Liverpool: The Season That Was – How Was It For You? #2 | The Anfield Wrap

WITH the footie season now over, transfer rumours in full swing and the countdown to Euro 2016 ticking away, we thought the time was right to ask Anfield Wrap contributors and friends what they made of the Liverpool season just gone. With two managers, two cup finals, a new stand and a mass walk-out, it certainly hasn’t been dull, but has it been good? And what can we expect from the Reds next season? All the questions asked, and answered, here in the second of our Q&As. Part one is here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uu17qQV7Q0o

MIKE NEVIN

@michaeltnevin

Rewinding back to the start of the season, did you think then that keeping Brendan Rodgers in position was the right decision?

No. Rodgers had already lost the fans. In that sense he was a dead man walking with supporters waiting for that first slip up. There was a lukewarm reaction to getting seven points from the first nine, including a good performance at Arsenal. Then came the 3-0 West Ham shocker — and the final nail was the ultra-conservative, un-Rodgers-like approach to United away which still resulted in a heavy defeat.

What were your expectations for Liverpool’s season then?

At the start of the season, although I didn’t agree with or make sense of the Benteke signing, I still felt we had a good enough squad to compete for a top four place and to try and win a cup. Sixth felt like we had underachieved in 2015, so it was not unrealistic to aim higher and have a much better season.

Eleven games into the season, Rodgers was sacked. Forget that Jürgen Klopp replaced him for a moment (we’ll come to that), what then did you think was a realistic ambition for the squad in terms of league finish, cups and so on?

My expectations hadn’t changed. Still top four and try to win a cup. It was only eight League games into the campaign and we had only lost two. Klopp came in with a reputation as a motivator, who I thought would have an immediate impact on the team. There were no guarantees but when we went to Spurs and got a 0-0 in his first game, I’d have been shocked to hear we would end up eighth.

Football - FA Premier League - Tottenham Hotspur FC v Liverpool FC

Klopp then, surprised by his appointment?

Not really as his name had been knocking around, along with Ancelotti, for a while. Having said that, it was still something of a coup given our current standing and his track record in winning titles and reaching a Champions League final.

How do you think he has done so far?

On balance he has done very well. Reaching the Europa League final was a big achievement worth more on the face of it than the runners-up medals. It has lifted the whole club and the mood of the fans and puts a gloss on the season, even without the trophy. It is big shame we didn’t win it but the pain of losing might — and should — act as motivation for Klopp and those who stay on in future.

Klopp’s greatest achievement is pulling everyone together, reigniting the atmosphere and creating a sense of enjoyment for players and fans. I don’t think he’s perfect tactically but he’s undoubtedly had a positive impact on the majority of the players.

We’ve a had a glimpse of him at his best in Europe. We’ve yet to see how he transmits that over a long league season; or with the input of players he wants and the famed Klopp pre-season. In the league next year we need early momentum. You sense how he would feed off that to create an unstoppable force, but equally I’m not sure how he or the fans would react to a slow start.

Eighth in the league, beaten in two cup finals – how does that performance rank against what you think this squad could/should be capable of?

The league position is disappointing, but the Europa run and rotation of the team during the last month had an impact. The damage though was done early — shipping points under Rodgers and then losing badly to Palace, Watford, Newcastle, and West Ham. Later, the key defeats to United at home and at Southampton were games we should have won. Our performances in the league steadily got better, the injuries abated, we got strikers on the pitch and we started scoring goals but we’ve remained inconsistent. It’s very hard to assess as a piece, other than the fact that we’re probably too good to be finishing eighth.

Football - FA Premier League - Arsenal FC v Liverpool FC

Who are your top three Liverpool players this season and why?

Coutinho — A threat and the most creative player, with added goals, for the longest stretch — although he went worryingly limp after being taken off at Villareal.

Clyne — Played loads of games and was a solid defensive presence throughout. Was a good outlet attacking as well once his confidence grew.

