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 third fans review, Joey Burns puts his analysis of the season gone by, beginning with the ridiculous pre-season.
This campaign has certainly been an anti-climax in comparison with the expectations following our fantastic performance last season.
I’ll start with the summer. Outgoing transfers looked to be leaving our squad a little thin, with Alonso, Arbeloa and Hyypia all moving on to pastures new. Your team is always going to be worse off if a player like Alonso is leaving, there is no denying that, but it was clear he was keen to move on.
Arbeloa never really put a foot wrong, in a similar manner to Steve Finnan when he left, but was nearing the end of his contract so a move was probably on the cards.
And Sami Hyypia? An absolute legend at our club. I was very sad to see him leave but he has given us many years of fantastic football. I can’t wait to see him back at our club in one role or another.
Transfers in looked quite exciting. Aquilani, although injured, was a player that a lot of fans were excited to see in a Liverpool shirt. And a point that Rafa was keen to make. He was a signing for the next 5 years, not the next 5 weeks. This is something that a lot of people, including a lot of media based writers, have consistently failed to acknowledge whilst pointing him out as a flop this season.
Johnson, I feel, was a very good signing. We were expressing our need for another attacking outlet and full backs such as Dani Alves were the players that sprang to immediate thought. He has shown that he offers some fantastic runs down the right flank and I feel he is a player who will get better progressively under Benitez. With regards to his transfer fee, I feel he was overpriced, yet I personally feel that it had a lot to do with the moneys owed to us from the Crouch deal and looking at it after recent proceedings with regards to Portsmouth’s finances, it was a shrewd deal.
The Kyrgiakos signing was one that admittedly even I turned my nose up at initially, but he has turned out to be a fantastic bargain and has provided excellent cover at the back.
That said, a £1.5m deal last minute in the transfer window spoke volumes about how much Benitez was handed to recruit new players. Especially given he had raised £30m with the sale of Alonso. Where did the rest of the money disappear to?
Pre-season results were pretty mediocre. Although the summer before didn’t offer much in terms of fantastic results so I didn’t take too much from them. Unknown to us all, it was to continue. This season offered nothing but injuries, bad luck, more injuries and more bad luck. I cannot remember a season in recent years where we have so consistently seemed to have turned the corner, only to see us fall from grace once again, in all competitions. Knocked out of the Carling Cup in October, yet again, by Arsenal, and a disappointingly early exit from the Champion’s League, even after a glimmer of a revival, left us all feeling very demoralising given the standards we have come to expect in recent seasons.
A low league position going in to 2010 echoed Arsenal’s poor first half of the season the campaign before, yet it wasn’t to be a similar revival. Despite wins scattered here and there, and a fantastic bargain bin find in Maxi Rodriguez, the bad form has been a continuous presence throughout. An FA Cup draw against Reading lead to a shocking display in the replay to see us out of the cup early on. And the Europa League cameo ended at the final hurdle with us missing out by an away goal whisker. This season as been an absolute write off and there isn’t much you can do to cover up the fact that we have lost 19 games this season in all competitions.
I feel that our downfalls can be pinpointed in a couple of areas. Our away form has been consistently terrible, especially for a team who chased the title until the last few games last season. Injuries have deprived us of a decent run of form for many of our key players. As a result of the injuries, a huge weakness in our squad as a whole has been embarrassingly revealed with a vast number of our fringe players lacking in the experience needed to carry a team such as ourselves throughout a full campaign.
I’ll start with the low points. Exiting every competition early and falling at the final hurdle in the Europa League in extremely unlucky circumstances. Injuries to key players throughout. Bad luck and of course, beach balls.
The highlights were few and far between but you have got to include the win at home against United. The performance that day was phenomenal, from every single player. It was just a massive shame we couldn’t turn the corner and lodge a vast run of victories that would have seen us much better off come the end of the season.
The blame game?
It is hard at the end of such a disappointing season to take individuals out and lay some blame. People have spoken about the Lucas-Mascherano pairing throughout this season and how it has affected us. I would certainly point out that it worked quite well against United in our 4-1 win at Old Trafford, and across a number of other fixtures. But when you lose Xabi Alonso and bring in Aquilani, who has been lacking in fitness throughout the campaign, I would have to ask who you would put in one of their places? You could say Gerrard, but who in their right mind would break up the fantastic Torres-Gerrard partnership without either a direct replacement for Gerrard’s position or another capable striker to play up front alongside Torres, if we were to change formation?
A number of Reds suffered a shocking run of form throughout the campaign. Insua failed to deliver on the massive promise he had shown the season before. Carragher has shown that his age may finally be catching up with him with his form taking a couple of dips this year. Kuyt still ran himself in to the ground but did not provide the goals that he has been consistently known for. Many of our fringe players such as N’Gog, Degen, and El Zhar showed that more experience is required from our substitute players. Aquilani’s fitness levels never really picked up until the end and Torres fell victim to a terrible run of injury woes. A lot was also made of Gerrard’s form this season. Stevie has carried us a long way for many years now and has set his own standard. No-one, other than Reina, has performed particularly well at all throughout the campaign and to pin the blame solely on any one individual, including Gerrard, would be vastly unfair.
With regards to our manager, a much debated topic this season, I certainly feel that he has done as much as any manager could have this season given the circumstances. When you see that all of our signings in the summer were equalled with sales of players in exactly the same positions, there is no denying that Benitez has had to sell to buy. You could point out the fact that we needed more players, especially on the wings and up front. You would be foolish to think that Rafa didn’t acknowledge this and that he simply ignored it.
With regards to Rafa’s flaws this term, and he does have his flaws, people have pointed to a variety of factors. Selling Xabi Alonso, a player who seemed to be on his way, regardless of whether Rafa made him feel wanted when he was taking measurements for Gareth Barry’s Liverpool shirt. Yes, Alonso was a fantastic player but a season of such massive disappointment cannot be down to one player’s absence. We were far from a one man team last season and the players we had this year are certainly not light-years away from the squad we had last term.
With regards to our transfer activity as a whole across the summer and January transfer windows, it is blatantly obvious that the money was not there at our disposal. If there was, or more money that Benitez raised in player sales had been made available, then I am sure we would have seen a striker and a winger brought in. But the priority was to cover those positions where we had lost players.
People also pointed out Rafa’s tactics and substitutions. Yes, Rafa’s changes have definitely been questionable this season. Some matches required a bit more flair off the bench rather than some of the straight swaps we have witnessed, and sometimes key players were withdrew much too early with a game still left to win. However you have to look at the circumstances for each decision. More often than not, we have been stifled by injuries and have been lacking in quality in the squad. In terms of our formation, I feel that a change may have been beneficial. But hindsight is a massive advantage in football. If someone was to suggest a change of formation at the beginning of this campaign, especially given that we hadn’t brought in another striker, their sanity would have been questioned. And the players we have had at our disposal simply did not justify a complete change from last season’s approach.
As for the coming months, it is going to be very interesting. Our owners have set the wheels in motion for selling the club and brought in Martin Broughton to oversee this sale, who seems to be making the right noises. We have been assured we do not need to sell our key players to fund signings. I will certainly not hold my breath on that one. The squad needs seriously bulking out and I cannot see any money being provided out of the owners, or the clubs pockets.
Hopefully next season we will be able to look back on this campaign for what we all desperately hope it was; a massive blip on the road to us dominating English football once again.