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Why the Surprise? We’ve Been a Cup Team For the Last 20 Years

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THE 2011/12 season has brought mixed fortunes for Liverpool Football Club and its iconic manager Kenny Dalglish.

After rescuing the club from the desperate days of the Hodgson era, and restoring it to a more familiar spot in the top half of the table by the end of the last campaign, Dalglish has presided over a stuttering assault on the Premier League this term.

The league results since the turn of the year have not been good, and whilst for the most part performances had been impressive and Liverpool have, undoubtedly, not picked up the points that they have deserved this season, even the level of performance has dropped off worryingly of late. Things can turn around very quickly in football, and a few back to back league wins would go a long way to breathing the confidence back into the players and fans of the Anfield club, but at the moment, league victories are proving hard to come by.

The light at the end of the tunnel for Liverpool fans this season, has come in the form of the domestic cup competitions. After narrowly missing out on European qualification at the end of the 2010/11 season, Dalglish’s charges were left only competing on three fronts this year: the Premier League, the Carling Cup and, the world famous F.A. Cup. The league form has been less than convincing, especially recently-as mentioned above, however, the Reds have already secured a trophy in their cabinet this season, with the capture of the Carling Cup, and they travel to Wembley on Saturday for an F.A. Cup semi-final showdown with, local rivals, Everton.

Victory in the Carling Cup final, at the end of February against Cardiff, didn’t come easily. A penalty shoot-out success after a hard fought game, in which the Championship side gave at least as good as they got, has led many to further undermine the accomplishment of lifting, what is already seen by many as, an unimportant trophy. However the victories that got Liverpool to the Wembley final, away at Stoke, away at Chelsea, and away at Manchester City-City’s first home defeat of the season at that point, cannot be trivialised so easily.

Likewise, in the F.A. Cup, whilst the draw has been slightly kinder-with all the ties being at Anfield, Liverpool have knocked-out Manchester United, Stoke City again, and destroyed Championship high fliers Brighton 6-1. The two F.A Cup wins against Premier League clubs, and the Carling Cup victories over Stoke and Manchester City, are all better results than Liverpool managed in the corresponding league fixtures, in which they picked up just two points from a possible twelve. This has prompted many in the media, including former players such as John Aldridge and John Barnes to label Liverpool, in their current incarnation, a “cup team”. A fair comment in the current situation you might think, but hasn’t this actually been the case for over a decade? Or, in actual fact, hasn’t it been the case since Kenny delivered our last league title some 22 years ago?

Since 1989/90, the year Liverpool last lifted a league title-the 1st Division as it was then, the Reds have been triumphant in cup competitions on eleven occasions, not counting the Charity/Community Shield. That’s more cup silverware than any other team in England, and the competitions range from, the League Cup and the F.A. Cup, to the UEFA Cup and the Champions’ League; in fact the only boss at Anfield not to lift a trophy of some description during his tenure was, the hapless, Roy Hodgson. While some might say that he was not given enough time, my personal opinion is that 100 years of Roy would never have brought him, or Liverpool, joy.
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It is significant to note that cup success, when it has been achieved, has usually come as a pre-cursor to more focused and effective league campaigns. Although ultimate success has never been achieved in the Premier League era, Liverpool have come close. Gerard Houllier’s UEFA, League, and F.A. Cup treble in 2001, was followed up by his most successful Premier League campaign, finishing second just seven points behind Arsenal, and three points clear of Manchester United. Likewise Roy Evans’ League Cup winning side of 94/95 went on to record their best ever league finish the next season, finishing third, and also making it to the F.A. Cup final, only to lose to Manchester United. Equally, Rafa Benitez’s side garnered Liverpool’s highest league points total (82) since 1987/88, in the season following the Reds’ miraculous Champions League victory over AC Milan. Although the Spaniard would eventually guide Liverpool to second in the Premier League with a tally of 86 points, this would come four seasons later.