Lovren — Improved beyond all recognition. From the calamity of West Ham to his imperious showing against Villareal in the second leg. We lack leaders but Lovren looks capable of being one.

Top three Liverpool games of the season?

Borussia Dortmund (Home).
Manchester City (Away).
Everton (Home).

Best Liverpool goal?

Sturridge in the Europa League final. Best goal in a losing final cause since Jimmy Case in 1977.

What should be the major concerns for Liverpool FC right now?

Let Klopp have his way in the transfer market. No more compromises. By all means get value, but recognise (both manager and committee) that a spread of youth and potential has a hit-rate of one in four and smacks of more transition. We have a big opportunity to have a crack at the league next season (with no Europe) but it will take more than a few punts on unproven Europeans in a gnarly Premier League.

Is not being in Europe next season a help or a hindrance to Liverpool?

A big help. See Leicester, and Liverpool 2013-14

Three Liverpool players you expect to leave the club this summer.

Benteke, Allen, Toure.

Three positions Liverpool need to improve in.

Goalkeeper, left back, central midfield (CDM). I’d like to see a left winger, with pace and flair, but I’m not sure a Klopp team plays that way.

Any (realistic-ish) players you think Liverpool should buy?

If it was me, I’d be after Kante and Joe Harte.

What can Liverpool achieve next season?

We should just go all out for the league. The cups have served a purpose for Klopp this season and accelerated his learning but next season should be about 38 league matches. Whether we win it or not is another matter. Everyone will strengthen, which brings me back to my point on recruitment — do we have a realistic chance with the remainder of last seasons’s crop “improved” by Grujic, Matip and the mooted list of targets? Even Gotze has question marks over him.

Ultimately, it will boil down to the manager. Leicester were an anomaly, of that I’m sure. Can Klopp get a leaner Liverpool squad competing for 85 points or so with Guardiola’s City, Mourinho’s United, Wenger (?) at Arsenal, Conte’s new Chelsea?

Football - FA Premier League - Chelsea FC v Liverpool FC

KARL COPPACK

@TheCenci

Rewinding back to the start of the season, did you think then that keeping Brendan Rodgers in position was the right decision?

I think that was more about expediency than an outright policy. The bizarre tactical nightmare of Wembley should have sounded the death knell on his Liverpool career and the 6-1 cemented it. I don’t mean that in a jumping up and down and stamping my feet manner. Sometimes people can’t do what’s expected of them. You don’t always need drama. Brendan even made the point that the thing was out of his hands at that point and he could see the argument for a change.

I’d like to think that he was kept in place simply because Klopp wasn’t ready and the club had no wish to give, say, Garry Monk or Eddie Howe a year before Jürgen was available. If that’s the case they had no choice than to wait and see. I was surprised at the amount of money he was given if that’s the case though.

What were your expectations for Liverpool’s season then?

Very low as I never thought for a second that the manager would last the campaign. We’d always have to bed in a new manager so the league would be a write off immediately. As good as Klopp is/can be, he can hardly be expected to mount a title challenge when he barely knew anyone’s name.

I wanted a title challenge — not a top four tilt — more than the cups but that changed when Brendan remained in charge. It was the archetypal season of transition.

Football - FA Premier League - Stoke City FC v Liverpool FC

Eleven games into the season, Rodgers was sacked. Forget that Jürgen Klopp replaced him for a moment (we’ll come to that), what then did you think was a realistic ambition for the squad in terms of league finish, cups and so on?

Sixth in the league, slightly positive difference. A League Cup win and an early exit from the other competitions. It was all about bedding him in and waiting for his first proper transfer window and pre-season.

Klopp then, surprised by his appointment?

Very. We were driving back from the derby when the news came through (though I sort of knew about it the night before) and one of my mates looked up the odds on a betting site. I was amazed that he was odds on. That strengthens my view that he had accepted the job weeks before.

I wanted either him or Ancelotti but, more than anything, I wanted a manager who could unite the fans. I’m sick of pro and anti groups and all that comes with it. You can’t have a laugh at the match if someone thinks you’re doing it because you sit in some faction or other.

