Liverpool: The Season That Was – How Was It For You? #4 - 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 fourth of our Q&As. Part one is here, you can find part two here and part three here.

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

STU WRIGHT

@stuwright78

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

In hindsight this is a really tricky one to answer. When a relationship hits the rocks, a relationship where you can still remember the good times, instinct says you should fight for it. When it subsequently falls apart, hindsight always says you should have made the break sooner. The signs were everywhere it seems. This might sound overly dramatic but how many of us would say that we don’t embark on a love affair with a manager and a marriage with our club?

I make no apologies for this. I was firmly of the thinking that, once the decision had been made, as a fanbase we should get behind the manager. The good times of 2013/14 were still a vivid memory and surely their return was worth fighting for. I felt it only right for us to give Rodgers a chance to show the following season had been merely been a blip due to significantly mitigating circumstances. The notion that we only competed for the title because Rodgers was lucky to have Suarez was a flawed one – clearly demonstrated by Suarez’s output pre-Rodgers and more recently by Luis’ comments in the press extolling the virtues of Brendan’s development of him as a player.

Unfortunately, the continued inability to get Sturridge on the pitch combined with a porous defence and an unforgiving opening fixture list served to confirm that the players, the fans and even Brendan himself had lost faith in Brendan. We had passed the point of no return and a clean break was best for all concerned. But at least we gave it a shot. Love hurts sometimes.

What were your expectations for Liverpool’s season then?

Top four and hopefully a few laughs. The way the previous season had finished, we all needed cheering up. The return of some exciting attacking football was a must. The cups were way down in my priorities – but I was ready to revise this if we were handily placed post-Christmas and into the knockout phase of the Europa.

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?

It may sound crazy now but everything was still possible. Nobody was out of sight in the league so it was certainly possible to make a run for top four and maybe, just maybe, a little higher.

Klopp then, surprised by his appointment?

Yes and no. I was surprised and relived to see us show such ambition and be prepared to choose a manager that would be very much his own man. But I always felt Klopp would say yes and had flirted with us for a while.

How do you think he has done so far?

When you take into account him learning about his new team’s fragilities pre-Christmas and that he had to embark on some pretty serious rotation in the latter weeks of the league to prioritise the cups, I’d say he more than met the minimum requirement. A good second half against Sevilla would have had us all carrying framed photos of him down Breck Road. I fail to see the need for major revisionism based on a dodgy 45 against a very good outfit. Klopp’s been on a steep learning curve in the league, comparable with Rafa in 2005 – it’s what happens next and how he uses the knowledge acquired thus far that counts.
Football - FA Premier League - Aston Villa FC v Liverpool 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?

The squad is a good one but has some pretty glaring flaws in key areas that need addressing. So for that reason I’d say we’ve over-achieved in the cups or at least made par. Eighth in the league is definitely below their capabilities and all our expectations but has to be tempered with acknowledgement that this has been the very epitome of a transitional campaign with a mid-season managerial change. The points haul was clearly limited by the need for radical rotation in recent weeks to prepare for Europa nights and we still didn’t fall too far behind the top four. Two or three more wins and we were in the mix.

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

A tricky one this, because I don’t believe there was too much between a number of players – none of which excelled consistently throughout.

Can has been incredibly impressive at times and even when he wasn’t at the races, we’ve seen enough to be hopeful about the player he could become.

Coutinho has added more goals to his game but hasn’t had a consistent run playing at a game-changing level. I feel this is in part down to a positional issue. I’d love to see him playing more coming off the sides of a diamond where he’s got room to run into space with other players giving him options ahead. He’s just not a 10 and too often has to fight his way into the game with teams doubling up when he’s on the left.

Lovren takes the award for me for a Lazarus-esque comeback from the jaws of the abyss. Always about the underdog, me.

Top three Liverpool games of the season?

Dortmund, Everton and take your pick between City and Chelsea. Nah, defo Chelsea – just for the needle.

Best Liverpool goal?

