Things Can Only Get Better – The affable and well-respected Roy Hodgson took over at the helm at the beginning of last season with an eye on steadying a sinking ship – oh, what a wonderful thing hindsight is. He was expected to be a steady hand on the tiller, a full-time caretaker if you will, but everything Hodgson did during his short stay on Merseyside couldn’t help but portray a man simply not cut out for the big occasion. Initially his honest approach found favour among embittered fans, but after a while it simply began to grate. A rudimentary failure to inspire his players, outdated tactics and terrible performances on the pitch helped turn Liverpool into the nation’s laughing stock and after the insipid derby day display in their defeat to Everton, the club plummeted as low as 19th place. The entire side looked bereft of confidence and that comes from the manager downwards. The long-ball tactics were an eyesore. Hodgson failed to back his players in public and even critically and crucially turned on the fans after a lacklustre home defeat against Wolves. Liverpool are well-known throughout the footballing world for not being a sacking club, but the thought of going through the entire season witnessing the complete and utter dross on display week-in, week-out simply proved too much for the club’s new owners to bare and Hodgson was quite rightly sent packing in January. Sometimes moves just don’t work out – the club’s star players failed to perform and Hodgson endured some pretty rotten luck during his time at the club, but with concerns to his appointment, it was very much a case of great man, wrong club and very much at the wrong time. Brought in to steady the ship, Hodgson’s short and disastrous tenure did anything but and he left the club in absolute disarray.
A fallen giant? – With Hodgson’s spell at the club coinciding with the lowest ebb in the club’s recent history, there were very real concerns that the club could ‘do a Leeds’ and even go as far as to plummet out of the top flight. Game’s that used to be bankable on paper began to look extremely dangerous. This season the club were beaten by the likes of Blackpool, Newcastle, Wolves, Blackburn and Northampton Town – all games that you’d expect a club the size of Liverpool to at least get something from. By the turn of the year, all signs were pointing to an unexpected and yet at the same time heartbreaking relegation dogfight. While the playing staff was uneven, there was still enough quality around the dressing room to have put up more of a challenge in the first half of the campaign. The football was absolutely abject. The results were even worse. The club went into the season expecting inconsistency and their fair share of poor performances, but in the first half of the season, Liverpool were god awful and even mid-table obscurity seemed like a comforting thought.
Better luck next year – With all hope seemingly abandoned of redeeming even a semblance of credibility from their increasingly dire league campaign, a cup run could have provided a welcome retreat from the troubles of the day-to-day rigmarole of league action. However, they humiliatingly crashed out at the first hurdle in both the FA and in particular, the Carling Cup. The shock result of the season saw an under-strength but not completely terrible line-up including the likes of Daniel Agger, Lucas, Ryan Babel and Martin Kelly beaten at Anfield to lowly League 2 outfit Northampton Town on penalties in what well and truly proved the nadir of Hodgson’s ill-fated spell at the club. Diabolical is the word that best springs to mind. Kenny Dalglish’s first game back in charge of the club, albeit on an interim basis, was to take charge of an away trip in the FA Cup to rivals Man Utd – not a daunting task in the slightest then. A penalty in the first minute and a Steven Gerrard red card on the half hour put paid to any hopes fans may have retained of a decent domestic cup run this term. While the performance against Man Utd could be said to have been sprightly, everyone involved with the club will have every right to look back on the deeply embarrassing defeat to Northampton in September as a truly dark day for Liverpool FC.
