For every comprehensive victory for Liverpool this season, someone feels the need to caveat the victory. Either the opponent were severely under strength, they put in their season’s worst performance, or even that they were just a bottom half team.
For every hat-trick or brace from the mercurial Luis Suarez, we’re reminded that ‘he’s most likely off this Summer’. For every comment of praise for the manager, we’re reminded that he either (A) didn’t make any pertinent substitutions, or (B) he’s got little to no experience, therefore we should take any good he seemingly does with a pinch of salt.
This is not to mention the perennial point I continually make of how hard it has been to assess Liverpool all season. Anytime I have tried to assess Liverpool I’ve struggled from the beginning. For every two gentle steps forward, another crushing one back. This season truly had me repeating myself all too often. Regarding the seemingly impossible nature of assessing Liverpool this season though, this for me, is beginning to change.
Following Liverpool’s 0-4 win away at Wigan, they lie in 7th place, 3 points behind Everton. They have scored 53 goals so far – more goals after 28 games than four Premier League winning sides (Man Utd 92-93, 02-03 & 08-09 & Arsenal 97-98). Liverpool’s chances of Champions League football were always unlikely given the obvious circumstances this season, though any hopes seemed to part during the 0-2 loss to West Brom last month. With the gap between Liverpool and 4th looking very much insurmountable, and the lack of appetite for Europa League for some, I ponder what there is to gain between now and May 19th.
For a start, just watching Luis Suarez and the team do their utmost for him to get the Golden Boot will be exceedingly fun – he’s currently on 21 Premier League goals as opposed to 2nd place Van Persie’s haul of 19 goals. Not only the Golden Boot race, but the race to (1) outscore Torres’ Premier League haul of 24 (he got 33 in all competitions while Suarez currently has 26) and Robbie Fowler’s record haul in the Premier League of 28 goals for Liverpool (in 95-96).
Forgetting the statistics, with 10 games left to play, there’s a relatively decent run of fixtures remaining (home games looking tougher than away) – Home games: Spurs, West Ham, Chelsea, Everton & QPR – Away games: Southampton, Reading, Newcastle Fulham. With 30 points left to play for, Liverpool should, obviously, look to take as many points as possible and possibly breach 60 points (Liverpool finished with 52 last season following a second half of the season which equated in relegation form). Breaching 60 points would clearly be a key proponent in the argument for ‘progress’.
So, have Liverpool progressed? In terms of consistent results, I’d say yes. Maybe.. If you break our season into thirds, it has improved within itself at each step. We are scoring more with each step, and learning how to defend again, if only partly, it seems. As I have discussed previously, we’ve developed a sense of pragmatism, which exponentially helps the transition from the team we were last year to the idealistic beast Rodgers wants us to be in time. The pressing game has also began to take shape, which is another factor of encouragement.
With ten games remaining, Liverpool have a chance to build for next season, as cliched as it seems to Liverpool, setting real foundations for next season is absolutely imperative if this transitional season even was transitional and not just a waste of time. Getting Sturridge fit consistently is one aspect of this. Continuing his integration into the side alongside Suarez will be as important as anything these last 10 games should consist of, while the continuing improvement of our pressing game is another factor which needs to be worked on.
We look at Reina, who’s frankly had a poor two years at Liverpool, when comparing his form with some of the world-class displayed he put in between 2005-2009. Nevertheless yesterday at Wigan, Reina, in my opinion, put in one of his best displays since those sunny days during the famous 2009 run-in. Not only did Reina make three truly sublime saves against Wigan, he also played a superb 80-yard pass to Coutinho which was once a huge attribute of his under Benitez.
Should Reina keep putting in such performances he may give Rodgers more confidence when setting out with the inevitable defensive overhaul this Summer. Should one, two or even three centre backs arrive this Summer, keeping hold of some organisational leadership in Pepe Reina is very important. Despite being a fierce critic of Reina, I simply see his organisational skills as too important to depart with considering the further changes ahead.
With ten games remaining, Liverpool are playing well. We may not have beaten a top side yet, but there are chances coming. First up is a well-oiled Spurs side, a certainly ferocious home derby, and a surreal meting with Rafa and his Chelsea side. There’s also seven sides which we certainly have the ability to sweep aside. We may not have been consistent this season, but there’s been improvement.
Football is meant to be fun. This season, if inconsistent, has certainly been fun.