Sturridge V Sevilla. If only it meant more…

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

If the manager is ever going to get momentum it has to be this summer. Recruitment has got to be effective and incisive. There are too many high quality managers overcrowding the top end of the Premier League going into 2016/17 – meaning there’s no room for half measures. Another season of missed opportunity will open the door to the doubters. A flying start could be crucial.

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

Depends on where we finish! We all wanted European football but we need to make the best of the hand we’ve been dealt. There are pros and cons to either argument but ultimately Klopp has more time to work with a smaller, tighter squad, which could be incredibly significant. I just worry we might not sign the player with magic dust in his boots that we need. And no, I don’t mean Sakho.

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

Benteke, Skrtel and Bogdan

Three positions Liverpool need to improve in?

Can I say four? Centre back, left back, a midfield general to compliment Can and a devastating winger. Boxed.

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

Van Dijk

William Carvalho / Dahoud

Julian Brandt

What can Liverpool achieve next season?

If the answer isn’t league champions then this footy lark isn’t for you.

SEAN ROGERS

@Sean_Rogers

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

Yes. I thought that was the right call but it was borderline.

What were your expectations for Liverpool’s season then?

Compete for Champions League spot – try and break 70 points – definitely break 65. Good cup run always nice.

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?

Champions League qualification – knock out stages of Europa and latter stages of League Cup.

Chelsea were imploding, I thought Leicester and possibly Spurs would drop away, so Champions League was realistic. Even last month or two of the season we should’ve achieved it when you look at final league table.
Football - FA Premier League - Liverpool FC v Leicester City FC
Klopp then, surprised by his appointment?

Yes and no. He seemed the natural fit and was out of work but I was surprised we pulled it off. Since 2009 our fall from grace alongside the rise of new super clubs and the way the European superpowers have grown and dominated the Champions League meant I wasn’t sure he’d fancy us in our current situation on and off the pitch.

That week when he was appointed was fantastic.

How do you think he has done so far?

B+ – if we’d have sneaked fourth or won the Europa I think A grades would have been in order.

Off the pitch he has lifted the mood and transformed Melwood, as well as transforming the mood at Anfield and mending a few wounds between the fan base and the side. Calling out the supporters was a big call but the right one and what he has achieved off the pitch shouldn’t be under estimated. He’s as good in public as we knew and expected him to be. Notably, any talk regarding the committee and signings has disappeared.

On the pitch, reaching two cup finals is sensational (especially a European final).

He’s done all the right things any manager coming in during a season should do:

1) Give every player a chance
2) Experiment with different player roles and systems. The fact we were not in a title challenge or a serious top four battle, accompanied by the cup runs, created the perfect environment to give everyone a chance and experiment under no pressure.

If when he was appointed we were told we were going to enjoy two cup finals, Dortmund, United, City (x2), Chelsea, Southampton, Norwich, Villarreal, smashing Everton – I think we’d have been delighted.

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?

I think in the league the squad under-performed, but over-achieved in the Europa League. I’m not counting the League Cup as we beat who we should in that cup run.

As always, the Europa League is a hindrance on league form and (rightly) rotating our league sides at the end of the campaign has contributed to us finishing lower, and on a lower points total than we should have done.

The injuries inherited and suffered early have to be considered as mitigation, but generally the squad has under-achieved in the league.

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

Not easy this.

1) Coutinho. Just. If he finishes the season in better form we win the final for me, because he would have had us 2-0 up at least at half time. Worried about our use of him and where he will fit in within a 4-2-3-1 next season, but I think he deserves the award, as it’s a season award and too many have done well over a shorter period.
Football - FA Premier League - Chelsea FC v Liverpool FC
2) Can. I’ve always been a Can fan but when you sign a player like him you have to be willing to watch and at times suffer watching his development while we try to win games. Consistency of selection in centre midfield and Klopp have helped him take his game to an improved level. He looks fitter as well. The goals against Dortmund and Villarreal that he created show a whole range of fantastic skillsets. We need to focus on taking his game to the next level. If we are to be successful I think he will be key.

