The start of the 2014-15 Premier League season is less than a month away, but the memories of the previous season are still very much embedded in the minds of football fans who follow the English Premier League consistently. A title race for the ages occurred, with three teams (and Arsenal) at times looking like genuine contenders for the throne, perhaps highlighted by the rebirth of one of England’s most storied clubs in Liverpool. A team who in years past has fallen into a state of mediocrity with ownership problems, Andy Carroll’s insane transfer fee (and his following ineptitude’s at the club ), the amount of average to below average players soaking up lots of playing time, and no real talisman to take over for Fernando Torres after his departure to Chelsea in 2011.
This was a side that finished in a tied for 8th in 2011-12, just 5 point ups on West Brom, Swansea and Norwich, who finished in a tie for 10th. They were 4 points behind their Merseyside rivals, Everton, who finished 7th. The season was highlighted by Luis Suarez’s racial incident with Patrice Evra, Kenny Dalglish proclaiming that the League Cup trophy victory vs Cardiff (which was a battle between two Gerrards, and yes one of them did let it slip in the penalty shootout) would lead to more trophies in the future. It was as close to rock bottom as a club with Liverpool’s past credentials could be. For god’s sake, Charlie Adam, Jay Spearing and Stewart Downing played a combined 6216 minutes that season. Of course they would be 17 points off of a Champions League spot.
The next season was not much better standings wise, but the seeds of Liverpool’s return to prominence were planted. Coutinho and Sturridge were added in the January transfer window, helping Liverpool play at a pace that through a full season would’ve challenged for the Champions League. They were the best in the EPL in conceding the fewest amount of shots in the penalty box while also having the most shots taken from inside the penalty box.
Their conversion rate at 9.6%, which ranked 12th overall, hindered Liverpool’s goal production. Considering that they scored 71 goals, that was a bit of a scary thought. Suarez himself was the epitome of Liverpool’s inefficiencies, an erratic shooter who doubled as a great chance creator:
|Name||Pen Box Touches per Pen Box Shot||% of Shots Inside Box||Passes per Chance Created||Shot Accuracy %||Goal Conversion %|
The table above is for EPL strikers that registered at least 10 goals in the 2012-13 season. Despite placing second in the EPL in goals that season, Suarez had pretty pedestrian conversion percentages and shooting accuracy, the latter being helped by Suarez’s penchant for taking long distance shots. To top it all off, Suarez received a 10 match ban towards the end of the season with the SECOND bite heard around the world on Branislav Ivanovic. It was another dark moment in Suarez’s footballing career.
There were incessant rumors of him leaving Liverpool, with Arsene Wenger famously triggering his buyout clause of £40million plus one pound. The thought of Suarez playing another season in Anfield was crazy, and what came of it was even crazier.
Liverpool enjoyed perhaps their greatest season since last winning the title in 1990. They were a fire wagon offensive side who delighted fans, employing one of the great forward duos English First Division football has ever seen. Suarez himself enjoyed a huge spike in shooting accuracy and his goal conversion rate despite a decrease in the amount of shots taken from the penalty box.
|Name||Pen Box Touches per Pen Box Shots||% of Shots Inside Box||Passes per Chance Created||Shooting Accuracy %||Goal Conversion%|
Daniel Sturridge upped his goal conversion percentage despite a small decline in shots taken from the penalty area.
As a Liverpool supporter, I couldn’t tell you how enjoyable it was to watch the 2013-14 iteration (Yes, I know that the fun of it came from the unsustainable percentages that Liverpool used during the season, how the goals colored how the team pretty much played the same way the season prior). There was something intoxicating about this Liverpool iteration, the type of bend but don’t break mentality that in ways defined the Premier League in 2013-14. Hell even when Liverpool “defended” and allowed shots from everywhere, there was something fascinating with the approach (mind you, for the most part, in these situations I was rocking back and forth in the fetal position).
