Liverpool: The Season That Was – How Was It For You? #5 - 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 fifth of our Q&As. Part one is here, you can find part two here, part three here and part four here.

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

JAMES DUTTON

@jrgdutton

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

Despite Stoke I felt he was worth another go and that he still had credit in the bank from 2013-14. But it was clear within weeks that he was mentally shot as Liverpool manager, and I was pleasantly surprised that FSG gave him the bullet less than two months into the season.

What were your expectations for Liverpool’s season then?

A better season than 14-15, but one ultimately of frustration. I felt that if the mitigating circumstances of the previous season were erased — a fit Daniel Sturridge, consistent selections in defence, the Steven Gerrard conundrum — then there was scope for improvement. A challenge for the top four felt the most realistic of ambitions for a squad with so many obvious holes, but a cup run with a trophy at the end of it — and a re-emergence as a serious European team — felt just as important.

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 inevitably felt that the season would become a damage limitation exercise, and it hinted at concern at the direction of the club with no real clue initially as to who was being lined up. It felt like Liverpool had become experts at managing expectations and were settling for being alright, not aspiring to be the best.

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Klopp then, surprised by his appointment?

Very much so, an appointment that really went in the face of Rodgers’ own just over three years before. Instead of long-term plans and philosophies, Klopp really had Liverpool fans believing again. Supporters didn’t need winning over, and the first line about “turning doubters into believers” was so prescient. He got it straight away. The drift that had encapsulated the final year of Rodgers’ reign was cast aside.

How do you think he has done so far?

I don’t think he’s got the credit he deserves. That squad under Rodgers had little-to-no chance of reaching a European final — fundamentally it lacked the nous that Klopp brought. The league season has been disappointing, but feels difficult to judge until we see what happens next. He’s been afforded a seven-
month honeymoon period to work it all out, we’ll see the benefits of that next year.

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?

Eighth is not good enough, a top-six finish was arguably the bare minimum expectation for the talent at Klopp’s disposal this season. But the two cup runs point to what the squad is capable of. Consistency has been a real struggle, but on their day they’re capable of beating the best – as we’ve seen.

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

1: Dejan Lovren. A vast improvement under Klopp, a real redemption story from the ineptitude of his debut season. Just shows what he was capable of when the problem areas around him, particularly in midfield, were addressed.

2: Emre Can. Great to see his increased maturity as the season went on. Can only improve in the coming years under a manager who really knows how to get the best out of him.

3: Roberto Firmino. Spent half-the-season adjusting to the pace of the league, with Klopp figuring out where to get the best out of him on the pitch. Injuries caused him to move further forward and we saw his most profitable period of the season. Impressive in front of goal but still a feeling that there is much more to come yet.

Football - FA Premier League - Norwich City FC v Liverpool FCTop three Liverpool games of the season?

1: Liverpool 4-3 Borussia Dortmund

2: Norwich 4-5 Liverpool

3: Manchester City 1-4 Liverpool

Best Liverpool goal?

For aesthetic purposes it’s Benteke’s stunning overhead-kick at Old Trafford. For sheer individuality it’s Coutinho at Old Trafford. But for sheer unbridled joy it’s Lovren’s header. An indescribable feeling.

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

Losing two finals was heartbreaking, and feeds into what is becoming a massive concern — that this Liverpool team is becoming a nearly-team. They nearly won the title, they nearly went to two cup finals last year, and they nearly won two cups this year. The longer this pattern of under-achievement and brittle mentality lasts the more it becomes endemic and part of the fabric of the squad. It’s why they’re so inconsistent and is surely Klopp’s biggest test in the long-run.

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

It’s a massive shame that the European nights which so energised the season and the club will be missing next year, particularly with the new Main Stand and increased attendance. But it will be fascinating to see what Klopp can get out of the team with proper preparation throughout the week. It worked wonders in 13-14, and for Leicester this season, but it’s not generally a rule that a title challenge naturally follows.

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

Martin Skrtel — time to say goodbye.

Adam Bogdan — just why are you at our club?

Christian Benteke — it was never going to work, was it?

Three positions Liverpool need to improve in?

Goalkeeper, centre-back, centre-midfield. Liverpool’s spine has been punching below its weight for a few seasons now and it’s good to see that Klopp has already addressed these three areas with Karius, Matip and Grujic coming in.

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

Mario Gotze would be great — you can never have too many world-class players, and he’s more of a No 10 than any of the players we currently have. But more importantly it’s refreshing to approach a summer transfer-window without any real worry. Worry that the transfer committee will hoist an unwanted player on the manager has gone, so too that the manager will target his own unsuitable player. That weird political sideshow has gone and Liverpool can target and recruit talent in a more functional way again.

