Liverpool 2016/17 season review

Expectations are always high at the beginning of the season.  This was especially so after Klopp had led Liverpool to the League  and Europa cup finals in the 2015/16 season.

The omens also looked good.  At the beginning of the 1987/88 season Liverpool played Arsenal away on the opening day and just like that year there was a delay.  This time it was due to the completion of the new main stand rather than a collapsed sewer under the Kop.  Nevertheless it could be seen as a positive omen.

Being a season ticket holder in the new main stand it certainly lived up to expectations.  Although high up the view was excellent especially as the seat is on the half way line.  It gave the advantage of being able to see better the teams shape and build up than my previous seat in the Kop.  There was also the novelty of leg room and the acoustics of the stand was spot on as the noise can carry when the fans are in full voice.

Without European football for that season it was wondered whether the benefit of playing no mid-week games would have the same effect as it did for the 2013/14 season.  Liverpool of course narrowly missing out on the league to Manchester City.  Certainly Liverpool got off to a flier beating Arsenal 4-3 a dramatic game whilst the first home game of the season a 5.30pm kickoff against Leicester saw the champions thrashed 4-1.

The football was a game of intense high pressing with teams unable to cope against Liverpool’s attack.  Mane the new signing from Southampton looked scintillating in attack whilst the likes of Lallana and Firmino came on in leaps and bounds.  Previously they had been inconsistent and only showed flashes of what they could do achieve.  This season they were not only consistent but players that Liverpool relied on.

A brief surge to the top made fans dream but unlike the 87/88 team the defence and overall quality was not as good and consistent that it needs to be.  With injuries to key players at certain points in the season and Mane unavailable due to the African cup of nations there was not the depth in squad to cover.  Furthermore the opposition had learnt to stifle Liverpool by playing deep, restricting space and making use of Liverpool’s vulnerability at set-pieces to score.  The bench also offered no real options in terms of changing things tactically on the pitch.

Indeed Liverpool’s record against the other top six clubs was impressive.  Mainly because with the likes of Spurs and Arsenal who were more open benefitted Liverpool who with their pressing game were able to exploit the spaces left open.

The realistic hope of course was that Liverpool would win one of the domestic trophies and finish within the top four.  Liverpool disappointingly were beaten 2-1 at home against  Wolves in the fourth round of the FA cup.  It appeared that Klopp had overestimated the quality of the overall squad as they struggled to get the better of the Championship side.  In the league cup Southampton beat Liverpool 2-0 over both legs which just left the pursuit for a top four spot.

Despite a few stumbles Liverpool managed to make it over the line although if they had not dropped points against the likes of Southampton, Palace, and Bournemouth they may have just finished third and avoid the Champions league qualifier.

Nevertheless for a fourth placed finish it was still achieved with a high points total of seventy-six that would have won Liverpool the league twenty years ago.  Although not spectacular it is an improvement in the league.   Prior to the season you would expect Liverpool to finish between fourth and six if you were judging on what was spent.

There have been highlights namely the back to back wins against Arsenal, beating Leicester, and Everton.  Then of course there is Emre Can’s spectacular goal against Watford.

Mane has deservedly won the Liverpool player of the year and has been sorely missed when he has been absent.  It is also worth noting that Simon Mignolet has improved significantly this season after temporally being dislodged by Karius.  Unless a keeper of the quality of Pepe Reina becomes available then a goalkeeper is no longer the priority that it once was last year.

The only negatives this season from me has been the atmosphere at games.  It is unfortunately one of the changing facets of football that the ordinary fan is being priced out.  There are more corporate tickets and with the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, and Arsenal it is more being seen at the event rather than love for the team or even the sport.

When you have the likes of two middle-aged men in front of you more intent on showing each other pictures on their mobiles than watching Liverpool play Manchester City it is going to affect the atmosphere.  Then there is the panic if Liverpool are not one up within ten minutes that shows up the sense of entitlement some fans feel.  Silly comments are thrown about before going down to get a pint five minutes before half time and then sodding off in the 85th minute.

Of course you want Liverpool to win but there has to be a sense of realism.  This after all is not 1984 even if the outside world seems to portray Orwell’s dystopian novel.  Getting behind the team is crucial and again can help the team to snatch a result.  The sound of seats slamming as Palace scored the second rather than the sound of Liverpool fans roaring the team to grab an equalizer in the last ten minutes is galling.

Unbelievably there were a few idiots that booed after the draw against Southampton.  Was it frustrating?  Of course it was but the team had given everything and it just didn’t happen on the day.  We had a limited squad with a lack of options on the bench.  You can only do so much and Klopp has got the best out of the team.

