Although Liverpool will not be receiving any silverware this May, plenty of positives outweighed the negatives in a season which saw them push Manchester United ‘nearly’ to the limit in the Premiership.
Rafa Benitez’s men are not too far from bringing the glory days back to Anfield, but being more clinical with the lower placed teams is paramount to their future success. Drawing against the likes of Hull, and Stoke, and losing against Middlesbrough and Tottenham has unfortunately lost the Reds their first title in 19 years.
Last season Rafa’s reds had to improve in challenging against the top three, they achieved that, doing the double over United and Chelsea, and drawing twice with Arsenal.
But some astonishing decisions by the manager (has again) proved costly. Putting too much trust in players who are not good enough or experienced enough to make a difference has caused this Liverpool team not to win the Premiership this season.
The likes of Lucas Leiva and Andreas Dossena have been picked for big games when they shouldn’t have even made the bench. Robbie Keane didn’t come up to scratch, and soon became a costly mistake. Ryan Babel looked in a constant strop, taking Rafa’s decision not to loan him to PSV a little too personally, and deciding that ‘any’ type of physical activity on the pitch was last on the list of his childish agenda.
On a positive note, Xabi Alonso had a great season. He locked away any adverse effects the Gareth Barry debacle had upon him, owning the midfield and sending a message to Rafa that his role is commonplace within this side. Xabi aside, Javier Mascherano’s dogged tackling, and non-stop work-rate cemented his world-class status. Pepe Reina proved he is not knocking on Iker Casillas’ door anymore, he has found the key and unlocked it, and Dirk Kuyt, ever the grafter in the side, again proved he is top draw by reaching his highest total of goals in a red shirt.
The shortfall of the season came about because of Liverpool’s two best players. Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard did not forge their outstanding partnership on enough occasions on the pitch this term, forcing the ‘bit-part’ players to take up a role within the team with virtually no experience. After Keane’s departure, young French striker David Ngog will use this season as a learning curve, and hopefully Lucas and Dossena will follow suit.
Torres showed only glimpses of brilliance in a season plagued by injury, whereas Gerrard was without a shadow of a doubt Liverpool’s greatest performer. Gerrard proved this season that he is at the top of his game, performance after performance, goal after goal, this man set out to get what he wanted and that was to challenge for the league, and he did that, almost single-handedly.
Liverpool need three world class players to help Gerrard and a fit Torres make more of a go of it next season. Looking at both the Liverpool and United sides, how many Liverpool players would actually get into the United side? Definitely two, but who else? Maybe Alonso, maybe Mascherano? Who knows?
Manchester United’s wealth of success has attracted the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, Carlos Tevez, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and many others to Old Trafford, and if Liverpool Football Club intends to make the leap from Premiership winning obscurity, they will have to spend, but spend well. Too many times Benitez has made the wrong call on a player which has caused setbacks for the team, but hopefully he’s learning, although the slanging match between himself and Sir Alex Ferguson was somewhat embarrassing (for Rafa anyway).
Looking at the points, this is the closest Liverpool have come to winning the title since 1989/90, the best points gained since 1988/89, proving that the best signing of the season so far, has been the straight man from Spain. He may have his critics but Benitez has not lost his tactical awareness in the big games. The victories against United will now take their place in Anfiled folklore, the 4-1 win at Old Trafford being the most memorable.
American ownership eventually succumbed to the demands of Rafa giving him more control on transfers, much to the relief of the Anfield faithful, who believed that the twists and turns of contract negotiation may end in tears, but thankfully didn’t.
With pre-season on the horizon, and transfer speculation focusing on the likes of David Silva, David Villa, Glen Johnson, and of course Gareth Barry Rafa will have to instil a similar mindset to that of the season just passed, but have the back-up of a quality squad in order to win the one honour that every Liverpool fan and player wants once more.
Liverpool’s greatest ever export The Beatles were never football fans, they were lovers of fine art and rock n’ roll, but lyrics from their songs could never have rang so true in explaining LFC’s season. It’s either ‘getting better all the time’ or ‘get back to where you once belonged’ you choose...but Liverpool did once belong on top...
By Alex Fontaine, Sports Editor
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