1. How the mighty have fallen
It remains to be seen whether the year will be regarded as a mere blip or the start of a terminal decline, but 2010 saw Liverpool endure their worst calendar year in the post-Shankly era.
Six points from eight matches meant that their start to the 2010/11 campaign was their worst since the club’s relegation campaign of 1953/54. Last week’s home defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers ensured that Liverpool ended 2010 just three points above the relegation zone, a shocking position for a side that had finished second with 86 points a mere nineteen months earlier.
2. Away day blues
To say that Liverpool struggled away from home in 2010 would be somewhat of an understatement. The Reds managed just two league wins on the road in 2010, a pitiful figure for a club harbouring hopes of a top-four finish.
The away day blues that developed during the last few months of Rafa Benitez’s reign have been exacerbated under Roy Hodgson’s stewardship. So far in 2010/11, Liverpool have suffered six defeats in nine away games. The side currently have the third worst away attack in the Premier League, having scored just six goals away from Anfield in the league (only Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa have worse records).
3. Anfield no longer a fortress
What do Shane Long, Abdul Osman, Luke Varney and Stephen Ward all have in common? Each member of this illustrious quartet scored a winning goal against Liverpool at Anfield.
Confirmation that Anfield is no longer a fortress came in 2010, as the year was bookended with humiliating home defeats to Reading and Wolverhampton Wanderers. This belief was further vindicated by losses to Northampton Town and Premier League newcomers Blackpool.
Although the side’s home form has been infinitely better than their form on the road, the evocative fear factor and awe traditionally associated with Anfield was undeniably eroded during the club’s annus horribilis.
4. Width is still a problem
One of Rafa Benitez’s greatest failings during his Anfield tenure was his inability to solve Liverpool’s width problems. The likes of Mark Gonzalez, Jermaine Pennant and Albert Riera all struggled to attain consistency, and in the end predominantly central players, such as Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun, were instructed to ‘play wide’.
This problem has persisted under Roy Hodgson. Naturally wide players such as Milan Jovanovic and Ryan Babel have been shunned in favour of Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodriguez and summer signing Raul Meireles, who has frequently been deployed in an unfamiliar right-midfield berth. Mooted moves for Sylvain Marveaux and Eljero Elia will hopefully address this age-old Anfield issue.
5. Shopping in the bargain bin
Although the financial restrictions imposed by the Hicks and Gillett ownership limited the spending power of both Liverpool managers in 2010, the quality of players signed during the year served to further highlight the club’s deterioration.
Roughly £10m was spent on the acquisition of Christian Poulsen, Paul Konchesky and Brad Jones, whilst Maxi Rodriguez, Milan Jovanovic and former Chelsea man Joe Cole arrived on free transfers. Both Konchesky and Poulsen have emphatically failed to endear themselves to the Anfield faithful, with the duo’s mediocrity symbolically epitomising the club’s decline. Despite arriving to much fanfare, England international Cole has struggled to make his mark, whilst Maxi has only sporadically shown flashes of his quality.
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6. Rafa Benitez still divides opinion like no other
Summer witnessed the departure of former manager Rafa Benitez after six mixed years at Anfield. The Spaniard, who guided the club to Champions League and FA Cup victories in 2005 and 2006, left after leading Liverpool to their worst league finish in a decade.
To many he was the messiah responsible for making Liverpool a feared force in Europe again, and the man who came so close to bringing the league title back to Anfield. To others he was the cold control freak who alienated many members of his squad, and the man responsible for bringing the likes of Andrea Dossena, Robbie Keane and several other misfits to Merseyside.
The continual clamour for his return to Liverpool since his ignominious ousting at Inter Milan serves to highlight the strength of sentiment still held by the Anfield faithful towards Benitez.
7. Key men commit
After a torrid 2009/10, many were certain that the anticipated exits of key players would further hinder Liverpool’s chances of a return to Champions League football. However, after a summer of uncertainty and conjecture, both Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres reiterated their love for the club and committed to another season at Anfield. Spanish custodian Pepe Reina recently joined the aforementioned duo in committing his future to the club.
These declarations of affection and loyalty to the club have all helped to reassert Liverpool’s presence and standing as a giant of English football, despite their form on the field.
8. The future is bright – changes in youth development and acquisition
The club’s inability to produce any home-grown first-team players since Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard in the late 1990s has been one of their biggest failures in the last ten years. However, the foundations laid by Rafa Benitez during the final few years of his reign will hopefully help the club to mirror the model of self-sustainability established at Arsenal over the next few years.
In addition to the progress made by the club’s revitalised Academy, Liverpool moved quickly to secure the signings of several of the country’s brightest young prospects, as the club snapped up Danny Wilson, Jonjo Shelvey and Raheem Sterling.
Both Benitez and Hodgson afforded youth a greater opportunity than in previous years; Martin Kelly, Dani Pacheco, Stephen Darby, Nathan Eccleston, Daniel Ayala, Jay Spearing, Jonjo Shelvey and Danny Wilson have all featured for the first team over the last one and a half seasons.
9. Faith in Lucas Leiva paying off
The form and development of the previously maligned Brazilian midfielder has arguably been the brightest light in a horrific year of misery and mediocrity. The 23-year-old was a virtual ever-present during 2009/10 (he missed just three league games), and is now one of the first names on Hodgson’s team sheet too.
The former Gremio man is an assured figure in the heart of Liverpool’s midfield, a conduit between defence and attack on those increasingly rare occasions when the midfield is not bypassed. He seldom squanders possession and is a much stronger player than when he first arrived in the summer of 2007; the fact that he has completed the fifth highest number of tackles in the Premier League this season serves to illustrate this point.
10. Plans are now in place for a stable future
The daily turmoil and strife that plagued Liverpool during the last days of the Hicks and Gillett era has been replaced by a quiet sense of optimism over the long-term health and future of the club. NESV’s ownership of the club has breathed fresh life into the club.
Owner John Henry’s purchase of American baseball outfit Boston Red Sox was followed by their first World Series victory in 86 years. What price for Henry to facilitate the ending of a similar title drought on Merseyside?
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