As we discussed on our most recent podcast, it’s been one of the most bizarre seasons in Liverpool’s recent history. After blowing the Premiership away last time around, the Reds and Brendan Rodgers have struggled for consistency and togetherness in a season punctuated by flashpoints. Balotelli being dropped, Gerrard’s red against Manchester United, Sterling’s contract dispute…it’s been nothing but drama on Merseyside. Here to give us a Liverpool fan’s perspective, is Brian Jagusak. Follow Brian on Twitter at @jagusak, and the Baltimore Reds at @LFCBaltimore.
The expectation at Liverpool Football Club was sky high this year after narrowly missing out on the title last season. Though the club had just lost a world-class player and focal point of attack in Luis Suarez, they’d also exhausted their financial resources in order to bring in much needed depth to the squad to challenge on four fronts.
Realistic expectations were divulged to the Anfield faithful:
1) secure Champions League football for next season; 2) make it to the knock-out round of the current Champions League campaign; and, 3) win a trophy.
Before the first game Reds supporters all over the globe were chomping at the bit for the season to start. Now, there isn’t a Liverpool fan in the world that isn’t thankful it is all over. The question lingering on everyone’s mind is, where did it all go wrong?
Liverpool has been left to rue the mistakes they made in the transfer window. Most notably not having an adequate plan B after missing out on Alexis Sanchez to rivals Arsenal. All of Liverpool’s big money signings have failed to impress. Adam Lallana has had an injury-hit campaign, Lazar Markovic and Alberto Moreno are still settling into their new environment, and it took Dejan Lovren too long to find his feet only to lose them again by a strong Yannick Bolasie challenge.
Liverpool’s attempt to replace the quality of Luis Suarez with Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli has exploded in spectacular fashion in the faces of the Merseyside hierarchy. (In fairness to Lambert he was only brought in as a plan B, but a plan B is useless when you fail to have a plan A). The failure to properly replace Luis Suarez can be directly correlated to Liverpool’s failings this season.
Last season Brendan Rodgers deservedly won LMA’s Manager of the Year award for getting Liverpool to play some of the most entertaining football on the continent. This season, he is lucky to have a job. A combination of an unsettled defense and Simon Mignolet’s loss of form highlighted cracks in the armor that were observed last season but papered over due to the effectiveness of the attack. Continuous injuries to Daniel Sturridge left Liverpool without an attacking option that had the devastating combination of pace, creativity and finishing.
Brendan Rodgers’ record against the top teams this season has been pathetic. His inability to top former mentor Jose Mourinho not only cost Liverpool the title last season but also the League Cup final and most recently a top-four spot. Rodgers also lost the tactical battle to Louis Van Gaal in a game that could have seen Liverpool surpass United in the race for a Champions League place. After losing to Aston Villa in the one of the worst performances by a Liverpool team in semi-final ever, it would be no surprise if Rodgers found his own name in one of his famed envelopes.
To his credit, Rodgers showed his tactical nuance by introducing a 3-4-2-1 formation that not only rejuvenated the squad but also put them back into top-four contention after a disastrous start. Unfortunately for Liverpool the formation required too many key personnel and ultimately became unsustainable as the season wore on. Rodgers persistence with the formation angered many Liverpool supporters, and has brought his time at the club under threat.
Distractions have been a key factor for the unraveling of Liverpool’s season. Gerrard announcing his retirement, public spats with certain players and contract holdouts have brought an unwanted circus-like atmosphere to Anfield. Liverpool has not been faultless in this matter with Gerrard’s sendoff akin to a funereal and Rodgers refusal to take an out-of-form Raheem Sterling out of the firing line has only added more fuel to an already out of control fire.
If Liverpool are to challenge for honours next season, they need to control what is coming out of the club and focus on the task at hand. Winning football matches.
Where do Liverpool go from here?
Although this season has been mediocre, there are plenty of positives to take away. New boy Emre Can looks to be a great acquisition. Jordan Henderson’s transformation from boy who looked like a dog waking himself up by a fart to a marauding, box-to-box midfielder with an engine for days has been wonderful to watch. The continuing trend of bringing youth players such as Jordan Ibe through to the first team is also welcomed by all Reds fans and makes the uncertain future of Raheem Sterling more palatable.
The loss of Gerrard to the Liverpool team is a big one. However it is no secret that Liverpool were a better team without him this season than with him. If they can replace the quality they are losing they can compete for honors next season.
It is going to be a long summer for Liverpool Football Club with the loss of key veterans and given the results of the last game of the season, possibly a manager. Rodgers should be given an opportunity to turn things around. Playing seven midfielders against Stoke seemed more like a message to the ownership rather than a tactical decision. The result was embarrassing, but it was not as bad as the FA Cup semi-final debacle. Rodgers getting his P45 wouldn’t be much of a surprise after the season Liverpool have had, but with that comes more uncertainty and more transition. Something Liverpool can ill afford.
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