Part 6 : 2014-2017
2014 was probably the most exhilarating year Liverpool Football Club ever saw. Some older fans could plump for either 1988 or 1979 but for me it was this one. For about three solid months Liverpool played football at a speed few have ever seen. History books might one day refer to it as one of the starting points of ‘transitions’ in play; a method used to get the ball to your striker as soon as possible by way of a deep lying midfielder or a ball playing centre half. Given Skrtel’s and Sakho’s limitations as well as Agger’s unfortunate injury problems it was all about Messrs Gerrard and Suarez.
Of course the ribbons on the Premier League trophy were once again sky blue but there’s no doubt Liverpool had won over the neutrals. It seemed like destiny was welcoming us to take the throne, until cruel fate swept the legs from under us. The usual narrative is the Gerrard slip. For me it had more to do with playing Victor Moses while his parent club were still in the title race.
He looked like a man who was conflicted at best when he gave Henderson that hospital pass against City. The number 14 was sent off and missed some vital games in the run in. Blame too could be held against Kolo Toure for a bad decision that cost Liverpool 2 points against West Brom. Heck, even Lucas, who eventually won me over by sheer grit, almost cost us against Norwich. It was Gerrard who saved us at Craven Cottage while other’s still seemed high on the fumes of trouncing Arsenal. Alas we know all this now and the memories still hurt when dug up.
For me it was a year where I managed to put out a feature film to little fanfare. I had gone on a Gerrard like solo run with it for a year and a half, hoping if nothing else that it might convince some production company to trust me with making coffee if not a few edits. I aimed too low and listened to the wrong people. Never recovered. Watching Gerrard in the 14/15 season I felt a certain empathy for him. A childhood dream that would never come through after years of trying. Anyway, a new season and all that. Things could only get better right??
Liverpool 1-Basel 1
By the time this game came around Liverpool had amassed a paltry 21 points from a possible 45 in the league. Rodgers was still trying to figure out a way of playing that didn’t involve the departed Suarez or the injured Sturridge. Balotelli was nothing short of a disgrace. And yet the twenty or so minutes that he and Sturridge had at White Hart Lane back in August was tantalizing. What might have been.
By the time our Swiss nemesis rolled into town the manager had incurred the wrath of the fans by playing a weakened side in the Bernabeu. It never bothered me as much to be honest. Yes it would have been great to see Gerrard there but there wasn’t much evidence the first choice players would have changed the score. What bothered me far more was the away games against Ludogorets and Basel. We were hopeless.
And so if there was any hope of Champions League football post christmas we would have to beat Basel at Anfield. Any score would have been fine. It didn’t happen. Almost ten years to the day of beating Olympiakos we were still relying on Gerrard to get us out of jail. And with another pearler of a free kick ten minutes from time he almost managed it. Alas to no avail. And with that we came ever closer to closing the book on Gerrard’s Liverpool career.
Rodgers was hoping that the players he currently had could fill the void and for a while it looked like Coutinho could take centre stage. Into the new year and Rodgers had happened on a 4-3-3 system that worked a lot of the time. He went on a run with it and suddenly a top 4 spot looked on. Momentum came to a crashing end against United at Anfield however.
And so what could have been an unforgettable season became a season we all wanted to forget. Our greatest number 7 since Dalglish sold at short notice after more biting madness, with scarcely enough time to replace him. The resulting transfer fee spent on the likes of Lallana, Lovren and Rickie Lambert who was fulfilling a childhood ambition that in hindsight probably should have been fulfilled in an over 40s charity match instead.
Gerrard walked away for the last time after a hiding against Stoke. Many say Rodgers should have gone too. But at that time all I could think of was how much our number 8 had given of himself. And how little success his efforts had amounted to post Istanbul.
Life is not supposed to work like that. Hard work and loyalty within a top ‘brand’ usually guarantees glory. Promises were made to him so often. Guarantees of world class teammates being signed. And yet so often it was he who was rolled out for another brow furrowing press conference, explaining the ire of Benitez or the madness of Luis Suarez.
He was remarkably consistent for ten years, often rushing back from injury because no replacement could be trusted to have even half his influence. Now with his pace and energy diminished it was up to others to step up.
I think many people started to feel like Liverpool Football Club was no longer an institution, that we were turning into just another club. How could you blame them after seeing this half hearted season? We needed to believe again, even if Superman was now dead.
