Liverpool’s season looks pretty bad on paper. And it is bad off that, too. They’ll miss out on the Champions League barring a major collapse from Manchester City – even bigger than the one we’ve already seen. They’ve already missed out on cups and they’ve also missed out on a European run, losing out early in both the Champions and Europa Leagues.
Finishing 5th and reaching a cup semi-final last season might have been seen as progress. Doing it this time around looks bad. And it is bad. But that’s only because of how far they’ve come over such a short period. Liverpool are paying the price for their form last season. And they’re paying for it in many different ways.
They’re paying for it because they lost Luis Suarez, England’s best player last season. Losing him left a hole that Liverpool couldn’t fill for a good few months. They just couldn’t transition quickly enough to make it work this season and had to come from too far back to challenge the teams above them. Had they not been so good last season, however, they may not have had to sell. But on the other hand, they just may not have received so much money for him.
Suarez is now lighting up La Liga as part of arguably the most fearsome front three that club football has ever seen. His form is showing Liverpool what they’re missing, and what they’re missing is one of the worlds best.
They also had to bring in lots of different players in order to cover for the departed star. Suarez’s transfer fee was spent on the likes of Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert who haven’t really done anything this term, but also on Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic and Emre Can who look like they’re coming good. It’s taken them a while to gel, though, and Brendan Rodgers is paying for that.
But it’s not just Suarez that has cost Liverpool this year. They’re also paying for their form last season, because it landed them in the Champions League.
This season has clearly been tough on the new players coming in, and Rodgers has also had to tinker with formations to fit players in and to adapt his team to a life without Suarez. But having to do this with games not just in the league but also in Europe is tough. Poor form breeds more poor form, unfortunately, and more games are never a good thing if you’re playing badly. Especially not away trips to places like Basel and Ludogorets, as Liverpool found out. Ironically, the away game against Real Madrid was one of their best defensive performances of the first half of the season, albeit they still lost.
But it’s also affected their league form, too. More games, and juggling Wednesday-Saturday isn’t easy, and when you’re new to it, as lots of Liverpool’s players are, it is tough. Rodgers himself is fairly new to playing in Europe, having only one season in the Europa League as Liverpool manager in his first campaign.
Last season they didn’t have the European distraction and they flourished. But they came so close to winning the league, before having it ripped from their grasp by a combination of awful mistakes and a rampant Manchester City at the end of the season. And it is mentally draining to come so close and lose out in such a heart-breaking manner.
Liverpool’s players have had to pick themselves up off the mat and ‘go again’ as Steven Gerrard would say. They were more than likely going to suffer a hangover from the tragedy of the season past, and so it proved at the start of the season.
But Liverpool are also paying for last season because of how it has raised expectations for this season. As I said right at the start, this season could’ve been seen as progress for Liverpool if it had come a year earlier. But after coming so close to winning the league, after playing some of the best football in the league and being so convincing post-Christmas, Liverpool are now seen as one of the best teams in the country and we expect to see them do it again. The fact that they are not doing it looks like failure.
But it is failure from Liverpool. As much as they’ve had to deal with from the fallout of last season they expected better this time around. They’re paying for last season’s success and heartbreak on lots of different fronts, and this season has been a disappointment.
The bright side is how they’ve played since Christmas, and they look to have emerged from their problems. Next season they’ll have European football again unless they slip up in the last few games this time around as well, and the good form over the last few months might just give them the confidence they need to start next season well, too.
It’s been a bad year for Brendan Rodgers but they’ve had a lot to deal with this season. They won’t have any of that to deal with next time around, and so their bad season might just have set them up for good seasons to come in the future.