Is this Liverpool squad more 1998 or 2001? – Liverpool vs. Sunderland Kop Preview

05.02.2016


Liverpool host Sunderland at Anfield on Saturday (3pm) in a month that sees the Reds compete in four different competitions – Chris McLoughlin ponders whether this squad has the character of 2000/01?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, January 25, 2016: Liverpool's Lucas Leiva,and Jon Flanagan celebrating the victory after 6-6 winning in penalties during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg match against Stoke City at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

As I walked away from Anfield following the 19.9% APR Cup penalty shoot-out win against Stoke City, I started to get a sense of deja vu. As I walked away from Anfield following the 19.9% APR Cup penalty shoot-out win against Stoke City, I started to get a sense of deja vu. Haven’t we lived this season before? And haven’t I done that joke before?

Through to the final of the League Cup. Still in the FA Cup. Still in the UEFA Cup. Still in contention – just about – for a top-four finish and Champions League qualification. Winning crazy games 5-4 with a late goal from a completely unexpected source. Scraping through a two-legged tie having lost at Anfield. Having a Scouser who loves a tackle at full-back. Praying that our star striker, who has previously had muscle injuries, would stay fit and hoping that the big centre-forward signed for a record transfer free from a Midlands club would do the business in his first full season at Liverpool. We’ve even got a foreign manager who wears a red scarf on the sidelines and an assistant manager with a big(ish) nose.

All we need now is talk of needing a bigger ground to improve revenue and I’d swear it was 2000/01 again. Except it isn’t. And it won’t be. I’m all for changing from doubter to believer – and when you’ve got a manager who takes you to a cup final in 111 days whereas the fella before him couldn’t get past a semi (but then he did learn his trade off Jose Mourinho) – then you’ve got to start believing better times are to come. But not quite yet.

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The biggest difference between Liverpool 2000/01 and Liverpool 2015/16 is the strength of the squad at the manager’s disposal. Whereas Gerard Houllier had been able to bring players in and rebuild his team for 18 months – and he could do this during the season as the transfer window didn’t exist – Jürgen Klopp is another year away from being in that same position.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, January 25, 2016: Liverpool's manager Jürgen Klopp thanking fans after 6-6 winning in penalties during the Football League Cup Semi-Final 2nd Leg match against Stoke City at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Getting the players he actually wants in also appears to be more difficult for him than it was for Houllier, although let’s see how the summer goes first before judging whether FSG have learnt from their mistakes (from what I’ve heard it was Klopp, not the transfer committee, who pulled the plug on the vastly overpriced Alex Teixeira).

Comparisons to 2001

Houllier’s 2000/01 squad had a strong spine and plenty of experience. While there were as many doubts over Sander Westerveld as there are over Simon Mignolet now, Houllier had a far better (and more settled) defensive unit: Babbel, Carragher, Hyypia and Henchoz with Ziege getting games and Vegard Heggem making Danny Sturridge look a picture of health. Compare that to Clyne, Moreno and whichever two centre-halves are fit enough to get on the pitch now and we’re talking about a massive difference in defensive resilience and leadership.

ATHENS, GREECE - Thursday, November 23, 2000: Liverpool's players line-up for a a team photo before the UEFA Cup 3rd Round 1st Leg match against Olympiakos. Back row L-R: Djimi Traore, Emile Heskey, Dietmar Hamann, Sander Westerveld, Markus Babbel, Sami Hyypia. Front row L-R: Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard, Danny Murphy, Nick Barmby, Jamie Carragher. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

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That back four also had Didi Hamann sitting in front of them with Steven Gerrard, Gary McAllister and Eeeeeeeeeeegor vying to play alongside him (Jamie Redknapp was out injured, obviously) with Danny Murphy, Patrik Berger, Vladimir Smicer and Nick Barmby all options out wide. Bernard Diomede, however, was a figment of your imagination.

