Thursday 18 January 2018

Alan Hansen: Reds players will be numb – but they can bounce back

Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge reacts during the match against Newcastle United at Anfield
Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge reacts during the match against Newcastle United at Anfield

Alan Hansen

It will be harder for Liverpool to challenge for the Premier League title next season and end the club's desperate wait to be champions again, but their form until the last two weeks of the campaign proved that the club's re-emergence is no fluke.

The players will be desolate and distraught to have missed out, none more so than Steven Gerrard, who deserves a title winners' medal more than any player in the country.

However, while Liverpool's mantra has always been that "first is first and second is nowhere," the reality is that they only require a tweak here and there and top quality reinforcements to challenge next season. And what they really need to do is find a way to play that is somewhere between their attacking, cavalier football and the more defensive approach taken by Chelsea. If they can achieve that they will end up like Manchester City, who have been crowned as worthy champions this season.

City have found the winning formula because they have scored more than 100 league goals and their defence is second only to Chelsea as the best in the league. City have had their defensive problems, too, particularly on the left, but they have overcome them. If Liverpool can develop a way of playing that enables them to tighten up and score freely like City, then this season can be the platform for a successful challenge for the title.

COMPLAINING

It is difficult to criticise Liverpool or Rodgers for being such an attacking force. Nobody was complaining about their approach when they were winning 11 games on the bounce, so you cannot suddenly highlight defensive issues as the factor in their downfall. But they cannot be as gung-ho or extravagant next season, despite their incredible attacking qualities.

When Liverpool went 3-0 ahead at Crystal Palace last Monday, they should have simply shut up shop. Goal difference should have been irrelevant because winning the three points was all that mattered, so they could put greater pressure on City to win their games against Aston Villa and West Ham United. City would have killed the game at Palace and made sure the points were in the bag, but Liverpool showed naivety in chasing more goals.

Liverpool's American owners must now back Rodgers in the transfer market and ensure he gets the players he needs to take the team the extra step to the title.

The fans will want the club to chase and sign the best players in the world, but it will not be so easy because it will need Liverpool to be in the Champions League for three or four successive seasons before the Americans are prepared to push the boat out for the very best. That is why it is crucial that Luis Suarez stays at Anfield this summer. He simply cannot be sold if Liverpool want to go forward.

Suarez has said all the right things by insisting he is happy at the club and has no desire to leave, but he is up there in the same bracket at Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, so all of the world's best clubs will be looking to sign him. He really is that good, so Liverpool will have to work hard to keep him.

Liverpool will send a message to the world's best players if they keep Suarez because it will show they have ambitions to win top trophies.

Everybody involved with the club will feel gutted and devastated after missing out on the title. If you had offered the club a runners-up finish and a return to the Champions League at the start of the season, they would have grabbed it. But Liverpool had the title in their hands and let it slip.

They have come so close and they know that it will be harder next season because City and Chelsea will be better and Manchester United cannot possibly be as bad as they have been this time around. So the disappointment will be massive and it will take a lot of getting over.

I played in the team which lost the title to Arsenal with the last kick of the season at Anfield in 1989 and I felt numb for a week afterwards. It hurt like hell to lose the title like that, but there is no comparison to what the current players will be feeling today.

In 1989, we were used to winning trophies and we bounced back to win the league the following season. But it has been 24 years now since Liverpool last won the title and nobody at the club knows what it is like to win the league. The waiting goes on and that is why it hurts so much more. And it will hurt for Gerrard too because he has given so much to the club.

City's form and run to the title has been overlooked, and it deserves praise, but nobody in that Liverpool team deserved to win the league more than Gerrard. Will he win it now? I fear that he may not, because he will be another year older next season and time is not on his side.

But although there will be little consolation for Liverpool, they have shown enough this season to suggest they can bounce back next season with the right signings and a tweak in their tactics. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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