IT is the weekend to dream dreams, to make predictions and let your imagination run riot; the dawn of the new Premier League campaign is, in the main, a reinvigorating time and no place is that more true than at Anfield.
From feeling apprehensive when last season drew to a miserable close with a dispiriting 0-0 draw at Hull City, suddenly optimism abounds and there is a quiet confidence amongst Liverpudlians heading into the first Anfield date with Arsenal.
The Gunners have regularly been early visitors to Merseyside and you only have to think for a minute about past meetings with them in August to see how results against them have provided guides to how things might turn out.
A 2-0 victory on August 17, 1985 set the wheels in motion for a campaign that culminated in Liverpool winning the Double, another victory by the same score on August 28, 1999 suggested Gerrard Houllier was capable of turning the tide, while Robbie Fowler’s fabled four-and-a-half minute hat-trick on August 28, 1994 left you believing Roy Evans’ men could achieve big things – proven by a Coca-Cola Cup win the following April.
On the other hand, many Reds will remember Arsenal arriving on August 23, 1992 and stripping Graeme Souness’ side bare, their 2-0 win in no way reflecting the gulf between the sides.
Of course, it will be impossible to accurately gauge what will happen between now and May 22 on the back of one result but this first year under Roy Hodgson is, undoubtedly, going to make for compelling viewing. So what might we expect?
Here, Blood Red outlines some hopes and predictions.
BIG SEASON FOR...
ALBERTO AQUILANI, GLEN JOHNSON and RYAN BABEL.
There is absolutely no doubt that all three men have talent and they have shown it in flashes during their respective careers here.
But, for one reason or another, consistency has proven elusive; Aquilani and Johnson’s first campaigns, for example, were ruined by injury and neither built up a head of steam after prolonged spells on the sidelines; Aquilani looked ill at ease in frenzied midfield battles, while Johnson’s defensive skills were called into question.
Both, though, made contributions at certain stages and if they are able to get a sustained run in the side, they will have a golden chance to show they were worth the big fees which were paid for them.
Babel, meanwhile, is a slightly different case; having been here for three years, he is now firmly in the last chance saloon but the frustration is that he has the talent to make an impact; if he applies himself, Babel could easily flourish; if he doesn’t he will be playing in pastures new this time next year.
WATCH OUT FOR...
MARTIN KELLY, PETER GULACSI and DANI PACHECO.
Had injury not intervened at the most unfortunate time, Kelly might have easily got anything between 15 and 20 games last season.
Man of the match when thrust into the firing line in a Champions League game against Lyon, Kelly showed he had the temperament and talent for the big occasion and has built on that impression during pre-season.
Pacheco also showed a really pleasing attitude in that game and is absolutely desperate to show Hodgson that he can play a role in Liverpool’s long-term future.
As for Gulacsi, he is not going to oust Pepe Reina and might only be on the bench sporadically for the first team; but having seen him train in Switzerland, it is clear that the young Hungarian is a talented goalkeeper with a big future.
LOOKING FORWARD TO...
Seeing FERNANDO TORRES and STEVEN GERRARD engage top form once more.
If Torres avoids the injuries he will show why he is the best striker on the planet and everything Gerrard has done since returning to training has given the impression that he means business this year.
A Liverpool trip to Wembley – it has been far too long – an end to all the uncertainty off the pitch and for the Reds to be spoken about simply for footballing endeavours. Victories at Old Trafford, Goodison Park and Stamford Bridge would be nice, too.
Top four. Liverpool’s best starting line-up is as good as any and if they can build up some early momentum, they can repel their many challengers.