As the beginning of the new season draws closer Liverpool fans have been filled with a renewed optimism that this might, finally, be our year.
Following the purchase of the club by Mr. John Henry and his associates and the long-awaited return of The King, over the past six months or so, Liverpool fans began to finally believe that the long wait for championship number 19 might finally be coming to an end.
There has not been such a sense of anticipation for the start of a new league season in a long time. Some might say as long ago as Kenny Dalglish's last season as Liverpool manager, 1990-91. During the reigns of Evans, Houllier and Benitez there was always a hope that it might be our year, now there seems to be a genuine belief that this is our year. It's as if a seance has been held at Anfield and the spirits of Shankly, Paisley and Fagan have been awakened and the bootroom has been re-opened for business. A return to the good times is within sight.
In this article I'm taking the optimists viewpoint and listing six reasons Liverpool can win the title this season.
For too long Liverpool lay under the ownership of people who seemed happy just to be involved in the game. They were in it for the money, the notoriety and the bragging rights at the Golf Club.
David Moores bought Liverpool in September of 1991 with money his family earned through their retail and gambling firm, Littlewoods. Moores' purchase of Liverpool was unpopular to begin with as his uncle John, although a minority shareholder in Liverpool at one time, was a former chairman of Everton and the family were well known Evertonians. Under the ownership of Moores, Liverpool went through their most barren spell since the days B.S (Before Shankly).
While Moores owned Liverpool, not a single league title came to Anfield. The crowning glory of his reign was undoubtedly the 2005 Champions League win which it was hoped would usher in a new era of success under the management of Rafa Benitez. It wasn't to be and in 2007 Moores sold the club to the pairing of Hicks and Gillet.
As we all know, Hicks and Gillet did not bring anything good to the club, other than Fernando Torres, and the less said about their ownership of the club the better. A look at their track record of owning sports clubs shows two very inept men playing well out of their comfort zones. These two men brought Liverpool to the brink of bankruptcy as they bled money from the club, until in October 2010, John W. Henry and his Fenway Sports Group ousted the pairing in a leveraged buy-out and cleared virtually all of the clubs dept.
A look at what Mr. Henry and his associates have done at their other major sports club, The Boston Red Sox, tells you all you need to know. They are winners, they will spend what needs to be spent to become winners, and they believe in the traditions of great clubs. For the first time since 1991, Liverpool have owners who care about the product on the pitch as much, if not more so, than they do about their bank balances.
The other bonus about these owners is the lack of drama around them. There are now no off-field distractions for the players, there is just a positive attitude from the top down. Positivity and calmness breed success. John W. Henry offers both in abundance.
At first glance, the Premier League looks like a strong league. Indeed, if you ask many fans they will tell you that the Barclays Premier League is the strongest league in the world. Many of them will refuse to accept any debate on this matter and while 4 years ago they would have been spot on, the fact of the matter is the Premier League has been getting weaker and weaker by the season and now stands a distant second to La Liga and risks been over-taken by the Bundesliga and the resurgent Serie A if thinks continue to regress as they have.
A look at the top teams from last year tells the story:
Chelsea have slipped and they have an aging team. Whilst the appointment with Andre Villa-Boas is, in my opinion, a great move by the club, they have yet to address the glaring needs they have in midfield and on the flanks. Chelsea have a squad of great players, unfortunately many of them are past their best but won't be replaced until the day they decided it's time to go. There's also the constant interference of Roman Abramovich.
Roman clearly wants to be the manager of the team, and doesn't seem to realize that he simply doesn't know enough about football to do so. He drove Jose Mourinho from the club and ruined what would almost certainly have become a dynasty, and then sacked Carlo Ancelotti who managed a title and a runners-up spot in his two seasons in charge. Had it not been for the shocking injuries Chelsea had last season, they would probably have won the title. Until Roman takes himself away from the team and goes back to being the fan he was originally, Chelsea will have problems.
Manchester City are the new kids on the block. They have money, they have lots of great players, they have a great stadium filled with great fans and they have a manager with an impressive CV. Unfortunately, that same manager also seems incapable of playing to his teams obvious attacking strengths and instead hamstrings them by playing an overly defensive system and relying on the average Gareth Barry as an extra man in midfield when the world and it's mother can see that the inclusion of another attacking player, specifically Adam Johnson, would be far more beneficial to the team. I don't know that Mancini is capable of winning a Premiership title and for me, he is City's achilles heel.
Arsenal have great players, a great manager and play the best football in the premiership. If style won points, Arsenal would win the league by a distance every year. Unfortunately they've lacked a heart for the last few years. Arsenal have traditionally had an inspirational captain and Wenger's first two great teams were no exception. Tony Adams, and Patrick Vieira. Men who knew how to lead men. Unfortunately, while Cesc Fabregas is a great player he's no leader. Until Arsenal get themselves a true leader, and a central defender to play alongside Varmaelen, they won't win anything. There's also the minor matter of Cesc and Samir Nasri wanting to leave.
