With all the talk this week of Arsenal playing Barcelona and how they are the two ultimate footballing teams on the planet, I felt (perhaps in the interests of reassuring Liverpool fans) it was a good time to look back on some of our own great footballing sides. There’s an absolute plethora to choose from but these are what I would consider my top 5.
5. 2000-2001 - Say what you will about Gerard Houllier but he gave us one of our greatest ever 12 months. During that time, we witnessed 3 of our most historical cup wins and some fantastic matches. Despite scoring 127 goals during this season, there will be some amongst you who will argue that the style of football played under Houllier wasn’t good enough to warrant a place on this list. Well, I’m sorry but you’re fools; any style of football that leads to 127 goals worth of enjoyment in one season is a type of football I will happily watch every week. Just to put it in perspective: we’re unlikely to reach even half that this season.
Playing a primarily defensive style of football, Gerard Houllier taught his charges to master the art of the counter-attack and for a whole 12 months we made it look like just that: an art form. Just look at the FA Cup final against Arsenal for an example of that – 1 nil down and being completely outplayed. A couple of quick breaks later (albeit one of them only leading to a corner which the goal was scored from) and we had won the FA Cup. It was for moments like this that the 2000-2001 team makes the list at no.5: Westerveld, Babbel, Carragher, Hyypia, Henchoz, Hamann, Gerrard, Murphy, McCallister, Owen, and Heskey.
4. 1977-1978 – Winning the European Cup for the second time (and second season running) put Liverpool on the map as the best team in Europe, and by some margin. With Keegan leaving Liverpool at the end of the ’77 season, Liverpool replaced him with the future greatest Liverpool player, Kenny Dalglish. The club also brought in two fellow Scots in Alan Hansen and Graeme Souness; both would go on to strengthen the Red’s starting line-up no end and go on to make legends of themselves. Liverpool only managed to finish 2nd that season but despite a boring Final, they went on to make history on their home turf. Clemence, Hughes, Kennedy, Hansen, Thompson, Neal, McDermott, Case, Souness, Dalglish, and Fairclough would go on to contest the final against Club Brugge at Wembley, with Kenny scoring the winner.
3. 2008-2009 – The only side on this list that didn’t win a single trophy. So to some, this will represent the most questionable choice. But as I’m concerned with the actual style of the sides, I feel the place is well warranted for Rafa Benitez’s best team. Finishing the season in 2nd place, with 86 points was a remarkable achievement. In any other season, this would have been Liverpool’s 19th league title but as it was, Manchester United had had a far superior start, while Liverpool had stuttered at the start and just after Christmas. It was, nonetheless, a great season to be a Red. We witnessed some of Liverpool’s greatest wins (4:0 win over Real Madrid; 4:1 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford and beating Aston Villa 5:0).
Much like Gerard Houllier’s side, Rafa’s Reds played a very much-maligned style of play (especially the zonal marking) and were often described as boring and defensive. The reality of course, was much different; during that season alone, Liverpool scored 101 goals in 53 games. Similar to Benitez’s old Valencia side, Liverpool were a ‘killing machine’ in every respect; our 10 outfield players strangling the life out of the opposition, with Torres defending from the front (remember when he used to do that?) and the likes of Alonso, Riera and Gerrard all offering us a different option going forward. His was very much an attacking, entertaining Liverpool side, offering solidity, teamwork, flair and technique all in the same package. If they had just managed a few more points to claim the Premier League, they would be roundly hailed as one of the great side of the last 25 years. The most-used 11 that season were: Reina, Arbeloa, Aurelio, Carragher, Skrtel/Agger, Gerrard, Alonso, Mascherano, Riera, Kuyt, and Torres.
2. 1983-1984 – One of many great Liverpool sides of the 1980’s; it held within it the beginnings of (and provided the backbone of) our greatest ever side. Not surprising, considering this was perhaps our most successful single season in terms of a trophy haul. A League, League Cup and European Cup were claimed in a style that had become familiar to Liverpool fans by that point. After beating Forest, Southampton and United to the title, by three points, the Reds went on to Rome for a second time to take on the Romans. After a tight game, Bruce Grobbelaar went on to make his name with his ‘jelly-leg’ antics, effectively putting off the Roma players and winning the shootout for Liverpool. By the end of the season, Liverpool would lose one of their greatest players in Souness and by the end of the decade, other fellow greats such as Kennedy, Thompson, Lee and Neal will have retired, leaving it open for Kenny Dalglish to create Liverpool’s greatest ever side using the 83-84 treble-winners as the spine. That side included: Grobbelaar, Kennedy, Thompson, Neal, Hansen, Nicol, Whelan, Lee, Souness, Dalglish, and Rush.
1. 1987-1988 – Without doubt, Liverpool’s greatest ever side. Winning only the Division 1 title during this season, the Red’s made it look easy, winning the league by 9 points, with a staggering 41 point goal difference (to nearest rivals Aston Villa’s 19). Dalglish’s Liverpool side played some of the most expansive, attacking football of any side in memory, let alone any Liverpool team. With an attacking quartet of Beardsley, Barnes, Dalglish, Aldridge, backed up by the immaculate Molby and the steely Steve McMahon, this side was a joy to watch. Aldridge finished top scorer that season with 29 overall, with the rest of the team chipping in their fair share. The only mark against them is that they never got the chance to be tested in Europe. Had events turned out differently, this Liverpool side may well have gone to win our 5th, 6th, 7th and who knows how many more European Cups. Grobbelaar, Nicol, Hansen, Lawrenson, McMahon, Molby, Whelan, Beardsley, Barnes, Dalglish, Aldridge were the best 11 from that season.
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