Liverpool's season so far and what lies ahead
“Sack Rodgers!” “Liverpool will struggle to find a place in the Europa League.” “Upwards of £100 million has been wasted by Liverpool.” “They are a one-man team and without Suarez, they can’t do anything!”
These were the calls when a struggling Liverpool suffered an embarrassing 1-3 loss to Crystal Palace back in November at their bogey ground – the Selhurst Park. The result put them in a low 12th position in the Premier League table. This was an unexpected and a shocking state of affairs at Anfield, where just 5 months prior to this loss, they ran Manchester City close to the title.
Nearly 4 months on, the talk has now changed to Liverpool possibly entering the top 4, or even the top 3. Apart from the draw against Basel in the Champions League relegating the Reds to the Europa League, it has been mostly positive since then for the 18-time league champions. A win at the St. Mary’s Stadium over surprise top-4 contenders Southampton took Liverpool to 2 points behind 4th-placed Manchester United and 3 behind Arsenal in 3rd.
Liverpool underwent a surgery in the summer that was akin to Michael Jackson’s changing skin colour with the departures of their talisman of last season, Luis Suarez and long-time servants Daniel Agger and Pepe Reina apart from some youngsters and fringe players.
They bought talented youngsters, Lazar Markovic, Emre Can, Alberto Moreno and Divock Origi (who was loaned back), who were expected to peak in a few years’ time, but still have a decent impact on the team this season. Mario Balotelli was brought in amidst much fan-fare apart from the trio from their weekend opponents – Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren. These players were expected to have an immediate impact on the team considering their age and the bags of cash Liverpool paid to acquire them.
Liverpool had a mixed start to the season with wins over Southampton and Tottenham, but suffered defeats to Manchester City and Aston Villa. The return of the Champions League to Anfield started with a win over debutants Ludogorets, yet it seemed like the Reds were still licking their wounds after losing the EPL title in dramatic fashion and the departure of Suarez.
The 5-times European Champions’ season kept on getting worse and the inavailability of Daniel Sturridge did not help their cause as Balotelli, Lambert and Fabio Borini failed to net goals and the Kopites were left looking at the videos from previous season, when they scored 101 times, if they wanted to see goals from their beloved Reds.
Signs of a resurgence
After the horrible start in the season, Liverpool were languishing at 12th place in the league till the 29th of November, when they entertained Stoke City at Anfield. A 1-0 win over the Potters was followed by a 3-1 win away at Leicester City and a 0-0 draw to Sunderland. Then came the crucial Anfield tie against Basel. The European giants needed a win over their Swiss counterparts in order to qualify for the knockout stages and avoid dropping down to the Europa League.
We all know what followed and their fairytale return to the Champions League became a very brief one, lasting a little longer than a Kim Kardashian marriage. However, it was the next match against Manchester United at Old Trafford that showed that there were signs of life in this Liverpool team.
Rodgers played a 3-4-3 formation against their arch-rivals and the performance was something Liverpool fans could be proud of. Despite a 3-0 loss, which was very harsh on Liverpool, there were plenty of positives for the away side. Wins over Burnley and Swansea were sandwiched between draws against Arsenal and Leicester at home. While they progressed to the semi-finals in the Capital One Cup with a 3-1 win away from home over Bournemouth.
New year, new Liverpool
It wasn’t until January though that Liverpool showed their true potential. Liverpool’s only loss in the first month of 2015 was the extra-time 0-1 defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the second leg of the League Cup that stopped the Reds in their tracks in their pursuit of a trophy, which Brendan Rodgers says is Liverpool’s target this season to cement his legacy at the club.
There was devastating news for the Liverpudlians, though, as Steven Gerrard announced that he would be leaving the club he joined at a tender age of 9. In an emotional-filled video, Gerrard made the announcement that he will continue playing, but not at Anfield – the pitch he graced since 29th November 1998. He said that he announced his decision now because he didn’t want the manager to be asked questions regarding his future – that is the humility of the man.
The reason, he admitted, was his reluctance to play the reduced role he would have to if he continued at the club he supported as a boy. However, he urged everyone connected to the club to concentrate on the season and help him finish his Liverpool career the way he deserved – on a high. He revealed, later on, that he will join Major League Soccer (MLS) side LA Galaxy at the end of the season.
However, time waits for nobody and Liverpool continued in the upcoming matches with their new formation, which seemed to work wonders for the team and the players, who fit the formation to the T. With the return of Sturridge from injury, the Reds seemed reinvigorated and ready to make Gerrard’s final season with his boyhood club one to remember for the legend.
Under the new system, Liverpool looked defensively solid – something which hasn’t been synonymous with Liverpool under Rodgers. Simon Mignolet looked like a new goalkeeper since his comeback into the side following Brad Jones’ injury, who was brought into the playing XI owing to the Belgian’s bad form.
Liverpool continued their tremendous form – the best in Europe – and are now placed 6th in the table with everyone connected to the club looking up, rather than sheepishly behind their shoulders to see which team is creeping up. The FA Cup run and Europa League fixtures have meant that the Reds have played 11 matches in 37 days, winning 7, drawing 3 and losing just 1 (the League Cup second leg) prior to their Europa League elimination. Their last defeat in the league came against fellow fourth-place challengers Manchester United, back in December.
Despite this brilliant run, Liverpool are still not in the Top 4. That can be attributed to the horrible start they made to the season. The elimination from the Europa League may turn out to be a blessing in disguise in the league as they won’t have to play every 3 days. The FA Cup brings their only chance of silverware this season, which Gerrard will be desperate to win as a last hurrah.
Liverpool have performed extremely well under Rodgers in the second half of seasons. An increase of 0.68 points per game in the business end of the season is a massive improvement, but the real question is if it will continue this season as well. For that to happen, Brazilian magician Philippe Coutinho, Emre Can, Mamadou Sakho and Simon Mignolet need to continue having their best spells at the club and the others need to step up as well.
|Played||Wins||Draws||Losses||Total Points||Points per game|
|First half of the season||57||25||14||18||89||1.56|
|Second half of the season||45||30||11||4||101||2.24|
The upcoming month brings along matches against Manchester City, Burnley and Manchester United at Anfield and a trip to the Liberty stadium to face Swansea City. These fixtures along with the first match of April at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal will shape Liverpool’s season. A total of 25 points from the remaining 12 matches (2.1 points per game) should guarantee a top 4 spot, so if they manage to replicate their second half form under Rodgers till the rest of the season, it should be enough to finish in the Champions League places.
Despite a horrendous start, I back Liverpool to keep their place in the top 4 at the end of the season. A favourable FA Cup draw, which sees them face Blackburn at Anfield and Arsenal travelling to Old Trafford to face Manchester United, would certainly help in their cause of winning the oldest domestic football tournament in the world for the 8th time in the club’s history. I expect Steven Gerrard to lift the FA Cup on his birthday simply because Gerrard always delivers on the big occasions and the FA Cup would be his last match with the Reds and it can’t get any sweeter than that.
Now, thankfully those shouts of ‘Rodgers out’ have died down and hopefully will stay put in the future. But, to have his name echo alongside the club and football greats like Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, Kenny Dalglish and Rafael Benitez like he wants, Brendan Rodgers will have to improve massively.
You’ll Never Walk Alone!