Liverpool’s 3-2 win over Tottenham last weekend was quite rightly hailed as a significant victory for the club and for manager Brendan Rodgers in particular for what it meant to not only the team’s hopes of pushing for a top five finish, but as a vindication of the man in the dugout’s methods, but despite the noticeable improvements being made this term, the task ahead to restore the club to the top still looks a long and arduous one fraught with trap-falls.
The current campaign has been one which has best been characterised by a one step forward, two steps back approach. Expectations have routinely been dampened only to be risen through the roof again after the odd result or spate of good form. Rodgers has at times resembled an excitable schoolboy that you need to constantly keep in check. Many Liverpool fans, myself included, have found this season an enjoyable jaunt, in support of the new man at the helm and his methods, but in danger of cringing every other week at either the corporate speak coming out of Rodgers mouth or his baffling need to set himself up for a fall. It’s all part of the ego, but many if not most back Rodgers plans and vision for the club, it’s just when he feels the need to, you know, talk, that we get a little uncomfortable.
The inconsistencies have been there all season, though, and point to a busy summer ahead. The squad has been padded out in terms of strength in depth and Liverpool are now in possession of a truly dangerous side on an attacking front and they’ve already scored more goals than last term and look well on course to better the points tally and league position that predecessor Kenny Dalglish achieved.
The two cup final appearances last year merely papered over the cracks of the club’s deeply ordinary form after the turn of the year; the system implemented by Dalglish fell apart and the lack of a coherent plan was a real worry looking further ahead. You simply don’t judge progress, as Chelsea fans will tell you this season, by how the team fares in any given cup, rather the bread and butter of a sustained league campaign and on that front at least, Rodgers has delivered a real improvement.
However, there’s a feeling that persists that the club should still be better off than where they currently find themselves in the league, seven points adrift of Chelsea having played a game more. It’s only now that the fluid nature of the top four and the weaknesses of those challenging for a Champions League place have really come out in the open and Liverpool may see this as a missed opportunity to re-establish themselves rather than focus on it being a period of transition.
Numerous challenges have been put in front of the club this year and they have been met, but the changing nature of the accusations levelled at them is worth drawing attention to; first it became that they were the last club in the top flight to beat a team inside the top ten, next up before the Tottenham game it was that they hadn’t beaten a side in the top four. It all points to a predatory moving of the goalposts triggered to undermine the team’s progress. The narrative of a club in crisis is one that sells plenty of easy copy, but it just hasn’t quite stacked up this year, particularly when you compare it to the scandals that rocked the club last season.
Still, after the win over Tottenham, which came courtesy of three horrific errors, there was a sense that there is still plenty of room to improve, especially from a defensive standpoint, with the side looking fragile against better quality opposition and incapable of keeping clean sheets. Jamie Carragher’s retirement and Martin Skrtel’s recent marginalisation point to a summer of concentrated centre-back recruitment which is crucial to the side bridging the gap on the more consistent teams ahead, with the win over Andre Villas-Boas’ side signalling the first time the side have won three league games on the trot this season.
Rodgers was quickly made to look stupid after targeting a top two finish by the 3-1 defeat against Aston Villa at home back in December, while Stewart Downing claiming that ‘it’s coming together’ and captain Steven Gerrard targeting a ‘perfect’ finish to the campaign all simply serve to ramp up the rhetoric precisely at a time when they need to talk less. The message of a club and team in transition craving stability is a sound one, you just wish those trotting it out would stick to it themselves a bit more and not get so carried away on the basis of a few results.
How the side fares next season rests largely on the future of Luis Suarez, should he stay, with the break up of the traditional top four, Liverpool certainly stand a chance of crashing the party, but at the moment it is a castle built on soft foundations. The summer represents a pivotal period and a potential crossroads for their future development; finishing the campaign well is obviously important, but the real litmus test on their progress lies further ahead.
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