Liverpool: The Season That Was - How Was It For You? #3 | 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 third of our Q&As. Part one is here and you can find part two here.

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

JAMES PEARCE

@JamesPearceEcho

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

Having been manager of the year 12 months before, I thought he deserved the chance to put things right. But after such a torrid end to last season, a flying start was always going to be required. It was clear that he would be under pressure quickly if results were poor.

What were your expectations for Liverpool’s season then?

A top four finish and winning a domestic cup.

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?

A lot of that summer optimism had drained away. Liverpool were only three points off fourth place when he was sacked but there was little to suggest they would mount a challenge for a Champions League spot. There was no belief. As soon as anything went against them in games, heads dropped.

Klopp then, surprised by his appointment?

Not really. It was pretty clear on the evening that Rodgers was sacked that Klopp was the leading candidate. FSG had long since admired Klopp and would have appointed him before then if he had been available.
As soon as FSG learned that Klopp was ready to take on a new challenge then Rodgers was doomed and the change was inevitable.

How do you think he has done so far?

I’d say he has exceeded expectations, when you consider he was working with someone else’s squad, without a pre-season, with a crazy fixture schedule and a stack of injuries.

He’s given supporters hope. He’s united a fanbase which had been heavily divided. Liverpool were lucky to get Klopp. He’s a class act – the best signing FSG have made in their six-year reign.
Football - FA Premier League - Liverpool FC v Tottenham Hotspur FC
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?

Difficult one to make sense of because the league form certainly suffered from the extended run in the Europa League. If Liverpool hadn’t got past Dortmund, they probably would have ended up with six or seven more points in the Premier League and that could have got them in the top four.

Considering the injuries and the loss of Sakho, coupled with weaknesses in the squad, I’d say Klopp has got more out of the current crop than could have been expected.

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

Philippe Coutinho: One of the rare match-winners in the squad. Class act and has added more goals to his game.

Dejan Lovren: Has transformed his LFC career after a torrid first season and has proved he belongs at Anfield

Roberto Firmino: After a slow start, he blossomed under Klopp. Only LFC player to reach double figures in the league.
Football - FA Premier League - Norwich City FC v Liverpool FC
Top three Liverpool games of the season?

1) second leg of the quarter-final against Dortmund at Anfield. Just an amazing night.

2) second leg of the last 16 tie at Old Trafford. From being under the cosh to that Coutinho goal and the scenes in the away end that followed.

3) Norwich 4 Liverpool 5: Just a crazy game, capped off by Lallana’s 96th minute winner and Klopp’s glasses getting broken in the bundle that followed.

Best Liverpool goal?

Has to be Coutinho in the Europa League at Old Trafford. Individual brilliance and it killed the tie.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZbCSE7uxvQ

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

That they have made a habit of getting close to big prizes and then bottling it. League title in 13/14, two domestic cup semis in 14/15 and two cup final defeats in 15/16. Shows that an injection of proven talent is required and more leadership.

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

Being out of Europe is never good news, especially with LFC’s proud history, and it will leave a big hole next season. But they have to use it to their advantage. Leicester this season and Liverpool under Rodgers in 13/14 showed what an advantage it can be domestically when you have a full week to prepare for games. I think it will really benefit LFC’s league form.

Three Liverpool players you expect to leave the club this summer

Martin Skrtel
Christian Benteke
Mario Balotelli

Three positions Liverpool need to improve in

Left-back, a central midfielder with a real physical presence and an attacker.

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

I’d love to see them make Leicester a big offer for N’Golo Kante but that’s probably not too realistic. From what I’ve seen of him, I can understand why they are pursuing talented midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud.
Left-back wise, I’d rather have someone with a bit more experience like Jonas Hector rather than a rookie like Ben Chilwell.

What can Liverpool achieve next season?

If Klopp can do the business he wants and keep hold of those he wants to keep then there’s no reason why Liverpool can’t get back into the top four next season. The manager’s big complaint has always been a lack of time on the training field but that won’t be the case in 2016/17. He will also benefit a lot from having a pre-season. Those players are going to be worked ridiculously hard and will be fitter than they’ve ever been come August.

CHRIS MAGUIRE

@chrismaguire73

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

Yes, because we had backed him in the transfer market to the tune of £32.5 million with Christian Benteke. Not that I agreed with his signing, but what club spends that kind of money on a player then decides the manager isn’t the right man for the job afterwards? If we were going to indulge him in his transfer targets then it made sense to see what plans he had for the coming season.

