Every time you speak to a Liverpool fan about their recent form they say the same thing: “But we have history! Look back to the 70′s and 80′s”. And yes that is true, you were the best team in England, if not Europe, for nearly two decades. From 1975 to 1984, Liverpool won 7 consecutive league titles, contributing to the incredible 18 Domestic league trophies they have won other the years. Not to mention in this incredible time for Liverpool FC, they added 2 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 6 Community Shields, 4 European Cup titles, 1 UEFA Cup and 1 UEFA Super Cup title. Incredibly, in a time period of just over a decade, Liverpool won 25 Titles. That is enough for any team to be proud of, and partly justifies a Liverpool fans response.
The reason I have a problem with the “We have history” statement is that it does not apply to the future. I like Liverpool, they are a good club with great fans and a terrific youth system that in the last 5 years has produced some great players (I won’t go back to history!). But they seem to be in a bit of a rut at the moment, but what got them in that current rut? In the Premier League they have had the players but not the silverware, but in recent years other problems has affected the Mersey side. Rafa Benetiz came to the helm in 2004 and rejuvenated a fairly standard Liverpool side. Yes, they had Gerrard, Owen, Carragher, Hyypia, but they did not have that consistency to compete with the likes of Manchester United an Arsenal domestically. Rafa brought in Alonso and Luis Garcia to shore up the midfield and add spice to the attack. Alonso turned out to be a kop hero who, when he left for Real Madrid, Liverpool have never have been able to replace. While Liverpool were fantastic in Europe, there domestic form was still poor for their historical standards, and not until the 2008-2009 season did Liverpool nearly return to their former glory. A second place finish with a narrow loss to Manchester United was the highest domestic position in the Premier League. The next season was a poor season with the loss of Alonso for 30million to Real Madrid. He did manage to sign Glen Johnson from Portsmouth and Aquilani but the latter has never settled down at Liverpool and was ultimately a poor, like-for-like replacement for Alonso. Rafa left the club and was replaced by Fullham’s Europa League hero, Roy Hodgson.
Roy Hodgson came into a Liverpool side in transition. The ‘Spanish Armada’, the group of Spanish players who were signed under Rafa all were leaving the club, with Arbeloa leaving for Real Madrid, Albert Reira departing for Greece and Mascherano (I know he is Argentine) leaving for Barcelona. Roy tried to replace them with Paul Konchesky, Christian Paulson, Raul Merialas and Jovanovic but also signed keeper Brad Jones from Middlesbrough and Danny Wilson from Rangers. In that season Poulson, Konchesky, Wilson and Jovanovic managed a mere 39 appearances combined in that season, Wolves Chistophe Berra made more appearances, dare I say more? After a poor start Hodgson was out and kop hero Kenny Dalglish was in. This move was very popular by the Liverpool board as the Liverpudlians saw this as a positive signing because as a player, Dalglish delivered them domestic titles and European Cups.
Liverpool under Dalglish was a disaster waiting to happen: a kop hero with the complete and utter backing of the board because he was just that. Dalglish brought in Suarez from Ajax for 24million and Andy Carroll from Newcastle for 35million, a British transfer record, and this was just in the January window. Further signings like Stewart Downing in the summer window from Aston Villa for 20million and Jordon Henderson for a similar fee, Blackpool’s hero Charlie Adam for around 8million and Toon hero Enrique. After spending well over 100million and buying the “best of British”, Dalglish was expected to be a challanger for the title. Different season, same story for Liverpool. Poor results and players under-performing was the reason for such a poor placing for the side. None of the new signings really shone for Liverpool with forward Andy Carroll amassing a mere 4 goals in 35 appearances, while gun-winger Stewart Downing who was a hero at Aston Villa managed 36 appearences, 0 goals and 0 assists, compared to the season before in the midlands where he managed 38 appearences, 7 goals and 9 assists. Dalglish was out by the end of the season and was replaced by Swansea manager Brendan Rodgers.
Brendan Rodgers has had a shaky start to his Liverpool career. Early warning signings were when Sigdursson, Swansea’s end of season loan signing who took the Premier League by its horns, snubbed Liverpool in favour of signing to Tottenham. Andy Carroll who has been backed by the kop fans claiming when played right is one of the best forwards in England, was left out of favour by the Northern Irishman early on, leaving him on the bench or not even in the match day squad for pre-season friendlies. Carroll had a favourable Euro where he scored a well taken goal against Sweden and was a aerial threat against all the teams he played. To reiterate his up coming season snub of Carroll, Rodgers signed Fabio Borini from Roma for 11.5million. Borini had played under Rodgers in a impressive end of season loan deal two years ago when Swansea were gaining promotion to the Premier League. Though he scored 9 goals in 24 appearances for Roma, Borini did not take the Serie A by storm and was seen as an odd signing for Rodgers to make. Further deals for Joe Allen the young Welshman from Swansea, Oussama Assaidi from Heerenveen and Samed Yeseli from Bayer Leverkusen completed Rodgers pre-season signings. He also acquired Sahin from Real Madrid on loan to replace the outgoing Charlie Adam who joined Stoke.
