Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers starts his life without talismanic striker Luis Suarez in his third season at Anfield, needing to build on a surprise second-place finish and also deal with the added burden of Champions League football.
Rodgers has constantly talked up his 'project' since arriving on Merseyside in 2012 after the stuttering regimes of Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish, and his self-confidence was rewarded last season in the form of an unlikely title challenge.
Liverpool fell agonisingly short of lifting a 19th title in the closing weeks of the season and while many observers felt the near miss represented a last shot at glory for years to come, Rodgers regards it as a stepping stone to future success.
Rodgers wants to channel the agony of Steven Gerrard's slip against Chelsea that handed the initiative back to Manchester City and the squandering of a three-goal lead in the 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace and use it as fuel for the upcoming campaign.
“I think that pain is a part of the process of winning - to be able to lose in the manner we did. What it has done with this team and this group, it has made us even more unified and stronger to be more successful in the future,” he said.
The 41-year-old Northern Irishman is still a rookie in managerial terms and while his adaptability and tactical acumen paid dividends last season, he now has to fight battles on more than one front without the services of his most potent weapon.
Liverpool were a pleasure to watch going forward last season as Rodgers found room to accommodate Daniel Sturridge and Uruguayan maverick Suarez, and the pair repaid him with interest as the Merseysiders racked up 101 Premier League goals.
However, now that Suarez has swapped Albert Dock for La Rambla following his dream move to Spanish giants Barcelona, Rodgers is likely to respond by switching to his preferred 4-3-3 formation with England striker Sturridge leading the line.
The tactical change will undoubtedly leave Liverpool with fewer scoring opportunities but with the reinforced midfield able to offer more protection, the defence should cope far better than the one that leaked 50 goals last season.
Attack-minded youngsters Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho will add more firepower should they continue their trajectory of improvement but Rodgers firmly believes Sturridge will accept his new role as lead striker with relish.
“I think you'll see Daniel go on another level again this season, with the confidence of a full campaign last year and scoring the goals he did,” Rodgers said of the player who netted 24 times in 33 appearances.
“But we've got a number of players that go and facilitate the role of goal-scoring.”
Needing to plan for an extended season due to Champions League commitments, Rodgers has strengthened his squad with a host of signings - including England midfielder Adam Lallana, Croatian defender Dejan Lovren and Serbian prospect Lazar Markovic - to offer more options on the pitch and off the bench.
None of the new faces could be regarded as marquee signings yet but Rodgers tends to get the best out of players that suit his style and system, well aware that Liverpool still lack the financial clout of clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea.
The loss of Suarez is a blow to Liverpool's title ambitions but Rodgers will be confident of at least maintaining a foothold in the top four, challenging for one of the domestic cups and enjoying the return of Champions League football to Anfield for the first time since 2009. – Reuters