on 17 June 2013
Although it was very pleasing to see Liverpool win their first trophy in almost six years, looking back perhaps it was right for Kenny Dalglish to be sacked at the end of the previous season. Whereas in the cups the team was formidable, after Christmas the league results were disastrous. Kenny had to accept responsibility for the colossal amount of money wasted on signings who took the team's league position backwards. In fact, if the first half of the season did not exist then Liverpool would have been relegation fodder so this decline despite the 2012 League Cup win saw King Kenny dethroned.
Brendan Rodgers appointment as Liverpool manager in the summer of 2012 was an interesting one. While not having the experience at the top of a manager who could immediately transform the team's fortunes, ultimately, if he can learn as he goes along, the 2012-13 season might show the start of some strong foundations being built. Rodgers immediately started by trying to transfer the tiki-taka system (Barcelona's tactic) that he had deployed at Swansea to Liverpool and this led to attractive, attacking play in a possession game that improved as the season wore on. The start of 2012-13 was particularly difficult as the players initially struggled to adjust to the new tactics/training and the squad was bare due to the departures of experienced figures from 2011-12 such as Maxi, Bellamy, Kuyt and Carroll. In fact for a large part of the first half of the season Liverpool only had one fit recognised striker in Luis Suarez. In this difficult first half of 2012-13 the team's defending was abysmal as they failed to understand the system and some of the goals conceded saw the opposition's players simply dribble past every single Liverpool player to score (e.g. Arsenal at home). The other issue in the first part of the season where Liverpool struggled so badly was that the team's profligacy in finishing chances hung over from the previous season. These missed chances can be seen on the DVD as the woodwork continued to be struck far too often.
This bad start was a major factor in Liverpool failing to make it into the Champions League places. However, the team's form started to pick up over the course of December and January. The players got used to Rodgers' tactics and the football played became easy on the eye and exciting. Suarez's continuing brilliance, Coutinho/Sturridge's arrivals and Jamie Carragher's return to the team were the season changers, however. Philippe Coutinho was a creative force either in the hole or out wide and ran games (e.g. Newcastle away) with his skill, guile and vision. He became the best of Rodgers' signings as for a while we needed an attacking player who could make the difference in the final third and dominate the play. With a few months experience of the English game he can improve further next season and all being well can become even better for Liverpool than Yossi Benayoun/Luis Garcia. Daniel Sturridge, on the other hand, added pace and power to the team's frontline and contributed a number of goals to the cause. Carragher's return was similarly crucial in Liverpool's improvement as Skrtel failed to sustain his imperious form from 2011-12. Carragher was more vocal and helped organise the team better. Also his defensive performances were significantly better than Skrtel's and less error prone.
Luis Suarez was in exceptional form throughout the season and arguably the best player in the league. Unlike 2011-12 he showed he was a natural goal scorer. He was prolific throughout 2012-13 and he also created numerous chances with his mazy dribbling ability leading to him running rings around opposition defenders. His classic goal of phenomenal touch and skill at home to Newcastle was the best in Liverpool's season. Other highlights included his exquisite free kick taking ability witnessed particularly versus Zenit and Manchester City. But in all honesty all his goals were so deft and precise that they were all highlights, including his hat tricks against Norwich and Wigan away.
Steven Gerrard was also a key figure in the best part of 2012-13. While I personally feel he was still not quite at the level of his peak noughties years, in a deeper position in midfield he was very good and nearly back to his best. He assimilated himself well into the tiki-taka setting up play and tracking back. His indomitable vision led to him assisting numerous goals while he also scored some spectacular goals of his own (e.g. Man City away). In fact ten goals scored is rather good with him playing deeper now, and but for Suarez, he would have been player of the season once again.
In fact, Brendan Rodgers demonstrated some astute man management in bringing out better performances from Kenny's failed signings in Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Jose Enrique. Henderson looked more comfortable in a central midfield role. He became increasingly dynamic contributing goals/assists including a powerful and precise volley at home to Norwich. Stewart Downing improved becoming a right winger who was more involved in the teams attacking play and finally broke his record of no premier league goals or assists in 2011-12. After a shaky start to the season Enrique similarly improved and his close range goal at home to Swansea was the prime example of the 2012-13 Liverpool tiki-taka in full flow.
Meanwhile, defenders Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger continued to impress for Liverpool in 2012-13 scoring some spectacularly struck and headed goals. Due to Skrtel's poor form, Agger was the best defensive partner for Jamie Carragher in the 2nd half of the season and amassed his highest number of appearances in a season for Liverpool. While Agger made some occasional blunders (West Brom home, Arsenal away) he was quite impressive overall and did not have a disastrous season like Skrtel. Johnson demonstrated his great attacking skill in large parts of 2012-13, though there were still some question marks over his defending occasionally.
