Win, lose or draw. Champions League, Europa League or midweek nights spent on the sofa as opposed to playing on the continent, the expectation levels at Liverpool will always be high.
Wherever the club are and whatever they are doing―be it reaching two Champions League finals in three years and being ranked as the best club in Europe by UEFA’s coefficient rankings, all the way down to scrabbling around in the relegation zone under Roy Hodgson or losing at Oldham Athletic under Brendan Rodgers―that expectation will always be there, and it will always be preaching the same message.
“Must do better.”
Of course it is easy to focus on that message when the club has experienced a relative lack of success as opposed to recent times and the special memories that they brought, and when a manager such as Rodgers finds himself cast into a position whereby success can be determined on just how much better he does than the last guy, a yardstick emerges that is a constant reminder of the desire to measure of just what success is.
This season, with principal owner John W. Henry keen to stress that the Reds weren’t expecting to qualify for the Champions League (via The Guardian) it became difficult to work out whether or not Liverpool were actually doing well at all.
We were often told of the signs of progress that Rodgers and his largely new team were making, but just when that progress looked set to give way to some longed-for consistency, the Reds would throw in a poor performance and lose a game out of the blue. West Brom, Aston Villa, Stoke, Oldham, West Brom again, Southampton―the prosecution rests.
As a season on which to build upon, it has been a pretty promising one, but it's also been one in which it is easy to find negatives.
Luis Suarez’s brilliance means that he is going to be courted by Europe’s elite now more than ever. A weakness in defence has left the club once again reliant on Jamie Carragher―hardly ideal when he’s just eight games away from retirement. Steven Gerrard has played every minute of every Premier league—a phenomenal achievement—but this has made Liverpool look further away than ever at being prepared for life without him.
He’ll still be there next season, of course, and it is a campaign in which the lines between success and failure are likely to look a lot sharper for the Reds.
Gone will be the leeway which has often been afforded to Rodgers in his first season, there might be a few less open ears when he utters one of his morale-boosting speeches or showcases his by-now trademark positivity.
With Daniel Sturridge settled in and playing alongside Suarez―should the latter stay for next season, which looks probable―then Liverpool shouldn’t have the forward problems they experienced during the first half of this season. They’ll presumably have added to the squad in the summer too, and so a lack of numbers all across the group cannot and should not be an issue.
Simply put, Liverpool don’t have to qualify for the Champions League next season to mean that 2013/14 will be considered a success, but they do have to at the very least look like convincing contenders to return to the elite of the European game.
The strength, both historically and financially of the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham makes finishing in the top four of the Premier League harder than it ever has been before, but Liverpool need to show that they are capable of reaching those heights and that they aren’t just clinging to great days of the past any more.
Those great expectations of the club will never go away, and with recent years seeing those expectations perhaps lower for many, what can never be allowed to change is the desire to do better, to improve on the previous year’s efforts.
Liverpool fans won’t accept anything less from their club next season, and nor should they.