By Paul Grech
SUCCESS is often a matter of seeing opportunities where others fail to.
Most clubs with top four ambitions deem the League Cup to be a burden. They approach games half heartedly and aren’t too bothered if they get knocked out. Only if they make it to the semi-finals do they start giving it some serious thought.
Not so Liverpool. Conscious that the demands on their players were not that onerous in a season without European football, from the start it was seen as an ideal opportunity to test out some new players, to get to Wembley and perhaps even win a trophy. And so it proved to be.
The bulk of each team that Kenny Dalglish selected was always made up of experienced players. Something that reduced the risk of a surprise elimination but which also meant that any young players put in could learn from those around them rather than be faced by a sink or swim situation.
Eventually this attitude was rewarded with the cup, ensuring that whatever happens from now on this won’t be a barren season.
And it is precisely what happens in the remaining weeks of the season that has to be the focus. The FA Cup is still a possibility but, other than that, it is simply a case of trying to climb as high up the league table as possible. Which, in all likelihood, probably doesn’t extend to higher than fifth.
This, and the resulting failure to make the Champions League,might seem to be a huge let down – and it is – but there is also opportunity there.
The limited objectives in the remaining games of the season, and Daniel Agger’s injury forced absence, make it the ideal time to test out what Sebastien Coates is made of. He might struggle – like Stefan Savic when he was played at Manchester City – but he will also learn what it means to play in the Premiership. That’s the sort of experience that could prove to be valuable next season should he be needed. Make the mistakes now, when they don’t matter that much, rather than in the future.
It is a logic that applies to other young fringe players. Jon Flanagan, Jack Robinson and Jonjo Shelvey need to play to improve and do so in competitive games. Same goes for the less experienced batch of Raheem Sterling, Andre Wisdom and Connor Coady. Be cautious with them but give them some experience. Anyone who saw Jon Flanagan play for the reserves last season could tell that he had a lot of potential. But that brief run in the first team – the experience of playing and training with better players – elevated him to another level. He is now visibly an improved player, one who reads the game better and with added maturity.
Yet the opportunities aren’t limited to those individuals who might get a chance: there is also the team setting. Has this team been built to try and exploit Andy Carroll’s strengths, as many suspect? In that case, get them to play that way for a number of games, not intermittently. It might not prove to be successful as originally thought or else it might suddenly click and come together. Either way, it would provide good lessons for next season.
These are all opportunities. But there’s no opportunity without risks bolted on to it. So it is here. Play inexperienced players and they could make mistakes. Change the way the team plays and you will solicit criticism.
Those are the opportunities. Those are the risks. Balance the two, do what others are perhaps reluctant to do, learn from those decisions and Liverpool will start next season in better shape then they’ve ended this one. Ignore them and Liverpool would be missing more than a Champions League qualifying spot.
Follow Paul on Twitter: @paul_grech
Next season is going to be the real test I think as the team is still in transition<hate that word lol but it's true
Minor correction – City’s young Montenegrin defender is Stefan Savić (not Robert).
I agree and think Coates should have a run in the side while Agger is injured. This is by no means an attack at JC as i think while he was at fault for both Arsenal goals if it had not been the sublime Van Persie then the results would have been different.
I would also like to see Shelvey play alongside Spearing in place of Adam who i feel to often flatters to deceive.
“Conscious that the demands on their players were not that onerous in a season without European football, from the start it was seen as an ideal opportunity to test out some new players, to get to Wembley and perhaps even win a trophy. And so it proved to be.”
Unfortunately I must disagree with this, as I find it a little revisionary; at the start of the season with substantial investment made in “Premiership-Proven” players (some who had been their former clubs’ “Player of the Season”, the expectation amongst any fans I spoke to was that this team, even with all the new personnel, could hit the ground running and be up there challenging for a top 4 place. Nobody realistically expected the title; but likewise people did expect better than another 7th place finish.
The expectation upon the team this season was exacerbated by not only the summer spending but the malaise our direct rivals found themselves in; Arsenal faced into the season losing their talismanic captain, and Wenger even admitted that losing Fabregas and Nasri meant they “could no longer be regarded a big club”, while Chelsea bedding in yet another new manager and new methods meant a period of transition guaranteed no immediate success. As for Spurs, well to be fair, I doubt anyone but ‘Arry himself predicted in August that they would be sitting pretty in 3rd place come March.
Right now, 10 points behind 4th spot (albeit with a difficult game in hand), it does look like Champions League qualification is a bridge too far for this current team this season.
So, if we are to completely give up on finishing as high in the league as possible and instead shift focus on blooding in youth players, then young promising lads like Sebastien Coates, JonJo Shelvey, Jon Flanagan, and untried youth prospects Krisztian Adorjan, Suso, Andre Wisdom, and possibly even the starlet Raheem Sterling could get a run out in the first team. On performances, they probably deserve it.
That being said, the NextGen series has been a great learning curve for them already, and watching those lads go up against an experienced Everton side yesterday did fill me with optimism for their future prospects, but I think we should still strive to finish as high as possible in the league.
If not for the extra prizemoney, then to get this team to finish on a high in what’s been a season full of false dawns and unfulfilled optimism. After all, teams should get used to winning and not used to losing or drawing, and to paraphrase a tired old cliché, “success breeds further success”.
I personally think missing out on Champions league football could be a blessing in disguise. This is because I dont think is squad has enough experience playing european football. ( How often has Jordan Henderson, Andy Carroll and Jose Enrique played in europe?) Also been in and winning the Europa League can increase the feel good factor around the club. After all it didnt do us any harm in 2001 did it?
It’s hard to see any positives from this season.I’m sure the owners expected alot more when they gave Kenny £100+ to strenghten the squad.
I would say this season has been a big disappointment.Only for the fact that its a Liverpool legend in charge the analysis of the problems would be a lot more objective.
Take the most recent example against Arsenal.
The fact that Kenny waited until the dying minutes to make a substitution indicates to me that he didn’t know what he should do to win the game.
If Liverpool are still in “transition” then Ryan Babel is still a “great young prospect”
It don’t wash with me.
So you think we’re the finished article?
I don’t agree that we should just throw away the chance of finishing 4th. I know it’s a tough ask, but there’s 10 games to go FFS! We should always play our stongest side whatever the match.
Even if we don’t get 4th, this season has not been a “big dissapointment” as GerryC expressed. We’ve played some great football this season, it’s just that our finishing has let us down. Fans expecting 4th need to get real, a top 7 club (and that’s what we were last season) has no god given right to finish in 4th the following season. Winning a cup and maybe winning another and finish higher than 7th then that’ll do me… we’re heading in the right direction.