Though it is certainly tempting to call Liverpool’s 2nd place finish in the 2013-14 Premier League season a capitulation, it was not that. Despite not winning the title, Liverpool pushed Manchester City all the way – a situation few could have predicted after the previous season’s 7th place finish.
As Liverpool’s rival fans sang Steven Gerrard’s name at stadiums across England a week ago last Sunday, and one City fan was caught on camera holding up a sign thanking Gerrard for slipping, we would all do well to debunk a few of the myths surrounding LFC’s so-called “capitulation.”
Myth 1: Transfer Window Debacles
While it is true that Liverpool’s last two transfer windows have not been excellent, it is a stretch to say this cost the team the title. Publicly, we know that the club only had a couple of transfers on their radar in January. The failure to sign Ukrainian winger Yevhen Konoplyanka was made difficult by the owner of Dnipro, and nobody can say for certain that he would have made an immediate impact on the team. Coming from the Ukrainian league, which – with all due respect – is not as strong of a league as the Premier League would most likely not be an easy transition. Without any sort of preseason to settle, to learn Brendan Rodgers’ methods, and get to know his new teammates, Konoplyanka very well may have struggled for form. This sort of speculation rings even more hollow and false when Liverpool’s form after the January window is considered. Liverpool continued to be in great form for the remainder of the season, losing only one game (to Chelsea) and winning 11 in a row in 2014.
Furthermore, many point to last summer’s signings as being dead weight. This is only partially true – Luis Alberto is better known for drunk driving than for his skill in midfield, and Iago Aspas simply doesn’t look a Liverpool player. However, as per FSG’s transfer policy, LFC focused on making signings that were young and would help the team in the future. Though Tiago Ilori never played for the club since being signed, he is only 21 and it would be unfair to write him off yet. He has had an excellent loan spell at Granada, and was particularly excellent in a league game against Barcelona. Simon Mignolet was a massive improvement in goal over Pepe Reina – though Reina was a great servant to the club, his performances in recent seasons suggested his powers were waning. I found myself watching saves Mignolet made and wondering if Reina would have kept the ball out. It is important to remember that Mignolet is only 26, and very few goalkeepers – Thibaut Courtois aside – are the finished article at that age. Mamadou Sakho had a stop-start season as he struggled with injury issues, but in the games he did play, Sakho proved he is one to watch as his assuredness on the ball and strong physique were mixed with mistakes that could be chalked up to rustiness. It is early days in Sakho’s LFC career, and he is clearly valued by Didier Deschamps, who named him in France’s preliminary squad for the World Cup. Supporters will surely be expecting more from him in the 2014/15 season.
Finally, one needs only to look to a player like Jordan Henderson to know that the success of a transfer cannot be judged upon one season alone. By that school of thought, some might say that Manchester City’s summer transfer window was a failure, as only Fernandinho really came good while Stevan Jovetic struggled with injury and Alvaro Negredo’s goals dried up in the latter part of the season. With the Champions League on offer at Anfield next season, the club should be able to complete much bigger signings which will increase the squad size and give them steel for a title push next season.
Myth 2: Gerrard’s Slip Cost Liverpool Dearly
Though many call Gerrard’s slip the moment Liverpool lost the title, the truth is Liverpool’s other issues were likely to prevent them from winning the league. One chronic issue which undermined their ability to match Manchester City’s goal difference was a shoddy defense and strange inability to keep a clean sheet. Liverpool leaked goals all season, which cost them points. In particular, Kolo Toure’s disastrous back pass against West Bromwich Albion comes to mind. Had Liverpool not dropped points and had a tighter defense all season, the title might well have landed in the red half of Merseyside.
Although Martin Skrtel was the most consistent of the club’s defenders, his own goals did not help. In addition, the Slovakian’s wrestle-like style of defending could have ended up costing the club further, as there were several penalties that could have been given against him over the course of the season. In total, Skrtel scored 7 goals, including 2 in the rout of Arsenal, but his 4 own goals – a Premier League record – left him with a net of 3. That is simply not good enough for a team with aspirations as large as Liverpool’s. However, the blame does not merely fall on him. Glen Johnson had an inconsistent season, and countless goals were scored from moves on the right side of the pitch due to Johnson’s failings. Mistakes like Gerrard’s will happen, but Liverpool’s continual defensive lapses meant that any mistake made by the midfield would be magnified exponentially.
Myth 3: Liverpool’s Title Challenge Will Not Be Repeated
As this season proved, many pre-season predictions – as well informed as they may be – are simply predictions and nothing more. Just as few predicted that Liverpool would mount a credible title challenge in 2013/14, those who say that the club will have no chance of coming close again for years to come are not basing their argument on facts. Since the second half of the 2012/13 season, when Rodgers brought in Phillippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool have steadily improved as a side. There is no evidence to suggest they will take any backwards steps. Furthermore, though it is often mooted that Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, and Arsenal will all strengthen in the summer, there is no guarantee that every club’s summer signings will be a success. Manchester United would do well to learn from Liverpool’s difficulty in signing stars after dropping out of Europe all together.
Only time will tell, but the experience Liverpool’s largely young team have gained from the recently concluded season will more than likely leave them hungry for success. The sleeping giant has awoken – this is one team for which all bets are off.