Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Season in Retrospect

It has certainly been a season of non stop interest and kudos should go to Benitez once again for maintaining interest until almost the very end of the season. Highlights were the victories over Inter Milan and Arsenal in the later stages of the Champions League and the earlier thrashings of Porto (4-1), Marseilles (4-0) and Besiktas (8-0). Even the semi-final loss to Chelsea was in no way shameful. The team was unlucky to concede at home in the 95th minute and, after that, they were always chasing the game at Stamford Bridge. Going down 3-2 at Chelsea was disappointing, but provided the neutral fan with some great football and some great goals. If the team didn't seem quite so tight at the back as in previous seasons, this was compensated for by some marvellous attacking displays. Of course, new boy, Fernando Torres was the star with 32 goals, but Rafa's other new signings did a good job too. Babel, is clearly a diamond in the rough and can only get better, while the wiles of Yossi Benayoun also frequently bamboozled the opposition. Both players, very creditably, scored 10 goals each in all competitions. Vorronin, another new boy, was less successful but he was frequently injured and did show the odd flash of quality from time to time. Skrtel settled in quickly and put in some mature defensive displays against the best teams in Europe in the latter part of the season.

The Liverpool old guard enjoyed mixed fortunes this season. Gerrard was his usual consistent self and contributed 21 goals from midfield. Alonso, on the other hand, suffered a loss of form after injury and struggled to regain his place in the side due to the success of Mascherano and Brazilian new boy, Lucas Leiva. There have been rumours about his imminent departure, but all true Liverpool supporters will hope that Benitez convinces him to stay as Xabi, at his best, is undoubtedly a world class player. Carragher sometimes seemed more fallible than usual this season and his loss of form in the middle of the season undoubtedly saw Liverpool drawing several games they should have won. The season long injury to Agger was an immense blow as his speed and guile had become an important factor in the linking up of defense and attack. Hyppia, once again, was immense and everyone connected with the club will be delighted that he has won another contract at the age of 34. Crouch's frustration was apparent to everybody, as he struggled to get a game while Torres was blowing away defense after defense. In spite of this, the England player still picked up 11 goals and no one will blame him if he decides to play his football elsewhere next season--though personally I hope he stays. The much reviled Dirk Kuyt reinvented himself as a winger this year and enjoyed something of a renaissance, scoring crucial goals against Inter Milan, Arsenal and Chelsea. All in all, he scored 10 goals and showed himself to be a great team player and a man for the big occasion. Liverpool finished the season as the top scorers in England with 117 goals in all competitions (with one game left to play as I write). In spite of this, in the PL the team once again failed to compete and come next season, Benitez's fifth in charge, more will be expected in this regard. In a nutshell, RB doesn't need to win the PL but he does need to be seen to mount a serious challenge.

This leaves us with only the off-field antics to consider. Off the field, Liverpool FC was something of a soap opera this year and everyone who wishes the club well, will hope that this circus doesn't continue into the new season. First, there was the much publicised row between Rafa and the Americans and the coach was almost forced out. After that, Gillet tried to sell his shares to DIC and was blocked by Hicks. The latter then declared his intention to buy his partner out himself, but so far he's been unable to raise the necessary finance. Meanwhile, Rick Parry's erstwhile untouchable position was well and truly compromised when Hicks demanded his resignation for incompetence. Parry refused and Hicks couldn't force him out as he didn't have sufficient backing on the board. What happens from here on in is anyone's guess, but supporters will hope that Messrs. Hicks and Gillet can at least agree on a transfer budget for the close season. Next season promises to be a good one for the club with players like Torres, Babel, Mascherano and Skrtel having come of age this year. There is a feeling of optimism at the club; a general sense that Rafael Benitez is just one or two major signings from creating a team capable of challenging for every honour in the game. Let's just hope that the Hicks-Gillet tragi-comedy doesn't put a spoke in the wheel of it all!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very balanced assessment!

9:21 PM  
Anonymous Bazookajoe said...

Couldn't agree more!

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article with the true answers!

2:44 PM  

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