Aaron provides his top five Liverpool FC players from this season and explains his choice for his player of the season.
As the 2012/13 season grinds to an inconspicuous halt, the dust is beginning to settle on Brendan Rodgers first year at the helm. An already tough job was made decidedly harder when considering who the Northern Irishman was brought in to replace. Kenny Dalglish will always be synonymous with Liverpool FC and forever revered despite a difficult end to his second reign. With large sections of the fan base blinded by such loyalty, Rodgers unveiling was hardly celebrated across the board. Nevertheless he spoke well – very well in fact – and his footballing philosophies brought early cause for optimism.
Adapting to a new tactical template took time and was complicated further by a daunting set of opening fixtures. Defeat at West Brom marked a depressing start, with Manchester City, Arsenal and United on the horizon. The close of the transfer window meanwhile left the squad painfully short up-top and hastened the integration of several youngsters.
To their credit the likes of Raheem Sterling, Suso and Andre Wisdom fared admirably and the team as a whole began to acclimatise to new methods. A first win at Carrow Road inspired an eight game unbeaten league run, this easing the pain of a pitiful Capital One Cup defence at home to Swansea.
Defeats to Aston Villa and Stoke were the only black-spots in an otherwise encouraging Christmas programme and the acquisition of both Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho raised expectations.
The New Year brought with it a definite upturn in form as the reds began to display the attacking football preached by their new boss. The likes of Sunderland, Norwich and Swansea were dispatched with relative ease as the team manoeuvred themselves into the top eight. Sadly inconsistency continued to plague, with a pathetic FA Cup surrender at lowly Oldham preceding a gutsy Europa League exit to Zenit St Petersburg.
The close of the campaign will of course be forever remembered for bite-gate and the subsequent ban slapped on Luis Suarez. Yet Saturday’s thrashing of Newcastle means we can still leapfrog Everton (just about) – our one remaining target.
In truth this season was always likely to prove little more than a transitional period. Brendan may well talk a good game but is crucially beginning to walk-the-walk in a football sense too. The signs are promising. Only two sides (Chelsea and United) have scored more goals than the reds this term, while only the now displaced Champions (City) have kept more clean sheets.
We have had more attempts than any other Premier League side and most tellingly of all boast the youngest average age (23) in the top flight. The football is good and if we can just tighten up at the back there is no reason why we cannot challenge for the Champions League next term. As with any side improvements are needed and you would imagine at least four signings in the close season.
Though vital to look towards reinforcements it is equally important to reflect on those who have starred in twelve months of growth. Yes we will end the campaign trophyless and most probably without European football next term but the club IS moving forward, on that most can agree. Our steady progress is thanks in part to the efforts of my five candidates (in ranking order) for LFC Player of the Season 2012/13.
5 Jose Enrique
Jose Enrique began this season out of favour and seemingly destined to leave the club in January. On arrival from Newcastle the previous summer he displayed all the attributes of a top class full-back and starred for Kenny Dalglish’s team up until Christmas. From that point his level nosedived alarmingly and a lack of form/crisis of confidence accompanied him into this campaign.
Injury limited early involvement yet Brendan Rodgers preferred switching Glen Johnson to left-back and selecting Andre Wisdom on the right side once the Spaniard regained fitness. A kamikaze piece of defending against Young Boys in Switzerland seemed to seal his fate with even Stewart Downing seen as a viable alternative at one point.
That all changed when a defensive reshuffle saw the 27 year old recalled at Goodison Park of all places. Enrique battled hard as the reds took a share of the spoils and kept his place for the next league fixture at home to Newcastle. In that game he assisted a Suarez wonder goal with a fine pass and never looked back.
A Man of the Match performance against Chelsea the following weekend convinced Rodgers to deploy him as a left-winger for the next month – during which time he scored his first LFC goal against Wigan. Having developed a great understanding with Suarez, Enrique became a focal point of our attack.
The arrival of Coutinho and re-emergence of Downing eventually saw him drop back into defence, where he has been solid for the most part. A tendency to take-on all comers still blights his game occasionally but his turnaround in fortunes has been remarkable. A key first teamer once again he is even modelling an A-List haircut these days! Enrique has salvaged his Anfield career and for that deserves praise.
4 Raheem Sterling
Most supporters hoped to see teenage sensation Raheem Sterling bedded into the team this season but nobody expected him to figure quite so frequently. An encouraging August display away at Hearts in the Europa League earned him a start three days later against the Champions no less. Rather than cower at the prospect the skilful winger stepped-up and impressed everyone with his fearless enthusiasm.