For next season and certainly with European football the squad does have to be strengthened.  The defence certainly needs to be improved.  At times they seem shaky and certainly at set pieces seem more vulnerable in conceding a goal.  The team does need to learn to defend as it breeds that confidence with a solid defence.  A centre-half and left back are certainly required.

Another midfielder preferably someone with a bit of pace and guile, and another forward have to be priorities.  Besides this we also need more options to choose from the bench especially when it is difficult breaking teams down.

I am certainly not expecting a marquee signing as this isn’t the way the Fenway group do business but I certainly expect some activity as the defence and size of the squad were issues that became apparent during the season.

This season has seen Liverpool move in the right direction.  If they can keep hold of Coutinho and get Emre Can to extend his contract then it will be beneficial.  Can of course holds divisive opinions but I would say that he does has the ability to be one of the top midfielders in the game.  Critics seem to forget that he is only young.  He can at times be sloppy but he never hides and always tries to make the correct pass or make something happen.  If Can leaves Liverpool I certainly don’t want to regret watching his talent benefit another club.

With European football back and hopefully champions league it will be an exciting season which will hopefully see Liverpool win a trophy.  Above all though I want to enjoy the thrill that the likes of last season’s Europa cup run, the title tilt of 2013/14 and certainly wouldn’t say no to a similar season in the Champions league of 2004/05.

Football can be frustrating and bring despair.  At times you question your own sanity watching a dull 0-0 on a cold January night but games like Istanbul and last season’s game against Dortmund make it all worth while.  Sometimes you have to suffer a bit of misery to appreciate the joy.  That is after all what football is to the majority of supporters.

Above all though I just want to enjoy watching the mighty reds and hopefully experience another rollercoaster journey that Liverpool are good at doing.

The countdown begins to the 2017/18 season!

 

 

 

 

Liverpool v C. Palace and why top four is still up for grabs

P170423-039-Liverpool_Crystal_Palace-e1492967314296Credit where its due even if it is through gritted teeth, Allardyce got his tactics spot on last Sunday as Palace beat Liverpool for the third year running at Anfield.  It was a game that was always going to be difficult given the erratic performances and results against the so-called lesser lights.  Even so with the finishing line and a top four spot in sight it was a home game that Liverpool needed to make it count.

Palace though were well organised and it was a yellow wall as they played deep and ensured that any space in the middle of the park was restricted.  With Mane unavailable due to injury there was no one to test the Palace defence with skill and pace.   Coutinho and Firmino may have  the guile and skill they were unable to find a way through the brickwall that was Palace’s defence.  Granted Origi is a player who has pace but he too found it hard to get into space.

It meant that the only options to Liverpool was to go wide but with the lack of height and a mass of yellow shirts, Palace were easily able to defend from set-pieces as you would expect from a Sam Allardyce side.

Despite this Liverpool managed to take the lead from a fantastic free kick from Coutinho.  This should have been the catalyst for Liverpool to kick on or at the very least hold onto the goal lead.  Palace would need to push further up the pitch and  leave more space for Liverpool to take hold of the game.

The Liverpool defence this season has been fragile and at times resembles a punch drunk boxer attempting to last the final round.  With only three minutes before half time Liverpool should have had the nous to keep it tight and simple.  Instead Lovren failed to react quickly to the ball as Cabaye gained posession as he raced down the right to play a ball for Benteke to score and equalise for Palace.

Once again there was frustration at Liverpool’s inability to defend and not tightening their hold on the match to ensure they got the result required.

The second half was reverting back to type for Palace who again ensured that Liverpool were not given any space to cause problems.  Another lapse at a set piece from a corner saw Benteke grab his second with a diving header.  With the lack of options on the bench Liverpool were unable to put anyone who could change the game.  Alexander-Arnold, Grujic, and Moreno were thrown on but it was more in the hope of fresh legs rather than any tactical acumen.

Liverpool didn’t look capable of breaking down Palace and despite the six minutes of injury time were unable to snatch a point.  It was a disappointing result following the two excellent away wins against Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion.

There have been a few moans that Liverpool have blown it especially with Man Utd winning 2-0 away to Burnley.  At present that is simply not the case.  Yes Liverpool have made it difficult for themselves but with Manchester United due to play Manchester City this Thursday at the Etihad they also have games against Tottenham and Arsenal.  City themselves also have to play Palace.

Looking at those fixtures there are still difficult games that United could drop points.  Added to which they have injuries to major players such as Ibrahimovic, Pogba, Herrera, Mata, and Smalling.  With the distraction of the Europa cup semi-final against Celta Vigo it is not a given that United will not drop points in their remaining games.