Part of me was also thinking that Daniel Sturridge could be fit again soon and would always be the difference between success and failure. Rodgers was still young enough and bright enough to potentially get it right again with a fit Sturridge. We also had the likes of Danny Ings and Divock Origi to potentially freshen things up.

What were your expectations for Liverpool’s season then?

As always – to win the league.

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 this point it looked that the squad was devoid of ideas and didn’t believe in itself to score a goal so I suppose a change was inevitable, and a top four finish would be a more realistic target. League Cups and FA Cups should always be a target for Liverpool, also.

Klopp then, surprised by his appointment?

Surprised by the timing of it, yes. He’d only had four months off for his well-earned sabbatical and four months is neither here nor there really on a career break. The rumour mill had Klopp or Ancelotti in the frame for such a long time, so I don’t suppose I was particularly surprised when we got the younger man.

The only spanner in the works would be if Klopp decided to look at Bayern Munich as an option, but this was quickly put to bed. I think Chelsea getting twitchy with Mourinho ensured FSG acted fast to get their man before someone else stepped in.
European Football - UEFA Europa League - Group Stage Group B - Liverpool FC v FC Rubin Kazan
How do you think he has done so far?

Mixed bag really. I think he’ll take time to adjust to the ruthlessness of the Premier League and possibly has too much faith in the players he has inherited. It’s notable that good old pros like Toure, Lucas and Milner have had decent seasons by their standards under his leadership.

Maybe Klopp isn’t getting as much out of the young players as he thought he might. His team has given us some great nights at Anfield again though, and hopefully that can be a catalyst to spur the support on next season when the new stand opens. He’s arguably done as much to improve the atmosphere as he has to improve the squad. At least the crowd now know what he expects from them. We’ve got 19 cup finals at home next season.

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 UEFA Cup run has hindered the league finish, of that there is no doubt, but he was right to prioritise that once we got past United. We never really looked like getting top four, as we couldn’t put three wins together on the bounce in the league consistently. It’s ridiculous to think you can beat Man City home and away yet lose to West Ham twice, or only pick up a point against Newcastle.

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

Coutinho for his mid-season brilliance, delivering very important goals in big games and some key assists. It’s easy to forget how good he was at the start and the middle of the season due to his end of season dip. It was worrying how much his form tailed off towards the end of the season. Maybe he’s having too many sleepless nights since his daughter was born.

Milner for his consistency in a lot of games, again providing some key assists in big games. His floating crosses from wide could be a real weapon next season if he decides that centre midfield isn’t really for him. I’m not sure what plans Klopp will have for him, but using him on the wing must become a key tactic in my eyes next season.

Lovren just edges Clyne for third position for his rapid improvement this season. He’s still not the finished article, as he is still prone to the odd error of judgement, but I think Klopp being a centre half himself has probably taught him a thing or two about decision making. All that said though, Lovren was starting from a very low base as he was absolutely abject last season. Clyne has impressed me with all but his final ball into the box. I hope we give him more to aim for next season.

Top three Liverpool games of the season?

For me personally, games I went to:

Dortmund at home – the celebrations

United at home – It was so important that the first leg was at Anfield in this one, as it gave us the platform to edge ahead after two defeats to them already this season. They didn’t want to know this time.

Chelsea away – Only because I went to this one as I was down in London watching U2 and it capped off a wonderful weekend, in brilliant weather, in a brilliant city.

Best Liverpool goal?

Coutinho v United away in the cup. So brilliant and so important, again they didn’t want to know after that went in. Something you could never accuse a typical United side of, giving up at Old Trafford.

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

Still the ownership for me. I still doubt their knowledge of the game and commitment won’t frustrate the manager and his team in achieving their goals. It’s a big season and a big opportunity, similar to 2013-2014. With so many new managers coming to the big clubs, we need to be ready to take advantage of the inertia. Off the pitch, I have concerns about the owners and the ground too, but maybe that’s for another time.

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

A massive help if we’re talking being out of the Europa League. Obviously we would have loved to be in the Champions League and a chance to get to Cardiff again would have been on my mind all season. But anything that reduces the number of Sunday games can only be a good thing for me, as I feel that the atmosphere in the ground is much better on a Saturday. Hopefully we’ll get a few more 5.30pm kick offs next season.

