Steven Gerrard has backed Liverpool to bounce back from last season's end-of-season heartbreak and mount a serious title challenge once again.
The Reds led the Barclays Premier League by five points with three games to go in April, but a 2-0 defeat to Chelsea at Anfield – in which Gerrard slipped to gift Demba Ba the opening goal – saw them pipped to the title by Manchester City.
Gerrard, who retired from international football after the World Cup to prolong his Anfield career, is ready to put last season's disappointment behind him and lead Liverpool in their first Champions League campaign since the 2009-10 season.
And the 34-year-old insists that Brendan Rodgers' side believe that they can go one better than their 2013-14 second-place finish and win their first league title in 24 years.
Speaking about the last season's campaign and the upcoming season, Gerrard told the Daily Mirror: "With 10, 12 games to go, people were maybe expecting us to drop away a lot sooner than we did. But we handled the pressure superbly well and we played some unbelievable football.
"We are a good team, with a good manager, that is getting stronger. The confidence is rising in the dressing room and we have got to show that we are the real deal.
"We are not there to just make the numbers up. There is genuine belief that we can be in there.
"Good sides don't just have one good season. They keep trying to fight for what they want. Chelsea do it. Manchester City do it. Manchester United have had a one-off bad season and they will be back. Arsenal have made a couple of really good signings.
"The league is going to be very, very tough but we know we are one of the sides that has got a genuine chance of winning it. I believe that."
Luis Suarez played a major role in Liverpool's second-place finish last season but the Reds will, of course, be unable to count on his goals and man-of-the-match performances after he joined Barcelona earlier this month.
While conceding that Suarez's departure is a massive loss, Gerrard insists that there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic in the red half of Merseyside.
He added: "Of course it (winning the title) will be difficult, it would be difficult with Luis and it will be without. All the other teams will grow and improve in the summer.
"But the reason I have that belief and confidence is because of the experience of all the other games last year, and also the manager has been here for a bit longer, and because of the signings he is making. I'm pretty confident we can get right involved in it again."
Given he’s a manager who’s never worried about upsetting anyone or speaking anything other than the truth, it was only a matter of time before Louis van Gaal delivered a forthright verdict of David Moyes, his predecessor at Old Trafford.
He previously side-stepped questions over whether a seventh-place finish was a failure (which it of course was, given the fact Moyes lost his job) but when the issue of personnel arose during a press conference on Monday, his opinion was crystal clear – a squad left broken and imbalanced with too many central midfielders and confidence levels battered.
It was a fairly stinging evaluation, but ultimately an honest one as even a cursory glance at United’s first-team reveals a number of obvious deficiencies.
Van Gaal focused his criticism on the midfield area where, with the addition of Ander Herrera, United have an abundance of central attacking-focused midfielders: Marouane Fellaini, Shinji Kagawa, Juan Mata, even Anderson.
Five simply does not go into one and you would imagine by the end of the transfer window at least two of those players will have been moved on, Fellaini, Kagawa and Anderson the most likely to leave.
Increasing the lopsided nature of United’s squad is in the wide positions where Van Gaal will have Ashley Young, Nani, Antonio Valencia, Adnan Januzaj, Danny Welbeck and Wilfried Zaha at his disposal.
Plenty of options, but not a great deal of quality – outside of the emerging Januzaj – while Zaha’s apparent lax attitude to training threatens to also see him cast aside.
With quantity over quality in those areas, the real issue of concern for Van Gaal, however, must be in defence, as their only addition in that department this summer has been 19-year-old Luke Shaw.
Following the departures of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, United’s defence will currently be made up from Phil Jones, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling, Shaw and Rafael.
As good as the ‘Iron Tulip’ is working with young players, it will be a minor miracle if he can form a top-four quality back-line out of those five.
However, while Moyes certainly deserves a degree of discredit, what is glaring is how it reflects on Sir Alex Ferguson’s transfer dealings towards the end of his reign.
With the exception of Mata and Fellaini, all the aforementioned players were his signings; Anderson, Nani, Valencia, Young, Jones, Kagawa and Smalling costing a total in excess of £110m (Dh684m) but have either failed or are running out of time to justify their status as Manchester United players.
And while Moyes and chief executive Ed Woodward’s failings in the transfer market were obvious, an inability to cure festering wounds has now left the club with even more work to do this summer.
Jones, Smalling, Kagawa and Zaha may well come good under Van Gaal’s tutelage but there remains a considerable amount of deadwood that not only needs to be moved on but also replaced.
Van Gaal’s image of a broken squad was not just an assessment of Moyes, it was a message for Woodward to get to work.
Yaya Toure has handed Manuel Pellegrini a timely boost ahead of the new season by insisting he wants to spend “as long as possible” at Manchester City following the most turbulent summer of his career.
Toure has endured a nightmare few weeks after the tragic death of younger brother Ibrahim from cancer last month while the Ivory Coast were heading towards an early World Cup exit.
With Toure seemingly heading for the Etihad exit door after he angrily accused City officials of disrespecting him on his birthday just days after helping Pellegrini’s side win the Premier League title before claiming the club then denied him the opportunity to spend time with his 28 year-old brother who had been suffering from illness for two years, his reaffirmation to the club has been warmly welcomed.
The Ivorian, currently in New York preparing to take on Liverpool tonight (kick-off: 04:00, UAE time), has stressed any ill feeling towards the club or manager Pellegrini are now in the past and all his efforts will be concentrated on the new campaign ahead.
“I’m feeling fine. It’s good to start training again. It’s been a difficult pre-season. Unfortunately it was a difficult summer for my family,” said Toure. “When you lose a brother it is always difficult and he was young too. We were very sad, all the family.
“He had been sick for two years. But he knew I loved football and he was telling me ‘go to the World Cup and enjoy it. If you stay with me and don’t participate in the World Cup I would not be happy. I would love to see you doing your best and trying to help the country’.
“He was my brother, he loved football. When he was sick in Manchester he was watching every game I was playing in. After them I was coming to see him in hospital. I think we need to try to move on and try to think about the next step.”
His spectacular post season fall-out with City, with agent Dimitri Seluk making a number of bizarre claims over his apparent birthday snub, looked certain to end his spell in Manchester.
Now though, Toure is ready to put the whole sorry affair behind him and he added: “I’m very happy to join the team and the manager.
“Everyone is very positive. Last year was a good season and this year, I hope and think it will be amazing because all the big teams are signing good players. It was not a case of me wanting to leave the club. I stayed quiet, I believe that is the right way, and at the end of the day it’s my decision. I will stay at Man City for as long as possible.
“The matter is closed now. The most important thing was to try to focus again. With the loss of my brother it was quite hard. I am a Muslim, I believe in God. Sometimes you can have everything – but this was a difficult situation.
“Last season was quite difficult at first but in the end it was fantastic – two trophies. This year we’ll try to do our best, we are looking to do well in the Champions League.”