How do you think he has done so far?

Pretty good though it’s difficult to mark the season out of 10. Reaching two finals is some achievement and if any other club were to do that it would be brought up all the time. We had two semi-finals the year before and that is hardly mentioned so we’ve moved on. That said, the league has been bloody awful and there should be some head hanging about finishing eighth with that first team.

I love him — it’s difficult not to — but he’s going to make mistakes. He’s human and not some sort of deus ex machina figure who will cure our ails in 10 minutes.

Eighth in the league, beaten in two cup finals – how does that performance rank against what you think this squad could/should be capable of?

We’re not even close to punching our weight in terms of a league performance and we’re still maddeningly inconsistent. Our eight games against the top four saw us win five and lose one. That’s really good. However, the stats against the next three teams — those directly above us — saw us lose five and draw one. That’s fucking atrocious and has to be looked at. Add to that the fact that two of the relegated sides took points at Anfield and the worst Newcastle side I’ve ever seen took four.

And yet we can stand up when we need to. United and Dortmund took tons of bottle when we were up against it. We out-thought United at Old Trafford when we went a goal down so there’s something in the character of the squad that can deliver more. Sadly, there was none of that on display in the second half in Basel. We have some excellent players, a potentially great manager but there’s something behind the temples which is lacking at the moment.

Who are your top three Liverpool players this season and why?

Clyne — because full backs madden me and he hasn’t made me drop my head into my hands that often.

Coutinho — still shoots when he shouldn’t but, Jesus, he’s good.

Kolo/Lovren — like many centre-back pairings they’ve been the largely the last choice when viewed before they establish themselves. I’m having them as one player.

Top three Liverpool games of the season?

Dortmund home.

United in Europa home.

Augsburg away.

Nah. The Southampton 6-1, particularly given we were a goal down by the time I’d reached my seat.

Best Liverpool goal?

Probably Benteke v United but Origi’s second against Southampton in the League Cup simply because he hit it first time and it made a lovely sound.

What should be the major concerns for Liverpool FC right now?

Mental strength. The second half against Sevilla was typical of a problem we’ve had for ages. We’re better in games we’re not supposed to win rather than being ahead and in control.

The midfield. We all like Henderson and Can to some extent but the goal return means that a decision has to be made. You can’t win the league with goals from just the strikers. Central midfield need to weigh in. Henderson doesn’t like one on ones and Emre doesn’t seem to trust himself enough, which is weird as he has the drive to put himself in the right positions.

The atmosphere at Anfield. I know it’s a common moan but I do think it’s a factor in our form.

Nivea.

Is not being in Europe next season a help or a hindrance to Liverpool?

We haven’t got any choice. I suppose recruiting players is tricky without European football but the lure of the manager should be enough. I’ll be happy with 38 league games and early exits in the cup competitions. Same as last year. The league comes first and winning it should be the top of any target sheet.

Three Liverpool players you expect to leave the club this summer.

Skrtel, Kolo and Benteke

Three positions Liverpool need to improve in.

Left back (I’ve been saying that since 1993), striker and goalscoring midfielders. No more number 10s.

Any (realistic-ish) players you think Liverpool should buy?

I would have said Georginio Wijnaldum of Newcastle as he’s always looked good when I’ve seen him but I’ve read that he’s been awful in most games. I’ll keep an eye out for him, Liverpool. Leave it with me.

I still think that we should have taken Andre Ayew on a free.

On the bigger player front I’d love to see Diego Godin from Atleti because he’s a bit of a bastard.

What can Liverpool achieve next season?

The League title. We shouldn’t be messing about. The league is all over the place. Mourinho, Conte and Guardiola have to bed in, Spurs could go through a hangover and Arsenal seem happy with being themselves and all that comes with it. The Coldplay of football clubs. We’ve played half a European final so the players know what we can do.