Also, we didn’t do too badly in 2013-2014 without any European togger to worry about. It’s easier on the bank balance too.

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

For the sake of their own careers I’d expect Benteke and Skrtel. Benteke is in danger of becoming a forgotten man and Skrtel has probably got one last move in him at a fairly decent level.
Football - FA Cup - 4th Round - Liverpool FC v West Ham United FC
Balotelli if anyone will take him off our hands, as he’s already the forgotten man.

I’m not sure on Lucas and Allen. I think they might be happy as bit-part players.

Three positions Liverpool need to improve in?

Striker – always a concern, Sturridge looks like he’s lost a yard of pace. None of the others can be relied upon to get you 20 a season.

Left back, unless we’re going to play Flanagan over there like we did two years ago.

Centre midfield – we desperately need a controlling play-maker in the mode of Alonso. Someone who can pass a ball and split a defence open at will.

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

Barkley, Lukaku, Mata just for the fume.

What can Liverpool achieve next season?
The treble, of course. How else is Kevin Stewart going to get a game?

NEIL SCOTT

@66zimbo

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

Not really, no. The team had stagnated badly and it was clear that a sizeable section of the support had come to see Rodgers as part of the problem. Also, it can’t be stressed enough, a 6-1 humiliation, particularly one so lacking in saving graces of any kind, should never be accepted with a shrug and marked down to end-of-season apathy – there need to be consequences; messages sent out, horses’ heads in beds, the works. It was difficult to see him turning it around after that – it was just a question of how long it would be before the noise became too loud to ignore.
Football - FA Premier League - Liverpool FC v Newcastle United FC
However, I’m pretty sure that Klopp was always the number one target, and, as such, it’s possible the decision was taken early on to wait until he could be secured. And if that meant starting the season with Rodgers in-situ, so be it (though it doesn’t explain why you’d then give him £80 million to spend, does it?)

What were your expectations for Liverpool’s season then?

Not massively high. I didn’t (and don’t) see the squad as being anywhere near good enough and was never convinced that its strengths outweighed its many weaknesses. Allied to a feeling that Rodgers had taken them as far as he could, I’d have been surprised if we’d have challenged for a top four spot.

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?

Realistically, I still thought that top 6 was about the limit. You hope that a new manager will galvanise and inspire but whoever it was, Klopp or anyone, it was going to be a difficult task to instil the kind of mentality so obviously lacking and mould a team out of such an unbalanced mess. In under 18 months, we’d gone from being the most exciting team in the country, the one everyone wanted to see, to a team that made West Ham look like the Holland of Cruyff and Neeskens. That wouldn’t be sorted overnight. A cup run was probably about the only prospect of success I could envisage, but, given the obvious frailties, even that seemed a long shot.

Klopp then, surprised by his appointment?

Although there had been plenty of rumours flying around, it still came as a bit of a shock. He had his pick of clubs across Europe and could effectively name his price, so it always seemed something of a long-shot. That he decided to choose Liverpool was a massive coup and gave everyone a lift at a time we most needed it. Clearly the opportunity to work with Jose Enrique was too great to resist.

How do you think he has done so far?

Klopp’s greatest achievement has been to unite a fan-base that, frankly, has been too concerned with fighting amongst itself for far too long. He’s given us all someone to get behind, someone we can follow and place our trust in, at a time when, post-Gerrard, we’ve lacked a genuine figurehead on the pitch.

Tactically, I think he’s still feeling his way and has been unsure exactly how much of the methods he wants to use he could ask of the players, particularly in light of the injuries and the hectic schedule. This season was all about assessing the personnel, seeing who is suited to the style of football he wants us to play, and, ultimately, laying foundations and I think that’s been done. Now he gets the chance to mould the squad. I think we can all expect to see significant improvements next season.

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?

Let’s be clear, eighth place should never be deemed acceptable, whatever the mitigations. It’s an embarrassment. Regardless of their limitations, no Liverpool team should be finishing behind Southampton and West Ham and such a fundamentally miserable Manchester United side. Those players should have been ashamed to look at a league table at the season’s end. And for the sake of my blood pressure I’m not even going near the disgrace that was the second half against Sevilla, the first time I’ve ever felt totally let down by a Liverpool team in 45 years of watching them compete in finals.

