“I think Liverpool is a wonderful club that deserves to be at the top and to be honest with the players they have, with the quality they have, then they should be finishing at the top of the league.”
Well, Divock Origi certainly can talk the talk. Liverpool’s incoming striker appears to be confident of a title push at Anfield, even though the Reds finished the season just gone in sixth spot, shipped nine goals at the hands of Crystal Palace and Stoke in their last two games and have lost, arguably, their finest ever player in the shape of Steven Gerrard.
So the general consensus seems to be that Origi is talking utter nonsense… but is he? Here are FIVE reasons that he may well have a point…
2013/14 was a season of spectacular highs for the Reds. The demolition of Manchester United at Old Trafford, smashing Arsenal off the park at Anfield and a Merseyside derby victory in which Daniel Sturridge netted one of the goals of the season. However, this was followed by the biggest low of all, that slip from Gerrard and Jose Mourinho’s galling celebration, which cemented his role as the biggest party pooper of all time as the pendulum swung towards the blue half of Manchester.
It’s natural that a hangover followed this season, but the experience of coming so close – the battle went to the last game – is sure to have strengthened the mental resolve of many players and reinforced the belief that it is possible to hang in there
Liverpool’s 2014/15 may have been a bit of an anomaly. Not only was Luis Suarez sold, but Sturridge was also taken from Rodgers early on, and the constant battles to get back to full-fitness led to much uncertainty. Any side with half their goals – in 2013/14 ‘SAS’ were accountable for around 50% in the league – removed would surely struggle, so perhaps the struggles of recent times are understandable.
Adding Sturridge for the bulk of the games for the looming campaign and another top class centre-forward or wide attacker may be enough to build an XI capable of challenging. After all, the early part of 2015 was a period in which the Merseysiders were England’s form side.
Gerrard’s farewell roadshow really was a distraction for the Reds. The latter half of the season – when it was confirmed that retirement, we mean MLS action, for the now 35-year-old was on the cards – each weekend became ‘Stevie’s last game against team X or side Y’, which was a problematic narrative.
This was well and truly summed up in the FA Cup semi-final, which would have, of course, yielded a Final appearance on Gerrard’s birthday and last game for his boyhood club had they beat Aston Villa. It didn’t matter that Rodgers’ side had been more mobile, better in transition and more successful without their skipper, dropping him would have been suicide for Liverpool’s boss both with the fans and within the dressing room.
Without Gerrard looming large, maybe players such as Jordan Henderson, Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling – if he’s still around – will feel more able to step up and take on greater responsibility.
Sixth place has booked a spot in the ‘sought after’ Europa League for Rodgers’ Reds… great. Very much the booby prize, the Champions League’s runt sibling is viewed as a drawback, with lack of financial reward, Thursday night games and trips to obscure cities – occasionally towns and villages! – having proven to be detrimental to domestic performances.
In his debut campaign Rodgers opted to field fringe players and youngsters in the early phase of the competition, so perhaps he’ll be willing to do the same again. This could mirror the impact of having no European action, which, of course, helped the late title surge of early 2014.
Finally, who saw 2013/14 coming? Liverpool went from seventh place finishers to narrowly missing out on the biggest prize. It’s almost been done at the very same club with the vast majority of those players still in the same dressing room, so why can’t it happen again?