Brendan Rodgers lead Liverpool to a 7th place finish in the 2012/13 season and this season, set a bold target. The reds announced their ambition to secure a top 4 finish, Rodgers knew his squad was steadily improving. For all the progress made, he could never have foreseen the season that Liverpool would go on to have.
Strength in depth
With star striker Luis Suarez suspended for the first 6 matches of the season, Daniel Sturridge lead the line scoring match winning goals. On 13 points and in 2nd position, Liverpool welcomed back Luis Suarez who remained after flirting with Real Madrid all summer long. In only Suarez's 3rd match back in the team, he demolished West Bromwich Albion at Anfield. A typical Suarez style show delighted the Anfield crowd, Suarez nutmegging defender Olsson to score and a remarkable header aided by the cross of Cissokho. He completed his hatrick with a Kop end header supplied by a Steven Gerrard free kick; strike partner Daniel Sturridge added to the score line after a consolation penalty for West Brom with a sumptuous chip from outside of the 18 yard box. Anfield was becoming a fortress.
Liverpool traveled to the Emirates Stadium to take on high flying Arsenal, who were enjoying a rich vein of form thanks to Aaron Ramsey's performances. It was the strike of the Welshman that consolidated the win for Arsenal, overcoming the reads in a 2-0 capitulation. Questions were asked of Liverpool and their ability to compete at the very top. 2 weeks later, the reds faced Everton at Goodison. A thrilling 3-3 draw rescued by a late Sturridge header was the beginning of a purple patch for Liverpool who would see off 4 opponents scoring 17 goals in the process after a blip loss to Hull City.
Liverpool defeated Norwich 5-1 at Anfield thanks to a world class Luis Suarez performance. The Uruguayan scored 4 goals, including a free kick, a long range spectacular strike and 2 excellent moments of skill setting up 2 crisp finishes. He later set up Raheem Sterling to round off an unforgettable performance. West Ham were next to be put to the sword as Liverpool blitzed the hammers 4-1, but faced Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane next. With captain Steven Gerrard absent, Luis Suarez took the armband and lead Liverpool to a surprising win. A 5-0 hammering inspired by Luis Suarez's quality performance propelled Liverpool up the table going into Christmas as they remained top of the tree.
On Boxing day Liverpool faced a tough test at the Etihad Stadium. If Liverpool were to carry on a the top of the table, they would need to pass City and Chelsea later in the week unscathed. After being controversially denied the lead, Phillippe Coutinho eventually gave Liverpool the advantage, but it wasn't to last long. A late surge from the home team took the game from Liverpool and a mistake from goalkeeper Simon Mignolet allowed Alvaro "Beast" Negredo to score the winner. This defeat certainly seemed to dent any challenge Liverpool would present Chelsea with, again losing 2-1 to a top home side. Once again, after taking the lead, Liverpool's defence was to be the Achilles heel for the reds. There was an uncertainty at the back with the rotation of Kolo Toure, Mamadou Sakho and Daniel Agger playing alongside Martin Skrtel. Even at left back, Jose Enrique was an absentee which allowed Jon Flanagan and Aly Cissokho to fill in. Quite the contrary to a stubborn Chelsea back four who remained very much consistent throughout the campaign.
The run in
From New Years Day, Liverpool went 9 Premier League matches unbeaten. Before 13th April, the reds went into a "title decider" with Manchester City at Anfield as favorites. It was a dream start for Liverpool who blew City away with the passing and intensity of their opening 20 minutes. Leading 2-0, the game seemed on a knife edge. City knew that if Liverpool conceded there was a way back into the match. David Silva menacingly found pockets of space around the Liverpool back four and gave City a lifeline, shortly followed by another goal from the Spaniard. Liverpool dug deep, finding a 78th minute winner from a sliced clearance from Vincent Kompany which fell perfectly for the right foot of Phillipe Coutinho to lash into Joe Hart's left corner. An uncharacteristic error from Kompany allowed Liverpool a 7 point advantage in the league table. But in 2 weeks time, the biggest test was still to come.
