As the dust settled on Brendan Rodgers’ first season in charge at Anfield, the general consensus was that progress had been made.
The Reds finished one place higher than their 2011/12 finish with nine points more than they had accumulated. Rodgers also boosted the Reds’ goal difference by as many as 21, as his side racked up 71 goals, despite playing until January with just one recognised senior striker in the shape of Luis Suarez at the club.
Since the turn of the year results have markedly improved, as well as performances, with Rodgers’ preferred formation giving them a fluent attacking trio, which played its part in romps against Wigan Athletic (4-0), Swansea City (5-0), Newcastle United (6-0), Norwich City (5-0), and Sunderland (3-0).
Since Rodgers was able to begin adding to his depleted attacking numbers, the Reds have played 17 games, winning eight and losing just three. The most damaging part of their post-New Year run in has been six draws, with the stalemates against Reading and West Ham United particularly galling.
The signings of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho have given the Reds an extra dimension to their attack, meaning they are not as overly reliant on Suarez as they were in the dark days of winter.
Former striker John Aldridge spoke glowingly of their impact at the club, claiming that the window had been the most fruitful one since he was signed alongside Peter Beardsley and John Barnes nearly a quarter of a century ago.
“Over time there was real improvement and that was partly due to Liverpool having their best transfer window we’ve had for a very long time,” Aldridge said in his Liverpool Echo column.
“It was probably the best [window] we’ve had since 1987 when John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and myself joined Liverpool.
“Sturridge has really impressed me with his pace and power and his scoring record is excellent. I don’t want to put too much expectation on Coutinho but he is a very special player.”
With a summer transfer window as successful as the winter one, Rodgers will be in a position to realistically challenge for a Champions League place next season. It is a theory club captain Steven Gerrard subscribes to.
Gerrard told the club’s official website: “The football in general that we’ve shown since January, I think we’ve shown Champions League form so I’m very optimistic for next season.
“It’s down to us players to continue what we’ve done in the last couple of months, take that into next season and try to improve. Other teams are going to make signings, strengthen and improve – we need to make sure that we do as well.”
However, for all the progress in the Premier League, there is the lingering disappointment of their weak exit from both domestic cups.
Under Kenny Dalglish last season, the Reds visited Wembley three times, winning the League Cup and finishing as runners up to Chelsea in the FA Cup.
Liverpool were labelled a ‘Cup Team’ from certain sections under ‘King’ Kenny, and their prowess in knockout competitions was certainly impressive. In contrast Rodgers’ side relinquished their League Cup crown by being outclassed 3-1 by his former side Swansea at Anfield on October 31.
If the defeat to the Swans was dispiriting then the debacle at Oldham Athletic in January left fans seething.
Rodgers fielded a team that contained Suarez, Sturridge and Fabio Borini but the side were bullied by a swashbuckling performance from striker Matt Smith – who walked away with two goals and the Man of the Match award.
The result was undoubtedly the low point of Rodgers’ reign, and something that should be forcefully addressed next season.
Challenging for the lucrative Champions League spots is a prerequisite for the Liverpool manager, a return to the competition that they were such as force in from 2005-2009 is the best way to eventually get the club on solid ground to challenge for the Premier League title.
However, in the wake of some criticism of Arsenal for their celebrations after qualifying fourth, despite failing to lift a trophy for the eight season running, Rodgers will have been made acutely aware of the importance of a cup run.