Of course Liverpool themselves are now walking a tight rope and cannot afford to drop any more points.  The remaining games though are not as bad compared to other teams.

There also has to be a dose of realism regarding the situation for Liverpool at the moment.  The squad is light which isn’t helped with major injuries to key players.  Consequently there are not many options that Klopp can turn to.  Liverpool have the fifth highest paid squad in the Premier league and it could be argued are roughly where you expect them to be.

The crowd itself also needs to help in times  of when things are not going well.  Without sounding all ‘member berry,’ (This refers to South Park and its take on nostalgia)

there was a time when following a stunned silence at the opposition somehow managing to score that there would be a roar encouraging the team to get back into the game.  Instead the only noise you can hear are the sounds of seats as the mass exodus starts.

That is more or less waving the white flag rather than screaming encouragement for Liverpool to push forward and salvage something.  It is amazing what the players can do with the support urging them forward that at the very least they can make it as uncomfortable for Palace in the dying minutes.

Jurgen Klopp talked about everyone from the cleaners, coaches, players, fans and anyone associated with the club to be all pulling together and doing their bit.  Which is what some Liverpool fans need to do rather than making the early dart.

There is still a big job ahead for Klopp no matter whether they finish top four or not.  Defensively they need improving not just in terms of buying defenders but in terms of defending as a team.  All season they have looked shaky but just as it is important to attack as a team it is equally the same when defending.  All the good teams know how to take the sting out of the game and show the resilience in coping with any pressure.  Liverpool do not have that ability at present.

Added to which the depth of the squad needs improving especially if they qualify for the Champions league.  Looking at the bench this season shows how limited Liverpool are on who they can bring on to help change the game.

All said and done though the race for the remaining top four places (Chelsea and Tottenham are nailed on for first and second) is pretty much on.  City and United have been inconsistent this season even if the latter have been on a good run of form.  Liverpool despite the setbacks and problems they have faced this season still have a good chance of finishing within the top four and claiming a Champions league spot.  There does though need to be a dose of reality with what Klopp has to work with and the fact that some teams at present are ahead of Liverpool.

The end of Paradise – Will Liverpool ever reclaim the title?

 

Nobody envisaged that when Alan Hansen held aloft the league championship in May 1990 that so far he would be the last Liverpool Captain to do so.  On that warm evening after beating Derby County 1-0  it was presumed to be business as normal.  After all Liverpool had been the dominant force over the past twenty years who prior to the ban on English teams competing in European club competitions had also dominated Europe.

Nobody even after the shock resignation of Kenny Dalglish as manager   in 1991  envisaged that Liverpool would fall down the pecking order.  Nor did they expect that the clock is still ticking twenty-seven years on when Liverpool could declare themselves the Champions of England.

There is still much debate as to how and why it happened.  Graeme Souness is largely held responsible for the dramatic decline with his inferior signings and brash manner.  However it is not as simple as this as was an ageing Liverpool team.  Previously players would be shipped on and replaced as soon as they hit the thirty mark. Hindsight though is a wonderful thing.

Here is a brief summary of each manager and of the problems they faced and how they left the club.

Graeme Souness

With Liverpool still in a state of shock after the sudden resignation of Kenny Dalglish the club turned to its former Captain and current Glasgow Rangers Manager Graeme Souness in April 1991.  Being a former player he would know the Liverpool way and in Scotland had turned around the fortunes of a stagnant Rangers into being the dominant force once more.

Souness was also a born winner who would not tolerate second best.  Something that he alluded to in his programme notes in the final game of the season against Spurs.

It was widely expected that Souness had a re-building job on his hands and that it might take a couple of years possibly three to bed in a new team.  Nobody though expected it be a traumatic three years of turmoil that saw the club going backwards rather than forward.

The major problem which was something that Souness later admitted was that he tried to change things too quickly.  There was also the added conflict with the senior players and former teammates over how he wanted to change the team.  Souness cited that even little things such as moving to drinking a lighter lager or banning fish and chips after a match was met with resistance.

The likes of Peter Beardsley, Ray Houghton, and Steve McMahon were allowed to go too soon with the replacements such as Mark Walters, Dean Saunders, and the notorious Istvan Kozma who earned the nickname ‘Lord Lucan,’ were simply not good enough.

Liverpool still continued to spend big money during that period in the desperate hope of getting it right.  The majority of it was not spent wisely with the likes of Paul Stewart, Julian Dicks and Neil Ruddock not having the ability that was normally required to play for Liverpool.  Nigel Clough was a flop with many believing that he would fit into Liverpool effortlessly with Souness even boldly declaring him as the next Kenny Dalglish.  The only similarities that Clough had was that they both wore the number seven shirt.