What can Liverpool achieve next season? 

Who knows? It will be exciting to find out.

03.12.2011, BorussiaPark, Mönchengladbach, GER, 1.FBL, Borussia Mönchengladbach vs Borussia Dortmund, im BildJürgen Klopp (Trainer Dortmund) und Mario Götze (Dortmund #11) // during the 1.FBL, Borussia Mönchengladbach vs Borussia Dortmund on 2011/12/03, BorussiaPark, Mönchengladbach, Germany. EXPA Pictures © 2011, PhotoCredit: EXPA/ nph/ Mueller..***** ATTENTION - OUT OF GER, CRO *****

PAUL COPE

@paul7cope

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

I remember being massively in the minority when saying he should be given another shot after what he’d nearly achieved in 2013-14. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but I still think it was the right call and shows that if and when Klopp needs backing during the tough times he should get it from FSG, which is a positive to take from the whole thing. We and Rodgers knew that if he kept his job the team had to start well, and as soon as things started to unravel it was clear he had to go, but I don’t think that means it was the wrong decision to keep him.

What were your expectations for Liverpool’s season then?

It’s hard to remember to be honest! Looking back it feels like we spent so much time last summer debating whether the manager should stay that I didn’t really look at the season as a whole, especially after the fixture list came out and we all basically thought he could well be sacked by the end of that first run of away games. The irony being it was the soft homes games that killed him.

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?

Like a lot of people, my opinion on the current squad has fluctuated over time. For the most part I thought there was more quality than most did when it was getting slated during the season, and I still think that’s the case, but I think it’s impossible to assess any squad without knowing which manager is going to lead them. I am very firmly in the camp that thinks managers are hugely important so at the point Rodgers was sacked I always thought the season would rest on who we appointed next.

Klopp then, surprised by his appointment?

In one sense surprised that our much maligned MD and owners who had also started to come under fire managed to pull it off, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a manager so suited to us being available when we wanted them. I think if Ayre and the owners hadn’t appointed Klopp there would have been mutiny, especially as it seemed like the entire fan base wanted him, which is again something else I’ve never seen. So, overall it felt inevitable that we’d get him, and sacking Rodgers when we did to enable Klopp to be appointed was the right thing, especially given that not long after that some of our closest rivals were starting to look for a new manager and would no doubt have competed with us for Klopp given a few more months.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7kWxw5e2t0

How do you think he has done so far?

Mixed to be honest, which I think was probably to be expected. It’s easy in the modern world to get carried away and think someone like him is a miracle worker, but it was interesting that he was keen to point out early doors that he’s not Jesus (who never managed to win the league anyway, he was more of a cup manager) while not seeking to dampen expectations.

The most interesting thing I think has happened this season though is watching how someone being honest, charming and naturally charismatic can keep away criticism in the media and from the fans (although that has changed with some fans fairly recently). I think it’s absolutely right he’s given time to bring in his own players, but the reality is he’s made some mistakes this year that I probably wouldn’t have expected from a coach of his level (including subs or lack of them in the Europa final).

Overall though I still think he’s the perfect fit and if you’re a Liverpool fan who isn’t excited and getting right behind him you might as well jack it all in now.

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?

My immediate reaction was that it was poor overall, but then on reflection it’s getting to two cup finals that led to us finishing eighth. We lost one final on penalties and in the other had an awful 45 minutes (which can happen in cup finals — I remember another one where we lost a half 3-0…). So, it’s probably exactly what I think this squad is capable of — not able to challenge on all fronts at once but enough quality and strength to compete for certain spells and in certain games. It lacks leadership and consistency, but they’re the perennial problems teams face that they need to solve.

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

I’ve surprised myself when stopping to think about this, and would probably go for Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren and Roberto Firmino.

Clyne has been pretty much everything I thought he’d be, although maybe not as effective going forward as I thought he was. As a former right back and someone who got “Jones 2” (as in Rob Jones) on the back of his shirt when you could first get player names, I’m always made up to see a good right back. Clyne is one of those signings that you know will box off that position for the next five years at least (injuries permitting).

Lovren deserves huge credit for the way he’s turned his Liverpool career around and sums up what I said about not judging a squad without knowing who its manager is. Lovren under Rodgers would have been sold this year as a complete flop. Under Jürgen he now looks like the player we thought we were buying.

I might surprise people picking Firmino ahead of Coutinho, but I think he’s been great for his first season in England. He’s scored and created goals, and works really hard. I’ve picked him above Phil because it’s his first season (which you have to take into account) and I still have a few little doubts about Coutinho. My big concern being if he’s our player of the season each year he needs to be better than he is because he’s not at a Gerrard/Suarez/Torres level yet and needs to get there (although he still has time). The players named above all highlight an issue we have though — no genuine world=class players who stand out as a deserving winner of player of the season.

