It is fair to say that this season has not exactly gone to plan for Liverpool fans. In recent weeks defeat at Hull put pay to any lingering aspirations of Champions League football next term, and a shock exit in the FA Cup semi-finals mean that the club were destined to endure another season without silverware.
A season that began with fans daring to dream again has petered out in to a forgettable campaign, with little to play for but the unenviable prospect of Thursday night Europa League football.
This season Liverpool have been a pale imitation of last year’s title-chasing side, who fell agonisingly short of the Premier League crown. The pace and verve of that side has been replaced by a surfeit of tentative football, with the team becoming mired in horizontal passing in the midfield and lacking a cutting edge up front.
The swagger and confidence that accompanied Suarez and co. last season has given way to a team suffering from an alarming lack of leadership. Too often when events conspired against them, heads have dropped and too many big name players have gone missing in action.
Of course explanations for this slump could have been predicted before a ball was kicked. The loss of Suarez to Barcelona robbed the side of their talisman, a player blessed with an extraordinary natural talent. He had that rare ability to grab matches by the scruff of the neck and turn the complexion of a game by sheer force of personality that only the highest echelon of footballers possess.
This loss has been compounded by the ongoing injury problems of Daniel Sturridge, who has recently returned to the United States in an attempt to diagnose his issues. Last season he and Suarez formed the cutting edge to a Liverpool side that racked up an astonishing 101 goals. By contrast this year they have amassed 49 goals with three games remaining.
While the absence of Sturridge could not have been predicted, that loss of Suarez should have been better handled. The huge influx of cash from Barcelona was reinvested in the squad, but the suspicion remains that, like Spurs a year before, almost £100m was squandered.
Liverpool’s foray into the transfer market last summer cannot be branded anything less than a disaster. Rickie Lambert’s dream move to his boyhood club has resembled a waking nightmare, as he has barely featured this year.
Enough column inches have been spent on Mario Balotelli to last a lifetime, but it is clear Brendan Rodgers made a grave mistake when he gambled on taming and harnessing the undoubted talent of the mercurial Italian where other managers had failed.
Balotelli, the man once branded ‘unmanageable’ by Jose Mourinho, has been either unable or unwilling to adapt to Liverpool’s style of play and the high intensity pressing game preached by his manager.
The money was there to spend, and Liverpool needed more than stopgaps and gambles. The result has been that Liverpool have been forced to play Raheem Sterling up front, faced with such a dearth of top-class striking options.
After such a promising season last term, Liverpool needed to buy three or four proven internationals who could step into the team straight away and improve it. Think of Chelsea and the impact of Courtois, Costa and Fabregas for example.
Instead the money was spent on unproven young talent, and players who have struggled to justify the extravagant fees they commanded. Who in the corridors of Anfield still thinks that a £20 million outlay on Dejan Lovren was a good investment? It is hard to consider any of the seven singings made last summer an unqualified success.
Indeed Rodgers’s overall record in the transfer market must be called into question. During his tenure at the club 23 players have been signed, yet out of them only Sturridge and Coutinho can be considered a success. The judgement of Rodgers and the role of the transfer committee implemented by FSG must come under the spotlight.
Liverpool face a tough summer of soul-searching. Steven Gerrard is on his way out of the club and there is no guarantee that Sturridge will be back fit to play every week.
Rodgers has himself admitted that the lack of Champions League will make it tough to tempt top level players to Anfield. If the owners do decide that Rodgers is the right man to lead the club forward, some sensible investment is needed in order to ensure Liverpool do not endure another season of frustration.
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