellow cards and just rubbed me the wrong way. I was quite happy with his move to Barcelona. Now he is 30 years old and from what I have seen in my limited viewership of La Liga, he appears to have matured. While he didn’t always get the call for Barcelona last season, he did start the last seven games for his Argentina. I know that it is a pipe-dream, but perhaps Mascherano is not in Luis Enrique’s plans at Barcelona. He’s a competitor and is going to want to play Champion’s League football next season. He loved playing for the Reds, so why not consider a move back to Merseyside? Many of my colleagues suggested that if you want to dream about a return, let it be Xabi Alonso and I don’t necessarily disagree. The fact of the matter is that Xabi isn’t leaving Real Madrid, and the price tag for the Argentina captain will likely be too much for a player on the downside of his career. Watching Victor Moses score that late penalty against the United States in last Saturday’s friendly was more than I care to see of Nigeria again, and there is absolutely nothing moving the needle on the 46 players that make up the rosters of both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran. So if I have to watch any games from Group F, I am going to watch one of the tournament favorites in Argentina, recalling past glory when Javier Mascherano wore Liverpool red and daydreaming of him holding up future silverware alongside Stevie Gerrard.
GROUP G (Germany, Ghana, Portugal, United States)
As an American, I need no additional reasons to be interested in these matches. As a Liverpool supporter though, I am really going to be interested in watching Portugal and specifically their megastar Cristiano Ronaldo. Not because he is one of the greatest players alive, which he is, rather I am interested to see if he maintains his form and health leading up to the upcoming preseason. Despite having failed to engineer his exit in last summer’s transfer window, Luis Suarez agreed to terms on a new contract with Liverpool last winter. Despite these facts, there are still persistent rumors of a Real Madrid attempt to bring Suarez to the Bernabeu this summer. As Tottenham learned last summer with the Gareth Bale saga, most often Real Madrid will get their man and the result ends up being disastrous for the previous club. This should be every Liverpool fan’s top priority this summer… keeping Luis Suarez. It’s the same reason I am hopeful that Karim Benzema, a striker that scored 26 goals and assisted 14 others in 51 games for Real Madrid last season, has continued success for France and contends for the Golden Boot in Brazil. Perhaps some strong play from these two outstanding offensive weapons will cause Real president Florentino Perez to think twice before making any offers for our Uruguayan stud. The management at Fenway Sports Group certainly showed some strong resolve with the Suarez saga from last summer, so I am hopeful that they can do it again.
GROUP H (Algeria, Belgium, Russia, South Korea)
Thibault Courtois is considered one of the best young goalkeepers in the game, nearly pulling off the miracle of winning both La Liga and Champion’s League for Atletico Madrid last season (despite being on loan from Chelsea). But he’s still only 22 years old for a Belgium team that is expected to make a deep run in this World Cup. Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet is an extremely capable backup and can do the job if the young Courtois suffers any problems. Stranger things have happened in past World Cups, so it’s possible that Mignolet may be called upon to save the day for Belgium. Even if that doesn’t happen, you can watch the keeper that will eventually replace Peter Cech in the goal for Chelsea scouting the player that Liverpool will have to figure out how to beat for the next decade.
I can’t recall any time in my life that I have been so excited about soccer. Liverpool made a great run for the Premiership and I sometimes forget that we are only a few weeks removed from the conclusion to that incredible season. Now comes the World Cup and six weeks of nonstop almost-daily soccer action with the world’s best players representing their country. Just as that World Cup buzz starts to fade in July, we get ready for the Liverpool preseason tour in North America. Personally I will be attending the games at Yankee Stadium against Manchester City and in Charlotte against AC Milan. And before you know it, the Premiership is back and WE GO AGAIN!!!!