Those eight midfield players, by the way, scored 48 goals between them in 2000/01. Coutinho, Henderson, Milner, Lallana, Emre Can, Lucas, Allen and Ibe have currently clubbed together with 20. Can you see them getting another 28 between them before the season ends? Thought not.

And then we had Fowler, Owen, Heskey and – from January 2001 – Jari Litmanen as the four options up front. Their goals, all 58 of them, won Liverpool a treble of trophies and secured a 3rd placed finish. The entire Liverpool team have only managed 50 goals so far in 2015/16 and when you compare the tallies of Owen (24), Heskey (22, honestly), Fowler (17) and Litmanen (2) to Benteke (7), Firmino (5), Sturridge (4), Origi (4) and Ings (3) you realise it would be quite an achievement if the Reds won anything this year never mind ended the campaign with a treble of trophies and in the top four.


It feels more like 1998/99 (when Houllier took sole charge from Roy Evans with the team in 8th and finished 7th after key attacking players, like Fowler, Owen and McManaman, got injured before rebuilding the side in the summer) to be perfectly honest, yet I retain more than a glimmer of hope that the season could still finish well.

MONACO, FRANCE - Friday, August 24, 2001: Liverpool's players line-up for a team group photo before the Super Cup Final against Bayern Mu?nchen at the Stade Louis II. Back row (l-r) Jamie Carragher, Emile Heskey, goalkeeper Sander Westerveld, Marcus Babbel, Gary McAllister, Dietmar Hamann. Front row (l-r) Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen, John Arne Riise, captain Sami Hyypia, Stephane Henchoz. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Game changing subs

Why? Because we’ve now got a manager who can change a game. It doesn’t happen every time and nor is it realistic to expect it should, but since Klopp took charge nine substitutes have come on and scored. Three of those goals have been winners (Benteke v Leicester, Ibe v Stoke, Lallana v Norwich), two have been equalisers (Origi v West Brom, Allen v Arsenal), one should’ve been a winner if we could defend crosses (Benteke v Southampton) and the other three were rather memorable (Benteke v Chelsea, Ibe v Southampton, Ojo v Exeter).

There are a myriad of problems for Klopp to solve that will take hours upon hours of work on the training ground – “Alberto, see those guys in the red shirts? Try throwing the ball to them rather than the guys in the blue shirts” – and the injection of new signings, but I think there’s a bit of character about this squad that will start to come to the fore. A bit like it did in 2000/01.

Liverpool didn’t win a treble of trophies by playing attractive, free-flowing, opponent-destroying football. They won those cup by digging out results when they needed to. The League Cup was won on pens. The FA Cup was won by individual brilliance. The UEFA Cup was won by a golden own goal from a set-piece.

And the contribution from substitutes during that run was crucial with eight of the 12 goals scored by subs coming in cup games. Such as Barmby and Heskey at Leeds. And Fowler in Dortmund. But I’ll end by reminding you of a Premier League goal by a Liverpool substitute that, in the grand scheme of the season, made a difference.

ATHENS, GREECE - Wednesday, November 22, 2000: Liverpool's Robbie Fowler (right), Michael Owen (left) and manager Gerard Houllier (centre) in action during a training session at the Olympic Stadium in Athens, ahead of their UEFA Cup 3rd round, 1st leg clash with Olympiakos. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

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Jari Litmanen is the last Liverpool sub to score against Sunderland. He converted a 79th minute penalty (his first Liverpool goal) at the Stadium of Light to secure a 1-1 draw. It kept the Reds in 3rd, one point above Sunderland, who had lost just once at home all season and were top-four contenders. Liverpool ended up finishing third, a point above Leeds, when only the top three qualified for the Champions League.

Saturday’s game, at the shock kick-off time of 3pm, will be tighter than Sam Allaryce’s Farah slacks after Christmas, but the players are going to be massively distracted by a section of the Anfield crowd leaving en-mass in the 77th minute (given several hundred Liverpool fans ignored the boycott of a game at Hillsborough in 1998 over the way Sheffield Wednesday were treating us I’m expecting a fragmented reaction on Saturday) due to the ludicrous cost of ticket prices.


