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John Brewin profile picture  By John Brewin
Aug 14, 2014

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

ESPN FC's Alexi Lalas and Paul Mariner are joined by Tim Howard as they reveal their predictions for this season's winner of the Premier League.

Wednesday saw chief executive Richard Scudamore suggest that Luis Suarez had made himself unwelcome in the Premier League. Liverpool fans are getting used to the hard-bitten reality that their Uruguayan talisman can no longer carry their hopes but Brendan Rodgers remains typically unbowed.

"We proved last season that we can handle the pressure of a title run-in," Rodgers said last weekend, to widespread smirks. "We just didn't get the breaks when we needed them most."

Many would suggest that without Suarez, Liverpool would have been in no position to be in a run-in where they eventually faltered. Liverpool hope to thrive along the lines of the Patrick Ewing Theory, where an NBA team gets better without its star, though previous evidence that this can work in modern English football is shaky. They have spent big to cushion the blow without ever getting the big striker they require. Much responsibility now lies with Daniel Sturridge.

Here, ESPN FC examines how clubs have historically fared in the season after losing a key player.

Kevin Keegan (sold by Liverpool, May 1977)

Eye-watering U.K. tax levels and the promise of a new challenge saw King Kev seek his fortune with Bundesliga side Hamburg, which was as unorthodox a move as it would be for an English player these days. Liverpool signed Kenny Dalglish from Celtic to replace him -- the best 440,000 pounds they ever spent -- and won three more European Cups to go with the one they won in Keegan's final match, 1977's final against Borussia Monchengladbach. Liverpool, however, failed to defend their league title, as Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest triumphed, though the 1978 European Cup, with a Wembley winner scored by Dalglish, cushioned that blow. Other English-based talent was soon heading to the continent, though teams like Arsenal, who sold Liam Brady to Juventus in 1980, did not enjoy quite the same success. A key lesson to the Liverpool of 2014 would be to similarly find a better replacement.

Following season: League position - 2nd; European Cup winner

Kevin Keegan won the European Cup with Liverpool before heading off to Hamburg.

Alan Shearer (sold by Blackburn Rovers, July 1996)

Rovers were already on the downslide when they cashed in Shearer to the tune of 15 million pounds to Newcastle United. The 1994-95 champion had finished seventh, the worst defence of a Premier League title that Manchester United equalled last season. Shearer, though, had still rattled in 31 goals, the same as Luis Suarez in 2013-14, and starred at the 1996 European Championship. Selling him proved the beginning of the end of the Jack Walker era. Millions were spent on replacements like Kevin Davies and Egil Ostenstad, but Rovers were relegated by the end of the 1998-99 campaign as Walker got through three different managers, none of whom could find an answer to filling the gap that Shearer left.

Following season: League position - 13th

Alan Shearer's goals led Blackburn Rovers to an unlikely Premier League title; they were never the same after he left.

Eric Cantona (retired from Manchester United, May 1997)

Cantona was the undoubted inspiration behind United's rise to dominance at the beginning of the Premier League era. Having decided he could no longer devote himself to football, he retired at 30 and would not be dissuaded. A panicking Alex Ferguson bought Teddy Sheringham, 31, from Spurs to replace Cantona, but the Londoner could not match his predecessor's impact. United lost the 1997-98 title to emerging force Arsenal, having led by 11 points. A callow group of "Fergie's Fledglings" had lost its leader, and replacement captain Roy Keane then suffered a ruptured cruciate. Ferguson spent big in adding a better replacement in Dwight Yorke the following summer, and United won their treble, in which Sheringham eventually played a full part. The disappointment of the immediate post-Cantona era fired Ferguson to his greatest triumph.

Following season: League position - 2nd

Eric Cantona's arrival at Old Trafford inspired the club to end a 26-year wait for a league title.

Patrick Vieira (sold by Arsenal, August 2005)

Vieira's departure from Arsenal was signposted each summer from 2001 until he eventually headed to Juventus for 13.75 million pounds. Manchester United and Real Madrid never got their man, but Arsene Wenger sold his captain thinking he had siphoned the best from him. Vieira, who was just 29, went on to win four titles in Serie A (and another was stripped from Juventus). He had signed off with the winning penalty in the 2005 FA Cup final, which proved the last silverware to grace the Gunners' cabinet aside from the Emirates Cup for nine long years. Arsenal reached the Champions League final the following year but lost to Barcelona in a close match in which their former captain would surely have steadied them.

Following season: League position - 4th; Champions League runner-up

Patrick Vieira's last kick for Arsenal was the winning penalty in the FA Cup final shootout vs. Man Utd in 2005.

Cristiano Ronaldo (sold by Manchester United, July 2009)

Like Vieira's, Ronaldo's departure had been previewed for a few years, and it came as next to no surprise, despite the huge 80 million pound fee that Real Madrid paid for him. Ferguson's answer this time was to bring in Antonio Valencia, Michael Owen and Gabriel Obertan, none of whom were in any way an adequate replacement. Ferguson then shifted the focus of the team to Wayne Rooney, who replied with his best season in a United shirt, scoring 34 goals, with Valencia providing much of the ammunition. United took their hunt for a fourth title in a row down to the final day, but Chelsea beat them to the punch. There had been too much reliance on Rooney, who injured an ankle in March.

Following season: League position - 2nd

Cristiano Ronaldo honed his trade at Old Trafford before he was sold for a world-record transfer fee.

Gareth Bale (sold by Tottenham Hotspur, August 2013)

With Spurs having sold a dual footballer of the year to a Spanish giant and then splashed serious cash, comparisons with Liverpool's sale of Suarez are obvious. Once Spurs failed to reach the Champions League, big money could not be turned down. By the time the 100 million euro deal was completed, director of football Franco Baldini had already signed seven players. Spurs squad looked strengthened, but the team was far less effective. Andre Villas-Boas had a clear plan with Bale around -- give it to him -- but without Bale, he ran out of ideas. Andros Townsend was a brief answer until injury, but the new signings -- save for Christian Eriksen -- disappointed. AVB lost his job in December, while Erik Lamela, signed for almost 30 million pounds, disappeared from view once Tim Sherwood took over as interim manager.

Following season: League position - 6th

Tottenham bought a host of new players but failed to fill the void left by Gareth Bale.

John Brewin

Based in London, from where he covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. He reported from the 2010 and 2014 World Cups and was formerly a senior editor of ESPNsoccernet.

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