The season brought no trophies to Anfield… Manchester United tied the league title record… The big money summer signing proved a flop… Seven miserable home draws… Mid-season position squandered… Lengthy injuries to the big guns…
And Liverpool still had an outstanding season. Their best in 19 years.
If Liverpool beat Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, they’ll finish no more than four points below United. This would be the closest they’ve come since 1990 when the Reds last won the league. Apart from 2002, when they finished seven points behind Arsenal, the title has generally been far from Liverpool’s sights by season’s end.
The fact they were still in the race two weeks from the end speaks volumes.
82 is Liverpool’s highest premier league points tally before this season. The Reds are already a point ahead of that number. If they can finish with 86, there’s every reason to think title number 19 will be on its way to Anfield in the near future.
Despite the quickness of pundits to jump on Rafael Benitez who has yet to bring the league title back to Anfield, the Spaniard has made substantial improvements to his club each season he’s been in charge.
Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, Pepe Reina, Daniel Agger, Fernando Torres are all among the outstanding players to have come in under Benitez’s watch. Sure, he’s had his occasional Antonio Nunez, and Robbie Keane’s failure to live up to his price tag won’t soon be forgotten. But on the way to glory, there are always bumps in the road.
The Liverpool side that took to the pitch again and again (the oft criticized rotation policy having been dialed down this season) showed their merit throughout the year. Despite the jaw-dropping draws (how did they finish level with Stoke City… twice???), Liverpool’s dominance over big sides hasn’t been witnessed like this in decades.
They did an impressive double over Chelsea and Real Madrid and came from behind twice to secure all six league points against Manchester United (including a 1-4 demolition at Old Trafford) and schooled the league’s most promising up-and-comers, Aston Villa, 5-0 at Anfield.
A post-Christmas rut saw Liverpool slip from top place. And many neutrals and outsiders will recall Rafa Benitez’s ‘rant’ against his frustrations with Alex Ferguson’s modus operandi as a marker of the Liverpool turning point. But nothing can distract from the fact that Liverpool have gotten better and better each season under Benitez and from finishing this season on at least 83 points, probably in second place, Liverpool don’t have much farther to climb.
There’s nowhere left to go but the top.
Benitez doesn’t have boundless funds to spend this summer. But if he’s savy in the transfer market. He won’t need them. Liverpool don’t need many changes. The side’s failure to break down ten-men-behind-the-ball sides is what led to the series of draws that cost them the title. But this can be combatted with a change in tactics. There’s no need to overhaul a side that can beat United, Chelsea and Madrid.
Rumors of Xabi Alonso’s departure should turn out to be merely rumors. They better. £18m or whatever the Spanish midfielder is valued at this week is not enough to say goodbye to his vision and prowess. His ability to see the whole pitch and know where to slot that pass to put Gerrard, Torres or whoever in on goal is priceless. And neither Gareth Barry nor David Silva are worth the sacrifice.
Benitez knows his side needs a little tweaking.
And maybe all it will take next season is not drawing twice against Stoke City to finally bring that title home.