Second Edition: Liverpool
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t’s been 23 years since Liverpool won a league title. In fact, Liverpool has not won a league title since it was renamed the premier league back in 1992. That’s a long time for a club of their stature. Liverpool is seen as one of the most successful clubs across Europe and 2nd most successful club in England behind Manchester united. With such history and pedigree in the footballing stage, one wonders why they have failed to win the premier league in such a long time. The answer is Manchester united. For long periods of time, since the turn of the millennium, Manchester united have dominated the premier league. The introduction of Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger in 1996 and the current rise of Chelsea and neighbors Manchester city were able to stop that dominance, but only a little. So far, Manchester united has won 13 premier league titles (20 league titles) with their closest rivals, Arsenal and Chelsea on 3 premier league titles each. Having said that, they are only 5 clubs who have won the premier league and Liverpool is not one of them.
Since finishing 2nd in the 2008/2009 premier league season, Liverpool has failed to reach the champions league places, finishing an average of 7thplace in the seasons to follow. The sacking of Liverpool favourite Kenny Daglish back in 2012 was a surprise to some because he led the club to a league cup victory and an FA cup final vs Chelsea (lost 1-2) in that season. However, he had a poor league campaign and the purchase of Andy Carroll (£35 million), Stewart Downing (£20 million) and Jordan Henderson (£16 million) were not good value for money. Questions were asked why the Scottish manager focused his scouts on England when other countries would have been good value for money. For example, at the time, Valencia’s Juan mata (now Chelsea) and Atletico madrid’s Sergio Aguero (now Man City) were available for £23.5 million and £38 million respectively. A few million quid and instead of having a Downing-Caroll combination, Liverpool fans could have witnessed a mouth watering Mata-Aguero combination. However, credit must go to Kenny Daglish for bringing in Suarez in the winter of 2011, after the sale of Fernando Torres as he has gone on to prove to the Liverpool faithful and the rest of the world just how good a striker he is.
In the 2012-2013 premier league season, Brendan Rodgers replaced Kenny Daglish after impressing with his Swansea team, who finished 11th last season following their promotion to the top flight. He promised to change Liverpool’s style of play from the traditional long balls to the target man, to a tiki-taka system like the one deployed at Barcelona. His reign didn’t get off to the best of starts; Liverpool found it hard to score goals, mostly hitting the posts on occasions. Opposition teams often frustrated them by defending deep and limiting the space to goal. This made Liverpool ineffective even with their large shares of possession. A major theme in Liverpool’s first half of the season was their inconsistency; they couldn’t get a string of wins under their belt as they would win one week and lose or draw the next. During the January transfer window, Rodgers brought in two places that will later turn the fortunes of Liverpool and their season. The arrivals of Sturridge (from Chelsea) and Coutinho (from Inter) at the time were seen as bargain-buys but after their signing, Liverpool began to show consistency and had the best 2nd half to the season after Arsenal. Coutinho and Sturridge performed well above expectations and fans were relishing the prospect of seeing them in action next season.
This season, Liverpool has started strongly; currently joint-top with 16 points after 7 games. Sturridge has been in fine form this season scoring 6 goals in 7 premier league matches in the absence of Suarez, who recently came back to the team after serving his 10-match ban for a bite on Chelses’s Ivanovic. He seems a completely different player from the one at Stamford Bridge who would frustrate fans for his selfishness and shoot on sight policy. With Suarez and Sturridge in front, Liverpool have the most feared partnership in the league and its no wonder there is so much optimism amongst the fans this year. An area in which Liverpool have improved this season is their defence. With the retirement of Liverpool Legend Carragher, the club has added the likes of Sakho (From PSG), Kolo Toure (Free), Cissokho (loan from Valencia), Llori (From S.Lisbon) and Mignolet (From Sunderland), making Liverpool a much solid outfit in defence. Upfront, Liverpool has added Moses (on loan form Chelsea), Aspas (From Celta Vigo) and Alberto (From Sevilla). Rodgers has also changed his tactics somewhat. Given the personnel of players available and the type of opponent the team is facing, Rodgers can line Liverpool up in a 3-5-2 or 4-2-3-1 formation. The 3-5-2 formation was used sparingly last season but with Suarez available for selection, expect to see more of this formation in the future. What the formation offers is an extra man in midfield to control the tempo of the game and 2 wing-backs who are giving license to hog the touchline and deliver crosses into the box. The formation adds width to the team, another area in which Liverpool struggled last season because they had no right-winger and had to use Henderson for most of their matches in that position. The addition of Moses will solve this but will only be temporary as he is on loan.
Personally, if there were ever a good chance of Liverpool breaking in to the top 4, it would be this season. Liverpool is among 3 clubs who still have the same manager from last year among the 6 contenders (Arsenal and Spurs are the others). Sturridge has continued his fine form into the season and Suarez (after all the controversy during the summer) seems to be in top form as well. Mignolet is looking a solid buy with only a handful of matches played and the team has proven they can grind out points as well (evident in the 1 nil wins this season). A major worry would be squad rotation. I watched the Capital one’s cup (Formerly known as League cup) match where Liverpool lost to Manchester United (1-0) and I looked at the team Liverpool put out. It was the same team that lost to Southampton the previous week with the exception of Suarez returning from his ban replacing Aspas. I was a bit surprised the Liverpool manager didn’t rotate his squad but as I began to realize, the ones he had on the bench weren’t good enough. Players like Aspas and Alberto would not get games in Southampton or West Bromwich Albion because they are not good enough, they are not signings you make to if you want to signal your intent as title contenders. Come January after the festive period, I expect Liverpool to burnout and collapse like Spurs have been doing recently because you can’t have the same players playing week in, week out for the whole season. There needs to be players who can replace the starting players and still maintain or improve quality of the team. Unless something is done in the January window to help the likes of Coutinho and Gerrard, I see Liverpool missing out of the top 4 once again this season.
– Sturridge and Suarez : Together they hold the key to Liverpool’s chances this season.
– Gerrard: He may be old but he is still very much the go-to man in Liverpool
– Coutinho: Brilliant with the ball at his feet, expect him to work magic this season with his Brazilian flair.
– Squad Rotation: Lack of options on the bench will hurt Liverpool in the long run especially with the type of pressing Rodgers wants Liverpool to do that requires a lot of energy.
IMAGE CREDIT: Liverpool
– Nora Annan