The 10 Best Liverpool Performances of 2010/11
Of course you don't need me to tell you this past season has been a bizarre one for Liverpool.
A season that started as a recurring nightmare ended with fleeting visions of the divinely inspired football Anfield had not seen since the last time Sir Kenneth was in charge of Liverpool.
Due to the high standards at LFC, it is justifiable that the lows of the past season have made more headlines than the highs.
But enough with analyzing how much damage Tom Hicks, George Gillett, and Roy Hodgson did to Liverpool, because the past year did have some great moments on the pitch. So here are 10 games that Liverpool supporters can look back on with fondness.
10. Liverpool 3 Aston Villa 0 (Dec. 6, '10): Welcome Home, Gerard
Much of the talk about this game centred on Gerard Houllier's welcome back to Anfield.
I remember before kickoff there was one surprisingly touching television clip of Houllier almost walking into the home dressing room by mistake.
Once a Red, always a Red.
Even Xabi Alonso was spotted watching the game from the stands, further proof that some players and managers may leave Liverpool, but Liverpool never really leaves them.
But once business started, Liverpool showed no mercy to Houllier's new team.
In the absence of Fernando Torres, Steven Gerrard, and Jamie Carragher, the Reds put in a rare team performance. The passing was slick, the midfield authoritative, and the finishing sharp—one of the only times one could say that about a match overseen by Roy Hodgson.
For me, this was the game that proved Lucas Leiva was becoming our most important player of the season. He and Raul Meireles controlled the game and inspired everyone around them to look like professionals.
Even David N'Gog had a great game, scoring the opener and setting up a nice goal for Maxi Rodriguez.
Highlight of the game: Leiva chipping a ball over the last defender, which Ryan Babel latched onto and buried in the far corner with one beautiful touch.
9. Liverpool 2 Stoke 0 (Feb. 2, '11): The Legend Begins
Without looking up the match report in the archives, I can't recall there being a first half.
Looking at the match report, it does say there was a first half. Forty-five minutes played, and then half-time.Shortly after half-time, Raul Meireles bagged a goal from close range.
I really don't remember any of this.
All that mattered about this game was that Luis Suarez made his Liverpool debut just days after signing with the club—without even having time for a single team training session.
Sixty-three minutes into the game Suarez came onto the pitch, met by a standing ovation of fans eager to see the new No. 7. The knife that Fernando Torres left in the back of Liverpool still hadn't been removed, and the fans needed something to give them confidence about what the post-Torres Liverpool would look like.
Having seen Suarez with Ajax I thought we had just signed a very good player.
I was wrong.
We'd gotten ourselves a great player, who I now rank as one of the best forwards in world football. As soon he entered the game, Suarez displayed the kind of touch, control, and flare only the best South American players have.
It's safe to say he stole the show. Back-heels, "Zidane turns," fantastic vision, an eagerness to run at defenders—all the stuff football connoisseurs drool over.
Then Suarez sealed the deal by running onto a through ball from Dirk Kuyt, deftly stepped around the keeper, kept his balance, and hit the ball with his left foot into the net. And as the ball was going into the net, the Stoke defender trying to clear it was just teased a little bit in thinking that he might be able to prevent the goal.
El Pistolero instantly usurped El Nino's place and left literally every Liverpool supporter around the world asking the same question: "Fernando Who?"
8. Liverpool 3 Napoli 1 (Nov. 4, '10): Captain Fantastic to the Rescue—Again
That's all I can say about every Liverpool player who started in this game.
A typical performance of the Hodgson era (or should I say error?). The team put in a sluggish, disjointed performance for the first half of the game, going a goal down to the Italians. But then Captain Fantastic, Stevie G, came on at halftime and completely transformed the game.
For anyone who thinks Gerrard’s powers may be waning, I point to this performance in which he single-handedly beat a team that finished as one of the best sides in Serie A. Gerrard scored a brilliant hat-trick in the second half of an otherwise-forgettable game.
Has there ever been a player in the modern age who has saved his team so many times as Gerrard?
This game makes the list simply on the performance of our captain.