Before long Rodgers was left with no choice but to persist with Sterling who had become – Suarez aside – our best attacking outlet. He created goals at Sunderland and Norwich, before netting his first senior strike at home to Reading. England – predictably – came calling and an international debut was won away at Sweden in November. This all at the tender age of 17.
Pacey, tricky and tough he had played more games than any Liverpool player going into February. At that point, with Coutinho and Sturridge on-board, Rodgers took the decision to withdraw this precocious talent to avoid burnout. Indeed his performance level had dropped somewhat but for those first seven months alone he deserves to make this shortlist. A bright future lies ahead.
3 Steven Gerrard
By common consensus Liverpool’s captain took a while to get going this season. Whether he was battling for fitness or simply adjusting to new ideas, Steven Gerrard was rather understated in his play. A classic goal against Manchester United at Anfield reminded everyone of his brilliance and before long he began to influence games regularly, albeit from a deeper position.
He may not be as prolific on the goal scoring front (although he does have 10) but creatively he remains outstanding. As of this weekend only two players have assisted more Premier League goals, while his 91 key passes is bettered by only David Silva and Leighton Baines. He is also in the top four for most completed passes and the top ten for most crosses. Gerrard is essentially playing the Xabi Alonso role without the ginger beard.
You need also look at his contribution in big games to appreciate his impact. He scored home and away against United and was Man of the Match in the Anfield tussle between the two. Furthermore he created a goal at Goodison, rolled back the years at The Emirates, starred and scored at The Etihad, notched the winner against Spurs and single-handedly threatened to keep us in the FA Cup when introduced at Boundary Park.
Stevie has adapted his game both for the sake of the team and his own conditioning but make no mistake he is just as effective.
2 Glen Johnson
Glen Johnson can be used as a barometer on how much people know about football. The armchair supporters who simply recite anything fed to them by the likes of Gary Lineker and his merry band of clowns (Hansen excluded) will tell you he cannot defend, should play in midfield and be replaced by Kyle Walker in the national side.
Those who actually ‘go the game’ know better. Johnson is a fine player and has enjoyed his best season at Anfield. His form has suffered a little just recently but that should not deflect from his sustained level this term.
Rodgers system demands the full backs to push on and provide constant width. A willing runner, Glen obliges by overlapping time and again. He is often our best outlet when trying to break down a stubborn defence.
Yes he makes errors but few possess a greater recovery rate and fewer still get the better of him. Ask yourself this, would you swap him for another right back in the division? Only Pablo Zabaletta rivals our number 2 in those stakes.
Athletic, strong, good on the ball, a fine crosser and undoubted goal threat Johnson is the complete modern day full-back. His consistency this season belies the team as a whole and he deserves a great deal of praise. Indeed the only thing missing from his armoury these days is a song…
1 Luis Suarez
There was more chance of me bedding Megan Fox than Luis Suarez receiving the PFA Player of the Year award on Monday night. That should not detract from the fact he HAS been the Player of the Year and by some considerable distance.
Nobody has had a bigger influence on their side throughout the course of this season (that means August onwards) than the Uruguayan. Left as our only recognisable striker from September through to January, Suarez practically carried his teammates in the manner Gerrard did for so many years.
A wasteful first day at The Hawthorns reignited the debate regarding his finishing capabilities but he soon dispelled those critics in spectacular fashion. He had netted nine times before the end of October, including a superb hat-trick at Carrow Road. He almost inspired a derby victory at Goodison – during which he memorably ‘dived’ in-front of David Moyes.
A wonder goal against Newcastle underlined his technical brilliance, as did a fine double at home to Wigan – against whom he later scored another hat-trick. Suarez fought to overturn our Zenit deficit like a man possessed and broke down in tears when his two goals proved in vain. He terrorised Spurs last month and even had the audacity to break Chelsea hearts with his last touch of the campaign.
Controversy may dog him but judged purely on footballing ability he is world class and has no equal in this country. His 30 goal return is our best since Fernando Torres’ first year in England, while his 90 key passes puts him amongst the five most creative players in the Premier League.
Nearly everything Liverpool manifest goes through him. He is not only the focal point of our attack but the talisman around who we must build this team for years to come.
Maintaining his services may prove problematic but every effort should be made to secure the future of arguably our best player (alongside Gerrard) in 25 years. Suarez has had a quite astonishing season and though he will be snubbed by the ‘suits’ of the game he will rightly receive recognition and adulation on Merseyside. The comforting thing of course is you guess that is all that truly matters to him.