This Summer, Liverpool Mostly Need...
There's no doubt that the gap has been cut. The gulf of over 20 points to last season's champions has been halved this season, due in the most part to the addition of Fernando Torres and the benefit of a full campaign from the almost unbreachable Javier Mascherano.
But ManYoo and Chelsea will undoubtedly spend again this summer (the former on a striker and the latter on flair) and Liverpool will need to spend again simply to ensure that the gap does not grow again. If they intend to actually compete for the title, they will need to spend more.
We take a look at the current Liverpool squad and speculate about the areas that need to be strengthened.
Questions continue to be asked about Jose Reina - and particularly his comfort under high balls - but this summer's goalkeeping priority will be in providing competition for the Spaniard rather than procuring a replacement. If his price continues to be prohibitive and Scott Carson returns, that problem will be solved. If not, someone other than Charles Itandje is needed to warn Reina that he is not entirely untouchable.
The only thing regular about the right-back situation at Liverpool this season has been the regularity of the switch between Steve Finnan and Alvaro Arbeloa. Rafa is clearly not convinced by either - Jamie Carragher's inclusion at right-back in the big games tells a very clear story - and neither would walk into another top four side. Possible replacements are hardly two a penny (as the high asking prices for Dani Alves and Jose Bosingwa suggest) but Schalke's Brazilian right-back Rafinha and Borussia Dortmund's Philipp Degenis are name often mentioned in despatches.
Rafa's ridiculously protracted chase of Gabriel Heinze last summer suggests that he knew he needed cover on the left side of defence, with John-Arne Riise, Fabiano Aurelio and an out-of-position Alvaro Arbeloa his only options. When you consider that his rivals have Patrice Evra, Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy in that position, you can see how Liverpool's squad falls short. Riise will exit this summer and he is likely to be replaced - don't be surprised if Wayne Bridge finally leaves Chelsea for the lure of regular Champions League footbal.
Injury to Daniel Agger left Liverpool woefully short in the centre at the start of the season as anyone with eyes in their head could see that Sami Hyypia was not an option to play a full season. Rafa reacted - probably too late - in bringing in Martin Skrtel in January, but that does mean that it's one area of the pitch which need not worry the Reds chequebook this summer.
The fact that Rafa has preferred an enthusiastic but limited Golden Retriever on the right side of midfield in the latter half of the season gives you an indication of the lack of faith he has in either Jermaine Pennant and Yossi Benayoun, who sit firmly in the box labelled 'decent Premier League player' along with the likes of Darren Fletcher and Shaun Wright-Phillips. There are a reason these players are substitutes for Big Four sides, but the difference is that Liverpool have no better alternative to keep the average players on the bench. This is where the big money should be spent this summer, though talk of getting Roma's Mancini for just £4m should see fans rubbing their hands together with glee. Fans may be split on talk of David Bentley - a player capable of making the step up or another 7/10 player?
Harry Kewell should finally shift his arse and his massive wages out of Anfield this summer to leave Ryan Babel and Benayoun as the only real options (assuming Riise's exit), with both playing out of position. Babel could yet become the answer to that conundrum - though he would prefer to play up front - but it's fair to say that they are being linked with Gareth Barry for a reason, and it's not because they fancy he will replace either Javier Mascherano or Xabi Alonso in the middle. Mancini could also play on the left, but Barry's steadiness (and versatility) could well appeal to Rafa. One interesting little rumour nugget had Guillem Balague suggesting that Liverpool would buy an England international midfielder and it would be a 'surprise'. We could perhaps throw the name of Joe Cole into the mix at this point...
It will be a surprise if this is where the money is spent this summer as they boast quite a quartet in Mascherano, Alonso, Lucas and Stevie Gerrard, with Damien Plessis capable of filling in where necessary. The capture of Barry would obviously provide other options - particularly if Alonso exits - while someone like Cole could certainly play in the hole in the stead of Gerrard.
If Peter Crouch was pondering whether to exit Liverpool this summer, his mind should have been made up by the fact that he was still sat on the bench at the end of a Champions League semi-final in which the Reds needed goals. He will have no shortage of options if he decides to exit, but his replacement will be decided by budget. A big budget and you're looking at Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, a smaller budget and you're maybe looking at Kenwyne Jones.