Max Morland explains how the lack of a real talisman in the Liverpool team can be a good thing.
3 years ago, the ‘SAS’ partnership of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge combined to score 53 goals to fire Liverpool to within touching distance of an elusive first Premier League crown. It was by far the most thrilling and enjoyable season since the times of Torres and Gerrard, but ultimately, the title charge ran out of steam towards the end, and for the third time in just over a decade, the Reds found themselves agonisingly short of clinching the title.
That summer, Suarez packed his bags for Catalonia, and Brendan Rodgers spent the £75million Barcelona paid for the Uruguayan on Mario Balotelli and Rickie Lambert. However, amongst the anguish fans felt after seeing their side fall short of the title, there was a new found sense of optimism.
For the first time since the Benitez era, Liverpool were in the Champions League, and when the draw pitted the Reds against the Real Madrid, widely regarded as the best team in the world at the time, the news was not met with anxiety or fear of humiliation; instead, the reaction of most Reds fans was one of confidence the true belief that this team could once again compete at the levels of Madrid and Barcelona at the very peak of today’s game.
So why couldn’t Liverpool really kick-on from that season? Why did we end the next season in sixth place, out at the Champions League group stages, and scoring half the amount of goals as in the 2013/14 campaign?
Clearly, the loss of Luis Suarez was detrimental to the team, in more ways than one. Not only did his goals almost single-handedly drag Liverpool to the brink of the title, but we were so heavily reliant on him, that, after he left, we virtually needed to start from scratch in rebuilding the attack.
Yes, the £75million could have been spent more wisely, and Sturridge’s measly 7 starts greatly reduced our attacking threat, but during his time at Anfield, Rodgers built his entire squad around Suarez’s capabilities and strengths, and we became completely reliant on the Uruguayan to provide not only the team’s goals but be also our creative spark. He was the one who initiated nearly all of the intense pressing for which we became synonymous with during his time at the club.
When Suarez left, so did everything he gave the team. And yet, this is just one example of Liverpool becoming too over-reliant on a player, and only realising the impact they had on the team after they left.
In 2008/09, Liverpool was again unsuccessful in a serious title bid, this time being painfully pipped by Manchester United to the title. That summer, Xabi Alonso departed to Real Madrid, and the balance and range of passing that he provided the team was lost and has arguably still not been replaced to this day. The following season we saw Liverpool drop from second in 2009, to seventh place and Rafael Benitez left the club after six years in charge.
Now, however, Jürgen Klopp has built a new team that looks capable of competing at the very top of the league, but for the first time since an 18-year-old Steven Gerrard came on for his debut, this side lacks a real talisman- someone who clearly stands out above everyone in the team in terms of both their quality and leadership.
Phillipe Coutinho, whom Pele called the “one of the best Brazilians playing in Europe”, is now just a fantastic component alongside Adam Lallana, Sadio Mané, and fellow Brazilian Roberto Firmino, in an attack which has scored the second-most goals in the Premier League so far this season.
The current captain, Jordan Henderson, has put in some impressive displays recently, but he is nowhere near as influential and vital in the team as Gerrard was for many seasons. (Although his long range screamer against Chelsea last week did remind me of our previous skipper!)
Perhaps with the exceptions of Sadio Mané, Joel Matip, and Nathaniel Clyne anyone in the current Liverpool squad could be taken out of the team, including the goalkeeper, and neither the performance nor the final result would be impacted. This has already been made evident, with only four players having started all six of the Reds’ league matches this season, with the team sitting in fourth position having played last season’s champions, as well as away fixtures against Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham.
In contrast, if Suarez was to have been sold to Barcelona a year earlier, Liverpool’s 2013/14 season would have almost certainly ended up a whole lot differently to that thrilling campaign, in which he was the main component to the Reds’ success.
With Klopp at the helm and a healthy, competitive squad on hand, the team should be able to build over the coming years, with small tweaks each transfer window, instead of the wide scale clear-out that took place in the German’s first summer transfer window at Anfield.
Furthermore, the club should be able to keep the high-intensity style of play which has given Klopp huge success in his managerial career thus far, without needing to completely rebuild and remodel the team after a major departure, as has been the case over the last decade.
At Borussia Dortmund, the 49-year old built a team which won consecutive Bundesliga titles, without ever spending large amounts on any so-called ‘big-name players’, partly because the club didn’t have the necessary finances, but also due to the fact that Klopp likes to coach and develop talent, rather than to purchase ready-made stars, as is the case with Jose Mourinho.
If Liverpool can continue to improve and develop as a team, we could well see the club’s first ever Premier League title that Klopp promised to deliver, within four years, in his first press conference last year.
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