After hurtling themselves towards the precipice of glory the season prior, Liverpool were on a downward slope as a disastrous 2009/10 campaign followed.
Following years of carefully navigating the transfer window and moulding his side to his liking, Rafa Benitez’s men fell to the wayside in what was an inconsistent, to say the least, 2009/10 season.
It would the Spaniards last at the helm of Liverpool.
Benitez’s last months in charge, however, was dominated by off-field drama as the boardroom battle between Tom Hicks and George Gillett, the fans and the manager reached breaking point.
The summer of 2009 saw funds restricted in the transfer window with Xabi Alonso bidding farewell alongside Alberto Aquilani.
Liverpool would finish in seventh position, 23 points adrift of champions Chelsea after losing 11 games and drawing a further 9, with 61 goals scored from 11 different players.
Alonso’s Departure & the Beach Ball
Two events which summed up the season. Alonso’s transfer to Real Madrid in a £30m move came first, a year after he had first looked destined to leave.
It had been prompted by Benitez’s desire to sign Gareth Barry in the summer of 2008, a decision which simmered under the surface before the ties were cut and the Reds went on without their key midfielder.
Liverpool had a team that finished second in 2008/09, four points off the champions, and Alonso was integral having missed just five league games, and letting a key component walk away proved costly to any ambitions the team had of going one better.
Tempers and emotions were running high, but the season which followed only added to the frustration.
And the campaign was aptly summed up by the innocuous shot by Sunderland‘s Darren Bent, which was heading straight towards Pepe Reina, before it struck a beach ball and was diverted into the net.
It was the only goal as Liverpool fell to a 1-0 defeat. It should not have stood but the Reds were largely powerless to stop the defeat listed on their record.
It was the fourth of their 11 defeats in 2009/10 – they had lost just two the season prior.
Torres Still Rises to the Top
It was another injury-interrupted campaign for the Spaniard, with a knee injury at the back end of the season limiting his league appearances to 22.
It left the impetus to score goals on the likes of Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt, David N’Gog and Ryan Babel to fill the void, they combined for 27.
Yet, Torres was the only Red to hit double figures in the league (18) and arguably hit the goal of the season.
It came against Sunderland at Anfield in March 2010, where he jinked his way into the box before unleashing from the edge of the area, with the ball nestling into the top corner.
And who can forget those two memorable strikes against Man United both home and away?
Strikes to Hang Your Hat On
While the season did not live up to expectation, some of the goals made up for the lack of excitement elsewhere.
Gerrard’s customary volley was on show for all to see against Bolton, as was a long-range bullet at Burnley which ought to have sailed through the net itself such was the power on the shot.
Dirk Kuyt’s poacher finishes were always a welcome sight, but N’Gog’s sealer against United on the counter in a 2-0 win remains one of the highlights of the campaign.
And while the Reds amassed more defeats than draws, seven of their 18 victories were with a three-goal margin – with the 6-1 win over Hull at Anfield earning the title as their biggest winning margin.
Thriving at the Back
At the other end of the field, Reina was a consistent force between the sticks. The Spaniard played all 38 Premier League games and on multiple occasions kept the Reds in the game during what was a topsy-turvy season.
He finished the campaign with 17 clean sheets, which saw him tie with Chelsea‘s Petr Cech for the Golden Glove – but he missed out on the gong as Cech had a better ratio in terms of goals conceded per game – he did, however, earn the fans’ vote as their Player of the Season.
A reliable performer who would then pen a six-year contract extension in April 2010 – but by the summer of 2013 he had played his final game for the club.
And speaking of N’Gog’s sealer against United, the goal may be best remembered by Reina’s sprint up the length of the field to nestle in the embrace of the striker – sound familiar?
The club was in a state of limbo, on and off the field. Liverpool had been searching for suitable investors to inject much-needed cash into the club amid growing debt and the fans were righty in a state of unrest as Hicks and Gillet did their best to run the club into the ground.
A tussle would ensue later in the year between the pair, the High Court and the new owners, FSG, but in the meantime, Liverpool were falling to their knees on the field.
Just one season prior and the club had been pushing for their first league title in 19 years, now all would be back to square one as the re-building process started once again.
Benitez was out and Roy Hodgson would be ushered in as manager, a disastrous appointment which would set the Reds back years in their pursuit of titles.
The 2009/10 campaign was the end of an era, with three subsequent finishes outside the top five.
Manager: Rafael Benitez
Captain: Steven Gerrard
Top Scorer: Fernando Torres (22, all competitions)
Most Appearances: Jamie Carragher and Dirk Kuyt (53, all competitions)
Total games: 56
Games won: 25
Games drawn: 15
Games lost: 14
Clean sheets – league: 16
Clean sheets – overall: 21
Total goals: 98