Not that it was all bad under Souness who allowed youngsters like McManaman, Fowler, and Redknapp the opportunity to make their mark for Liverpool.  Signings like Mark Wright and Michael Thomas gave fans a glimmer of hope that if they could get quality experienced players with the mix of youth players coming through that the future may not be as bleak.  Rob Jones incidentally signed from Crewe promised to be a steal due to his ability as a right back.

The FA cup was also won in Souness’s first full season in 1992 with goals from Rush and Thomas enough to beat Second division Sunderland.  However the incident with the Sun newspaper reviled on Merseyside due to its lies and notorious disgusting headlines about the Hillsborough disaster was to damage the relationship between the fans and Souness.  After the semi-final win against Portsmouth and with Souness recovering from a heart-bypass he allowed himself to be pictured in his hospital bed with an interview also published in the Sun.  With the anniversary of Hillsbrough it was a foolish and insensitive thing to do and Souness should really have been forced to resign.

With the conflict with players and the fans it wasn’t long before Souness announced his resignation in January 1994 after Liverpool were knocked out by Bristol City then in the second tier.

It certainly wasn’t the tenure that Souness wanted to be remembered for with the team seeming to be going backwards despite the money that had been spent. The club was starting to drift away from being the major force of the game when the club turned to Roy Evans a member of the fabled bootroom.

Roy Evans

After the disastrous Souness regime the Liverpool board went back to basics by appointing Roy Evans who along with coach Ronnie Moran were the last of the bootroom boys.

It was seen as a safe and a reassuring move for the Liverpool board and fans alike.  Here was someone who was tutored in the bootroom and would mend bridges with the senior players still left at Liverpool.

Unfortunately Roy Evans did not have the steel or ability to install the discipline a manager needs to ensure his players know who is in charge.  Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan may have looked and acted like the genial Uncle with their flat caps and comfy cardigans but when required had the ruthlessness to match a Mafia Don.

During Evans tenure in charge there were numerous stories of ill discipline from players making prank calls whilst Evans was being interviewed, players making a game of stealing his car park space, and Collymore alleging that Robbie Fowler got his manager in an arm lock and ruffled his head in jest.

In part it was to lead to the hated nickname of the Liverpool players the ‘spice boys,’ which inferred that the players were more interested in image than playing.  The notorious white suit cup final of 1996 emphasised this more than anything especially as they lost 1-0 to rivals Manchester United.

Evans certainly in his early days did bring back stability and nobody could deny that he brought about swashbuckling football.  Added to which during his time at Liverpool the club always finished within the top four.

Tactically Evans showed that he wasn’t adverse to changing things as Liverpool played with three at the back with wing backs.  It produced the type of football that resulted in two 4-3 wins against Newcastle United both of which were won in dramatic circumstances.

Liverpool also had the emergence of young talent with local youth team products Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman with other young players such as Jamie Redknapp, David James, and Rob Jones.  All of which provided their best football under Evans.

It was the basis of a good mix with the experience of John Barnes and Ian Rush before they moved on.  At this point Liverpool were in a good position to start making up ground on Manchester United who were now the top team of English football.  The hardest part was getting the right players and ensuring they had the right attitude.  Evans though was not to get this right.

A clear out was always going to be needed with the likes of Julian Dicks and Torben Piechnik quickly being sold it could be argued that Neil Ruddock should also have been one of the first players to be shown the door.

Would the likes of Shankly, Paisley, and Fagan tolerated the unprofessional and lack of fitness that Neil Ruddock showed?  Never mind that he wasn’t up to the standard of required of a top-level defender.  The pass the pound game as told by Ruddock with the loser left holding the coin at the end of the game summed the attitude that was wrong within the club.

Despite his ability as a player Stan Collymore was another signing that probably wouldn’t have been made by Evans former bootroom colleagues.  There were already issues that had been highlighted during his time at Forest, Southend, and Palace that may have made them wary.  Collymore of course mentioned about his depression and it would have needed a manager that had the ability to show the support needed.  Unfortunately Evans was not that man.

The signings of Phil Babb, Jason McAteer, Leonhardsen to name but a few failed to reach the level required.  Roy Evans four years in charge was to be part frustration that the team had promise but fell just short.  Even when they challenged for the 1996-97 Premier league title they managed to finish fourth in what was deemed a two-horse race between Liverpool and Manchester United.

Crucially Liverpool didn’t show that resilience required to win league titles.  The ability that Ferguson’s United and indeed Liverpool teams of the past that would never give up no matter how bad they were playing.  Somehow they would always manage to get a result even against all odds.  Evans Liverpool team just couldn’t do that and faltered when they were required to get a result to stay ahead.