Tottenham have two great players, Modric and Van Der Vaart, some promising players like Sandro and Bale and a lot of mediocre players. They also have a manager who's way out of his depth. Harry Redknapp belongs at a smaller club fighting against relegation. He's way out of his league tactically at the business end of the table.
That leaves me with Manchester United, who truth be told, I don't rate. The team that won the premiership last year was not only the worst United team to win the Premier League title, it's the worst team I've ever seen win the title. United's title win last season was as much down to luck as it was to their ability. Other than Manchester City, all of the other top teams suffered horrendous injury plagues last season.
Except United, who's only major injuries were to Valencia and Rio Ferdinand and without question only one of those injuries hindered United, and that was Ferdinand's. With Valencia out, Nani moved from the left wing to the right wing and actually looked like a good player for the first time since he joined the club. Played in his natural position he had the best season of his career and carried United for a lot of the season.
Once Valencia returned and Nani moved back to the left he stopped performing and producing so you do have to wonder, had Valencia been fit all season could Nani have scored and assisted as many goals from the left as he did on the right. I seriously doubt it. They also benefited from an incredible amount of favourable referring decisions. There were 11 game-changing decisions giving in United's favour last season when all of them should very clearly have gone against them.
With the injuries to other teams, and the questionable referring decisions which went in their favour, United might as well have had a 15-point head start over their title rivals, and while United fans will be foolish enough to believe Alex Ferguson's nonsense about it being another great team, the truth is, they wouldn't have won any of the other three major leagues last season,
The Premier League is weak right now and if ever there was a time for Liverpool to hijack the title party and bring the title to Anfield, it's now.
We are now two months into the transfer window and thus far, Liverpool are the only team that look likely to begin the new season with a better squad than they finished last season with.
Along with the return from loan spells of Alberto Aquilani and Emiliano Insua, both players who are better the ones that played their respective positions last season, Liverpool have also spent big in the transfer market. Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam, Doni and Stewart Downing have all arrived at Liverpool at a combined fee in the region of £45 million.
They also seem intent on removing players who were simply never good enough to begin with. Paul Konchesky is gone, and Milan Jovanovic, David Ngog and Christian Poulsen all look set to follow. Regarless of how you rate the new signings, they are an undoubted improvement on last years squad and if you compare Liverpool's summer with their rivals, it gives reason for optimism.
Manchester United are the only rival to have spent big money this summer, however in my opinion they have spent in excess of £60million and somehow managed to end up with a team that is worse than the one they fielded last season. David DeGea has arrived for the ludicrous sum of £20million and while he may be a promising youngster he's unproven, coming off a very poor season and nowhere close to the calibre of Edwin Van Der Sar.
They spent big on Phil Jones from Blackburn and he will be their number four central defender next season. Jones was a player Ferguson had planned to sign next summer but was forced to make his move after Kenny Dalglish decided to play games and forced Ferguson to spent £20 million, rising to £24 million based on appearances and success for a player who really hasn't proven himself yet(the figures of £16-17 million are untrue, Ferguson was forced to beat Dalglish's highest bid of £23 million to save his club from yet another investigation for inappropriate conduct and a possible transfer ban, and then had the fee announced as "undisclosed" to save face).
Ashley Young is a signing which does improve the team because he's a better left winger than either Valencia or Nani but his arrival does mean that one of the other two will be left out and both have had far better seasons over the last two seasons(Nani last year, Valencia the year before) than Young has ever had. United have failed to replace Paul Scholes which was clearly their biggest need, and will again rely heavily on Ryan Giggs who is approaching his 38th birthday and seems unlikely to be able to replicate his form of the last two seasons, especially with his personal life falling apart.
Chelsea spent £13 million on a new manager but haven't upgraded their playing staff. Chelsea needs at least one central midfielder and a couple of wingers.
Spurs look to be in trouble regardless of who they buy as Luka Modric is demanding to leave. They lack a striker, and could use some help at the back. Their biggest need is a goalkeeper.
Manchester City signed Gael Clichy and sold Jerome Boateng so they've neither strengthened or been weakened, although the Tevez saga continues to run. If Tevez goes, they must replace him and could also do with a central defender to partner Kompany
Finally Arsenal. Well they signed Gervinho who is a fantastic player, but they look certain to lose Cesc and Samir Nasri is refusing to sign a new deal and will most likely be sold as well. Arsene Wenger needs to go against his own believes and get the chequebook out. He has money to spend, he must spend it.
Steven Gerrard has long been the catalyst of the Liverpool team. As Gerrard went, so went Liverpool. For many seasons Liverpool seemed unable to win games unless Gerrard was playing well. I challenge anyone to count the number of games he won almost single-handedly, or indeed the number of games were he managed to drag Liverpool back from the brink to salvage something.
