EPL: 5 ways to make Liverpool great again
London: Liverpool's 1-0 loss at Hull City has left them seven points below the top four in the Premier League table, probably ending their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.
Here are five issues that manager Brendan Rodgers must address during the close season if last season's runners-up are to challenge for honours again in 2015-16.
1. Buy striker(s)
With Luis Suarez having left for Barcelona and injuries restricting Daniel Sturridge to only seven starts, Liverpool have struggled for goals badly, averaging 1.38 per game compared to 2.66 in 2013-14. Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert, brought in to soften the blow of Suarez's departure, have failed, and Liverpool's four recognised strikers (Sturridge, Balotelli, Lambert and Fabio Borini) have mustered only eight league goals between them. Promising Belgian striker Divock Origi is due to arrive during the summer, having been loaned back to Lille after being signed last July, but Liverpool also need to find a proven goal-scorer (or goal-scorers) if they are to recapture the heights of last season. "You can't hide the fact we've lost over 50 goals," Rodgers said after Tuesday's defeat at Hull. "We have to look to improve the squad. It's always great if you can get marquee players to come in and help you. The owners will support that."
2. Sort out Sterling situation
Liverpool's recent struggles -- a return of just four points from a possible 15 in the league -- have coincided with persistent media speculation over the future of Raheem Sterling, who has rejected the offer of a new contract worth Â£100,000 ($153,740, 139,750 euros) a week. The 20-year-old England forward's current deal is not due to expire until 2017, but Rodgers and owners Fenway Sports Group will not want the impasse to develop into a summer-long saga, amid reports of interest from some of Europe's biggest clubs. Sterling is one of English football's brightest talents, but the contract situation and off-field issues -- such as revelations that he took the legal high nitrous oxide -- have given Rodgers recurring headaches. A sale could bring in around Â£40 million, which would help the Northern Irishman re-shape his squad.
3. Boost squad
Liverpool spent around Â£117 million last year on eight new players, while 19-year-old winger Jordon Ibe is now a fully fledged squad member, so there should be sufficient depth to support a Europa League campaign. But if Liverpool are to challenge for the top four and ensure that participation in Europe's second-tier competition does not become a costly drain on resources, they need extra quality. "It doesn't need a complete rebuilding job, probably three or four players," former defender Mark Lawrenson told the BBC.
4. Appoint captain
Liverpool's trip to Stoke City on the season's final day will mark the end of an era, with captain Steven Gerrard expected to lead the team out for the last time before he leaves for the Los Angeles Galaxy, but Liverpool already look well-placed for life without him. They have won only 10 of the 25 league games he has played in this season, compared to seven of eight when he has not played, and in Jordan Henderson, Rodgers appears to have a ready-made replacement. The 24-year-old former Sunderland midfielder has moved up a level in 2014-15, adding goals (seven) to his natural graft, and signed a new "long-term" deal last week.
5. Bring belief back
A confident -- if at times over-elaborate -- orator, Rodgers had shown a unique ability to inspire his players, as demonstrated by last season's thrilling tilt at the league title and the 13-game unbeaten run earlier this year. But with confidence ebbing, he needs a strong finish to the season and a positive transfer window to keep the Kop -- and the owners -- on his side. "I'd stick with him," says former Liverpool manager Roy Evans. "There will be cries for his head, but I hope they give him time."