Evans only major honour was the league cup in 1995 which in that year was progress fresh from the debacle of the Souness years previously.  After being beaten in the Cup final by Man Utd a year later the 1996-97 season was the one Liverpool had to show that they had mettle to win the big titles.  Instead a year later Liverpool were regressing.  The defence was seen as weak with the team appearing to fall further behind Manchester United with Arsenal under their new French manager Arsene Wenger their main rivals.

Liverpool fans became frustrated at the lack of progress and feared that the eight years since they last won the title would continue for longer under Evans.  Many felt that he had given his best but didn’t have the ability or discipline to get Liverpool back on top.

Not for the first time the then club chairman David Moores and the board were unable or unwilling to make the tough decision.  Rather than asking Evans to resign and appoint a new manager or show that they had faith with Evans by telling fans that he was staying they went with a fudge by appointing Gerard Houllier as joint-manager.

With Ronnie Moran retiring in the summer of 1998 many fans felt that the Houllier was taking over as Evans number two.  Instead they realised that Liverpool now had two managers.

Roy Evans a loyal Liverpool man to the last went against his better judgment when the idea was to put to him.  If it was for the best of the club then he was prepared to go with it.  Sadly Evans was in a no win situation.  If Liverpool were to step up and win titles then Gerard Houllier would gain the plaudits.  Equally if things went wrong which they did during that 1998-99 season then it would be Evans who would take the blame and lose his job.

A defeat in November 1998 against Tottenham in the league cup saw Evans deciding that he had to walk away stating ‘if it’s not working then it would be a bigger mistake to stay.’

Gerard Houllier

The only link that Gerard Houllier had with Liverpool prior to his appointment as manager was as a school teacher during his previous time in the City.  Liverpool felt that a fresh approach was required and since French was in vogue following Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal won the double and France winning the World Cup hired Houllier.

The joint manager scheme by the Liverpool board appeared to be done in the vain hope of a losing gambler throwing his last fiver on a 30/1 outsider.  Inevitably it was to fail and in November Gerard Houllier was now solely in charge of Liverpool.

One of the first things that Houllier sought to improve besides the discipline within the club was to improve the defence that was soft and nervous.  It was to see a more organised and disciplined approach with the players associated with unprofessionalism shown the door.  The football though was to become more dour and cautious with conflict between the Kop’s favourite player Robbie Fowler and Houllier.

The disruptive influences of the likes of Neil Ruddock and Phil Babb were quickly shown the door with Steve McManaman deciding to take up the challenge of playing abroad and signing for Real Madrid.  It was a move that irked some Liverpool fans as due to McManaman’s contract expiring he was able to leave on a free transfer.  That though was the club’s fault for allowing the situation to progress as it did.

With the dawn of a new millennium it was also hoped to be the start of the glory days for Liverpool.  Three trophies within the 90’s was a drought as far as Liverpool football club were concerned.

Houllier strengthened the defence with Sami Hyppia and Stephane Henchoz being signed.  David James whose confidence appeared to be shattered after some high-profile clangers was sold to Aston Villa with Sander Westerveld becoming the new number one.  Didi Hamann was also signed from Newcastle and the talented Czech Vladimir Smicer joining his compatriot Patrik Berger.  Titi Camara was also signed as a forward.

The changes in the team could be seen instantly in that they looked more resilient and solid in defence.  However it was not to be as attacking as Evans Liverpool with caution now being the motif.  Houllier was of the ilk that the team did not need to have the ball to control the game and believed it was about taking that one big chance in the game.

Nevertheless there was still first class talent with Michael Owen being given his chance by Roy Evans looking to prove his potential.  All the signs were good especially as he scored a wonder goal against Argentina in the 1998 World cup.  David Thompson was regarded as the next big thing but it was to be a young kid from Huyton Steven Gerrard who would become the next idol of the Kop.

The gap between Liverpool taking their place at the top was widening and it was now vitally important that the club got the appointment right.  Under Houllier who appointed Phil Thompson as his number two the club despite early promise failed to do so.

Although Houllier’s first full season failed to produce any trophies with Liverpool failing to claim a Champions league place it was the 2000-01 season that brought success.  With Emile Heskey signed in March 2000 and the experienced Gary McAllister that helped the club win the treble of FA cup, League and UEFA cup.  Houllier also managed to ensure that Liverpool finished third to qualify for the Champions league.

It should have been the catalyst to spur Liverpool on to take that big step and be genuine contenders for the league.  Instead the club was to stumble and with some poor signings after finishing second in the 2001-02 season the club was to go backwards yet again.

