Pitchside

How will Liverpool line up this season?

Pitchside

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It has been a summer of upheaval at Anfield with one overriding departure looming above all else and a host of new signings all now hoping to find a place in a team that came so close to the most unexpected of title triumphs last season.

Liverpool have recouped £75 million through the sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona and invested heavily elsewhere but will be wary of 'Gareth Bale syndrome' - with Spurs losing their star man a year ago and bringing in a number of underwhelming replacements.

Adam Lallana (Southampton, £25m), Dejan Lovren (Southampton, £20m), Lazar Markovic (Benfica, £20m), Divock Origi (Lille, £10m, loaned straight back), Emre Can (Bayer Leverkusen, £9.75m), Javier Manquillo (Atletico Madrid, loan) and Rickie Lambert (Southampton, £4m) are the players signed by Rodgers and they supply vital squad depth for the club's return to the Champions League.

With all of their new signings having the necessary quality to play from the start, and with Rodgers also known to switch tactics multiple times in one game, let alone a season, Liverpool's starting XI is rather more difficult to predict than those of their rivals.

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REPLACING THE IRREPLACEABLE

Last season, Luis Suarez scored 31 goals and claimed 12 assists in 33 games in what was one of the most potent campaigns ever seen in the English top flight. Liverpool cannot replace him like-for-like - so how will they reconfigure their attack now the Uruguayan has departed?

With a deal for Loic Remy falling down on a failed medical, boyhood Liverpool fan Rickie Lambert is so far the only new striker to arrive at Anfield this summer. He remains rather underrated and has impressive technique, but in truth lacks the qualities to play as a wide forward as Suarez could. If Rodgers uses him, it should be through the centre, which could have a knock-on effect for Daniel Sturridge.

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Sturridge, who is currently struggling with a hamstring injury and scored an impressive 21 league goals last season, can play as a wide forward and indeed it is a role he performed with distinction when first emerging into the Chelsea team under Andre Villas-Boas. If Lambert does force his way into the starting XI, then Rodgers could accommodate both players in the formation laid out below.

Note: For now we are working with the midfield and defence which Liverpool finished last season with. Other new signings will be slotted in as we progress.

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However, Sturridge has said repeatedly throughout his career that he sees himself as a central striker, and it seems desperately unlikely that Rodgers will move him from his favoured position now he is the leading figure in the Liverpool attack. He is more likely to play in conjunction with his England team-mate in Liverpool's diamond formation which served them so well when they started using it regularly in the second half of last season.

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In the team below, Lambert slots straight into the Suarez position, with Gerrard dropping deep behind Coutinho and Jordan Henderson and the brilliant Raheem Sterling, who has shone again in pre-season, playing at the tip of the diamond as he did with elan last season.

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In truth, a straight swap of Lambert for Suarez does represent something of a nasty comedown for Liverpool and Rodgers may instead opt to use the former Saints striker from the bench as a impact sub. If so, that brings some of Liverpool's other summer signings into play, notably Lazar Markovic. The 20-year-old arrives from Benfica with a huge reputation and with the ability to terrify full-backs with his pace and trickery.

He would naturally slot into the Liverpool team as a devilish left-sided forward in the 4-3-3 formation which Liverpool used in December when Sturridge was absent, with two players flanking Suarez in attack. This season, though, it seems perfectly designed for the England man.

As well as Markovic, Liverpool have also signed Adam Lallana who can play in the wide positions in this formation. The £25m signing from Southampton misses the start of the season due to injury but with nine goals and six assists last season it's clear he can do damage in an advanced role, which is where he is used by England too. And let's not forget that Liverpool also have Coutinho, who was excellent in 2013-14 as he picked out pass after glorious pass for his team-mates, and scored five goals.

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Rodgers is blessed with plenty of options in the two wide positions - with England star Sterling prime amongst them and an almost certain starter. And, while they cannot compensate for the loss of Suarez, Liverpool do have a variety of talents who can help to bring the best out of Sturridge.

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CAN WE FORESEE A CHANGE IN MIDFIELD?