BASEL, SWITZERLAND - Wednesday, May 18, 2016: Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge celebrates scoring the first goal against Sevilla during the UEFA Europa League Final at St. Jakob-Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

JOEL RABINOWITZ

@_LFCJoel

Rewinding back to the start of the season, did you think then that keeping Brendan Rodgers in position was the right decision?

Personally, I wanted him gone after the 6-1 demolition at Stoke. That felt like the end. It was time for a change, and FSG’s decision to continue with Rodgers seemed both half-hearted and a missed opportunity.

Had a new manager been appointed at the start of the summer, he would have been able to reshape the squad according to his own plan, rather than the situation we have now, whereby Klopp has been brought in, effectively having to pick up the tools left behind by his predecessor.

What were your expectations for Liverpool’s season then?

Back then, a top-four finish and at least one long cup run, as well as genuine progress in terms of the direction we were heading in after the disappointment of the 2014/15 season.

Eleven games into the season, Rodgers was sacked. Forget that Jürgen Klopp replaced him for a moment (we’ll come to that), what then did you think was a realistic ambition for the squad in terms of league finish, cups and so on?

At that stage, none of the so-called ‘big’ teams were lighting up the Premier League, so a top-four finish still felt like an achievable target. I never expected us to go beyond the group stages in the Europa League, although domestic silverware in either the League Cup or the FA Cup felt like a realistic objective, still.

Football - FA Premier League - Chelsea FC v Liverpool FC

Klopp then, surprised by his appointment?

I’ll be honest — there are still times even now when I take a step back and appreciate how fortunate we are to have Jürgen Klopp as our manager. Carlo Ancelotti might have been the safer bet in terms of experience, but Klopp just seemed the perfect fit for us as a long-term manager going forward — the type who could build a dynasty at Liverpool.

I’m not surprised FSG targeted him, nor am I surprised Klopp wanted to join us. It’s the fact we managed to get there before anyone else which surprised me. It was perfect timing, really.

How do you think he has done so far?

Given the circumstances, I think he’s done what I expected of him and perhaps even slightly more. He’s had to cope with a severe injury crisis, implementing his own philosophy on a group of players he inherited from Rodgers, while managing the hectic schedule of English football for the first time in his career. To take us to two cup finals, regardless of the fact neither yielded a victory, is an excellent achievement. The league position is skewed by the fact he fielded heavily rotated sides for the final six weeks of the season in order to prioritise the Europa League.

Klopp has come in and built up a special relationship with the supporters already, reviving the famous Anfield atmosphere and bringing back that feel-good factor to the club. Above all, the improvements in certain individuals since Klopp’s arrival have been staggering.

Eighth in the league, beaten in two cup finals – how does that performance rank against what you think this squad could/should be capable of?

The league finish is not representative of what this Liverpool squad is capable of. Klopp fielded reserve sides for the last six weeks of the season and there was a abnormally extreme injury crisis around Christmas time.

When you consider the amount of points dropped from commanding positions, this squad would have finished several places higher if it were not for a handful of complacent second-half capitulations.

In terms of losing the League Cup final, penalties can go either way — that’s just how it is. 1-0 up at half-time against Sevilla, I really thought we’d bring it home but once again the second-half showed the lack of experience and leadership that has caused a certain fragility in the mindset of this Liverpool squad — perhaps the main reason why we’ve fallen short at the final hurdle on two occasions this season.

Who are your top three Liverpool players this season and why?

In no particular order: Coutinho, Firmino and Clyne.

Coutinho has been inconsistent at times — injuries haven’t helped — but on the whole he’s been the one standout player throughout the entire campaign, providing inspiration when his team needs it most. Having scored 12 goals this season, he’s added end-product to his undoubted ability, and the Europa League final aside, he’s stepped up on the big occasions when it matters most, scoring against Manchester City (twice), Chelsea (twice), Dortmund, Manchester United, Everton and Spurs.