Why Houllier had decided to spend £10 million on El Hadji Diouf rather than making the loan signing of Nicolas Anelka permanent is still puzzling.  Aside from Diouf’s attitude he was a player that would not fit with the way Houllier set his team up.  Diouf was not a centre-forward to play in a 4-4-2 formation and indeed he was more of an attacking midfielder.  Either way it was a gamble that was not to pay off.  The likes of his compatriot Salif Diao who was average at best.  Then of course there was Bruno Cheyrou who was dubbed the ‘next Zidane,’ by Houllier but the only similarity he had was as a doppleganger.

Although Manchester United were beaten 2-0 for Liverpool to win the Worthington league cup it was to be a poor season for Liverpool who managed to finish fifth.

Harry Kewell was signed from Leeds to bring that extra bit of guile that the critics felt was required but Houllier was on borrowed time for the 2003-04 season.  With the football poor on the eye to watch and results not up to the requirements it was no surprise that in 2004 Houllier parted ways with Liverpool.

Was Houllier’s stint in charge of the reds a success?  Well he would certainly argue that he won trophies but never ever got close to winning what is now the holy grail which is the league title.  Supporters of Houllier would also say that he brought in the much needed discipline in the club, helped develop Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher who eventually found his position in defence.

Liverpool needed someone with the quality to bridge the ever increasing gap between their rivals.  Despite making ground they stumbled and fell behind.  Signings after 2001 were poor and Houllier was mocked when he kept talking about turning a corner after winning after a bad run only to get beat the following week.

Another problem that Houllier had was the quality of football that watching was like being on mogadon.  If results are going your way then you can get away with it but when it is producing poor results then fans are not going to accept it.

There was also the added problem that despite the UEFA cup win that Houllier was tactically outwitted on the continent.  Barcelona in November 2001 outplayed Liverpool as they won 3-1 at Anfield whilst Valencia cut Liverpool apart in 2002 with the 1-0 score line not as close as indicated.

Houllier in the same year had a chance of making the semi-finals against Manchester United and were drawing 1-1 in the second leg after winning 1-0 at Anfield.  For reasons unknown and with thirty minutes still on the clock Houllier took off Hamann for Smicer and upset the balance of the team.  Leverkusen took advantage and won 4-2 which was enough to take them through to the semi’s.

Sadly though Houllier was not the manager that the Liverpool board thought they were getting.  The impression was that he would be similiar to Wenger especially as he was noted for recruiting young talent.  Instead of signing the likes of Henry, Viera, and Pires Houllier signed Le Tallec, Pongolle, and Cheyrou.  Liverpool now turned their eyes to Spain and were impressed with a young coach who had recently won La Liga and the UEFA cup.  Rafael Benitez.

Rafael Benitez

After falling out with the Valencia board over the lack of say over signings Rafael Benitez took up the offer of replacing Gerard Houllier.  It was again to be another rebuilding job but this time Liverpool had a manager with winning credentials.  To win two La liga titles over the giants that are Barcelona and Real Madrid was one hell of an achievement.  The hope was that Benitez coaching ability would see Liverpool leapfrog Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea who had also appointed Jose Mourinho.

Benitez may not have delivered the title but he did come close in the 2008-09 season with Liverpool finishing second on eighty six points.  This incidentally was more than when they last won the league.  Nevertheless Benitez had made Liverpool a force to be reckoned with in Europe.  That Champions league win in Istanbul was one of the most surreal, dream like, and dramatic final as Liverpool came back from 3-0 down at half time against Milan to win on penalties after scoring three in six mad minutes.

The signings of Alonso and Garcia proved to be excellent signings with the likes of Torres and Mascherano also joining the club during Benitez’s time in charge.  There was to be another dramatic final against West Ham as Steven Gerrard once again rescued the club with a last-minute free kick to make it three all and after extra time it went to penalties with Liverpool again proving their cool to win the shoot out.

Another European cup final beckoned in 2007 but Milan gained revenge as they beat the reds 2-1.  This though was where Liverpool were expected to kick on and make a serious challenge for the title.  The 2008-09 season was really the season Liverpool should have won the title.

That second half of the season Benitez seemed to let the shackles off with Liverpool blitzing teams.  Real Madrid were thrashed 4-0 at Anfield.  Another highlight of course putting four past Manchester United at Old Trafford.  Torres with his blistering accelerating pace was scoring goals for fun with Alonso and Gerrard running the midfield.  Yet Manchester United witheld under pressure to win another title.

Looking at the fixtures there are three home games from later November to December against Fulham, West Ham, and Hull that Liverpool could only draw.  If Liverpool had lost one of them but won the other two would have won on goal difference.  However ifs do not win things.