The start season was a poor one for Rodgers with a 3-0 away loss to West Brom, then a 2-2 draw with Champions Manchester City and then a 2-0 loss to Arsenal. These games highlighted Liverpool’s recurring weaknesses: Alonso was the vital cog in the Liverpool midfield and they are not going to replace a like-for-like player unless the splash out. Lucas was seen as the defensive aspect of Alonso’s game while Aquilani was the replacement for the attacking, ultimately creating a new midfield with the same abilities but it has not happened. Lucas got injured and has failed to find form and Aqualani, well do not need to say much about him. Amazing in Italy, not quite the style in England, so has been subsequently loaned out every season. Out-wide Liverpool are also struggling. The loss of Dirk Kuyt will hurt Liverpool more than they think. Kuyt added a grit and determination that would not be amiss in the Liverpool days of old, he would tirelessly work for the team, to create, to defend, to score, everything. He was, when Gerrard was out, Mr Liverpool. Craig Bellamy will also be missed in my opinion, he added speed and another dimension to the attack and though he understandably wanted out of the club for personal reasons Liverpool have not replaced him at all. While Allen is a sublime passer and breaks down attacks, he is only part of what Liverpool needs in midfield and Sigurdsson could have been that player. Liverpool need that attacking midfielder again as Gerrard suits a deeper role and lacks the cutting edge he used to have. That is not saying that Gerrard has lost it, not in the slightest, its just his duties have changed. He has become more of a Alonso role, a player to break up attack, to distribute. Though as I said earlier that Liverpool need to splash the cash to replace him, at least in the mean time they have a like-for-like replacement right in front of them.
So what do Liverpool need? I think they need a shake up, a rejuvenation of the squad to create a new core albeit a revised core to move forward and become a force to reckoned with. Agger and Skrtel are great players but to me they are a bit stagnant. They have been there a combined 14 seasons and have never really created that killer partnership that other Premier League clubs have created in their back-line. So get rid of both or one? Personally I would say both. A new, younger centre-back, I personally do not know who, and a traditional defensive centre back in the mould of Vidic: can tackle, aerial prowess, strong but not thinks he is a attacking midfield like a certain Borrusia Dortmund centre-back. As with the full backs I think they are good enough, Johnson needs to be sat down and told to be like his left-back team mate, Enrique: bloody consistent. In midfield they need a new defensive mid who can pull the strings of the game like Alonso could do. Mascherano and Lucas were just defensive as was Spearing, and conversley Aquilani was neither attacking or defensive, though good, was not what Liverpool needed. Sahin is a step in the right direction and if played to his strengths rather than Rodgers pre-conceived ideas, could be the future of the Liverpool midfield. As I mentioned before they need that new attacking mid and Sigurdsson was quite in the mould of Gerrard with his deadly finishing, set piece expertise and rocket of a shot would revitalise that attacking third. Out-wide is a hard one. There is no doubting Downing’s talent, as is with Carroll, its just confidence and consistency. Personally, I think Downing is good enough and just needs a season playing how he wants: a true out and out winger who can cross, shoot and weave his way down the line contributing to the attacking third rather than been confined to the midfield. Yes, he was given the liberty to attack but he was in a disfunctional Liverpool side and the attack was not given his crosses justice but when Liverpool gets a forward who can finish a cross Downing will come into his own. Assadi has proven himself in Holland and looks the goods, he can score and create and that is what Liverpool needs. Upfront is Liverpool’s problem. Two forwards, and only 1 of them is a senior forward. Borini and Suarez are both creators for their goals rather than finishers of crossers and long balls, and the loaning out of Andy Carroll is seriously going to hurt them come injuries, suspensions, impatient fans and pressure from the media and blog writers ahem. Raheem Sterling is the only shining light of the Liverpool side this season and congratulations for Rodgers for bringing him into the team.
Ultimately, there is no quick answer to Liverpool as they are a team who are down on their luck and need someone to come in and inspire the players, supporters and back-room staff. I am not a supporter of Liverpool but it is sad seeing a team who was once so great fall because bad decisions on and off the field. If they get back to their best, if anything, it will create a better finish to the season for the neutrals. The way the Premier League is going, the phrase ‘The most exciting League in the world’ will have taken on another, exciting twist.
Phineas Daube – Blog #1 12/9/2012