"We go again"
At the end of an emotional match against City, Steven Gerrard gathered his troops after the final whistle and delivered a famous speech to them. Charged on the emotions of the 25th Anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy, Gerrard poignantly delivered a rallying cry for concentration and commitment from his team. "We go to Norwich, exactly the same" were the skippers words. He would go to Carrow Road but this time without the energetic Henderson who was sent off for a rash tackle at the end of the City game, thus making Gerrards's job considerably harder. After going 3-0 up, the reds conceded twice scraping a vital 3 points. The only remaining matches were Chelsea at Anfield, Crystal Palace away and Newcastle at home. Liverpool went into these matches as favorites for the league.
The wheels came off the wagon
Jose Mourinho set up his Chelsea side to defend against a rampant Liverpool side. Either side of a Champions League Semi Final against Atletico Madrid, Chelsea were lead by Demba Ba who capitalized on an agonizingly unfortunate slip from Steven Gerrard. The skipper slipped to the Anfield turf after a pacey pass from Aly Cissokho allowing Ba to run through on goal and beat Mignolet with a side foot finish. The Anfield atmosphere died. On the stroke of halftime, Chelsea took in a lead after barely emerging from their own half of the pitch. Employing Andre Schurrle and Mohammed Salah as wing back proved difficult to deal with for Liverpool when Chelsea broke, stinging Mignolet's palms with a well struck effort after some clever combination play between the two.
The injured Daniel Sturridge came on to the pitch for Lucas, providing Luis Suarez with company near the Chelsea goal but it was pressure from Nemanja Matic on the 24 year old that allowed Fernando Torres to run through on goal unchallenged with Willian. A tactical masterclass dealt from Mourinho on his former counterpart Rodgers.
The beginning of the end
On Monday night football hosted on Sky Sports, Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville discussed the tactical idiocy of Liverpool against Chelsea. The match rendered Liverpool no longer favorites for the league, allowing City a chance. Liverpool faced a resurgent Crystal Palace, enjoying a fierce stint of form following the arrival of experienced manager Tony Pulis. The stubborn defence implemented in Palace by Pulis proved difficult to breach, but after wearing down Palace, Liverpool took a 3-0 lead. But once again, a poor defence was to be the downfall of Liverpool's title challenge. A dynamic display from Yannick Bolasie tore the Liverpool back line apart before a deflected Damien Delaney header breathed hope into Selhurst Park. Minutes later, Dwight Gayle's introduction troubled Martin Skrtel as he fired home from a cross delivered by the tricky Bolasie and again 2 minutes from time sealed an equalizer. Liverpool were punished for trying to overhaul a 13 goal deficit to City on goal difference, but City however had no struggles as the magnificent Yaya Toure took Palace to pieces the following match day. Advantage City.
A deflated Newcastle United buoyed by Alan Pardew's recent touchline return came to Anfield for the final match of the season. Liverpool needed a win and a miracle from the Etihad Stadium with City losing to a safe West Ham United team. It seemed that an unlikely goal from Andy Carroll, former Liverpool striker was the only hope left for Liverpool. City did not slip up, beating West Ham. Liverpool's hard fought victory was irrelevant. A close 2nd place finish on 84 points second to City on 86 points felt almost a disappointment after the match.
No Liverpool fan or player could have predicted such a strong season for Liverpool in this season. After finishing 7th, excluding Liverpool from any European competition, this was a momentous achievement. The experienced Manuel Pellegrini beat Liverpool to a craved title, but with what Liverpool had in place in comparison to undisputed the best squad in the league was an astounding effort. With a young team frequently using Raheem Sterling, 19, Jon Flanagan,18 and a host of young and inexperienced players, some even new to the country, Liverpool were not the finished article. The ageing Steven Gerrard dropped deeper into a more commanding position allowing his world famous passing ability to become a key feature in his game once again. A prolific strike force forged by Rodgers tore almost every team in the league to pieces, with the team scoring over 100 goals and Luis Suarez breaking 30 goals landing the top goal scorer award. The dynamic midfield proved tactically impossible to deal with, due to the flexibility of Rodgers' players and their fluid position swapping. The ability to change from formation to formation and switch players to allow maximum offensive penetration was marveled upon by other managers in the league. The Kop will be watching Champions League football in the new season, a new feature which will undoubtedly bring new talent to Anfield bound to excite the fans. It seems Brendan Rodgers is awakening a "sleeping giant", and he must be doing something right, according to interest from Barcelona in him.
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