With David Moores selling the club to Hicks and Gillett it was to be a downturn for Liverpool as the two cowboys saddled the club with a massive debt in order to purchase the club.  As a result Liverpool were in a mess with Benitez frustrated in his plans to obtain the players required.

In his last season in charge Liverpool were off the pace and with Benitez at odds with the owners left by mutal consent in 2010.

Again it was to be a case of much promise and optimism but falling short of winning that nineteenth league title.  Benitez had brought back the respect for Liverpool as during his tenure they were one of the leading sides in Europe.  Furthermore Benitez was responsible for not just the memories of Istanbul but the European runs.  Gerrard scoring a dramatic winner against Olympiacos to take Liverpool into the knock out stage and the noise, passion, belief and simply wanting Liverpool to be in the final that sucked in Garcia’s goal against Chelsea in the semi to take Liverpool to their sixth European cup final.

Hicks and Gillette certainly had a major impact on Liverpool regressing yet again but it could be argued that Liverpool had become too defensive.  The players also seemed to have lost belief with the frustration on Gerrard’s face after Torres was substituted against Birmingham in April 2010 which Liverpool needed to win but could only draw 1-1.

Liverpool were in a world of uncertainty with morale low amongst the Liverpool support who were worried what Hicks and Gillette were taking the club.  It was in some respects about to get worse.

Roy Hodgson

There was a look of disbelief amongst Liverpool fans when Roy Hodgson was announced as Benitez’s replacement.  He had managed abroad for Malmo, Inter Milan, and the Swiss national side.  Hodgson had been sacked by Blackburn in 1998 before returning back to England in 2006 to manage Fulham and leading them to a Europa cup final.

From the off the majority of fans were against him who wanted the return of Kenny Dalglish.  The only time Hodgson’s name was chanted was in sarcasm with ‘Hodgson for England.’  Results though were not to turn fans around.  Instead Liverpool were to plunge further.

In some ways you sometimes realise how hard it is to compete at the highest level.  Hodgson looked like a rabbit caught in the headlights at Man City as the Mancunians ran riot whilst Hodgson looked on bewildered and unsure what to do.  His signing Paul Konchesky summed up Hodgson who was so far out of his depth for Liverpool that at times it was like watching a player drowning openly on the pitch.

Consequently it came as no surprise after Liverpool were eventually sold to the Fenway sports group and Kenny Dalglish came back to bring back much needed stability.

Kenny Dalglish (the return)

Some people advise never to look back or allow sentiment get in the way of making decisions in football but for the Fenway group who were now in charge of Liverpool it made sense after dismissing Hodgson.

With Dalglish in charge he smoothed the waters and provided the stability the club needed.  His second stint was not as successful as it was when he first took charge in 1985-91 but for the Liverpool supporters he could do no wrong.

The question was whether Damien Comoli had too much say in the players that Liverpool signed.  Apart from Suarez the likes of Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll, and Charlie Adam were not up to the level required to compete at the top.  Consequently it was no surprise he was dismissed in April 2012.

Although Dalglish was given a three year deal and helped guide Liverpool to a league cup win against Cardiff and runner’s up to Chelsea in the 2012 FA cup final he too was dismissed due to Liverpool finishing eighth.

It is hard to judge Dalglish on his second return as it seemed it was always going to be short term and was more about bringing stability to the club.

Brendan Rodgers

After guiding Swansea to the Premier league and winning praise for the Welsh club’s first season in the top flight Liverpool decided to take a chance on a young promising manager.

There were a few frowns as fans felt Liverpool should have appointed someone with more experience but were prepared to give Rodgers the chance.  Besides the tika taka posession game was pretty much in vogue and Rodgers was an advocate of the posession game.

By now Liverpool had slipped further down and were no longer regulars in the Champions league with their last stint in the competition coming in the 2009-10 season.  Rodgers task was to build stability and get Liverpool back amongst the top four.

It was to be a distinctly average first season with no European football but the following season 2013-14 was to see Liverpool almost claim the title.  The football was very attacking with Suarez leading the line.  In some respects Rodgers team were of the mind of if you score one, we’ll score one more than you.  A defeat against Chelsea at Anfield left it wide open and despite being 3-0 up away to Crystal Palace continued to surge forward in the attempt to boost their goal difference.  Instead Liverpool collapsed with Palace scoring three goals with only eleven minutes left on the clock to grab a dramatic draw.  Despite beating Newcastle at home it was to be Manchester City who sneaked in to win the league.