There’s every chance that Klopp’s men will still be needing a goal when that walk-out commences so it could turn into another test of character. Or a day when a contribution from the bench is crucial.

We might not have the quality of 2000/01 at Anfield now, but if this Liverpool side can show the same spirit and character this season could yet be far more memorable than you’re expecting it to be. Maybe not that memorable, though. You only live through a season like that once. Right?


cover_Sunderland • Chris McLoughlin writes for the official This is Anfield matchday programme, on sale at the ground, in LFC club stores and from www.sportmediashop.com.


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37 COMMENTS

  1. That team I grew up with, loved them and idolized Owen.

    This current team doesn’t hold a candle, but it does have one redeeming factor.

    The Welsh Maradonna.

  2. This is possibly the worst liverpool team i have ever seen…. Prehaps i’m being a bit harsh so pls feel free to tell me a worse one !

    • I agree…I can’t think of one worse since I started supporting in 1994..Maybe we had a worse one before Shankly?

    • I’m not convinced a single player in this present squad would get into either team!?
      West over Migs
      Hyypia, Henchoz, Riise and Carr over current back 4.
      Gerrad, Hamann and Pallister..clearly better than any combo of Hendo, Lucas, Allen, Milner
      Fowler..silly question!
      Litmanen over Firmino, every day of the week!
      Maybe if on form Couts instead of Owen…as he’s a ctun!

      • Thankyou mate for listing them all was gonna post the same thing myself but couldn’t be rsd to go through them all…. west and mignolet aclose call for me both useless in my opinion so wont split hairs..
        p.s owen …ha ha say no more

        • Let’s put it this way, you wouldn’t drop West for Migs
          Owen…even taking personal opinions out of the equation. Coutinho and Studge would have been serious competition for him.
          Maybe Litmanen dropped and Owen plays…either way, much worse now.
          I’ve supported since 1974…worst to date! Yet ironically one of the best managers…so there is hope!

          • Agree mate, ….its absolutely pitiful watching this team atm. they seem to think they only have to turn up 4 times a season,

          • Matip and Grujic are huge signings. Potentially Carragher and Gerrards replacements…if Klopp can beat off all competition for Michy Batshuayi in the summer, thiis could be one of the youngest and most exciting spines in European football…oh yer, and Horn to replace Migs.

          • i do like the names that are being linked with us since klopp has taken over, as always some will be made up but some will have some truth to them but all too many times in the past i was hoping that rumours that certain players were coming and to my horror they actually ended up at our club.

            We all know if Klopp is to succeed at liverpool he is going to have to bring in some ready made quality players in the summer and i’m sure he will.

          • Michy Batshuayi will be the one. Klopp was scouting him when at Dortmund and LFC scouts watching him last week. United, City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs, Stoke, Newcastle and a host of European clubs will also be keen on him. The club want to cash in on him in the summer and the players wants to leave in the summer, so he will move. Rumours are he is Klopp’s number one summer target…and Studge replacement

          • Should’t say this really but part of me just wants this season to be over so we can start again in the summer.

          • I’m torn on the EPL. Top4 has gone, but Europa spot very realistic, but no given
            Klopp trying to bring in new signings without European football will be hard, but…we all saw a couple of years ago what kind of a run a team can go on when only playing once a week…and Leicester ain’t suffering from not being in Europe either :)

          • Agree but i dont think europe can be blamed in any way on our awful form….. we wont progress very far in europa cup,im absolutely convinced of that, and will prob get knocked out f.,a cup by West ham,,,,, carling cup final maybe if city have an off day……..looking at possibly geting into top 6-7 position says it all really.

