17 May 2010

Is the future bright? Is there a future?

In lieu of further complaining, further rehashing of all Liverpool's faults this season, I've been looking for positives. Looking for the silver linings that might make this abomination of a season worth experiencing.

You don't need me to review how this season went wrong. Liverpool, assuming they'd challenge for the title, started poorly, to put it nicely. Alonso's exit still can't be overemphasized. Defensive ineptitude, partly due to injuries and partly due to an imbalance from more attacking fullbacks, saw Liverpool lose to the likes of Spurs and Villa, damning Championship chances in August. The team tottered from disappointment to disappointment, with an unsettled line-up and confidence in the toilet, exiting the Champions League at the group stage for the first time under Benitez. Away form never improved, injuries never eased. The squad was too thin, with too few world-beaters, and with the world-beaters often injured or jaded. It never got better. It might still get worse. Hence, my attempt to focus on a few positives, as if it could improve next season.

Unfortunately, those silver linings are few and far between.

Some players didn't disappoint:
Only a few. Reina, Torres, Mascherano, and Kyrgiakos, really.

Reina arguably had his best season in a Liverpool shirt, again winning the Golden Gloves despite frequent defensive incompetence. You think seventh was bad? Without Reina, Liverpool wouldn't have qualified for Europe. That's not hyperbole. Pepe proved why he's one of two players I wouldn't trade for any other in their position.

And here's the other. When Torres was on the pitch, he was a star this season, scoring 18 goals in 22 league matches. He was the only player – no exaggeration – who struck consistently this season. The. Only. Player. Unfortunately, his frequent injuries were in line with this season's luck.

Importantly, Kyrgiakos was excellent value for money, something we haven't been able to say about many signings in that last two years. Liverpool had to replace the irreplaceable Sami Hyypia with pocket change and somehow pulled it off. Kyrgiakos isn't and won't be the big Finn, and made mistakes this season – including a crucial one to let Lyon sneak the draw that sent Liverpool out of the CL – but his height and ferociousness came in handy more often than he hurt the side.

Finally, Mascherano may have disappointed early in the season, with his head turned by Barcelona (get used to that) and Argentina struggling to qualify for the World Cup. He certainly wasn't the only one, and by the winter, he was back to being the monster, putting in his usual terrifying performances. I think it became fairly clear he missed Alonso's presence more than anyone in the side, save possibly Stevie.

Yes, there actually were a few good games:
And when there were good games, they came one of two ways: a dominating Liverpool performance, which really were few and far between, or a resilient, 'we're not going to lose' match.

The first category saw results like 4-0 Benfica, 3-0 Lille, 4-1 Pompey, 3-0 Sunderland, 4-0 Stoke, 4-0 Burnley (twice) and 6-1 Hull. Most of those games were rightful dismissals of substandard sides. But at least Liverpool were able to put bus-parkers to the sword at Anfield, which was what cost the team the title in 2008-09. And against the likes of Benfica, Lille, Pompey, and Sunderland, we saw what Liverpool could do with a full squad. Pity you could count the games on one hand.

The second saw the majority of "false dawns" – 2-0 United, 2-0 Spurs, 2-0 Everton, 1-0 Everton, and 1-0 Villa. These were the games Liverpool won by being Liverpool: grinding out results despite a weakened line-up or stronger opposition. This was the Liverpool that came second in the league the season before. This was the Liverpool Benitez has built: a team that refused to lose, and would eke out needed wins when backs were against the wall. Again, pity you could count the games on one hand. This is what we needed to see more of. This is the Liverpool we're accustomed to. Showing this belief and self-confidence in more than five games next season might be helpful.

The future is young, the future could be bright:
For the first time in a long time, we're juiced about prospects in the Under-18s and reserves.

In the senior side, young players such as Lucas, Insua, and Ngog – all under 23 – saw a lot of pitch time, which will benefit the team next season. I know all three have their detractors, and all three disappointed at times. But age is a valid excuse, and the trials of this season will strengthen all three for the subsequent campaign. Baptism by fire often works.

Then there are the players we just got glimpses of: Ayala, Pacheco, Kelly, Robinson. All four displayed potential – even Robinson in his sole cameo – and all four will see more time next season. Under them are the stars of the reserves and Academy, who we get tantalizing reports on: Amoo, Duran, Dalla Valle, Gulasci, Ince, Ngoo, Tony Silva, Sokolik, Wisdom, and Sterling. I've written about Benitez reestablishing the assembly line before, but I've honestly never been this excited about youngsters. Bringing in Borrell and others from Barca's Academy only heightens the expectations. There assuredly will be players that make the breakthrough from this group.

And the signing of Raheem Sterling also bodes well in another area. Sterling, Shelvey, and supposedly Danny Wilson herald a new era in Liverpool signing British youngsters. The new UEFA and Premier League quotas have partly forced this trend, but its still heartening. Liverpool needs an English core, and in regards to Danny Wilson, the club's never won the title without a Scot in the squad.

The owners want out:
This, obviously, could be the biggest development, and will probably be the summer's biggest talking point (outside of how all Liverpool's star players want to jump off the sinking ship, at least according to Soccernet).

I will continue to maintain the Chuckle Brothers were the root cause of every turmoil faced this season. It all comes back to squad depth, funds, and morale. Hicks and Gillett cold-bloodedly murdered all three.

They're still here, and we've seen few offers mooted since putting the club up for sale. Gossip still pervades the Anfield atmosphere, and we'll be hearing about possible player departures all summer long, at least until Stadler and Waldorf sell up. The uncertainty isn't going away until they do.

But putting the club up for sale is a step in the right direction. They've at least come to terms with their failure. Getting them out is another matter entirely, but at least we're crawling in the correct direction.

Liverpool survived:
Your mother was right. It can always get worse, and the ways it can get worse are readily apparent. Most of them pertain to off-the-pitch problems.

But if Liverpool can get through a season like this and still qualify for Europe – hell, could have qualified for the Champions League without choking against Wigan, Fulham, and Hull in the last six weeks – who knows what could happen with one or two signings, players staying fit, and a better start.

Stranger things have happened. The Sword of Damocles still hasn't fallen.


CSD said...

I think a phoenix will rise from the ashes but, unfortunately, I don't think the fire is out yet.

Soccer Guru said...

Liverpool must do a lot of changes if they want to win some silverware. It's not just the owners that has to go but also Benitez because they need change.

Shaun Loh said...

I was particularly impressed by Lucas this season. If he was English, he would be hyped up instead of being made fun of.

Ayala looks like a very young odd looking Sami Hyypia. Good in the air, and calm with the ball.

We just have to get rid of the American clowns.