7. Chelsea 0 Liverpool 1 (Feb. 6, '11): Revenge, Sweet Revenge
Liverpool put in a terrific performance, especially in defence, to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
But any dry match report that just told what happened during the 90 minutes of play would be missing the real story of this game.
The sub-plot of Liverpool, the jilted lover facing the narcissistic superstar striker who only a week earlier had run off to the bright lights of London, was what was on everyone's mind.
The real-life drama of the Fernando Torres saga, like so many other football stories, would put any television soap opera to shame. The fact that Torres looked so weak he was substituted just after the hour mark increased the sense of schadenfreude.
Schadenfreude—a concept I never fully appreciated until Torres went to Chelsea.
As a portent to the remainder of the season, Liverpool worked well together as a unit to earn three important points, and Torres sucked. Hard.
6. Liverpool 3 Manchester City 0 (April 11, '11): Andy Carroll Warms Up
After Andy Carroll became the most expensive British transfer in history, many Liverpool supporters were left wondering if the club had just blown 35 million pounds.
Although injury has limited Carroll's appearances this past season, what we have seen of him gives fans good grounds for being optimistic about next season. While he was still at Newcastle I thought Carroll would be signed by Chelsea because he looked like the natural replacement for Didier Drogba. Carroll and the Ivorian have the same physical attributes, ability to hold up the ball as targetmen, and a natural finishers instinct.
Of course, Chelsea went on to buy a striker who is totally incompatible with the rest of the Chelsea squad, and Liverpool got the younger version of Drogba.
Carroll's double, and the sense of relief it gave to fans, was the icing on the cake in this match.
Liverpool simply tore apart a team that finished in the top four, and at times it looked like men vs boys. Luis Suarez, Carroll, and Dirk Kuyt all combined well, and Suarez was unlucky to be the only one of the three not on the scoresheet.
John Flanagan also made his full senior debut and helped make the most expensively assembled team in the world look second rate.
5. Arsenal 1 Liverpool 1 (April 17, '11): Wenger Loses It
Playing away at Arsenal is never easy.
Going down there without Steven Gerrard in the team is even harder.
And trying to get a result against a fully fit Arsenal side with mostly academy and reserve players is something most teams wouldn't even bother attempting.
But thanks to gritty determination and solid defending, Jack Robinson, Jay Spearing, Jonjo Shelvey, and John Flanagan helped avert a potential disaster when Jamie Carragher, Fabio Aurelio and Andy Carroll all left the pitch with injuries.
For a game with no goals during regular time, there was no shortage of excitement.
Perhaps it would have been more fitting for this match to have been played in Milan because it was really for those who appreciate the art of good defending.
The two heroes of this game were Robinson and Flanagan. Robinson completely nullified Theo Walcott, and Flanagan put in an all-action display that included a couple of crucial last-ditch clearances. Spearing was harshly judged to have fouled Robin van Persie for a penalty kick in the 92nd minute. The extra-time drama concluded in the 101st minute when Lucas Leiva won another penalty, which Dirk Kuyt converted to leave the team with a very well-earned draw.
The tension of the game proved to be too much for Arsene Wenger, who somehow got it into his head that it might be a good idea to try and provoke a Glaswegian. Kenny Dalglish swearing back at Wenger was one of the most hilarious moments of the entire season.
4. Liverpool 2 Chelsea 0 (Nov. 7, '10): Hodgson Enjoys a Rare Good Day
An extremely well-timed win for the Reds.
The team had just gotten off to its worst league start in modern history. There were clouds over Anfield due to recently sitting in the relegation zone, and the fiasco of who owned the club.
Morale was at an all-time low.
A win against Chelsea gave reason for hope and belief that the core of this Liverpool side could still fight and win against the other big boys in the league. Lucas Leiva started the reversal of public opinion about his ability in this match, and Fernando Torres scored two gob-smacking goals—the first one set up by a beautiful pass over the heads of the Chelsea defenders by Dirk Kuyt , and the other one a curling shot from the edge of the box.
It would be one of the last times Anfield rocked to the sounds of "he gets the ball, he scores again, Fernando Torres—Liverpool's No. 9," sadly.
The win proved to be a false dawn for Roy Hodgson, but in a sense it foreshadowed the revival that would take place under Kenny Dalglish.