          • I agree the top 5 has gone IMO. United will finish 5th.
            6-7 is doable, but we will need to improve. Studge and Couts returning and I can’t see any problems.
            I wasn’t using as an excuse for this season, more how it would benefit the new young team Klopp will have next season, to not be in Europa, so Klopp can work on training ground with the players instead.
            I am far more optimistic than you are on the cups. We have every chance of beating City. We have a good draw in Europa and if top teams like Seville and Dortmund and United and Spurs drawn against each other,,,we could have an easy route to the semi’s…and with Studge and Couts, and an improved Hendo…who knows!?
            I fear the West Ham game, and we will rue the missed opportunity…but I still think we will progress.
            Klopp WILL win at least 1 cup this season!

          • Top marks for your optomism , but come on what evidence is there to suggest that we should be confident about the cups…. we have been terrible , west ham have beaten us easily twice already scoring 5 goals inthe process with none in reply, europa there are many better teams than us, yes may beat the next team but were never in a million years going to win it with this team…..Man city of course we have a good chance , we have shown that already this season and we have got a decent record against them…..either way only time will tell .

          • Still in 3 cups, so not’s start wishing the season over, just yet!
            But, I get your point. I think we are all keen to see the summer cull and the plethora of Klopp signings.

    • In my 25 years of living, I can’t remember a worse Liverpool team. I’ve been mirroring your thoughts over the past few weeks to my mates, we don’t have one world class player. Embarrassing

    • Previous teams have had continuity, whereas now we are desparately plugging holes, a few of our current team maybe quite a few would have slotted in nicely, unfortunately we are starting from scratch each season, replacing 5 or 6 players and then looking like we have stuck two different teams together.
      That being said order is created from chaos so at least we have a starting point.

  3. This is definitely the worst team i have ever seen its painfull to say that west ham everton stoke and southampton has a better squad than thus & its unbelievable we blew 300mil to assemble this squad

  4. Might be blasphemy but I’d take Clyne (and even Flannagan) over Carra at RB any day of the week.

    He was a brilliant centre-back and decent left-back, but Carra was the worst right-back I’ve seen at Anfield in years (except Josemi of course).

    Him being home-grown and a legend in later years may have coloured our view of his past.

  5. Virtually none of the current crop could defend a starting spot on either of the erstwhile sides. Apart form the gulf in talent and chronic profligacy in front of goal, the absence of reliable on-pitch leadership is the current team’s most glaring deficit.

  6. Hell no. In 1998 and 2001 we’ve got Owen, Gerrard, Carra and Fowler. Now we’ve got overpriced Benteke. Current squad is the worst ever yet the most expensive we’ve ever build. This squad may reach finals, but will never be a winners. I believe in Klopp but I don’t have any belief with this squad

  7. Articles like this are pointless, really.

    I can imagine that virtually every LFC fan would love to see Fowler, Owen or even Heskey/Jari up front at the moment as they would have bagged a hatfull of goals from the positions a lot of our current players have been in inside and around the box.

    However, they aren’t here and we have to get through the rest of the season with what we’ve got, thanks to BR and the transfer committee.

    FSG are being blamed a lot but the figure of 300 million has been mentioned in countless posts on here which isn’t exactly chicken-feed given our stadium capacity etc and it could be argued that they were just showing faith in BR when they let him splash out 32 million on Benteke – which does seem like a huge clanger in hindsight.

    With the likes of Origi, Couts and Sturridge returning from injury (hopefully) and the youngsters playing well the remainder of the season will hopefully be interesting.

    CL football is gone for another year but Klopp sussing out the PL, cup competitions and forming his cool plan for August is something to get excited about.

  8. Went to the Fa Cup final that season in Cardiff. It was great there. Remember we got boned and won. A good habit to get into

  9. We have to get 3 or 4 quality players in the summer so the younger players can learn form them we got to many potential signings over the last year’s which is good with quality as well so we just need to have the gotze gundogan matip and ter stegen and we will see players flourish

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