One of the world's great players, Gerrard is hugely important to Liverpool. He is the captain, the inspiration and the heart of the team. He's also been the best player on the team for close to a decade. During the last two seasons things have been different. In the '09-'10 season Gerrard had arguably his worst ever season for the club. As turmoil reigned on, and off the pitch, Liverpool were abysmal and while that normally would have been overlooked due to Gerrard putting the team on his back and carrying them to a top four finish, the magic just wasn't there. Gerrard just couldn't seem to find his form in what proved to be Rafa Benitez's last season at the club.
With the appointment of Roy Hodgson, it was hoped that he might find a way to get the best out of Stevie G. Unfortunately for Stevie, and Roy, injuries struck one after another and Gerrard missed most of the season. In his absence Liverpool looked a wreck until the arrival of Kenny Dalglish to replace Hodgson. Gerrard's form seemed to be picking up until he was struck down with a season ending injury.
The upside of that injury is that Gerrard is getting a prolonged, and well needed, rest. When he returns he should be refreshed and fitter than he has been in a number of years. Liverpool fans are rubbing their hands together at the thoughts of Gerrard being in the same team as players like Downing, Carroll and Adam. Not to mention the dream connection he should strike up with Luis Suarez.
Speaking of which...
In January 2011, Liverpool fans were distraught over the departure of Fernando Torres whom they perceived to have betrayed them with his move to Chelsea. Those feelings were short-lived. On February 2nd, at approximately 9:02 p.m. Luis Suarez made his debut for Liverpool. Minutes later he had scored his first goal and Liverpool fans were begin to wondering why they had been so upset to see Torres go. Since then Suarez has grown and grown.
From the moment he set foot on the Anfield turf he became the best player in the team. Week in and week out he conjured magic and created chances for himself and others. Scoring 4 goals and notching up 7 assists in just 13 games. But those figures only tell a small part of the story. His all-round play was simply stunning. The touch and control he displayed brought back memories of Keegan, the vision and creativity was something not seen since Kenny Dalglish himself wore that famous No. 7 shirt, and the ease and arrogance with which he beat players was straight out of the Billy Liddell book of "how to".
With Suarez leading the way, Liverpool found their form after a horrendous first half to the season. His performance against Manchester United, especially his run for Dirk Kuyt's first goal, was simply magnificent. He tormented United on the right, on the left, and through the centre. His goal against Sunderland was sheer brilliance and there were many other moments which had Liverpool fans standing and applauding.
Suarez has improved year on year throughout his career, and if his incredible performances at the Copa America, were he won player of the tournament as well as scoring four goals as Uruguay captured their record 15th title, are anything to go by, then this coming season should be his best yet.
On February 22, 1991, Kenny Dalglish broke the hearts of Liverpool fans the world over by announcing his resignation as manager. At the time Liverpool stood clear at the top of the English football mountain with a stunning 18 league titles. Fast forward 20 years, Liverpool still had 18 league titles and were in the midst of an awful season. The title drought had brought many a dark day, but none darker than when Liverpool hovered around the relegation zone as Roy Hodgson did his best impression of an incompetent fool and his team performed horrifically.
The clubs hierarchy knew that a change was needed, and so a call was made to a man sitting on a cruise ship enjoying a holiday with his beloved wife Marina. The man receiving that call, was Kenny Dalglish. As the club reached out to him, he did not hesitate. He left his holiday and returned to England to rescue his former club. When he took over Liverpool sat 13th in the table and looked destined to finish in the bottom half of the table. With the help of Steve Clarke and Sammy Lee, Dalglish got the team back to basics. He re-installed "The Liverpool Way" of doing things.
A way that had been sadly lost after Roy Evans had been shafted out his job. Liverpool began to play like Liverpool, and with Luis Suarez the creator of all things exciting, the result began to go their way. Such was the improvement that coming into April, Liverpool had a chance of a top-four finish. Although it was only a small chance, a chance which they missed out on, it was an enormous improvement on what seemed likely at the turn of the year.
With a full summer, a preseason, and his own signings added to the team, Dalglish will look to build on what he started last season. Liverpool fans believe again, and that is down to Dalglish. His mere presence brings great memories flooding back. His attitude makes the impossible appear not just possible, but probable. If any manager can lead Liverpool back to greatness, it's Kenny Dalglish. His record speaks for itself, on a per season basis, no manager in the English game compares to him.
With the King back on his throne, the crown may finally be coming home.
So there you have my optimist's view. Six reasons Liverpool can win the premier league title next season.
There is one other reason I would point to before I finish up, the lack of European football. This means we will play significantly less games than our rivals leaving our players fresher and with less chance of sustaining injuries. This could prove vital during come April and May of next year.
I hope you've enjoyed the article.
As always, thanks for reading.