Yet another season is over for Liverpool. And their hope of winning the top-flight league title also went up in smokes. But unlike the previous seasons, the Anfield outfit had many positives despite stumbling in the final lap.
The 2013-14 season witnessed the Reds, after a long time, fighting for the trophy. Their previous best performance since the inception of English Premier League in 1992-93 has been two second place finishes in 2001-02 and 2008-09. Had it not been for the depth in Manchester City ranks, and of course, a becalm Manuel Pellegrini managing the Citizens, Brendan Rodgers` side were on course to end the 24-year long league wait. They last won the league, then known as Division 1, in 1989-90.
Understandably, the veritable Kop mourns their best chance to become the champions of England. But amidst the ruins – of a campaign that went awry, Liverpool have addressed some of the issues which have compromised their status as one of the greatest clubs in the world. For the record, they had won the league title 18 times, second only to Manchester United`s 20. Besides, there are five European cup trophies – in its many avatars, and host of other silverware.
Liverpool started the season as just another team, after they finished seventh in the 2012-13 season. Their main target in 2013-14 was to finish in the top-four, and qualify for the Champions League, world`s premier club competition which they have won five times – most by any team from England.
Three wins on the trot made the target a realistic one. And after recording a run of record 11 successive wins towards the second part of the season, Reds saw themselves fighting for the title. But Liverpool imploded on match-day 36, losing 0-2 at home against Chelsea. A 3-3 draw in the subsequent match at Crystal Palace virtually gifted the title to Manchester City. The final day victory over the visiting Newcastle United saw the Liverpool faithful applauding the manager and his wards as they finally regained their lost pride.
The Reds also recorded some amazing statistics during the season. Billed as one of the most competitive seasons in recent times, Liverpool`s goal scoring exploits in the league earned new fans worldwide. If Manchester City`s title winning side scored 102 goals, Liverpool scored 101 goals – a record for any runner-up team, and a three figure for the first time since 1895-96.
One time bad-boy, Luis Suarez led the scoring charts with 31 goals, and returned as the league`s top-scorer. The Uruguayan was complemented well by Daniel Sturridge, who himself managed 21 goals. Third highest scorer in the league was Manchester City`s Yaya Toure at 20. Last time any Liverpool player won the top scoring honour was way back in 1998-99 season, when the then wonder-kid Micheal Owen scored 18 in 30 appearances.
Missing ten games at the start of the season due to disciplinary reasons, Suarez arrived with renewed vigour and spurred Liverpool`s surge. Interestingly, the former Ajax player has been among the goals ever since his arrival at Anfield in 2011. He managed 23 goals, three behind top-scorer Rovin van Persie, in the 2012-13 season.
The seasoned-feet of Steven Gerrard, with a record 18 assists, made sure that the dreaded SAS strike force of Suarez and Sturridge received enough supply from the midfield. Thanks to their team-work, all three of them were nominated for the prestigious Professional Footballers` Association`s (PFA) Player of the Year award, which was eventually won by Suarez. The 27-year-old was also adjudged the England`s Footballer of the Year by the Football Writers` Association (FWA), thus completing a sort of personal redemption.
Promoting this free-flowing and free-scoring philosophy is Brendan Rodgers. He broke the shackles at Anfield by adopting a fearless brand of football, which many have conceded as a game-changer in England. When he was hired to replace club legend Kenny Dalglish at the helm, at the start of 2012-13 season, the Reds were suffering from the bouts within, on and off the field, and were visibly weighed down by the club`s illustrious history.
The season before his arrival, Liverpool had scored only 47 goals. But in the next two seasons, they scored 71 and 101 respectively. Another important aspect in Liverpool`s new found confidence is their ability to score early goals, irrespective of the venue and opposition. They have scored an astounding 59 first half goals in 2013-14, more than any other team.
In these couple of years, Liverpool have also seen the emergence of title hungry players like Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho, Simon Mignolet, Jordan Henderson and Lucas Leiva. Guiding them in this pursuit are the experienced players like Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and of course Gerrard. All them contributed to the re-birth of Liverpool as one of England`s top clubs.
Come 2014-15 season, with a stable squad and possible re-enforcements, they are sure to win trophies. And that`s what Rodgers promised when he said, “the good times are coming back.”