The season so far: Part 2 – The Mersyside Melee
When Jamie Carragher said before the start of the season, “This is our year!”, people, for once, took him seriously. Coming off the back of a brilliant season where Liverpool, after years of making up the top 4, genuinely challenged for the title, they were expected widely to challenge for the title and perhaps finally win that elusive 19th title that would again see them as the undisputed kings of England. What transpired though, was a season that was marred with poor displays and inconsistency on the pitch, and a storm off it, in the boardrooms.
The off season was an interesting one with the sale of Xabi Alonso and Alvaro Arbeloa to Real Madrid and the major signings of Glen Johnson and Alberto Aquilani. Aquilani’s signing was ans especially intriguing one because he was signed for a fee in the region of 20 million pounds and was going to be out for the start of the season for sure. Nevertheless, the core of the squad that had come so close to winning the title last season was maintained and it was “all hands on deck” to the title hilt.
The early season form was patchy with fantastic wins against the likes Stoke and Hull interspersed by a defeat against Villa and scraped-out wins against Bolton, Debreceen and West Ham. The next 10 games was what probably defined Liverpool’s season. The 10 games resulted in 6 losses, 3 draws and only a solitary win, albeit against bitter rivals Manchester United. Come November end, Liverpool’s title challenge was all but over and their qualification to the knock out stages of the Champion’s League hanging by a thread. This 10 game spell was probably the club’s worst in recent times.
The first half of December brought with it heartbreak; Liverpool were knocked out of Europe’s elite and were consigned to a season in Europe’s Tier-II competition. The players tried to put up a brave face by saying that “winning the Europa League will put a different gloss on the season” but it was there for all to see that they were desperately disappointed that they had let themselves and the fans down. The next few months were again mixed with Liverpool now struggling to hold onto a Champion’s League spot. Their form in the Europa League was marginally better though and they went through to the semi-finals without much difficulty. It was in the semi-final though, that their only chance of silverware was also taken away from them – a strike from Manchester United old boy, Diego Forlan, sent Liverpool out of the Europa League and extinguished hopes of any sort of silverware this season. With last weekend’s loss against Chelsea confirming that there will be no Champions League football next term, 2009-’10 is officially the worst season for Liverpool FC in recent times.
What then is the reason? On first glance, FOOTBALL seems to be the most obvious. What could possibly have gone so badly wrong with the core of the team still intact? The loss of one player could not have hampered them that much, could it? Xabi Alonso was massive for Liverpool, no doubt, but surely his departure was not the only reason. Of the 2 big signings, Glen Jonson really came into his own and has cemented his position as first choice for both club and country. Aquilani, however, is a different story. Heralded as a playmaker with great vision and a fantastic shot, he never really sparkled; probably because he never really played! He was out for the early part of the season with an injury but even after he was fully fit(or seemingly so), Rafa still limited him to 10 minute cameos. With Torres’ hamstrings and knees playing up from time to time, and him unavailable for a lot of the season, Liverpool were pretty toothless in attack with N’Gog hardly a replacement for the brilliant Spaniard. Gerrard too has had an ordinary season with off-field allegations clearly taking their toll.
All through the season, the boardroom battles have waged on with the owners publically disagreeing and sparring. They appointed Martin Broughton to sell the club which was for sale anyway. Rafa too got involved in these boardroom battles and took his eye off the ball – literally. He got in the mix of the power struggle and wanted more autonomy and so on when the focus should have been on the field. Also, the master tactician’s on-field tactics too left many a Kop supporter baffled. His insistence on playing 2 defensive midfielders against even lesser opposition left many shaking their heads. And with Rafa’s future looking cloudy, Liverpool FC supporters are looking at a long summer ahead.
All’s not doom and gloom though. If Rafa does stay, he will probably be working under new management, who will back him in the transfer market and he can get those couple of missing pieces of the jigsaw. With Torres likely to be fully fit and Aquilani beginning to look like the prospect who everyone thought he was, Liverpool could yet put a disastrous end to the noughties and begin the new decade with what may well be the 19th title and with Chelsea looking good to deny United their nineteenth, Liverpool could yet be the undisputed kings of England come May 2011.