As a milestone this also marked the first league start for Martin Kelly, who went on to prove himself as the star of the emerging talent coming from Melwood.
3. Wolverhampton 0 Liverpool 3 (Jan. 22, '11): Kenny's First Win
Although it wasn't his first game in charge, I consider this to be the starting point of the new Kenny Dalglish era.
His first win since taking over, it also marked the premier of Liverpool's new swash-buckling style of attacking football. Reminiscent of Dutch Total Football and the vintage Liverpool sides, the team employed slick passing with interweaving and overlapping movement between all positions on the pitch.
On paper the formation was 4-5-1, but in reality there was no set formation due to how fluid the play was. The squad proved that they would flourish when released from the shackles of Roy Hodgson's tactical ineptitude.
Raul Meireles especially was on fire, setting up Fernando Torres for his first goal, and then later getting himself onto the scoresheet with the best goal of the season (from a Liverpool player, anyway).
This was also the match in which Andy Gray couldn't keep his fat mouth shut, starting the whole Sian Massey scandal, which went on for weeks and unfortunately overshadowed one of Liverpool's finest displays of the season.
2. Fulham 2 Liverpool 5 (May 9, '11): Goals Galore
Having scored eight goals in the last two games, Liverpool were flying and could not stop putting the ball in the back of the net.
After thumping Birmingham 5-0 and Newcastle 3-0, the deluge of goals continued, thanks to Maxi Rodriquez showing the world why he has 41 senior caps for Argentina. Dirk Kuyt underlined his continually growing importance to the side, stepping up as the leader on the pitch with Steven Gerrard out with injuries.
But in a pattern that is quickly becoming familiar, Luis Suarez overshadowed all the other excellent efforts of the players around him.
Steve Sidwell scored a cracking consolation goal for Fulham, and all of the goals in Maxi's hat-trick were lovely, but nothing short of an appearance of Martians in the middle of the Cottage could have taken the limelight away from Suarez. "Too hot to handle" were words used by the commentators, a perfect description of the man who left the entire Fulham back line looking sheepish and Mark Hughes foaming at the mouth.
Creating the first goal (converted by Rodriguez) within about 30 seconds of the first whistle, El Pistolero blitzed Fulham early in the game. The Fulham defenders quickly resorted to dirty tactics to try and stop him, but all their efforts were in vain.
To use a phrase that's been attached to Leo Messi, "you would need a machine gun to stop him".
1. Liverpool 3 Manchester United 1 (Mar.6, '11): Just Cant Get Enough Saurez
No points for guessing what was going to be number one on the list.
I'll be honest: If Liverpool had been relegated this year, I'd still call it a good season as long as we got one over the Mancs.
After Howard Webb gifted United a win in the FA Cup, Liverpool served up the Mancunians just desserts. It was no accident that Liverpool lost the previous encounter due to bad refereeing, something beyond the control of Kenny Dalglish and his players. Under fairer circumstances in the Anfield encounter, the Merseyside boys proved to be far superior to the eventual title winners.
The nature of this victory coupled with the form guide (which Liverpool placed second in for the latter half of the season) gave weight to the argument that had Dalglish been appointed manager at the start of the season it would have been plausible for Liverpool to take the title.
There are so many positive items to be taken from this win.
Personally, I was delighted that one of my favourite players, Dirk Kuyt, for once got the wider recognition he deserves from observers and pundits outside of Liverpool. A hat-trick against Manchester United is something he will be telling his grandkids about many years from now. And even though it seems like everyone keeps talking about the partnership Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll might form next season, Suarez and Kuyt have already proven to be a deadly duo.
Like the Fulham game, even a hat-trick from a team-mate didn't stop Suarez from picking up the man of the match award. The run in which he dribbled past four Manc defenders, beat Edwin van der Sar, setting Kuyt up with an easy tap-in, was such a brilliant play that even Diego Maradona would have been chuffed about pulling off such a move.
By the end of the day Manchester United had been humiliated, Jamie Carragher had kicked Nani's butt, and the Kop sang "Happy Birthday" to King Kenny. What else could you ask for?