Arguably, the fast introduction of a number of youth players was a factor in the poor start to 2012-13, but ultimately this will be to Liverpool's benefit and they played a part in the better games of the season. With his fast dribbling and accurate delivery, Raheem Sterling contributed a lot to Liverpool's cause, though admittedly by February his form tapered away. However, with this experience and upon recovery from injury he should hopefully contribute even more in 2013-14. The towering defender Andre Wisdom and silky midfielder Suso likewise contributed particularly in the better moments of the first half of the season. While in the final game Jordon Ibe provided the assist for Coutinho's stunning long range goal and also looks a good prospect for the coming years.
In the second half of the season, Liverpool started to put more chances away improving their home form from 2011-12 and gaining some landslide away victories. However, while seventh place in a competitive league is okay for a season in transition, ultimately it is not good enough for a famous club like Liverpool, and for a second season in succession Liverpool frustratingly finished below Everton. The club did well to beat more of the smaller teams. However, it was now the inverse of previous 90s/00s years in that the team was beating the small sides but failing to defeat the big clubs. This coupled to the poor start of season was enough to cost the club a place in the top four. Throughout the entire campaign the team were frustrated by inconsistency. Rodgers did well to better man manage Kenny's flops, but next season he must motivate the team for each and every game.
Brendan Rodgers also needs to improve squad depth ahead of 2013-14 and sign more match winners. There were too many drawn games against the top sides in particular, so Liverpool needs more signings like Coutinho and Sturridge. While Stewart Downing did have an improved season, the team perhaps need a new right winger, as at 28/29 Downing should really be beating his man more consistently and scoring about ten goals. There also needs to be less buys like Fabio Borini and Joe Allen, though I am willing to give both a fresh chance to impress next season given their problems with injury. In 2013-14 the club must combine the signings of players with more creative/goal scoring impetus with the team showing more steel and mental strength to close down games better. In both games v Man City and away at Arsenal the players failed to "shut up shop" effectively due to basic errors and this cost Liverpool several important victories that would have got them closer to the top four.
Some of the defensive players need to or might need to be sold. When Coates rarely played he cost the team goals, so he should definitely go. At the time of writing it looks like Mignolet might be a new summer 2013 signing and if Pepe Reina departs I will not be too bothered. Despite improving later on in the season, he made too many ridiculous goalkeeping gaffes which contributed to some bad results. Maybe a fresh start is needed for both player and club. Similarly, Skrtel had a dreadful season and maybe it is time for him to make way. Even Lucas might have to leave as while he had some good games last season, he also had some ineffective games and you cannot help feel that his two serious recent injuries have impaired his impact, possibly irreparably. If the club is to progress and win more, then maybe a more consistent and influential shielding midfielder is needed for 2013-14 so that the team concedes fewer goals.
2012-13 was a tough campaign for the Reds and impossible to rate five stars. However, the season saw Liverpool provide more entertaining attacking play and eventually more clinical finishing. The tiki-taka was impressive to watch in its best moments which is why I would rate the football on the DVD four stars. Additionally, the DVD as a season review is very thorough and features enough highlights and player/manager interviews to keep a lot of Reds connoisseurs happy. Although it was a long haul of a campaign, more goals were scored; the team finished a place higher than 2011-12 with above sixty points. If Liverpool can retain its attacking potency, continues to improve its organisation and cut out individual mistakes then next season could be better. Liverpool could even finish in the top five or four with several of the rival teams in higher positions in transition. However, at the current time it looks ninety-five per cent likely that Suarez will leave and this could be catastrophic to the club's fortunes next season (Alonso in 2009 went to Real Madrid too) as so many goals scored involved his play and he was top scorer. He could simply make goals out of nothing (e.g. QPR away). Also Daniel Sturridge sometimes lacks motivation unless he is against a former club or is getting stick off the rival fans, so if he became our top striker he might not be enough. He is a very good striker at the moment, but to become a great one he must be more committed against every team, especially if he is our star man up front in 2013-14. Ideally, I wish Suarez could be persuaded to stay on while Iago Aspas, I fear, could be another Borini but hopefully he will be a more successful bargain like Coutinho/Sturridge. The club also needs to consider how it will replace Jamie Carragher and this could similarly be detrimental to the team's performances in 2013-14. What is needed is a central defender with leadership qualities who can drill the back four and the whole team into shape. Kolo Toure I expect is not a replacement, but with his experience is more likely to provide hopefully better cover than Coates. Without adequate replacements for the likely departing Suarez and retired Carragher I fear the team could stagnate in mid-table. Also, Chelsea and Bayern Munich have shown in the past couple of years that the tiki-taka can be beaten. However, as a fan I have seen enough subtle progress in 2012-13 to ensure that for now I have faith in Brendan Rodgers to make the right decisions this summer to ensure that the club gets further back on track and nearer the top in 2013-14.