For most teams, an FA Cup semi-final appearance and a near guaranteed place in European football for next season, having sold your best player in the summer, would be seen as rather successful. However, Liverpool’s failure to overcome Aston Villa in the FA Cup semi on Sunday leaves Brendan Rodgers in the unenviable position of becoming the first Liverpool manager since 1950 to not win a trophy in his first three seasons as manager.
Having come so close last season to the Premier League title, yet losing the talismanic force of Luis Suarez to Barcelona, it was always going to be a year where expectations were heightened along with a severe disadvantage compared to last season. It is almost as if last season’s excellence belied the true development of Liverpool; they are improving, but other factors, such as the lack of European football, helped dramatically.
Despite this, it is still hard argue that Liverpool’s season hasn’t been disappointing to many. A poor start to the season, exiting the Champions League in a group they would have expected to qualify from, losing in the Europa League round-of-32, and struggling to secure a year of Champions League football. Rodgers’ solace appeared to be in domestic cup competition, with strong runs in the League and FA Cup, reaching both semi-finals.
However, having lost both of them, to Chelsea and Aston Villa, it is very interesting to note that Rodger’s predecessor, Kenny Dalglish, led Liverpool to both cup finals in his only fully season in charge, winning the League Cup and losing the FA Cup final to Chelsea. He missed out on Champions League football, just like Rodgers’ and was sacked in May 2012. More successful, it can be argued, in one respect, yet Rodgers is likely to remain in charge next season.
It is almost as if last season’s excellence belied the true development of Liverpool; they are improving, but other factors, such as the lack of European football, helped dramatically
Dalglish was given one full year, Rodgers has had three. In terms of shaping and developing your own team, Rodgers has had time and a lot of money to do so. However, of the players he has bought since his arrival in 2012, only 3 can be said to have been truly consistent performers in their time at Anfield: Phillipe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge and Emre Can. Others have played well in fits and starts, but when 24 different players have been brought in for an outlay of over £200 million that is simply not enough.
Among Liverpool’s most consistent performers this term is Jordan Henderson, the man most likely to become Liverpool’s next captain when Steven Gerrard departs this summer. He was brought by Kenny Dalglish, as was Luis Suarez. Rodgers’ transfer policy, of buying younger talent he hopes to develop into top players is commendable, but it belies what can also be seen as an inability to attract top quality players. Furthermore, once these players begin to fulfil their burgeoning potential, as Raheem Sterling is doing, can Liverpool seriously expect to keep hold of them when bigger clubs, with Champions League football, come knocking?
It all leads to the question of whether Rodgers is still the right man for Liverpool. The owners have invested a lot during his time as manager and it is unlikely he will be sacked this summer as a result. The lack of options from a managerial perspective adds to this, with the only top-class manager available being Jürgen Klopp, who it would be hard to see Liverpool managing to lure.
Others have played well in fits and starts, but when 24 different players have been brought in for an outlay of over £200 million that is simply not enough
As has been said for at least the last two summers, this one is pivotal. Either keeping Raheem Sterling or getting enough for a player they could have built a team around in the future is paramount. Although, in all honesty, replacing Luis Suarez and buying a central defender to command the defence, two targets that were supposed to be addressed last summer, are still more important.
Within all of this is something Liverpool were always going to find it near impossible to do, and that’s replacing the man who has been the heartbeat of the side for at least 10 years. There will be no fairytale FA Cup final ending for Steven Gerrard, as much as there was no fairytale Premier League title last season. His departure leaves another hole to be plugged, and this one is more psychological than all others. The leadership and character he possessed every time he steps onto the pitch for Liverpool will be irreplaceable.
Of course, Liverpool may still qualify for the Champions League, and this season will probably go down as a successful one. Failing that, the more likely scenario, and Rodgers will once again be facing another summer of trying to rebuild a side he has tried to do twice previously. Third time’s the charm.
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