Rejoice for second, mourn what could have been

Joseph Copeland delights in a season of progress for Liverpool, but rues a glorious missed opportunity for more.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, May 11, 2014: Liverpool's manager Brendan Rodgers after the final game of the season, a 2-1 victory over Newcastle United, during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)
Brendan Rodgers after the final game of the season, a 2-1 victory over Newcastle United, during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

We are now 24 hours removed from Championship Sunday in the Barclays Premier League and fans from all over are coming to grips with the reality of their clubs final standings.

Supporters of Cardiff City, Fulham and Norwich City are coming to grips with life in the Championship. Gunners fans are dusting off their 4th place trophy following yet another letdown for Arsene Wenger and Co.

We can’t forget Manchester City, who won their second league title in 3 years.

There might only be one club that isn’t quite sure how to react to the final standings, and that is Liverpool Football Club.

Coming into this season, I wrote a piece arguing the merits of Liverpool challenging for the Top 4 this season. In it, I predicted a 5th place finish for the Reds as I didn’t believe they were genuine contenders quite yet. 26 wins, 84 points and 101 goals later, I stand corrected. This is one of those rare moments, where I was absolutely thrilled to be so wrong.

Champions League football has been secured. Coming into the season, that was the main objective, so in that regard, this season has been a resounding success.

The team was one of the most entertaining sides to watch in Europe throughout the year, as the likes of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge rampaged through opponents on a whim.

The former, tied the record for most goals in a 38 game season as the irresistible Uruguayan bagged an impressive 31 goals.  Sturridge stayed fit for the most part, and banged in 21 goals of his own.

Raheem Sterling improved by leaps and bounds this year as he captured the Young Player of the Year award as well as a trip to Brazil 2014.

Fellow youngsters Jon Flanagan and Philippe Coutinho were key contributors during the season.

We saw Steven Gerrard seamlessly transition into his holding midfield role from Day 1, a move that might add a year or two onto the Captain’s legendary career.

There were thoroughly dominant displays against the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Everton and Manchester United.  Liverpool attacked this campaign with an unrelenting fire.

They went into every contest hungry to go on the attack.  Year 2 under Brendan Rodgers’ system looks to have had the desired effect on all the players.

I could go on and on about how incredible this season has been at Anfield, but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least take a look into what could have, and possibly “should have” been for the Reds.

Regardless of whether or not people believe you should be there, any team sitting top of the table with only three games left should expect to be raising the trophy at the end.

For a club that is unbelievably starved for their first League title in 24 years, the collapse is all that more brutal. To have come so close to finally securing that coveted jewel and have it ripped away at the finish is devastating for the club and its countless supporters.

The fact that the freefall began as the result of a slip by Gerrard of all people, is cruel and unusual punishment. That was followed by 70 minutes of feverish attacking work against Crystal Palace that saw Liverpool cruise 3-0 ahead as they searched for more goals in the differential department, only to be pegged by the most horrifying 10 minutes of self-capitulation you’ll ever see on a football pitch.

LONDON, ENGLAND - Monday, May 5, 2014: Liverpool' supporters look dejected after the 3-3 draw against Crystal Palace during the Premiership match at Selhurst Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)
Liverpool’ supporters look dejected after the 3-3 draw against Crystal Palace during the Premier League match at Selhurst Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The 3-3 draw with Palace all but ended any hopes of usurping Manchester City at the top.  The view of an inconsolable Suarez in tears on the field for minutes after the final whistle was enough to bring even the hardest of viewers to at least “Misty eye” status.

Following their 2-1 win on the final day, you could tell that the entire club was mentally and physically spent.  They put everything they had into this season, but alas it still wasn’t enough to reach the summit of English football.

Now is not the time to dissect what is needed to sustain this going forward, that time will come swiftly enough.  Instead, we must take a step back, catch our breath and take stock of what we’ve all been a part of this season.

We have seen our team soar from mid-table obscurity to the precipice of a League title in one season.

It is yet another season without silverware, but Champions League football is a trophy in of itself.  European nights are back at Anfield, and so is the winning culture that has long been missed.

This team is still incredibly young as a whole and they still have room to improve. The belief that a team that played this well can only improve should have fans and media pundits alike salivating just thinking about it.

So when we look back on the 2013-14 season, we can celebrate our highest point total in 5 years. We should be thankful for a return to Europe’s most elite club competition.

But we also must acknowledge that when the title was in our hands, we let it slide right through our fingers.  Overall this season has been an absolute success, but even finishing second might still not get rid of the bitter taste of what might have been.

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