Liverpool season review

The Background

After missing out on the Premier League title by a hair's breadth last time around, Liverpool found themselves back in the Champions League, albeit without star striker Luis Suarez.  How the Reds dealt with the Uruguayan's departure while competing among Europe's elite was the question on everyone's mind at the start of the season, but following the successes of the year before, the general feeling was of quiet confidence.

The Signings

While Suarez's departure was the most significant, various other players also left Anfield in the off-season. The most significant of those were Daniel Agger and Pepe Reina, while fringe players Suso, Martin Kelly, Jack Robinson, Oussama Assaidi and Conor Coady were all shown the door too. 

Liverpool were always going to struggle to replace Suarez and their drawn out yet ultimately unsuccessful chase of Alexis Sanchez showed that despite being in the Champions League, the club just isn't that big a draw-card for many players. 

As a result, the focus was on bringing in a host of talented, yet largely unproven, players, complimented by the acquisition of more established players with Premier League experience. Lazar Markovic, Alberto Moreno, Emre Can fall in the first category, while Mario Balotelli, Ricky Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren fall in the latter. Somewhere in the region of £120-million was spent, although a large part of that was recouped by the Suarez sale.

The Season

Following a mixed bag of results during pre-season, Liverpool's Premier League campaign started with victories over Southampton and Spurs either side of a defeat at the Etihad. That victory at White Hart Lane was arguably Liverpool's most impressive of the season, and a whole host of poor results were to follow after Daniel Sturridge was ruled out by injury. 

Results soon started going against Liverpool as it became clear that the incisive attacking play of the previous 18 months was replaced by a slower, less penetrating style while maintaining the lack of defensive nous that cost them the title last season.  By the time they were humbled at Old Trafford mid-December, it became blatantly clear that drastic changes were needed.

To a large extent, the season had become all about Steven Gerrard, who had announced earlier in the campaign that he would be leaving Liverpool after 17 years at the club when the season reached its conclusion.

Whether by accident or design, Brendan Rodgers switched to a back three, with Can as the right-sided defender, and soon results started improving. In Sturridge's absence, Liverpool still struggled for goals but the defensive switch resulted in a far more organised structure. Following a run that saw them keep clean sheets in six consecutive away games, the Reds rocketed up the table ahead of their return fixture against Man United on March 22.

What followed can only be described as a disaster. With the Reds trailing 0-1 at half-time, Gerrard was brought on to add some impetus to the team, but managed to get himself sent off for a violent stamp on Ander Herrera just 38 seconds after coming on. While a victory would have lifted Liverpool into fourth place ahead of their old rivals, the defeat that followed all but handed a Champions League place to Louis van Gaal's side.

Thereafter, further losses to Arsenal, Hull, Crystal Palace (in what was Gerrard's final match at Anfield) followed, culminating in the 6-1 demolition at Stoke in the last match of the season. 

Player of the year:  Philippe Coutinho.

The one bright spark of the year for Liverpool and the only player in the squad that improved from the previous season. The diminutive Brazilian has always had an eye for a pass, but added goals to his game this season and scored a couple of particularly impressive ones during Liverpool's mid-season renaissance.

Disappointment of the year:  Where to start, there were many!

The signing of Balotelli suggests a disconnect between Rodgers and the transfer committee that oversees signings at the club, while questions have to be asked over all the signings of the three former Southampton players in particular. 

The manner in which Liverpool's Champions League campaign unraveled was particularly galling, while the clamour over Steven Gerrard and Raheem Sterling – for different seasons – was distractions the club simply didn't need.

The defeat to Aston Villa in the FA Cup semi-final was one of the flattest performances imaginable in a match of such importance, particularly since it represented the club's last opportunity of salvaging something from the season. 

The most disappointing aspect of the season, however, was their capitulation in the league following the 4-1 defeat to Arsenal. At that stage, Man United had seemingly sewn up fourth spot on in the league, but managed to only score eight points in the final seven matches to stumble over the line. That means Liverpool needed 17 points from a possible 21 to overhaul United – a difficult but far from impossible task.  However, in that time, they only managed wins against two of the worst teams in the division – Newcastle and QPR.

The Verdict: 

An utterly disappointing season that started off with tremendous promise.  The Reds were hamstrung without Sturridge for the majority of the season but questions have to be asked about their transfer policy, as the former Chelsea and Manchester City player's struggles with injury are well known. How can such an amount be spent on signings yet the whole side falls apart after one injury? 

FOX Sports Asia season rating: 4/10

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