With Luis Suarez sold to Barcelona and the signings especially Balotelli not proving to be successful Liverpool failed to push and finished outside of the top four.  Their return to the Champions league was to be an embarrasment as despite a group that contained Ludogorets and Basle failed to qualify.  Real Madrid were the only genuine contenders but Liverpool were weakly submissive as they were beaten 3-0 at Anfield and 1-0 at the Bernabeu.  Rodgers had also put up the white flag with the latter fixture as he made seven changes with notably Gerrard, Sterling, and Henderson dropped and put on the bench.

Liverpool seemed to lose that strength of imposing themselves on their opponents and with an ageing Gerrard he was unable to take the game by the scruff of the neck as he used to do.  The calamatious 2-1 semi-final defeat against Villa in the FA cup with Liverpool wilting  despite Coutinho giving the reds the lead meant that Rodgers was on borrowed time.

This was certainly true for the 2015-16 season as Rodgers was intent on Liverpool keeping within the top four.  Indeed it seemed as though he was told to ensure that he had to obtain a certain amount of points.  A draw against Everton was his last game in charge with the enigmatic Jurgen Klopp taking charge.

Rodgers promised so much but failed to deliver at the crucial times.  In europe he was naive and outwitted with the panic appearing to set in when Liverpool needed a win against Basle at Anfield but played a very defensive line up.  Consequently it was no surprise that it ended 1-1.

The being Liverpool documentary didn’t help matters as Rodgers came across as David Brent.  At times he also seemed to tie himself up in knots with tactics with players looking unsure as to what they were meant to be doing as he changed the formation during games.

Rodgers signings were also questionable and it seemed as if he had no say in who Liverpool signed with the transfer committee having a final say.  This was particularly evident when Balotelli was announced with Rodgers seemingly unconvinced.  In the end as hard as it sounds Rodgers just simply wasn’t up to the task.

Jurgen Klopp

Only time will tell whether Klopp will bring back the success to Liverpool.  Undoubtedly due to his success at Dortmund he is one of the best coaches in Europe.  Last season he got Liverpool to the league and Europa cup final with the latter against all odds considering the quality of teams that they played.

Added to which the likes of Lallana, Firmino, and even Mignolet have all improved under the tutelege of Klopp.

One thing for sure is that Klopp is charasmatic  and wants to bring back fun to Anfield.  Furthermore he wants everyone from the tea ladies, the fans, coaches, and players to all work together and to enjoy the ride.  The hardest thing of course is getting the right signings.

Conclusion

It is hard to blame one particular individual for the fall of Liverpool from the top.  Souness tried to change things too quickly and signed inferior players.  Evans was unable to install the required discipline with his teams unable to show the resilence and desire to grind out results against all odds.  Again the signings and particular the defence was poor.

Eight years after Liverpool last won the title was when Liverpool really needed to get it right.  The team had the nuculeas of a young team containing the likes of Fowler, McManaman, Redknapp, Owen, Carragher, and a up and coming Gerrard.  Instead they appointed Gerard Houllier whose career was pretty mediocre before joining Liverpool.

Despite the hype Houllier was no Arsene Wenger not just in terms of the football provided but despite the promise of his contacts was unable to find the young talent that Wenger did in his early years at Arsenal.  Indeed the majority of his signings were poor and the football was dour, defensive, and  predictable.  Instead of Liverpool taking that step forward they took a step back.

David Moores also has to take responsibility in terms of not making the tough decisions and allowing sentiment to get in the way of making the tough decisions.

The joint manager scheme with Evans and Houllier was weak and wasted a season.  Moores should have made a decision rather than hoping against hope it would work.

Selling to Hicks and Gillette was a disaster which very nearly took the club under.  This incidentally was at a time when the money was being pumped into Chelsea and Man City who now overtook Liverpool

Nostalgia also played its part with one eye always on the past that in some respects it has been a anchor around the club’s neck.  Ironically the Liverpool way was always to look forward and never to let sentiment to get in the way of making decisions for the good of the club.  It was always about keeping one step ahead, moving players on at the right time, and ensuring the replacements were of the same quality if not better.  Too much it could be argued is spent reminiscing about the past.

Liverpool under the Fenway group are trying to run the club more efficiently and do not have the inclination or ability to throw big money on superstars.It doesn’t mean that Liverpool can’t challenge at the top in the near future.  They certainly have the manager who can get the best out of his players which is Klopp.  Atletico Madrid have shown that if you get the recruitment right that it can be done.

The fact is that whilst the likes of Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, and Man City are at the top table, Liverpool are just below.  Nothing stands still and Liverpool at present have been overtaken.  That’s not to say that it can’t change but it just may take time and patience.