By Lewis Rooke – @LV_Rooke
In years gone by, most title-chasing Liverpool sides have had a notoriously debilitating case of the old cliché’d “second-season syndrome”.
The team of 2008/09 that came so close to securing the Premier League was one that peaked somewhat prematurely. Rafael Benitez had arguably one of the greatest central spines of any Liverpool side gone before – comprising of Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, Sami Hyypia, Steven Gerrard, Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres.
Despite this, the pragmatic Spaniard’s side had some serious chinks in its armour. Its lack of quality in wider areas became a growing problem, with the likes of Andrea Dossena, Ryan Babel and Albert Riera falling way below the quality of their peers. It was this imbalance in quality that ultimately led to the departure of the teams most vital components – with Alonso, Mascherano and Torres all leaving soon after.
Necessitated by a need to sell to cover huge club debts, cowboy owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett never had a sustainable plan in place to compete at the pinnacle of the Premier League – instead opting to cash in on prize assets to cover the aforementioned debts. With this, Liverpool’s title challenging side quickly faded into mid-table obscurity where it would remain for the next few years.
After four seasons of bouncing underwhelmingly between the Europa League positions, Liverpool’s next title challenge was even more premature than the last. Brendan Rodgers’ vibrant side of 2013/14 was the epitome of ‘gung-ho’ football – attack with everything you have and defending comes later.
Winning games by cricket scores and conceding goals like a colander, an exhilarating Luis Suarez-inspired attack was cancelled out with a gaffe-ridden backline – creating one of the most imbalanced, yet entertaining, Liverpool sides we have ever witnessed.
Not surprisingly, Brendan Rodgers’ men fell short once more and the post-title challenge disease struck again. Prized possession Luis Suarez was prised away by Barcelona and the Reds dropped like a stone in the league standings the following season, where they soon lost another star man in Raheem Sterling.
While Benitez and Rodgers’ title challenges were built on the softest of sand, Jurgen Klopp’s Premier League hunt is grounded in firm granite. The German could have been on a similar trajectory to that of his predecessors in losing precious ground with the loss of the instrumental Philippe Coutinho – but Klopp has seriously bucked that trend and made the team infinitely stronger.
The acquisition of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson with the Coutinho money was one of Liverpool’s shrewdest pieces of business in recent times, while the emergence of Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold has ensured the defence can be a match for absolutely anyone in world football.
Combined with the mercurial trio of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane, Liverpool are progressing forward with no exploitable soft spots in the team like Rodgers and Benitez had – and better yet, there is little to no chance that any of these fantastic lads will be leaving Anfield any time soon like our previous heroes have done so frequently.
While fate may tell you that next season is likely to reach nowhere near the heights of this season, Jurgen Klopp is proving that is far from the case. This squad will not be picked apart by vultures. This squad will not lose momentum. They will absolutely not down tools – and I fully expect this 97-point season will only fuel the lads onto further glories.
So here’s to a brighter future, and expect to see this Liverpool team fight for many more years to come at the summit of English football .