Liverpool 4-3 Borussia Dortmund
A new way had to come. I wasn’t convinced Rodgers was capable of finding it and I don’t think he was either in truth. After signing Benteke it felt like he was again going back on a philosophy he believed in. The Premier League will do that to a manager. Believing in a certain way is fine but results are basically everything. Come October 2015 it just wasn’t happening.
So it was bye bye Brendan but who could take his place? There was no guarantee it would be anyone high profile. Rodgers himself had pipped Roberto Martinez in 2012 after Pep politely sniggered at the suggestion while on sabbatical in New York.
In the end it came down to two people everybody was pleasantly surprised by. Carlo Ancellotti and Jurgen Norbert Klopp. How close the Italian came is anyone’s guess. And maybe it would have been good. But it would have had to go some to be better than what was. What is!
The German arrived with the usual flashbulbs and red scarf pomp. His words were well thought out. It felt like he knew exactly what he was letting himself in for and he was up for it.
More sniggers came after the 2-2 draw at home to West Brom. And yet within four months we were back at Wembley for a League Cup final. A month later we were in the Europa League quarter finals, against of all teams, Borussia Dortmund.
In the early days of this era it could be seen how much had changed. This was Rodgers original philosophy done properly. We could pass all day. The 2nd leg gets all the dramatic headlines but in the first game in the Westfalenstadion we were matching Dortmund pass for pass. It was a beautiful game of football.
Of course I have to choose the second leg. The mayhem of it. Me, in the Carpenters pub screaming my head off in delight. What a night!
But it all was made possible by a collective willingness to try and play football. New signing Firmino had looked lost in the first few weeks but Klopp knew exactly what he wanted from him. Sturridge was off the doctor’s table and beginning to put some form together. Lallana and Joe Allen, two very early disciples of the new way put in serious mileage often sacrificing the niceties of their own game for the team’s greater good. Lucas Leiva too, who had performed heroically at centre half against City in the League Cup Final. And of course, James Milner. With apologies to Gary McAllister the greatest free transfer in the club’s history.
Unlike Arsenal in 19/20 our efforts weren’t immediately rewarded with silverware. The season would end with two disappointing final defeats. Some scoffed at Klopp’s Cup Final misfortune. Others knew better.
West Ham 0-4 Liverpool
Heading into this season everyone was curious about what would happen in the transfer market. Klopp had been as polite as possible about the Benteke misfit but he knew that selling him was the key to everything. In what became a very happy habit, he was sold for an unexpectedly high price and proceeded to do very little for his new club once he got there.
With the incoming lucre, three key members were added to the squad. Sadio Mane from Southampton, Joel Matip from Schalke and Gino Wijnaldum from Newcastle.
With Danny Ings soon sidelined again as well as Sturridge’s ongoing injury troubles, Klopp endured a frustrating time but there was a sense that everyone was positive and happy to play the long game. With the main stand now fully renovated Anfield never looked more like a theatre. A vast sloping roof let everyone knew that the club were beginning to see themselves in a greater light. In the opening few games it took the TV cameras a bit of time to get used to the new dimensions. The first game against Leicester looked like it was filmed from the Radio Merseyside tower.
The season was coming along very nicely by the end of the calendar year. An excellent header by Wijnaldum against City had put us top of the table. Alas a loss of form, perhaps not helped by Mane’s commitments in the African Nations Cup, saw us fall away quickly. What might have been.
Heading into May, Liverpool were looking okay for a Champions League place. It was vital they got it. Two disappointing exits in the domestic cups had brought an end to a miserable spring. If they didn’t get that 4th spot, heaven knows how miserable we’d all be now.
There was no need to fret. As so often has been the case in recent years, the fixture computer offered a trip away to West Ham just when we needed it. It was always tricky playing in the tightly knit Upton Park but playing in a spanking clean Olympic Stadium would be a pleasure.
This looked every bit a Klopp team. West Ham fans surely groaned every time their team won a corner kick for it gave us the opportunity to launch 80 yard counter attacks at will.
Resplendent in toxic green that I felt was unfairly maligned, Liverpool looked vicious again. They closed out the season in style at Vicarage Road with an excellent Emre Can overhead. He was assisted by Lucas Leiva who wouldn’t see the fruits of his labours the next season. A final day win over Middlesboro’ confirmed what we all wanted. Liverpool were back at the top table of Europe.