Gerrard, Torres and the team that should have won the title – Liverpool FC in 2008/09

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In a thrilling, nail-biting campaign Liverpool finished within touching distance of the Premier League title after accumulating 86 points.

Rafa Benitez’s side had enjoyed a steady progression since his arrival, having carefully added the needed personnel to push for the title over the years.

And it all came to head in the 2008/09 season, with Liverpool amassing a record points tally of 86 point in the Premier League, a total which has since been bettered by the Reds on one occasion, soon to be two following the conclusion of the 2019/20 campaign.

The Spaniard was in his fifth season at the helm and had just waved goodbye to John Arne Riise, Harry Kewell, Peter Crouch and Steven Finnan.

But it was the departure that never came to be in Xabi Alonso which had defined the summer of 2008 as the boardroom and Benitez came to blows.

Nevertheless, the Reds had vied for the title for the majority of the campaign thanks to 77 wondrous goals from 16 different players, only to feel a familiar heartbreak come seasons end.

 

Torres Injury Uncovers Lack of Depth

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, March 14, 2009: Liverpool's Fernando Torres takes a knock during the Premiership match against Manchester United at Old Trafford. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

For the second consecutive season, Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres topped the goalscoring charts for the Reds in the top-flight, only this time it was the skipper out in front on 16, with the Spaniard close behind on 14.

But it was a season of what could have been?

A myriad of injuries saw Torres play a total of 24 league games, where five of the 13 games he missed through injury saw the Reds drop 12 points – only four separated them from Man United come the end of the season.

Torres, at the time, was widely considered one of, if not, the most devastating striker in the world, with his pace, power and ruthless finishing often proving too much to handle for the opposition, just ask Vidic, and his link with Gerrard was an awe-inspiring one.

The 4-1 victory at Old Trafford was a standout for the pair, while the winner at Sunderland and the double at Everton and Chelsea were moments to cherish from Torres.

Ultimately, while Liverpool were the division’s top scorers, the absence of Torres made the Reds’ lack of depth in attack abundantly clear as Robbie Keane struggled to make a mark and it would prove costly after 38 games.

 

Plenty of Thunderbolts to Celebrate

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, August 23, 2008: Liverpool's match-winner captain Steven Gerrard MBE celebrates his late goal to seal victory over Middlesbrough during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

As noted, Liverpool found the net 77 times and there were plenty of wonderful goals to celebrate throughout the season.

From Gerrard’s right-footed rocket against Middlesbrough to Dirk Kuyt’s audacious bicycle kick against Wigan and the sumptuous counter-attack goal finished off by Keane with West Brom the visitors.

There’s there was Gerrard’s low driving finish against Everton, Fabio Aurelio’s inch-perfect free-kick at Old Trafford, not to mention a flurry of headed finishes from the likes of Kuyt, Torres, Hyypia and N’Gog.

It’s hard to pick a favourite.

 

A Force Against the Top

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - Saturday, March 14, 2009: Liverpool's magnificent captain Steven Gerrard MBE celebrates scoring his side's second goal, from the penalty spot, to put his side 2-1 up against Manchester United with team-mate Fernando Torres during the Premiership match at Old Trafford. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

After registering just four defeats the season prior, Liverpool went two better in 2008/09 having tasted defeat just two times.

The impressive nature of their performances saw them take it to their fellow members of the top six, accumulating 20 from a possible 30 points – which included doubles over United and Chelsea.

The aggregate score from those games was 22-8, a return which was significantly better than United’s 13 points from 30 against the final members of the top six (Chelsea, Arsenal, Aston Villa and Everton).

It was an advantage the Reds had over their counterparts, but their shortcomings elsewhere were too great to overcome.

 

But Struggles Came Further Down

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - Saturday, February 28, 2009: Liverpool's captain Steven Gerrard MBE looks dejected after Middlesbrough second goal during the Premiership match at the Riverside Stadium. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

And that was in the ‘easier’ game, with results against those further down in the table proving decisive in where the title landed.

It was not new territory for Liverpool having had their seasons in the years earlier marred by their inability to turn performances into results against those outside of the top six.

Whilst the number of defeats had dwindled by 50 percent from the season prior, in 2008/09, Liverpool saw their draws drop by only two, from 13 to 11.

Five of those came against sides positioned 10th and below in the table, with only four goals scored in the process, while one of their defeats came against Middlesbrough, who would finish the season in 19th position.

And to think the gap was only four points and the Reds had a greater goal difference.

 

Fondly Remembered

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Tuesday, March 10, 2009: Liverpool players line-up for a team group photo before the UEFA Champions League First Knockout Round 2nd Leg match against Real Madrid at Anfield. Back row (L-R) goalkeeper Pepe Reina, Dirk Kuyt, Martin Skrtel, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres. Front Row (L-R) Alvaro Arbeloa, Fabio Aurelio, captain Steven Gerrard MBE, Jamie Carragher, Ryan Babel and Javier Mascherano. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Ultimately, this side will go down as one of the best not to win the Premier League, and with a spine of Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, Javier Mascherano, Alonso, Gerrard and Torres – you cannot argue with that.

There was also Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger and Hyypia to rotate through the centre-back position, while Fabio Aurelio and Alvaro Arbeloa were standouts at full-back and Kuty was the standout on the right-wing.

Benitez had created a side who were more than capable of ending the wait for a league title, but when you dig a little deeper it was the squad depth which would cause the team to come unstuck as options from the bench were limited.

Needlessly dropped points were costly and then there were the happenings with United and Federico Macheda…

It remains a season which is remembered fondly by Reds for the thrilling football which was on show, but it was the last charge towards the title under Benitez and Liverpool would be forced to emerge from boardroom struggles and another transition before they would come close once more.

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