Long-serving midfielder Lucas Leiva looks poised to rejoin Rafa Benitez on loan at Napoli and Liverpool do have a new option to help anchor their midfield: Emre Can. Still only 20, the former Bayern Munich midfielder is accomplished in possession but has also embellished his reputation for physical strength by flattening Micah Richards in pre-season and bullying Mario Balotelli off the ball in another friendly.

His skill set lends itself to a deep role and he has been mooted as the long-term replacement for Steven Gerrard. However, with the captain very much in favour, Can could slot in alongside his new team-mate and Jordan Henderson to form a formidable midfield trio against the stronger teams in the Premier League and in tricky away ties.

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What was made clear at the World Cup is that Gerrard needs to play in a midfield three or he will be exposed. Henderson is also certain to start alongside him after performing to a consistently high level last season - so really there is only one spot up for grabs.

Can should feature relatively frequently but against weaker teams or when Liverpool are playing at home, he could be replaced by Coutinho or Lallana, removed from the front three to add some more invention and attacking impetus in midfield. Joe Allen is also an option but his first-team chances look to be continually receding.

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While Liverpool will always play with a midfield three to protect and get the best out of Gerrard, ruling out a 4-2-3-1 formation, they are blessed with the playing staff to either use a diamond with two strikers ahead of that three or line up with an attacking trident.

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Even within the 4-3-3 formation there are different emphases Liverpool can place on the team. This is promising for a manager as flexible and imaginative as Rodgers, who will also have a European campaign to occupy him this season.

ALL CHANGE AT THE BACK?

So far we have assumed Liverpool's back four will remain intact, but of course that is not the case. Most notably, Dejan Lovren has joined from Southampton in a £20m deal after an excellent first season in English football and will slot straight into the back four. Alongside him will likely be Martin Skrtel, a player whom Rodgers was initially not sold on but became a vital presence last season, scoring seven goals and only missing two games.

Of Liverpool's other centre-backs, Daniel Agger has declined and has been linked with a move away from the club, Kolo Toure has proven rather error-prone and Mamadou Sakho has failed to command a regular first-team role. Skrtel and Lovren are expected to form Rodgers' central partnership, but Liverpool have impressive depth in the position if they require cover.

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But there could also be a change in the full-back positions. Persistent reports suggest Liverpool are close to signing Spain inernational Alberto Moreno for around £16m and it can be assumed he will go straight into the side as the left-back position has been a persistent position for Rodgers, with players such as Jose Enrique and Aly Cissokho proving inadequate. By far the best solution has been Jon Flanagan, who earned a place on England's standby list for the World Cup thanks to his eye-catching performances last season, earning him the nicknames 'Red Cafu' and 'Flanny Alves' for his Brazilian-esque bursts down the flank.

However, his favoured position is actually on the right and Glen Johnson's place appears under real threat, not least as a loan deal for Atletico Madrid's Manquillo has also been completed. Rodgers described Johnson as "one of the best full-backs in the world" last season but Liverpool fans have been rather less enamoured with his defending, and recently pilloried the England international for his performance in a pre-season friendly against Manchester United. After five years of service, following an £18m move from Chelsea, maybe Johnson is finally on borrowed time at Anfield.

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All of which means this is the starting XI we expect Liverpool to adopt once their new signings have settled in and all their players are fit, with Can swapping in and out depending on the quality of the opposition:

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CONCLUSION

After losing their best player and trying to bed in a number of new signings it is unrealistic to expect that Liverpool will be able to replicate their success of challenging for the title last season.

With the Champions League also a pressing demand, a place in the top four is a more achievable target but competition will be fierce with Chelsea and Manchester City looking formidable, Manchester United enjoying fresh hope under Louis van Gaal and Arsenal purchasing well this summer.

The lack of a quality replacement striker for Suarez means Liverpool would be best served reverting to a 4-3-3 formation and if Markovic lives up to the billing then their front line will be a dangerous prospect.

Lallana also offers Premier League class, while Can allows flexibilty in midfield, but even if Liverpool's new signings all bed in quickly it is hard to avoid the conclusion they will not be the same without Suarez.

Tom Adams - @tomEurosport

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