Pre Season And Transfer Activity
After a poor start to his career at Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers aimed to build on the previous season and bring a struggling team back into Europe after three years. The Reds had quite an eventful start to the season, mainly due to the situation with striker Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan was set to miss the first six matches of the season while serving a suspension for biting Branislav Ivanovic the previous season, and his future at the club was uncertain. With interest from clubs across Europe, it looked likely that he could be on his way out. Looking to bolster his striking options, Rodgers brought in attackers Luis Alberto and Iago Aspas from Sevilla and Celta Vigo, respectively. Simon Mignolet joined from Southampton to replace an aging Pepe Reina, with Mamadou Sakho coming in from Paris to play in defense. Rounding out their transfer activity, they shored up their defensive backups by bringing an experienced Kolo Toure on a free, as well as 20-year-old CB Tiago Ilori. With some fresh faces in the squad, would the squad be ready to compete after a disappointing seventh-place finish the prior season.
Attack, Attack, Attack!
The Reds started the season with a 1-0 win over Stoke City at Anfield, courtesy of a Sturridge goal and a dramatic late penalty save from Simon Mignolet. A strong start to the season saw Liverpool top of the table with three wins from three, managing victories at Aston Villa and against rivals Manchester United by the same 1-0 score line, Sturridge finding the back of the net each game. However, the Reds soon felt the absence of the Uruguayan striker as they dropped points in their next two matches: a 2-2 draw to Swansea at the Liberty Stadium and a 1-0 loss against Southampton (from a Dejan Lovren goal, of all things).
As the season progressed and Suarez returned, the profligacy of Reds’ attack became more apparent. The front tandem of Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez (the “SaS”), in addition to an emerging Raheem Sterling and the “magician” Phillipe Coutinho – not to mention legend Steven Gerrrard – absolutely ravaged defenses. They were scoring goals for fun, and the team was brilliant to watch. Yet for all their prowess going forward, there was always a lingering question about the defense. Clean sheets were rare; the Reds would have to aim to simply outscore their opponents.
Make Us Dream
After a some unconvincing displays in the first half of the season, Liverpool went 16 unbeaten in the Premier League to start 2014. The atmosphere on Merseyside was magical, with Liverpool fans finding the belief that they had lacked for so long. Banners that read “Make Us Dream” covered Anfield, fans believing that their 25-year wait was over.
In the middle of this unbeaten run, having won their previous seven matches, Liverpool welcomed fellow title challengers Manchester City to Anfield. The Reds came into the match with their tails up, having leapfrogged City to return to the top the table two weeks prior. The stadium was bouncing, the atmosphere electric as the fans pumped their energy onto the pitch. The Reds went up two goals early, thanks to goals from Sterling and Martin Skrtel. A strike from David Silva and a Glen Johnson own goal saw City level the score after 62 minutes. A Phillipe Coutinho goal in the 74th minute proved to be the winning strike, lifting the roof off of the stadium. The Reds held on for the win, but future skipper Jordan Henderson was sent off in the the third minute of stoppage time, meaning he would miss the next three games. Though Liverpool had taken three points off of their rivals, this event proved to be more costly than they realized at the time…
This Does Not Slip Now
After the match, Steven Gerrard rallied the team, giving an emotional speech, motivating the team to keep fighting until the end, telling them “We do not let this f@#$ing slip…. we go again boys!” The Reds felt as if they had one hand on the Premier League Title, and Gerrard’s infamous speech ironically foreshadowed a turn of unfortunate events.
Henderson’s impact on the team stuck out in the next three games. It took some Sterling heroics to see them pull out a 3-2 win at Norwich the following week. The next two games were not as fortunate. With the title almost in Liverpool’s hands, Jose Mourinho’s and Chelsea came to Anfield on a mission. The Blues would go on to frustrate Liverpool, parking the bus for 90 minutes and scoring two scrappy goals against the run of play. Of course, one of these was the infamous – and heartbreaking – slip from captain Steven Gerrard.
Despite the result against and the shift in both mood and momentum, Liverpool still had a outside shot to win the title. They were level with Manchester City on points, but would have to overturn a +9 goal difference advantage for City. Their next game started off promisingly, and two early second-half goals saw Liverpool up 3-0 at Crystal Palace in London. The Reds kept pressing on the attack, trying to make up as much of the goal difference as possible. But it wasn’t to be.
Before the game Rodgers had spoke of Henderson’s absence, saying it was “a huge miss for [the team]” because Liverpool “couldn’t replace Jordan.” How right he was: without Henderson’s presence in midfield, the game was ripe for a comeback. Led by Premier League veteran Dwight Gayle, three quick goals in the last 11 minutes of the match saw Palace earn a draw as the Reds dropped two points. Luis Suarez left the pitch in tears. The team which only two weeks prior had looked practically invincible had crumbled. After this result, Liverpool’s title hopes were essentially over, needing a final-week result of City losing, or City drawing while the Reds winning by enough goals to make up the nine-goal differential between the teams.
A final game against Newcastle saw Liverpool win 2-1, but with Manchester City also winning, Liverpool’s fairy tale season had come to a disappointing end. It was not without some silver linings: Luis Suarez won the golden boot, setting a new record by scoring 31 League goals. The team’s 102 goals was the second-most ever scored in a Premier League season, only one off the record. Still, the late collapse of the team had seemed unimaginable. In retrospect though, dropping points against mid- and lower-table teams at the beginning of the season, an overall poor defensive record, and the loss of Henderson for three crucial games in at the tail end of the season all contributed. Were it not for a world-class Manchester City Team, 2013/14 could have been the season where the dreams of Liverpool fans came true…