Thursday 14 December 2017

Liverpool season review: five things we learned

Liverpool's Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard look dejected
Liverpool's Jordan Henderson and Steven Gerrard look dejected

Chris Bascombe

Chris Bascombe: Liverpool's seasons of success now look like blips in history - and four more big 2014-15 talking points.

Liverpool are never more vulnerable than when they’ve just finished second

There was a comment from Jamie Carragher prior to his retirement in 2013 worth revisiting. “Even when we’ve had great times recently it’s not long before something has not been right, another problem around the corner,” he said. It could have been a prophecy of this season, another in which the sense of promise generated by finishing second to Manchester City in 2014 rapidly disintegrated.

Luis Suarez left, Steven Gerrard announced mid-season he was heading to the USA, and the Raheem Sterling affair has polluted the air in the last few months. The same happened in 2002 when Gerard Houllier’s reign disintegrated after finishing runner-up to Arsenal, and in 2009 when Rafa Benitez never recovered from the sale of Xabi Alonso.

It has reached the point where Liverpool’s encouraging Premier League seasons increasingly resemble blips as most campaigns end in another period of self-analysis.

Luis Suarez claims Liverpool would not have been successful last season without him.

Beware when philosophies, strategy and quality collide

Was Liverpool's great season in 2014 because they had a world class striker (Luis Suarez) or because they had a manager and system of play that knew how to get the best from the Uruguayan?

The argument raged when Liverpool finished second, Brendan Rodgers’ supporters convinced it was a combination of both. Suarez’s exit, allied to the loss of Daniel Sturridge, shifted the weight of argument back to the view quality comes first, with tactics, formation and playing style subservient.

You can line up any way you like, but if the great players are not there does it really matter? Others still maintain the quality remains in the Liverpool squad but the manager failed to get the best out of it. The theoretical discussion will continue for a while yet, and will no doubt be the overriding theme when this era is assessed, long after Rodgers has left Anfield.

Liverpool's Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet (2nd L) celebrates on the pitch with Liverpool's English midfielder Jordan Henderson (R) after the English FA Cup quarter-final replay football match between Blackburn Rovers and Liverpool at Ewood Park in Blackburn, north west England on April 8, 2015. Liverpool won the game 1-0. AFP PHOTO / PAUL ELLIS RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. NO USE WITH UNAUTHORIZED AUDIO, VIDEO, DATA, FIXTURE LISTS, CLUB/LEAGUE LOGOS OR LIVE SERVICES. ONLINE IN-MATCH USE LIMITED TO 45 IMAGES, NO VIDEO EMULATION. NO USE IN BETTING, GAMES OR SINGLE CLUB/LEAGUE/PLAYER PUBLICATIONS.PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images

Simon Mignolet is proof that even the most heavily criticised players can recover.

Things looked grim for the Belgian goalkeeper in December. His form had dipped, he looked increasingly uncomfortable with a playing style demanding he pass from the back, and it seemed like he wanted to exorcise the football rather than kick or catch it. After he was dropped for the dreadful Brad Jones, it was presumed Liverpool would buy a new goalkeeper in January.

Instead, Mignolet returned to be voted the club’s Player of the Year by club legends. Not only that, his attitude to critics was humble and generous, accepting criticism and improving instead of grumbling and carrying a chip on his shoulder. Mignolet is an example to others at Anfield who at the time of writing appear to have no chance of staying at the club. The words ‘Mario’ and ‘Balotelli’ spring to mind.

Brendan Rodgers position remains unchanged despite Stoke defeat

The collective approach to recruitment only works when everyone is on the same page

“No scout has ever signed a poor player. They only remember the good ‘uns.” These were the words of a prominent Liverpool scout several years ago, way back when a debate was ongoing as to who was responsible for the weaker deals during the back end of Rafa Benitez’s period in charge.

The blame is always shifted for the duds, while a queue forms to claim credit for the best signings. It is even worse now, with members of Liverpool’s transfer committee – including Rodgers himself – always keen to put distance between themselves and underperforming players while mentioning how much they watched those who excel prior to their recommendation. Who is responsible? All of them, but the waters have been muddied and supporters remain confused and agitated that there is never a single focus for accountability.

Liverpool's desire to become a corporate beast is accelerating, but they must be careful…

Liverpool used to be accused of being run like a corner shop, failing to maximise their money-making potential. Nowadays, they look to the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United and wish to challenge them in the commercial revenue charts.

That is necessary, but they need to be careful. At Anfield, like no other club, the supporters want the money-men to get on with their job without clumsy intrusions on tradition. That means it is one thing allowing an icon like Steven Gerrard to leave the club – albeit ultimately his own decision – but quite another to blatantly exploit this as a means of selling next year’s home jersey, promoting website apps or encourage more subscriptions to the club’s TV channel.

It looks crass. All these projects are necessary, of course, but there are dangers afoot if those in control believe the ethos of the working class fanbase is irrelevant when projecting an image of Liverpool Football Club the supporters (as opposed to 'customers') are comfortable with.

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