3) Sturridge. He’s our best player. I enjoy watching him more than any other. Lots of questions moving forwards regarding him and his role, but January onwards he’s been one of our best and most important players. In the Europa League final we saw all of the positives of him first half and all of the negatives of him (at least as a 9) in the second half. Between him and the coaching staff, we’ve had him fit for longer than we have had in a while. We could and should be lauding us winning a Europa League and hopefully we can find a role that suits him and the team.

Top three Liverpool games of the season?

1) Dortmund home
2) Villarreal home
3) United away (EL)

Best Liverpool goal?

Lovren!!!!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6GqRhq-tJM

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

I think there should be huge concerns off the pitch in redirect of the stadium, access and tickets.

On the pitch I think the lack of winning ugly and game intelligence is our biggest problem. I have never known a Liverpool side blow so many leads. If we could hold on to leads better we’d have finished top four and won the Europa League.

We need at least one “worldie” in attack to be added and need more 7/10 every week players rather than the 8 one week, 3 the next that we currently have.

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

Enormous help. I can’t believe anyone would think it’s a hinderance to success in the league.

Under this manager preparation, fitness, intensity and time to recover is more important than arguably any other manager we’ve had.

There are no excuses if we don’t deliver in the league next season, especially if we recruit well.

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

Just three?

1) Benteke
2) Allen
3) Ibe

Three positions Liverpool need to improve in?

1) GK
2) Left back
3) Centre back

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

Keeper appears sorted. If Pep took another keeper to City, a move for Hart would have been preferable.
European Football - UEFA Champions League - Group B - FC Basel 1893 v Liverpool FC
I like Van Dijk a lot at Southampton and we like buying players from there. He’s exactly what we need at centre half, and is 24 and proven in the league.

I would prefer us to buy a proven left back rather than a young lad for the future. I wouldn’t be averse to signing a right back and moving Clyne to left back in the big games.

Carrick I would love as much for aiding Can’s development and being a winner in and around Melwood. I think he would be a great option off the bench when leading.

An absolute worldie of an attacking player I think is needed, with pace. If we can’t get one then I think Mane at Southampton would be a good plan B.

What can Liverpool achieve next season?

They can win the league if everything falls right for them. The Anfield crowd has a bigger role to play in that than I think many consider.

I think Liverpool have to break 70 points, and I think if they do not it will have to be considered a very poor season.

SIMON HUGHES

@Simon_Hughes_

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

In light of a better alternative not being available, yes.

What were your expectations for Liverpool’s season then?

A 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 cup, a seventh place finish and passing through the group stages of the Europa League before getting knocked out by Russian opposition.

Klopp then, surprised by his appointment?

No.

How do you think he has done so far?

6.5/10

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?

Above par. It’s a difficult season to analyse because he’s done more than any other manager who has been appointed halfway through a season. Yet choking in two finals is a concern. It shows that ultimately, some of the players aren’t good enough.

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

1. Nathaniel Clyne (7/10 – consistent first season)
2. Emre Can (6.5/10 – improvement made on previous game but still some way to go)
3. Dejan Lovren (6.5/10 – same as Can. Black mark against him for performance in the Europa League final)

Top three Liverpool games of the season?

1. Borussia Dortmund (h)
2. Borussia Dortmund (a)
3. Manchester United (h) * Europa League

Best Liverpool goal?

Martin Skrtel at Manchester City. A holy shit moment.

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

The team needs a reference point. Klopp needs a general he can rely on like Benitez did with Alonso. I’m not sure who that is.

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

Not being in the Champions League is a hindrance. Not being in the Europa League is a positive.

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

1. Christian Benteke
2. Lucas
3. Jordan Henderson
European Football - UEFA Europa League - Round of 32 1st Leg - FC Augsburg v Liverpool FC
Three positions Liverpool need to improve in?

1. Goalkeeper
2. Centre midfield
3. Centre back

A spine

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

1. Leroy Sané (Attacker, Schalke)
2. Ricardo Rodríguez (Left back, Wolfsburg)
3. Iñigo Martínez (Centre back, Real Sociedad)

What can Liverpool achieve next season?

The title always has to be the aim. Always.