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The Prodigal Son Returns – The man every Liverpool fan wanted to return to the helm in the summer was brought back in January to much fanfare – Kenny Dalglish’s much-vaunted second-coming has delivered tangible results both on and off the pitch and with the great man’s help, the cloud that has hung over Anfield for the past 18 months began to slowly dissipate. In a season of shocks for the club, Dalglish cut short a well-timed family holiday to take charge after Roy Hodgon’s dismissal. With his dry, caustic wit and ability to motivate his charges, Dalglish began to have an immediate effect on not only results, but the side’s playing style too, with positive noises also beginning to emanate from the dressing room about how enjoyable training had become under their new boss. In a season where Peter Odemwingie’s goals kept West Brom out of a relegation fight and Javier Hernandez’s goals all but secured Man Utd their historic 19th league title, Dalglish’s impact would have to rank right up there alongside them and he’d have to go down as one of the signings of the season. With the club languishing in 12th upon his arrival and short of confidence, Dalglish, with the help of First Team Coach Steve Clarke, began to implant his pass and move philosophy upon the squad and to noticeably positive effect, with the side finishing 6th in the league, just a whisker away from securing European football once more – something which if you had asked was possible around January would have been met routinely with either howls of laughter or a justified sectioning. With Dalglish at the helm, Liverpool began playing a brand of exciting attacking football. There were big wins and great performances against the likes of Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea and Man City as well as displays of authority and conviction in the victories against Fulham, Birmingham and Newcastle that all helped point to a brighter future. Liverpool fans can once again dare to hope and dream. Dalglish averaged 1.83 points a game this season in charge, a record that would have rendered 69 points over the course of an entire league campaign and a total good enough for 4th place; a huge turnaround in performance. There will still be bad days at the office and the side will still be marred by spells of inconsistency, but with Dalglish in charge, Liverpool can once again begin to look up and forward as opposed to down and back. He remains the epitome of the spirit of this great and historic club; he understands the very core of what drives the club and where many managerial returns are destined to failure from the off, Dalglish at present only looks destined to destroy the status quo established at the top over the last two seasons.
We Used To Be Good At These – Well it never really got going did it? The dour football wasn’t solely consigned to the domestic game, oh no, it was taken all around the continent too. The fact that the side drew six times in 14 games tells its own story. They also managed to score just 6 goals, 7 of which came prior to the start of the group stages against Rabotnicki and Trabzonspor and you get the picture of an extremely negative European campaign hampered by an overriding need not to lose games rather than a desire go out and win them. They limped out of the Europa League – a competition that Hodgson always appeared to treat with a degree of disdain while at Liverpool, in stark contrast to his Fulham days – with a 0-0 draw at home to eventual finalists Braga seemed to sum up their campaign. The tradition of great European nights at Anfield have never felt so far away.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility – Yes, that is Spiderman’s motto; let’s get that out of the way straight away shall we? But Tom Hicks and George Gillete’s tenure at Liverpool co-Chairman would have gone a hell of a lot more smoothly hade they attempted to stick a little closer to that rule. As ugly court case, over-inflated estimations of the club’s value, more retaliatory court cases and some bruised egos followed, but finally the two men from across the pond have been bought out – only to be replaced by another group of men from across the pond. But it’s okay, these are the good guys, or so it seems so far anyway. NESV haven’t put a foot wrong yet and they seem to have their heart in the right place. The stadium issue remains a bone of contention among many sections of the support, but since taking over they’ve managed to help bring a degree of stability both on and off the pitch to a club that seemed to lurch from disaster to catastrophe on an almost bi-weekly basis under Hicks and Gillette’s poisonous and tyrannical rule. The debt is gone and the club looks to be in extremely healthy shape with a new recruitment team brought in – the main obstacle to the club’s progression was always the ownership issue, but now that it has been resolved, the club looks a darn sight better for it and there is genuine hope around the club now that something of note can be achieved in the future.
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Should I Stay Or Should I Go Now – Fernando Torres finally ended his eventful and hugely successful stay on Merseyside in January with a controversial and protracted move to Chelsea for £50m. It became abundantly clear that he wasn’t happy at the club and although deeply out of form, his body language portrayed a man at odds with his game, his team-mates and his side’s style of play. The comments attributed to him after his departure left a sour taste in the mouth and his subsequent struggles at Chelsea while his former club have flourished in his absence do offer a degree of schadenfreude for the more cynical among you. But lest we forget, Torres was absolutely world class during his time at Anfield. A deadly finisher able to take the game by the scruff of the neck and change it in an instant. He will be missed – any side in the world would miss a player like that, but whether we’ll ever truly witness Torres back to his early Liverpool best remains to be seen. He looks to have lost that crucial yard or two of pace which made the subtle difference to his game – a big pre-season awaits him and Liverpool move on with a hefty chunk of change to show for a player made to look a shadow of his former self due to a combination of injuries, fatigue and a year-long crisis of confidence.
