Missing out on the title must hurt Liverpool, but looking ahead more important
Flashback to August 17, 2013: In the early kick-off on the opening day of the new season, Simon Mignolet saved Jonathan Walters’ penalty in the closing stages to ensure a 1-0 victory for Liverpool over Stoke City. With the win, Liverpool climbed to the top of the table provisionally, with other teams having yet to play. This got the trolls busy with quotes mocking that this would be the only time the club would be at the top of the league.
Forward to April, 2014: An impressive first half of the season, and then a sensational run of 11 consecutive wins in Premier League meant that Liverpool were 3 games away from sealing a memorable league title. It seemed like a certain fairy-tale victory for the team led by Steven Gerrard, who many believed was the best player to not win the Premier League yet.
But alas, not all fairy-tales get the happy ending, and an unfortunate but costly slip by Gerrard against Chelsea led to a defeat which dashed Liverpool’s hopes. This was followed by a 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace in a game which Liverpool had in the bag before a remarkable comeback by the Eagles. A 2-1 win over Newcastle in the final game of the season wasn’t enough as Manchester City capitalized on Liverpool’s slip up to win the title by winning the last 5 games.
While no one had tipped Liverpool for title glory at the start of the season, and a Champions League spot appeared to be the realistic target, the fact that Liverpool had the title in their own hands with just 3 games left to play mean that missing out on the league will hurt Liverpool, and it should hurt Liverpool as well. This was a season where things just seemed to fall into place.
Manchester City struggled for a while with patchy away form, Chelsea dropped points to weaker teams, Manchester United were a team in transition under a new manager, Tottenham struggled to impress despite their big money signings, Arsenal did well for a long time only to see their season fall apart badly after the 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Liverpool.
It will be unfair to say that the team wilted under pressure in high-stake games against Chelsea and Crystal Palace, but a combination of bad luck and some naïve tactics meant that Liverpool’s dreams of a 19th league win (and the first one for 24 years) were dashed.
However, it will be imperative for Brendan Rodgers and his team to take heart from an inspired show this season and consolidate on it in the coming seasons. A strong foundation has been laid for the team to build upon and aim for long-term success in the Premier League as well as the Champions League.
Liverpool fans will remember that the last time the team finished 2nd in the league in an impressive campaign (2008-09) which led to the manager being rewarded with a bumper contract, the next season didn’t quite go as per plan as they finished 7th in the league and Rafael Benitez was booted out. This subsequently started the slump of the side which coincided with ownership issues and managerial changes, and a revival was finally seen only after 4 seasons in 2013-2014 under Rodgers.
And we go back further to 2001-02 when Gerard Houllier’s team finished second to a rampaging Arsenal side, but a disastrous summer transfer window that saw the arrivals of El Hadji Diouf and Salif Diao was followed by a below-par season in which Liverpool missed out on a top 4 finish.
It will be very important for Rodgers to conduct his transfers wisely. The failure of 2002-03 season is often attributed to the signings of Diouf and Diao (and non-signing of Anelka), while many believe that the failures in the 2009-10 season was mainly due to Xabi Alonso being sold and being replaced by Alberto Aquilani. Despite having done wonders with a limited squad, Rodgers doesn’t boast of a very good record in the transfer window with some average and below-average purchases.