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

Top three Liverpool games of the season?

Dortmund home, Norwich away and City away in the league.

The first two speak for themselves, and City makes it in ahead of a few others because of the feeling it gave everyone at the time. Despite Klopp’s protestations to the contrary, I remember thinking after the game that we’d never be beaten again and this squad was all of a sudden as good as I’d been saying it was.

Looking back over the season the thing that stands out though is just how many great days we’ve already had since Klopp came in. If ever a club was made for big and dramatic wins it’s ours, and he’s certainly delivered on that front.

Best Liverpool goal?

Firmino v City away. I banged on about this at the time, but the build up was immense and Firmino’s cool finish was massively underrated (see Benteke’s miss v Arsenal at around the same time to compare).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uz7Lm-WVzW0

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

The same as always — can we compete with Chelsea, City and United, especially given their financial strength and recent managerial appointments. Next season really will see a clash of the really big managerial powerhouses in the Premier League for the first time, so hopefully the short pre season because of the Euros will still give us an edge because Jürgen’s effectively had a nine-month pre-season whereas Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho will only get a few weeks.

If it wasn’t for the appointments of those two I’d be getting very, very excited now at what we could do next season (I’ll still get very excited, it’s just that the sensible part of my head will keep reminding me that Guardiola and Mourinho are decent at winning things).

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

A massive help subject to who Jürgen can still convince to sign for us. I’ve heard the same argument as in 13-14 from a few people saying no teams ever go from eighth and not in Europe to winning the league, but I think what people forget is that it takes a special set of circumstances for a squad like ours with a manager like ours not to be in Europe. In 13-14 we had Gerrard, Suarez and Sturridge (with some able assistants). Next season we’ll have Klopp, Sturridge, Coutinho and Firmino (in his second season) plus a load of able assistants (including a much improved Origi).

When are teams who finish eighth the season before and not in Europe ever able to name a manager and players like that for the following season?

The downside is obviously that without the Champions League the likes of Goetze are unlikely to sign. If Klopp can convince him to join I’ll be going out for a week to celebrate.

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

Obviously loads will leave so I’ll try to avoid the clearly obvious ones. I think sadly no European football will see Joe Allen, Lucas and Kolo leave (I would have kept them all if we were in Europe, although I doubt Allen would have stayed). The one surprise I could still see though is Sturridge leaving. While it would really, really disappoint me, there’s still something missing from his game that I think Klopp wants from his main striker — a never-say=die attitude rather than pure work rate — and I worry that Sturridge’s general demeanour goes against him with someone like Jürgen. He also might not want to stick around if he thinks Origi (or someone else) could be the first choice, or if a team in the Champions League comes in with a big money offer.

Football - FA Cup - 4th Round Replay - West Ham United FC v Liverpool FC

Three positions Liverpool need to improve in?

Difficult not to be obvious with this one. Goalie, left back and centre mid for me. The first two speak for themselves and I still think we need a leader in the middle who can dictate the tempo of a game with his presence. Can could be that man eventually but I see next season still being early for him to take on that mantle.

One key thing here though is probably an unpopular thing to say, but I wouldn’t get rid of Moreno. His attributes will actually be suited to 85 per cent of the games we play next season when most of the time we’re trying to beat inferior sides who put men behind the ball. We can buy a more solid left back or play Gomez or Flanno in all the important games when we need a lad with something other than clowns with symbols running around inside his head, and a Street Fighter-esque scissor kick as his special move.

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

I’ll never pretend to be someone who knows anything about who we should buy next. I hadn’t heard of Xabi Alonso when we bought him, or Sami Hyypia, and I thought Andy Carroll would be amazing.

The reality is there are only a minimal number of really world-class players in the world and there’s no guarantee any of them would work at Liverpool regardless of the money spent anyway. I always love how the clamour for the likes of Alex Teixeira and Lacazette soon dies down once everyone starts to realise they couldn’t have been that great to begin with (when one ends up in China and the other is only wanted by West Ham), so for once I’ll happily trust in the manager and his staff to pick some gems up from around the world and turn them into superstars a la Lewandowski.

(Saying that, I might start a “buy Suarez” campaign on Twitter to replace the age-old “buy Reus” one. Surely he’ll get sick of winning things with Barca soon and will fancy another crack at the Premier League).

What can Liverpool achieve next season?