This team at times played Kolo Toure at RB/CB in clunky three at the back formations to accommodate SAS, Martin Skrtel had 4 own goals on the season, and there were countless moments of him holding and tugging on opponents jerseys during corner situations. Jon Flanagan became a dependable full back while Glen Johnson continued his decline as a defensively challenged right back.
And yet they got by.
When Coutinho slotted that volley past Joe Hart off of the missed clearance from Vincent Kompany, I started to think that this could be the year. I haven’t followed football for too long, probably ingratiating myself with the sport post 2010 World Cup and becoming a Liverpool fan sometime after. I can’t even tell you how and why I choose being a Liverpool fan, and there are times when I question why I choose the Reds as my team. But I did and once Liverpool got past Norwich by the skin of their teeth, I was ecstatic. I genuinely thought the title was ours and more importantly, we had to win the title that season. Knowing how the other big sides would load up in the summer combined with the statistical regression that would probably come the next season meant this was the greatest opportunity Liverpool had in securing the league title.
And then this happened:
And this happened:
Poof, the league title was gone. The captain of Liverpool F.C. was (and very much still is) the mockery of the football community. A title that looked like it was coming back to Anfield went up in dust courtesy of the “slip seen around the world” and the choke job to seal it.
Look, the slip could’ve happened to anyone. It could’ve been Joe Allen, it could’ve been Lucas. Hell it could’ve even been Suarez, but it wasn’t. It was Steven Gerrard, who compounded things with his “heroic” speech vs Manchester City.
Even without the speech, this would’ve been huge fodder. Gerrard’s career has been defined by narrative and impulse: the famous night in Istanbul, his goal in the 2006 FA Cup Final, the goal that saved Liverpool’s 2004-05 Champions league hopes vs Olympiacos. The 2013-14 season was highlighted by him fighting off the instincts that made him a household name in his younger days. The rover in him having to make way for a more nuanced role as “England’s Pirlo”. Statistically, Gerrard had a great season in this role yet at times the aesthetics of how the job was accomplished made it harder to merge the two worlds.
But the slip? That can and will not ever be lived down by both Gerrard himself and Liverpool fans. At the age of 34, that quite possibly was Gerrard’s last chance at winning the one title that has eluded him for so long and his career to some will just be remembered for the slip.
So, as I watched the final day of the season, I knew it was inevitable that Man City would hoist the title. I was being told by pundits that because of the theater that happened between QPR and Man City two years ago, West Ham had a puncher’s chance of pulling the miracle. I felt insulted as a Liverpool supporter, almost as if I was supposed to grab the dangling carrot and hold on one more time. I didn’t want to grab it, I had enough. City won the title on as anticlimactic a Sunday as there could be.
So here we are, around three weeks away from the start of the Premier League season. A new cast of characters have arrived in the hope of propelling Liverpool one step further to title champions. Suarez is gone and his impact and statistical dominance will have to be made up by the likes of Loic Remy, Adam Lallana (once he returns from his knee injury), Rickie Lambert and others.
I have serious doubts – not just on Liverpool winning the title (they won’t win the title), but even making top 4 next season. Even if Suarez had stayed, Liverpool overperformed statistically and the odds of replicating that type of production were very low. Now with the overhaul of the roster, regression to the mean will come and it will come hard. They won’t be as horrible defensively as they were, but even that won’t amount to much of a jump. I would even go as far to perdict that Liverpool will be anywhere between 10-20 points behind the title winners when the 2014-15 season ends.
Liverpool F.C took their fans and the EPL on a ride that few would’ve seen coming. Seven points from their final three games would’ve given them the title; they only got 4. They made me believe that the impossible could be achieved, but it didn’t happen. Yes, Liverpool will be playing Champions League football this upcoming season, and that’s good news for a club that hasn’t been in the CL since 2009-10. I know that the season on a whole was very successful in restoring the aura that once surrounded this storied club.
But there’s a small part of me, a dark part of my football fandom, that kind of wished I was subjected to another mediocre Liverpool season instead of having been teased into thinking that dreams can actually come true.