Reds end on a whimper but hope for future remains intact

Aston Villa 1-0 Liverpool
Sunday, 22nd May 2011

The feel good factor and optimism which has engulfed Liverpool of late, as a direct result of their revival in fortunes during the second half of the season, was somewhat tempered at Villa Park of Sunday afternoon.

Aston Villa condemned the Reds to consecutive defeats from their final Premier League fixtures. And in the process ended Liverpool’s already fading hopes of European qualification. But in doing so Villa may just have delivered a timely reminder of the work which awaits all associated with Liverpool Football Club over the coming summer and the season beyond. If the Reds are to deliver genuine improvement on two decidedly below-par seasons in succession.

It is a disappointing fashion in which to end a season which will live long in the memory – as much for the wrong reasons as the right ones. But, in time, this result and sixth-place finish will hopefully be rendered as merely a foot note in the improving fortunes of Liverpool Football Club.

Victory for Tottenham at home to Birmingham City rendered this result irrelevant in terms of the race for the fifth place and European football next term. However – as Dalglish asserted in his post-match assessment – it was not Liverpool’s recent dip in form which has cost the Reds European qualification. But rather the dreadful manner in which this Liverpool team began the season.

Afterall, the very fact that the Reds were within sight of a top five finish until the final day of the season can be considered a minor achievement in itself. Not one which Dalglish will be hoping to mirror in season’s to come. But, nonetheless, the upward progress which Liverpool have been making since the return of Dalglish and the changes which have taken place subsequently, ensured that even a final day defeat could not dampen the spirits of the travelling Liverpool fans too much.

Reds end the season with a total of 14 defeats. This is an unacceptable record for any Liverpool – the worst for many years. One which has not been aided by two late season defeats. But a record which was largely cultivated in the dreary early months of the campaign.

The fact that Liverpool have amassed so few draws ensured that they were still fighting towards the top of the Premier League. Rather than towards the divisions trap door, amongst many teams who had lost a similar number of matches – although, of course, won many less.

A look at the basic statistics tells much about where the Reds will need to improve next term, in cold hard terms. Only 5 away league wins all campaign, with 22 goals scored (this would look far worse ignoring the five goal rout at Fulham) and 30 conceded in the process. Kenny needs to find a cure to this travel sickness if his team are to deliver on their recent promise.

There were a number of players in attendance in the West Midlands who may not be afforded the opportunity to help the Reds better the aforementioned record. Joe Cole was granted a rare start – but alongside the likes of Fabio Aurelio, David N’Gog, as well as one or two others, we may not be seeing much more of the midfielder in a Liverpool shirt.

Villa Park had very much the aura of an end-of-season encounter. Most Liverpool fans in the corner the Doug Ellis Stand were predominately concerned with the surprise presence of injured captain, Steven Gerrard, in the visitors section, in the early stages. Whilst the Villa fans more preoccupied with events at White Hart Lane.

In fact the home fans were in party mood. Only, more as a result of Birmingham City’s defeat and pending relegation, as opposed to this particular match.

There was little to report from a first half which can be best described as uneventful. The Reds did have the first genuine chance of the game. Lucas Leiva’s effort cleared of his own goal line by Ashley Young.

Aston Villa had themselves barely tested Pepe Reina at the opposite end of the field. Yet they had the lead after 33 minutes. Stewart Downing fired in a shot which gave Reina no chance, following a deep cross from early substitute, Marc Albrighton. That ultimately proved the winning goal.

Liverpool improved after the interval and Suarez was persistently Liverpool’s main attacking threat. The ease with which the Uruguayan forward has made the transition into the Premier League has made a mockery of the common notion that all newly acquired foreign players require a lengthy adaptation period.

Suarez engineered a couple of the visitor’s best openings in the second half. Most notably when the forward got beyond the Villa defence, out-witted Kyle Walker a squared to Raul Meireles. Meireles – on his return from injury – probably should have found the net. Although that should take nothing away from a fine save from veteran ‘keeper, Brad Friedel.

Later, Suarez shot first time over the bar when he perhaps had the time and space to show more composure. Whilst Aurelio sent a free-kick narrowly wide. And, at the opposite end, Gabriel Agbonlahor somehow failed to get the required touch on Darren Bent cross with the goal at his mercy. After Bent had caught out the Liverpool defence on the counter-attack.

Those responsible must be looking to target players of a similar quality to Suarez in all positions, during a summer which is sure to be high on transfer speculation and activity. Too often Liverpool have brought in players who have acted more to make up the numbers, rather than making a genuine difference to the playing squad. It is players who are capable of making that difference, both in the short- and long-term, which the Reds must seek out. And, of course, this will require considerable investment.

One potential target whom has been heavily linked with a move to Anfield of late in Aston Villa danger man, Ashley Young. There is no doubt Liverpool urgently require an injection of pace and creativity into a squad which can often lack those two factors. However, on this evidence, it is goal-scorer, Downing – another who has been the subject of speculation – who may prove the better gamble.

So here ends the final chapter of the 2010-2011 season. Now the real business can start…

Man of the Match
Another solid performance at the back from the Slovakian. Skrtel does not often receive the same plaudits as his defensive partner but has been a consistent performer this term. Gets the vote as much for his record of playing every minute of Premier League football this season.

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