At times, when everything comes together, we’ve looked like we might be a decent team. And, despite the disappointment in Basel, the Europa campaign had some special moments and performances you couldn’t help being swept along with. I’m not decrying the value of the cup runs. But, for two seasons running, we’ve been bogged down in mediocrity. Too many players with a weak mentality and limited game intelligence. I’m kind of sick of it, to be honest.

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

Coutinho – He’s become the one we look to in the big games and has responded well. Loads of important goals – against Chelsea, City (including the Wembley equaliser), United, Spurs, Dortmund and Everton. Weird that all of a sudden people seem to be questioning his contribution when, more than anyone else, he’s dragged us into and through games. I’d love to see him go to the next level.

Clyne – Consistent and competent. You need that from a full back as a starting point. Also, he’s not a big dickhead. That helps too.
Football - Football League Cup - 3rd Round - Liverpool FC v Carlisle United FC
Sturridge – Just a quality striker, that’s it really. Despite missing half the season, was still top scorer overall. Worries defences and gives the attack a focal point. Would love to see a Sturridge – Origi partnership given a chance to develop; it could be devastating.

Top three Liverpool games of the season?

Liverpool 4-3 Borussia Dortmund – because it had everything and reminded us that football’s capacity to astound remains intact.

Chelsea 1-3 Liverpool – because it was the first glimpse of what Klopp might eventually bring to this team.

Liverpool 4-0 Everton – because we scored four goals and Everton didn’t score any.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bsq1GflSN9U

Best Liverpool goal?

Coutinho against Stoke. First game of the season. Time nearly up. Blam. Have that.

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

The mentality of the players. We can’t escape the fact that three years running we’ve got to the end of the season and stumbled when it mattered most (no Gerrard pun intended). That stays with players, plants doubts in their minds. As well as that, by my calculations we’ve lost a total of 32 games in the last two seasons. 32. At some point it loses its sting. My concern is, for these players, losing has become ingrained. It’s part of their mind-set. So we need to bring in fellas whose only thought is to win, who are consumed by winning. Let them spread their belief like a napalm of the mind.

Oh, and we’ve let in 50 league goals this season. Might want to have a look at that, too. Cheers.

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

It can be both. Helps with preparation time. Hinders because we instantly become a less attractive proposition to potential signings. And because it’s always better watching games at Anfield under the floodlights.

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

‘Expect to leave’, but not necessarily top of my extensive ‘Want to leave’ list:

Toure, Skrtel and Benteke.

Three positions Liverpool need to improve in?

Just three? Okay. Like anyone with an ounce of sanity left, I was going to say goalkeeper. Happily that has been swiftly addressed, so it feels like I’ve got a free pick now. Ha!

So. Left back. Obviously. One that understands the geography of a football pitch and his place on it would be a massive upgrade.

Centre of the pitch. Yes, I’ve copped out. But it’s vital we have a solid spine and that means sorting both the heart of the defence (potentially losing three experienced options there, and I still have doubts over Lovren’s capacity not to revert back to his bad old Steven Taylor tribute-act ways) and the midfield (desperately in need of someone who can manage the tempo of a game and who can see a pass – effectively, we need Xabi Alonso in 2008/09).
Football - Preseason Friendly - Singapore v Liverpool FC
A wide player with loads of pace, a goal threat and the ability to make the right decisions at the right time wouldn’t go amiss either. How many’s that? I’ve lost count.

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

I’m not really one for Football Manager and all that, but I’ve heard good things about Hector, who’d be worth signing for the song if nothing else (“…the first of the gang with a gun in his hand”), and like most teams I’m sure we could find a place for Kante. Other than that, I couldn’t tell you. Is Terry Butcher still knocking around?

What can Liverpool achieve next season?

Right, here we go. With due respect to everyone and in full acknowledgement of my rampant curmudgeonliness, I’m already a bit fed up with hearing that we’re going to win the league next season. It just seems like empty sloganeering with little actual substance to back it up, something we say this time every year because it feels like that’s what we’re meant to do.

If that makes me a joyless enemy of fun then so be it. It’s not you, it’s me. What I want is for us to concentrate on the next match. Win that then focus on the next. Then the next. Don’t look any further ahead, don’t start talking about titles when we’ve won two on the trot. Just keep winning the next match. See where that gets us. It’s what we always used to do. No grand pronouncements, no big promises, but a team that gets on with it, that wins games. It generally worked out ok. Just beat the team in front of us. You never know where we might end up.

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