As to why Liverpool have had so much cup success whilst failing to re-capture a single League Winners Medal for any of their players of the last generation, here are a couple of suggestions. Inconsistency, or more precisely, failure to beat the so called “lesser” teams, has cost Liverpool dearly in the Premier League era; whereby the Liverpool sides of the 70’s and 80’s could go to tricky away venues and grind out results week in week out, whilst rolling over all-comers at Anfield, more recent Liverpool sides haven’t been able to do so effectively. It’s easy to get up for big games, and play well against your biggest rivals; likewise it’s easier to get up for a knock-out cup tie, with its instant reward, rather than the long-haul of the league season. However, the Premier League is won by making sure of victory, and playing with the same intensity in every game no matter who the opponents, dropping points all too often in games that you should have won, is ultimately not going to bring about success.

The Anfield crowd must also, I believe, shoulder some of the blame. How many times have we heard commentators rattle on about those “special European nights at Anfield”, or witnessed for ourselves the fantastic atmospheres inside the ground (against United in the FA Cup this year, for example)? Yet how often can that be said of a home fixture against Wolves, or Wigan for example? It’s all very well lambasting the players for only being up for the big games, but the crowd have a responsibility not to discriminate either.

LFC are cup specialists – they’re showing that again this season. That doesn’t mean that they are just a cup team that can never again win the league, however, it does indicate that the team are not ready to challenge for the title yet, whilst also proving that they are incredibly hard to beat in a one-off, or two legged cup tie, where the winner takes all. As alluded to above, successive Liverpool managers, from Souness through to Hodgson have been unable to assemble a team, good enough, consistent enough or ruthless enough, to win a league title. All bar Hodgson have achieved cup success, and all of those have used cup glory to improve their squads and challenge more seriously for the title, and, although some have come close, none have yet claimed the highest prize. With the League Cup already in the bag, and another Wembley date already booked, can the man who last delivered ultimate glory to the Red half of Merseyside, eventually go one better than his predecessors?

You can also follow Neil on Twitter @Neil1980 or on his blog http://itsallinthegameblog.wordpress.com/

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  • RedRoy says:

    Yes, winning things is what liverpool used to do, and often. They still managed to do well in the league too, pity those days seem so far away.

  • red.red says:

    we are a cup team thats why we call for UEFA if we not it its a serious problem

  • Chan says:

    LFC a cup team? Then how did we manage to have 18 league titles? The rootcause is deeper but the ultimate reason for our failure to lift a league Championship for more than 20 years is our tedency to appoint managers based more on emotions rather that their actual ablity to deliver in the league. Its no coincidence that Houllier and Rafa, 2 of our most successfull managers in the league for 20 years are not part of thye so called “Bootroom Boys”. We must appopint managers with ability that is relevant at the material time.

    KD second comings is a classic example of our folly. His last managerial job prior to his current job was more that 10 years ago and he last won the league with Blackburn was in 1995, which almost bankrupted them. In between he also been a failure at Celtic. And yet his fans (not to be confused with LFC fans) saw it fit to influence our owners to appoint him on a permanent basis. He was a good choice as an interim appointment after Hodgson but not on a long term basis.

    KD’s player purchase, tactics, man management had proved what some of us had knew all along but hope we would be proven wrong, he is grossly out of touch with the modern game and a has been. Give him another 100 mill/season and another 100 years and we would still nearer to teams at the bottom than at the top.

    Yet a vocal handfull still thinks he is the man for the job but can offer no concrete reason why LFC should keep him beyond this season.

    Past managers like the great Shanks, Paisley built our great club not based on emotions but solid vision, strategy and team spirit, which is sorely lacking in the present team. KD had obviuosly learned very little from them.

    WE are not a cup team but if we based our desicions based on emotions and persist with failures like KD (no matter how great he was as a player) we would not only remain a cup team but also a mid table team or worse relegation battlers like Wigan.

    Its time we look at ourselves and see why our most successfull spell in the league in recent times was under managers who was not even born in the U.K.

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