Firmino was something of an enigma throughout the first half of the season — and Rodgers clearly wasn’t a fan — but since Klopp’s arrival he’s been one of the star players, not only for the Reds, but in the Premier League. A blend of industry off the ball and a consistent producer of goals and assists — even when not playing particularly well — Firmino has demonstrated his quality and we can expect big things from him in the future. Money well spent.

Clyne has slotted in seamlessly at right-back, rarely ever spectacular but arguably the most reliable and consistently solid Liverpool player this season. One poor half at Old Trafford aside, he’s been a breath of fresh air — a genuine no-nonsense, tough-tackling right-back who most importantly knows how to defend. He hardly ever gets beaten for pace, and although his end-product leaves room for improvement, he’s also proved a useful attacking outlet. Quietly efficient and an excellent signing. Right-back sorted for years to come.

Football - FA Premier League - Aston Villa FC v Liverpool FCTop three Liverpool games of the season?

Chelsea 1-3 Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. It was the first major victory of the Klopp era and all the sweeter coming against Mourinho’s struggling side.

Norwich 4-5 Liverpool. Pure and utter madness encapsulated in 95 frankly ridiculous minutes.

Liverpool 4-3 Borussia Dortmund. The obvious one. How could you leave it out?

Best Liverpool goal?

Daniel Sturridge vs Sevilla in the Europa League final. That deserved to be the winner. It’s a shame what happened next. That technique, to curl the ball inside the far post from 20 yards out, with the outside of his left boot, with very little backlift. Pure, instinctive genius. A strike from a player of the highest calibre.

Honourable mentions go to Christian Benteke vs Manchester United and Roberto Firmino’s second vs Arsenal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=deEpMrhHOsM

What should be the major concerns for Liverpool FC right now?

As far as weaknesses in the squad go, left-back is a major issue. Moreno’s performance in Basel was the latest evidence that we simply must strengthen that position if we are to compete next season. A 19-year-old Ben Chilwell alone won’t do.

Another concern is the mentality of the side. Basel brutally exposed the lack of experience and leadership in this Liverpool squad as they totally capitulated in the second half. As soon as Sevilla equalised 16 seconds after the whistle blew in the second half, their heads went. We need to be careful not to gain a habit of choking when the pressure is on.

Is not being in Europe next season a help or a hindrance to Liverpool?

We’ll have to wait and see. Liverpool has a proud European heritage and I’ll miss European nights next season. On the other hand, it means fewer games for Klopp to think about and we can focus all our efforts on finishing as high as possible in the league. Just look what happened the last time we had that luxury.

Three Liverpool players you expect to leave the club this summer.

Martin Skrtel (thankfully), Christian Benteke (regrettably) and Mario Balotelli (if anyone will take him).

Three positions Liverpool need to improve in.

There is plenty of quality in the attacking areas — that shouldn’t be the priority. It has to be about building from the back, starting with a new keeper, which is sorted with the arrival today of Loris Karius from FC Mainz. Left-back certainly needs improving — I wouldn’t sell Moreno, but we certainly need to add one who can actually defend well. A top-class controlling midfielder to slot in alongside Emre Can should also be a priority. I’m a fan of Henderson, but I think if we are to progress next season we need greater quality in that position and his role will be reduced as a result.

Any (realistic-ish) players you think Liverpool should buy?

Jonathan Tah would be an excellent addition at centre-back while Jonas Hector would be an ideal and not-too-expensive option at left-back. In terms of central midfielders, Miralem Pjanic would be a dream signing, albeit quite ambitious. A new winger would be nice — perhaps Filip Kostic of Stuttgart. And of course, I want to see us wrap up a deal for Mario Gotze regardless of his recent words. What a statement of intent that would be.

What can Liverpool achieve next season?

The aim simply has to be challenging for the title and see where that takes us. After Leicester’s triumph this season, and several of the big clubs undergoing periods of transition, there’s no reason to be conservative in our aspirations. A top-four finish should be the minimum expectation. On top of that, we really could do with some silverware, so a League Cup or FA Cup victory would be very much welcome.

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