Liverpool: Still In Transition

About a year ago, shortly after the appointment of Brendan Rodgers, I wrote that Liverpool needed evolution, not revolution. The departure last summer of club legend Kenny Dalglish was a difficult one, particularly for older fans who still have fond memories of his glorious first tenure as manager at the club, as well as a distinguished playing career that saw him regarded as one of the all time greats of the game.

However, after some high profile signings and a disappointing league campaign, it was clear that some changes were needed and Liverpool’s owners decided that the management team was it.

However, I felt the disappointment could be somewhat balanced against the promising young players coming through the ranks at Anfield and some of the talent that was already in the squad. I also believed that with a few smart ins and outs, progress could be made; albeit slow and steady in the absence of the financial backing of Man City or Chelsea.

Whilst Liverpool passed the ball under Dalglish, the 4-3-3 shorter passing philosophy of Rodgers was clearly evident from the onset and their performance against Gomel in the early stages of the Europa League gave fans some optimism ahead of a tough run of opening Premier League fixtures.

However, individual mistakes became an all too familiar theme in the first few months of what was a stuttering League campaign. Despite some impressive performances, those mistakes were costing goals and points, leaving the Reds in the wrong half of the table and Brendan Rodgers under no illusion of just how magnified the focus is on a club the size of Liverpool.

Club record signing, Andy Carroll, had been sent to West Ham on a season long loan and failure to seal deadline day targets meant the club started with just 2 recognised senior strikers. One of them, newly recruited Fabio Borini, was struggling to adapt and got injured. This meant Luis Suarez would be under further pressure to deliver the goals, but deliver them he did.

Youngster Raheem Sterling, with his blistering pace and trickery, was quickly making a name for himself and having to be relied upon as Liverpool began to tighten up at the back and improve their results.

Sterling... impressive.

Sterling… impressive.

As autumn was drawing to a close, Sterling was starting to look a little burnt out and £15m summer signing, Joe Allen’s form had deserted him. Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing had come back into the fold and made an impression, but it was to be the January transfer window that would prove decisive. Daniel Sturridge was signed from Chelsea and Philippe Coutinho from Inter Milan.

Despite the humiliation of a premature exit from the FA Cup at the hands of giant killers Oldham, Liverpool continued to tighten up defensively in the second half of the campaign and Sturridge was making an instant impact, taking the pressure off Suarez to score the goals. The energy and work rate of Jordan Henderson was making him an important member of the team, helping to press opponents higher up the pitch, as Liverpool looked to have adjusted to the style of play that Rodgers demands.

Skipper Steven Gerrard was also increasingly adapting to a more withdrawn role in the midfield, yet still exerting his influence and after a poor start to the season, Pepe Reina even recovered some of the form that had once made him the most consistent goalkeeper in the country.

The icing on the cake though, would be the growing influence of Coutinho. The young Brazilian attacking midfielder was once considered by some as one of the hottest prospects in world football and he settled quickly, showing his skill, technique and vision to give the Kop a new hero.

Sturridge and Coutinho..... proved their worth.

Sturridge and Coutinho….. proved their worth.

In any other year, Luis Suarez would’ve been named player of the year; not just for scoring 30 goals or the breath taking quality of some those goals, but also for the consistently high level of performances he put in throughout the season.

However, as soon as he inexplicably bit Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, he ended all hopes of the LMA version of that accolade. The burning pitchfork brigade may have wanted a lifetime ban and 50 years imprisonment, but had to make do with a 10 match ban, as the FA got caught up in the hysteria.

With Suarez unavailable for the last few games of the season, it allowed Coutinho and Sturridge to develop their understanding on the pitch. They did that to aplomb as Liverpool ended the season in good form, the highlight of which being the 6 goal mauling of Newcastle.

All in all, if Liverpool can take their form and progress from the second of the season into next year, along with a successful transfer window, then perhaps there can be some reasons for optimism that Liverpool can compete for a top 4 spot next year.

It seems only appropriate that my final note should be that Liverpool’s final league game against QPR saw the birth of a promising Anfield career in the shape of Jordan Ibe, but it also saw the end of another as after 17 years and 737 appearances, Jamie Carragher hung up his boots. Liverpool’s loss will be Sky Sports’ gain.


Written by Andy Wales

Follow Andy on Twitter @AndyArmchair

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