It is May 2014, and as Liverpool supporters drift away from Anfield for the final time of the season―all of them eager to get home and watch Jamie Carragher’s expert punditry on their television screens―they can reflect on another eventful campaign.
The lack of European football in 2013/14 made it seem a less hectic season than usual, but Reds supporters were streaming out of the ground knowing that real signs of progress were made during the campaign, much more so than in the previous one, when it often became necessary to strain your eyes to try and see just what manager Brendan Rodgers was so upbeat about.
This time around a much more settled Liverpool side were more consistently capable of playing attractive, winning football, which often troubled the elite.
Whilst a degree of uncertainty reigned at the previous season’s top three clubs following their appointment of new managers in the summer, now there was a real sense that Liverpool were becoming much more of a cohesive unit.
Luis Suarez―now mercifully free of any more incidents which drew criticisms from despotic world leaders, as reported here in The Guardian―bagged 30 goals for the second consecutive season, whilst Daniel Sturridge followed the 11 goals he scored in his first half of a campaign in a red shirt by reaching over 20 this time. In addition, Philippe Coutinho scored 10 and created almost twice as many.
It was these extra goals―strikes so conspicuous by their absence in the first half of the previous campaign―that ensured that Liverpool could cling onto the coattails of the clubs near the top of the table far longer than at any time in the previous four seasons. Where points were dropped in the past, they were clung onto tightly now.
The reason for that was partly down to an improvement in central defence, where Daniel Agger and the previous summer’s biggest signing, Kyriakos Papadopoulos, according to the Daily Mirror, had formed an impressive pairing that combined both speed and skill with brute force and creativity.
Playing in front of goalkeeper Pepe Reina, the partnership proved an incredibly effective one, with the addition of experienced two-time Premier League winner Kolo Toure, according to the BBC providing reliable backup to both whenever it was needed. Carragher―whilst hugely missed around the dressing room―was hardly missed on the pitch.
His good friend, Steven Gerrard, had managed to complete every minute of every one of Liverpool’s Premier League matches over the season after coming so close to completing the feat in the previous campaign.
Thriving in the centre of midfield as the likes of Coutinho and Jordan Henderson did the majority of his running for him, Gerrard was able to back up his strong form from 2012/13 with another impressive year.
Henderson, too, continued his rapid progress with a season that saw him become a regular in the England squad, whilst youngsters Raheem Sterling and Jordon Ibe alternated roles within the side as their games continued to come on leaps and bounds.
Rodgers, too, seemed to continue to be learning on the job.
Gone was the relentless positivity of his first campaign as―with the club now devoid of the distractions of the manager’s first season in charge―things settled down somewhat.
The scouting and coaching departments set up by Fenway Sports Group were making a difference behind the scenes, and Rodgers himself seemed more relaxed as a result. Things were ticking over quite nicely.
A trophy helps with that, of course, and with Liverpool extending their haul of League Cups to nine with a win at Wembley in late February, Rodgers was able to add a warming glow to the campaign.
But it is the Premier League that matters most, of course, and Liverpool’s ongoing quest to get back among the elite in the Champions League.
Getting as close as possible to the top four places was always the goal throughout the season, and just whether or not the Reds reached their goal remains to be seen.
Some things in life, and football, just can’t be confidently predicted…