We have been asking for fans opinions on the 2009-10 season and will be publishing a selection of the best articles every day this week. In our first fan review, ayrton77 puts his analysis of the season gone by.
It’s hard to know where to begin, as prior to the season even starting, big changes were going on with the departure of several important players: Alonso, Arbeloa and Hyypia. With Rafa given no transfer budget, his hand was forced somewhat in which signings he could make. Rafa had to consolidate those positions, and whilst much has been talked about in their replacements, the choices made tell a large part of the story for me.
Aquilani for Alonso: an injured Italian was a risk on Benitez’s part, but I feel it was one well made. Despite grumbling from the fans, Rafa was quick to calm them with the famous line about signing Alberto for 5 years, not for one. Rafa knew he was getting a potentially world class player on the cheap, with low installments to pay for him add-ons, which would help pass the deal with Hicks and Gillett I’m sure. Despite arguing about the cause of Xabi’s departure, I for one fell that whether or not BarryGate had taken place, he would have still left us for Real Madrid, the calling was too strong to resist.
Johnson for Arbeloa: was the price right? Rafa was keen to add English talent to the squad, and we know that comes at a cost. However, Johnson, whilst costing up to £17 million, was another discount deal due to prior monies owed. Whilst his price was effectively £17 million, much less had to be advanced. The end total was the same, but again I feel that the simple fact we had to outlay less money in the summer was a helping factor in the deal.
Kyrgiakos for Hyypia: the Greek was cheap, an after an initial tricky start has become a cult hero with the Kop. Good deal, a solid back-up.
Pre-season wasn’t easy for the Reds, did Alonso leaving affect morale? A long tour around the world was good for raising money, but the varying results and inability to find any real shape must not have helped things.
The season as a whole was a massive let-down, especially after last season’s heroics. We never got into gear, and a seemingly never-ending injury list meant the team was changing week-in, week-out. Much has been said about rotation in the past, but this was a nightmare forced onto Rafa, with players constantly out of position, with at one stage almost our entire first choice XI missing at once.
Poor results, despite a good win over Man Utd, and a defence leaking goals even with the ever-reliant Reina behind them was to prove crucial in a rapid end to our title hopes and a quick elimination from the Champion’s League. Players looked jaded, fans gutted, and the press reveling in our fall from grace.
Early 2010 had me believing that we had perhaps turned a corner, and whilst the title was already too far gone, a Champion’s League spot looked easily achievable, maybe even third. The Reds, despite ongoing injuries, had a settled defence with Kyrgiakos in the centre and Carragher putting in a solid shift at right back. We were getting the basics right, nothing extravagent, but an almost impenetratable back line and the odd goal. As it turned out, it was just a decent patch in the middle of a forgettable season.
Gerrard in particular had a difficult season. I don’t feel that all that happened off the pitch was enough to fully excuse it however. PEvery player has poor form, tough matches, but too many times I saw our Captain not giving his all – far from it – and this was a massive disappointment. I hope he will return next season with more fight. He cannot carry the club, I appreciate it, but he has set his own standards of quality and a defiant mentality, and I don’t think he has the right to throw in the towel on the field.
But he wasn’t the only Red to suffer poor form. Insua failed to build on the promise he showed in 2008/09, regularly being caught out of position and showing a distinct lack of pace and awareness. Kuyt, who scored many key goals and provided assists the season before, was a shadow of himself, and too often a burden for his team mates.
In central defence, Jamie Carragher had another tough year. Not the rock the team could rely on that he once was, he will have a lot to prove to himself and the manager if he wants to be a sure starter for the Reds. David N’Gog showed some promise, but also a great deal of inexperience when called upon. Not surprising for a £1.5 million youngster of course, but just not good enough – yet – to be filling in for the awesome Torres.
The central midfield partnership of Mascherano and Lucas was the fuel of many a debate, and divided many fans who are normally particularly unified. My verdict is that Lucas will never be as effective as Mascherano as a destroyer, nor can he display the range of passing of Alonso or Gerrard. This is clearly not his fault, but I do feel Rafa’s biggest mistake was not moving Gerrard back into the heart of midfield sooner in the season, as Lucas, for me, should remain first choice substitute rather than starter.
Too many average displays from our wide men proved that a choice must be made of who stays and who leaves between Babel, Riera, Benayoun and Maxi. Not enough consistency from any of them, or enough quality to nail down a spot in the side. As for El Zhar, enough is enough, and he should leave in the summer, joined by the excellent Aurelio, who sadly cannot be relied upon to stay fit.
Were there any positives? Reina had a mammoth season, a rock on the field and an inspiration in the dressing room and press. Torres showed that if he can stay fit he is still the best striker on the planet, a lethal goal scoring machine with a love of our club. Kyrgiakos and, to a lesser extent perhaps, Maxi Rodriguez showed that Rafa can still find bargains in the transfer market. At times, Aquilani’s link up play with our stike force proved that we can play football with the very best in the world – injuries aside.
So whilst the lows outweigh the highs, and a feeling of terrible deception predominant, I remain convinced that this was not the true Liverpool. Next season is unpredictable, however. With the ownership saga still looming over us and transfer periods a moment of horrible doubt right now, I can’t begin to think what might happen.
Time will tell, the worst case scenario being next season a replica of this one, as the squad needs bulking out with quality. However, it is not unthinkable that the club change hands, and with Rafa now in full control of the Academy we begin to see top English youth players filling it. I remain, as ever, optimistic, not out of duty or to put on a brave face, but simply because I believe with people who love this club in Rafa and Kenny Dalglish at the top, we will turn the corner and come back stronger.