Likely Lads for 2017 Tour

So, Warren Gatland will lead the British and Irish Lions for a second time following his series win over Australia in 2013.

Across the four nations, debates are being had and one of those debates is who should captain this team? There are only two contenders really either Cardiff back rower Sam Warburton or Grand Slam winning captain Dylan Hartley.

Hartley has to skipper the Lions, he recently led his England side to a 3-0 win over Australia as for Warburton he failed to tour due to injury.

I think it is fairly widely assumed Eddie Jones’ all conquering England squad will dominate the 34 man squad that is due to be announced towards the end of the season.

France based players is another contentious issue due to the fact the French season finishes comparatively late it is unlikely some players will be able to join up with the squad at the right time. This therefore means some France based players could effectively miss out on selection.

Head coach of Wales Warren Gatland celebrates after beating Ireland in their Six Nations rugby match at Croke Park in Dublin

Gatland will lead the Lions in New Zealand.

New Zealand is the pinnacle, a series win over the All Blacks is going to take something seriously special, you could even argue miraculous.

These are the 34 players I think could maybe win that series.

Props: Dan Cole, Joe Marler (both England), Jack McGrath (Ireland), WP Nel (Scotland), Mako Vunipola (England)

Hookers: Rory Best (Ireland), Jamie George, Dylan Hartley (Captain, both England)

Locks: Jonny Gray (Scotland), Iain Henderson (Ireland), Maro Itoje (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), George Kruis (England)

Flankers: John Hardie (Scotland), James Haskell (England), CJ Stander (Ireland), Sam Warburton (Wales)

Number Eights: Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Billy Vunipola (England)

Scrum-Halves: Conor Murray (Ireland), Rhys Webb (Wales), Ben Youngs (England)

Fly-Halves: Dan Biggar (Wales), Owen Farrell, George Ford (both England)

Centres: Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), Jonathan Joseph (England), Jamie Roberts (Wales), Duncan Taylor (Scotland)

Wings: Jack Nowell (England), Tommy Seymour (Scotland), Anthony Watson (England)

Fullbacks: Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Liam Williams (Wales)

Squad by Nation

England: 15

Ireland: 6

Scotland: 6

Wales: 7

That is my pick but with a year to play plenty of time for players to play their way in or out of Gatland’s plans.

Liverpool Preview

Manager: Brendan Rodgers
Stadium: Anfield
Captain: Jordan Henderson
Top Scorer: Steven Gerrard (13)

Liverpool will be disappointed with their campaign last season after a slow start they were given life after Christmas by none other than their captain and hero Gerrard. A crazy finish saw the Anfield club finish 6th a finish that surprised many including Rodgers who will have been surprised considering his team was lacking in goals.

Liverpool had a dream a dream to send Steven Gerrard off with that 1 trophy missing from his personal trophy cabinet laden with honours including captaining England and a Champions League. Alas it was not to be for the Reds. The run of 3 straight defeats in November to Newcastle, Chelsea and Crystal Palace highlighted the difficult opening few months for the club. This saw them only net 2 goals and concede 6. The lowest point came in the grudge match at Old Trafford as their nemesis won 3-0.

Steven Gerrard walking out for his final game at Anfield.

Steven Gerrard walking out for his final game at Anfield.

This was followed by an outstanding run from 21st December until 16th March as Liverpool failed to lose a game and managed some tough away wins against Swansea and Southampton both of whom were strong at their respective homes last season. But this run was ended by Manchester United who did the double with a 2-1 win at Anfield in March stalling the progress made by Liverpool in the preceding months of wins and draws. A stuttering end to the season saw many Liverpool fans experience a case of deja vu as Crystal Palace took a 3-1 win before Stoke bullied Liverpool into submission by beating Gerrard in his last Premier League game 6-1 at the Brittania Stadium.

