The New Revival of Liverpool FC
No one can doubt the argument that a few wins doesn't mean success. Few would seriously argue that the current Liverpool squad is the greatest in the club's history. There aren't many clued-up people who'd claim Liverpool will definitely outclass Chelsea and Man United based on a good start to the season.
But no one can argue that something feels different this year for Liverpool fans.
At first, it's difficult to put your finger on exactly what it is. After all, with the exception of Albert Riera, this year's other signings, Robbie Keane, Andrea Dossena, Philipp Degen, Diego Cavalieri, and David N'Gog haven't received consistently rave reviews, both from fans and pundits, either because of injury or taking time to settle.
So if it isn't the performance of the new signings on the pitch that's given the squad an apparent new edge, what is it?
Well I personally, unlike many people I've spoken to, think that Keane has already been an excellent signing for Liverpool. His one goal was a crucial one, stamping authority in a difficult Champions League match against PSV—but it's not his goal that I've been impressed with.
Both his teamwork and movement off the ball seem to have given Liverpool a new lease of life in attack. Of course, Steven Gerrard filled that role and did it stunningly well with Torres last season, but I felt that left him isolated, having to track back when we were struggling and less able to use his usual midfield dominance, and, as I'm sure Rafa is well aware, it's in midfield that Liverpool's strength lies.
In 2005, we won the European Cup with dominating midfield performances, which left Olympiakos, Levekusen, and Juventus flummoxed, and it was the surging out from midfield of Gerrard, Smicer, and Alonso that won us the final in the second half against Milan.
Keane's introduction has meant Gerrard can move back to his favourite position, and for me, Gerrard is the counter-balance in the Liverpool team. Wherever he goes, our attack goes. Whereas last season, 2-0 down against Man City might had led to significant pressure and Gerrard being isolated with Torres up front, this time round he was in the middle. Even when he's not on top form, he can still tip matches with his drive and captaincy.
I've always heard people argue that when things go wrong in football, blame travels upwards. To balance that out, surely when things are going right, credit should go the same way. Rafael Benitez is the man charged with noticing the issues with Liverpool, highlighting gaps in the squads, and implementing new tactical transfers. He's also the man in charge of a team's mentality.
As an example, Tottenham are massively under-performing. Certainly they're missing a top-quality focal point up front, but even so, their mentality is terrible at the moment with confidence shot. Of course, that will lead to a change of management unless something drastic happens. But Liverpool are encountering the opposite effect. Their mentality is incredible at the moment.
Never beaten, always battling, there seems to be a new-found refusal to lose and will to fight back, and I can trace that upwards to Rafa and Sammy Lee.
There's no doubt in my mind that we're showing signs of a brand new revival on top of the revival which began with Benitez joining the club, and dragging Liverpool back from the abyss of the UEFA Cup places.
At the end of Houllier's reign, we were a side heading backwards with a team including Biscan, Traore, and Cheyrou. We're now serious title contenders with a challenge to maintain against Chelsea this Sunday, rather than hope for, with a team including Fernando Torres, Javier Mascherano, Pepe Reina, Dan Agger, Robbie Keane and a player now considered to be the best midfielder in the world, Steven Gerrard. And Rafa has had to do this funding transfers with player sales, and all with a fraction of the budgets of Chelsea and Man United.
There is simply no comparison between the team that Benitez inherited and the one he's created; in talent, work ethic, and mentality, the improvement is profound to say the least.
So in other words, the reason for this season's change? It's a simple one.
Rafael Benitez of course. He's had to build a team from scratch. Only three players—Hyypia, Gerrard and Carragher—remain from the Houllier days, and he's finally reached a team that's capable, talent-wise and mentality-wise, to launch a significant raid on the title, and put Liverpool back among the top two in the Premier League.
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