Fortune Favours The Brave – Liverpool’s new owners NESV backed Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli big in the January transfer window with two shock deadline day moves – the £23m acquisition of Luis Suarez from Ajax and the quite frankly astoundingly overpriced purchase of Andy Carroll from Newcastle for £35m, a move which saw the Geordie become the seventh most expensive player of all-time; quite the burden for those hefty shoulders of his to take. Not many clubs would have the cojones to fork out £57m in the January transfer window, a notoriously difficult time to sign players, but in truth, the club’s net spend (for all you Rafa acolytes out there – it’s your favourite Rafa-themed topic) was only £1m after the £50m sale of Torres to Chelsea and Ryan Babel’s £6m departure to Hoffenheim after four inconsistency-strewn seasons at Liverpool. The club have a well-worn tradition of big-man/little-man combinations up top and there is a real hope that these two can join that list. Suarez has settled into the Premier League fantastically well and Liverpool can look as dangerous a side going in the top flight when he plays – his inventiveness, never-say-die attitude and trickery make him a constant and lively threat to the opposition and next season he has the ability to be the standout performer in next season‘s league campaign, not only for the club, but across the entire Premier League. Andy Carroll has struggled with injuries since his arrival, but his move has to be looked upon as an investment of sorts and he‘s shown flashes of his potential when called upon. Liverpool look to have two potent and most importantly, two very different weapons in their armoury now that are both capable of playing in different systems and styles of play at the drop of a hat. If they can form a deadly partnership, which the early signs go some way to suggesting that they are perfectly capable of doing, Liverpool will prove a real handful in the future.
Summer Signings Fail to Cut The Mustard – Another indictment of Roy Hodgson’s tenure at the club is the fact that all but one of his summer signings have failed miserably, and even the one that has performed well (Raul Meireles) did so most after his departure. Paul Konchesky looked woefully out of his depth and if anything, almost made you long for the days of Emiliano Insua – actually, maybe not. Christian Poulsen looks far too slow to be able to adapt to the pace of the English game. On paper, he has all the attributes to shine here, but his downward spiral since the heady days of his time at Sevilla continues apace. Milan Jovanovic has been so bad that he makes Andrei Voronin look like a success and moved into the category marked ‘deadwood’ just a few games after his debut. Joe Cole, though, will undoubtedly go down as the flop of the season. Plagued by injuries and poor form, Cole has regressed so far that his presence in the starting eleven is now more of a surprise than an expectation. He’s returned back to the dark days of the fancy-flick, Hollywood passing merchant that Jose Mourinho sidelined during his early days at Chelsea for a lack of discipline. He appears to have forgotten all of the hard work off the ball that turned him into the one of the most feared wingers in Europe – nowadays, he‘s nothing more than a lazy, bloated show-boater of the very worst kind. The move has gone disastrously and a move back to London is most definitely in the offing.
The Kids Are Alright – There has been a noticeable shift in team selection at the club since Dalglish took over the helm, with more and more youth-team products being given a chance in a taste of first-team action. John Flanagan, Jack Robinson, Martin Kelly, Jay Spearing and Jonjo Shelvey have all enjoyed runs in the side and all to a degree of success. There are high hopes for several youth-team prospects currently floating around the academy and the reserves at the moment and it’s refreshing to see a big side in the top flight give them a chance in the starting eleven and long may it continue.
From Out Of The Shadows – Just a little bit here; but praise must go to Liverpool’s undoubted Player of the Season Lucas Leiva for his consistency in the face of adversity. Once derided for his ineffectualness’, Lucas has thrived in the heart of midfield for the club this term and on average he has made more tackles per match than any other player in the whole of the Premier League this season. He’s gone from being a figure of fun to an integral part of the side and his performances this season are a testament to his strength of character. He may not quite be on the same level as Javier Mascherano just yet in the ‘midfield destroyer’ stakes, but at least the conspiracy theories about his presence in the first eleven can be put to bed now in what was his best and most consistent season in a red shirt to date.
Arbitrary marks out of ten – 5/10 – Well how do you truly a judge such a crazy season such as that one? They say football is a game of two halves; well this term Liverpool’s season has been a season of two halves – the first they were astoundingly awful and managed to derail almost every promising opportunity put in front of them. The second half they were brilliant in patches and finished the season rather unfathomably it has to be said, just outside of a European place. It’s clear that the club is now, finally, heading in the right direction. Under new ownership, with significant funds in place and a squad full of confidence in a legendary club figurehead, there are plenty of reasons to feel cheerful if you’re a Kopite. They may still prove to be inconsistent in the future, and they’ll have to improve on their dire away form this term and make sure that they make the right moves in the transfer market, but 2011/12 has the potential to be quite an interesting and exciting season for Liverpool.