For all the heartbreak that Liverpool and its fans must still be feeling at having just missed out on their first league title in 24 years, they have much to look forward to.
Having been out of contention for so long it will seem like an opportunity lost. And it was. But they did extremely well in defying expectations to go seventh to second within one season, and with that in mind, they should believe wholeheartedly that they can make the transition from runners-up to champions.
There’s no doubt that The Reds were helped by not having any European fixtures to contend with. Their usual first team is one of the best, better than the one who took over their league position, Manchester United, but overall their squad is arguably the weakest in the top seven, weaker than United’s. Having gone out of both domestic cups in the early stages they were able to start with virtually the same 11 every week without the risk of fatigue setting in, although like most teams, they did pick up the odd injury.
But for those thinking that next season’s Champions League adventure will hinder their chances of mounting another serious challenge for the title, they should think again. It’s obvious to everyone let alone Brendan Rodgers that Liverpool need to strengthen significantly. Another striker and at least four or five players in defence and midfield are needed, whether they’re regular starters or not as long as they are better, of the same quality or nearly as good in order to cover effectively.
They can take heart from the past as well. Whenever you get close and miss out, one may wonder whether they can do it again. Many thought Man United were deflated in 1992 when they blew their closest chance of winning the league in 25 years. But no, they kicked on and, despite a slow start the following season, managed to win it with two still left to play. A probable reason they made a slow start is because they didn’t strengthen in that summer of ’92. They brought Dion Dublin from Cambridge United, but he broke his leg in only his second game for the club. It was only when they signed Eric Cantona in the November that they began to display a winning consistency.
The same applies to Blackburn Rovers. They were a small town club before Jack Walker’s millions helped them challenge the ‘big boys’, but when they came second to United in 1994, they may have felt that because they were a small club, they’d never get the chance again. Instead, they purchased Chris Sutton from Norwich City for a then British record transfer fee and he went on to form a formidable strike partnership with Alan Shearer to help fire Rovers to the league title a year later. He was the missing link. Liverpool’s missing link is their defence. Scoring 99 goals would normally win make you champions, but not with a defence like theirs. Didn’t help that Manchester City scored two more, but hey ho.
They can take heart from the positive fortunes experienced by the aforementioned clubs; in fact any club that hasn’t just come from nowhere to coming out on top. Coming so close hurts more than if you were out of it by February, but most sides that have won the league in the past have had to endure that disappointment. You have to decide whether to put the work in and work that little bit harder or let the frustration take over. Knowing Rodgers, his calmness and demeanour will override such fears and thoughts.
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