Win the league. That should be our sole aim. It could again be the best opportunity we’ll have to win it for a while, with Guardiola and Mourinho in their first seasons at new clubs, Chelsea with a new manager and a squad to rebuild and Arsenal and Spurs being well, you know, Arsenal and Spurs. Klopp’s had a big head start on all of them, no midweek games to contend with and a good squad which he’ll improve upon.

In fact, forget that — we should win the treble. We’ll have a good enough squad and still won’t have to play three times a week most weeks to win all three.

Anything less and Klopp should be sacked*.

*just kidding, internet.

Football - FA Premier League - Liverpool FC v West Bromwich Albion FC

CRAIG HANNAN

@C_Hannan7

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

I thought so — I’m an eternal optimist. I hadn’t called for his head but, equally, had he been sacked I wouldn’t have been up in arms. I did however feel he deserved the opportunity to right the wrongs, based on the fact that I’d not experienced football as bold as his second year in charge — you don’t forget the buzz of a first title challenge and that was almost certainly what I was holding on to.

The brand of football during times of success for Rodgers was built on the self confidence he had in his own values but we seemed to be losing all direction at the end. Long gone was the gung-ho, high intensity football and clear attacking vision, instead replaced with a defeatist approach and a team as toothless as I can remember. Old Trafford was the turning point for me.

What were your expectations for Liverpool’s season then?

Early season exuberance means I’m always hopeful going into the new campaign — it’s a fresh start with some exciting signings and I thought our lads would come out fighting with a point to prove. If Firmino and Benteke could hit the ground running and we could get Sturridge fit, I believed there might be a chance of building some momentum, challenging for top four or potentially winning a cup. Eternal optimism, quite often blind.

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 felt like the side were damaged goods, our fan base was flat and my positivity was diminishing. Best case scenario, possibly an FA Cup run and some momentum built going into 16-17.

Klopp then, surprised by his appointment?

Massively. It felt like the right fit but then we had been let down so many times when it came to recruitment of players never mind an actual world-class manager. I thought we might end up reading the rumours about Klopp and building ourselves up then having to settle for a De Boer or similar.

How do you think he has done so far?

Two cup finals, Dortmund, dumping United out of Europe and beating City comprehensively home and away were not things I would have imagined happening. There have obviously been set backs, but this season felt like a bonus for Klopp. Most importantly, he’s forged a bond with the fan base and has us having fun again. He’s managed to awaken Anfield from a slumber, dispelling our own doubts that its atmosphere could not be what it once was. All while reviving the Liverpool careers of a few players we’d previously written off.

Football - FA Premier League - Liverpool FC v Leicester City 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?

A number of members of this squad had been written off completely and after the cup final in February journalists were writing of a clear out this summer. This team are better than eighth, but then our cup runs have contributed to our final position. I think we’ll see big changes in the summer but the majority of our players have shown they’re at least capable enough for a place in the squad next year.

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

Dejan Lovren — During the Dortmund game I prayed for the first time in my life for a goal and so I’ve basically found Christ through the head of big Dejan. In all seriousness, I’m not even sure it’s really the same human as before.

Roberto Firmino — Controversial. For the numbers in his first season in a foreign league as mad as this one. Much to improve on, though.

Daniel Sturridge — Finds fitness and carries on being the absolute business. A 10 out of 10 footballer who breeds optimism and belief.

Top three Liverpool games of the season?

United away in Europe — We allow them to believe they have a chance before Coutinho does THAT. Ends on the shoulders of John Gibbons in Popworld and the music stopped by the DJ until he puts me down.

Dortmund home — Sheer, unadulterated joy. Nothing legal makes you feel like that other than Dejan at the death dumping Dortmund out of Europe.

Norwich away — If I’m honest I was tucked up by 8pm after this and all blame lies with Lallana. Caulker up top, Lallana bare chested and Klopp’s celebrations. Magic.

Best Liverpool goal?

Daniel Sturridge v Sevilla. Effortless. Maybe the best goal we might live to forget.

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

The lack of leaders in our side.

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

It might feel like a hindrance now during silly season, but come August it may just be a blessing. The league is number one. I’m sad we’ll not experience nights like Dortmund and Villarreal for a while, though.

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

Toure begrudgingly, Skrtel inevitably and possibly Benteke — if we can recoup most of what we’ve paid.

Three positions Liverpool need to improve in?

Centre midfield — buy a bastard. Goalkeeper — buy a good one (hopefully we have there). Left back — buy one who can be relied upon to defend.

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

Gotze to give us a lift and show the rest that we still have that pulling power. I would love a Mascherano or someone of that ilk in our midfield. Dahoud would be exciting.

What can Liverpool achieve next season?

The league. That’s how we should approach it, anyway.