The elephant in the Liverpool dressing room will be can anybody step up and replace Gerrard. The candidate that many have cited is of course Jordan Henderson, but it’s not the same it never will be as the last giant of Liverpool leaves and heads for Hollywood and the MLS. Henderson will obviously have a large part to play in the coming months and seasons should he stay at Anfield unlike Raheem Sterling. There is also big things expected of Sturridge who has an injury plagued season last season which saw him struggle and deprived Liverpool of the goals as Balotelli and Lambert failed to hit the target. If Liverpool are to succeed they will need to improve in front of goal and find that player that can change the game from the middle of the park.

Last season there were few players to choose from that really performed bar Gerrard and Sterling. Lazar Markovic turned up more often than not for the club with some good attacking displays and a varied passing game he was one of the shining lights in Liverpool’s darkest times. Adam Lallana had a fairly good second half of the season with some good displays at times as he finally replicated some of the form he had shown at St Mary’s on the south coast. Phillipe Coutinho also had a sterling run of form as the season and closed and many fans hope he can continue in that vein when the new season kicks off.

Phillipe Coutinho celebrates scoring a goal with Gerrard.

Phillipe Coutinho celebrates scoring a goal with Gerrard.

Liverpool have been busy in the transfer market bringing in 7 players all high profile names whilst offloading 6 players that have played a part in Liverpool’s recent history. Liverpool have decided that they need goals and have brought in 2 new strikers and an attacking midfielder in Ings, Benteke and Firmino all of whom will provide goals. Former Villa hitman Benteke scored managed 15 goals last season, Ings netted 11 goals for Burnley whilst Brazilian Firmino scored 10 goals. Rodgers will be desperate that the new boys can score their goals and win games. He’s also visited his favourite hunting ground Southampton and snapped up Nathaniel Clyne, right back being a problem position for Liverpool Glen Johnson never really made that shirt his own. The England right back could be a really good signing should he perform to his best ability. James Milner and Ádám Bogdán are 2 experienced players to bring in Milner could bring that professionalism and high standard in training that Gerrard offered, that air of confidence and experience that Gerrard exuded. Ádám Bogdán comes in as back-up and adds some experience to the squad.

Nathaniel Clyne in action for England.

Nathaniel Clyne in action for England.

The league’s worst kept secret was that England midfielder Gerrard was thinking of leaving, he left the club to join MLS side LA Galaxy. Another secret was Raheem Sterling wanted to leave and win trophies, his transfer saga went on too long before he finally made the move to Manchester City. Glen Johnson also leaves the club after a difficult couple of seasons at Anfield as his performance level dipped leaving him being dropped by Roy Hodgson for his replacement at Liverpool Clyne.

IN: Nathaniel Clyne (Southampton, £10 million)
Joe Gomez (Charlton Athletic, £3.5 million)
Roberto Firmino (1899 Hoffenheim, £21.3 million)
Christian Benteke (Aston Villa, £32.5 million)
Ádám Bogdán (Bolton Wanderers, Free)
James Milner (Manchester City, Free)
Danny Ings (Burnley, Tribunal)

OUT: Raheem Sterling (Manchester City, £44 million)
Iago Aspas (Celta Vigo, £5 million)
Sebastián Coates (Sunderland, £4 million)
Steven Gerrard (LA Galaxy, Released)
Glen Johnson (Stoke City, Released)
Brad Jones (Free Agents, Free)
Javier Manquilo (Atlético Madrid, Loan Cancelled)

Liverpool will be different without Gerrard and will be a completely different prospect with the team. They have also lost their most complete, creative, attacking player Sterling to Premier League rivals. Their squad and recruitment make them a tough team to face this season and they will be confident of being able to fight but they will struggle to compete at the top of the table.

Steven Gerrard celebrates scoring against Leicester.

Steven Gerrard celebrates scoring against Leicester.

My Liverpool XI (4-3-3): 22 S.Mignolet; 2 N.Clyne 37 M.Skrtel 17 M.Sakho 38 J.Flanagan; 20 A.Lallana 14 J.Henderson (C) 10 P.Coutinho; 11 R.Firmino NA C.Benteke 15 D.Sturridge

Bench: 34 Á.Bogdán 6 D.Lovren 18 A.Moreno 4 K.Touré 23 E.Can 50 L.Markovic 28 D.Ings

Last Season: 6th

Prediction: 7th