I’ve never known a season like it. I’ve seen the highs and the lows. Watched Liverpool play like champions and like chumps. But never both at the same time. Well, except maybe the 95/96 season but that was mostly in the FA Cup final! In fact it’s been a season of ‘never befores’…
I’ve never before seen supporters of a football team become so obsessed with the tiniest accounting details and the minutiae of international business finance. I’ve never before seen such a show of support for a beleaguered manager like I did before the tottenham game. I’ve never before seen such a clear 50/50 split between fans over the manager. I’ve never seen a Liverpool team be so strong at home and yet inept away. I’ve never seen our defence so fragile and nervous in the last 10 minutes of matches. And I’ve never thought I’d see a beachball score against us… well, not since Micky Quinn retired.
Injuries, slips, disallowed goals, backpasses, inept refereeing, it’s like lady luck sent us a late tax return for Istanbul. This season has had more ups and downs than John Terry’s underpants, and I feel a little exhausted just thinking about it! For the first time I’m looking forward to the World Cup because I need the break from all the excitement! So, having said that it’s been a season of ‘never befores’ I think we can put it behind us and swear ‘never again’!
And on to next season… with maybe a couple of world champions in our squad. That’s if everyone hasn’t been sold to pay off debts and buy a few lampshades. But actually, despite all the doom and gloom, I’m pretty optimistic for the future. Why? Well, although there are clearly major issues behind the scenes at the club, I don’t see too many reasons why they should affect us on the playing field. As long as the playing staff is settled by late july, when we play our first competitive game, then I would argue that wholesale change is NOT needed at Anfield.There are reasons to be cheerful. It’s pretty much agreed that our first XI is as strong as any other in the premier league, generally it’s would be a combination of these players:
Now, given a bit of luck and no injuries, I would suggest that this core team needs no alteration. 11 fantastic players can be picked from it all of whom have, in one way or another, justified their inclusion.While we might argue over players like Kuyt, Lucas, Aquilani and Insua, in my opinion, they’ve shown enough consistency and application to be worth keeping hold of or, in the case of Aquilani, show enough potential. Other players who have appeared regularly on the fringes of the first team are Ngog, Aurelio, Kyrgiakos, Babel, Degen and El Zhar. Eggnog has had an odd season. Inexperienced, he has had an awful lot of responsibility and has been inconsistent. However, his goals scored for a young player have measured up well with his rivals from other clubs and this season will have taught him a lot. This makes him worth keeping. Hercules endured a tough start but has quickly shown that he will leave bits of himself on the field for us, and that is worth more than money in my book. Another to keep.
And then we come to Ryan Babel. The enigma. There’s no point retreading old ground on his obvious talents however toward the end of last season he showed a hunger to work hard that I hadn’t seen from him before. Should he be able to keep that up and find a bit of form he will be some player. It’s a gamble, but there’s more to lose by selling him. Phillipp Degen has also had a difficult start, however his attacking intentions are strong and with an injury free pre-season he could provide cover for Johnson. Any price he would reach would not pay for a decent replacement. However, should money be available, there are many better players. Fabio Aurelio is undoubtedly a good player, but his injury record is poor. Like Degen should another option become available it would be sad to see him go, but understandable. And finally El Zhar. Despite showing promise, El Zhar simply does not affect the outcome of games enough. He is undoubtedly a talented player but, for us, expendable.
Other young players have appeared. The likes of Pacheco, Spearing, Ayala and Robinson and there are signs that some of these (and maybe others like Ince, Amoo, Nemeth, Dalla Valle, Shelvey, Darby and Kelly) can make an impact next year. Room in the squad must exist for these players to get their chances. We need cover for each position, but not so much cover that it stifles their progress. With Riera, Dossena and Voronin gone we really need to replace these guys… But beyond that I don’t see major surgery being required. Jovanovic will hopefully provide solid cover for Torres and what funds that ARE available should really go on the purchase of a quality addition to the wings and to the defence. Perhaps the acquisition of Danny Wilson may prove valuable. All this without a penny being spent on transfers.
From this point it’s about priorities. Firstly replace Riera. I would suggest Joe Cole. Then, if funds are available, replace El Zhar. I would go for Turan. Then address the injury prone defenders in Degen and Aurelio. If they can prove fitness then great, but if not then what funds remain should be spent improving those positions. Then another top quality striker. Of course, if a buyer is found and silly money made available for fantasy players, then we could talk for hours about who we should buy and need replace no-one! However, I think any new player is a gamble and I believe that, after the last season, the current players and the manager have much to prove. In my experience that makes them better. After coming second the year before we were all guity of taking our feet off the pedal and our eye off the ball. We all just expected to challenge and before we knew it the wheels fell off.
So, more important than any transfer is an improved attitude. A fighting spirit and a willingness to give everything for 3 points. And occasionally throw caution to the wind. Benitez is a cautious man. This has cost us in the past, it cost us in Athens and it cost us this season. It transferred to the team and they became ultracautious. Stevie’s backpass, the nervous last minutes where we conceded so many goals, the unwillingness to get forward away from home. However he, like the rest of the team, deserves the chance to put it right. Caution is important, but so is knowing when to abandon it.
It’s time for Benitez and his boys to man up and make up for their mistakes.
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