For Liverpool, the 2013/14 season was as thrilling as it was heartbreaking with just two points separating them from ending a 24-year wait for a league title.
When the final whistle rang out on the 2013/14 campaign, there was a debilitating feeling of heartbreak, one which would linger for years to come after the Reds came within touching distance of elusive Premier League title.
Their destiny was, of course, in their own hands with just three games remaining, but fate had other plans for Brendan Rodgers’ side, ones which did not include a remarkable campaign ending on the ultimate high.
It was not without its euphoric moments, however, from Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge combining to devastating effect and securing a double over Man United to netting a remarkable 101 goals with 12 individual goalscorers etching their name on the scoresheet.
The summer saw the likes of Simon Mignolet, Iago Aspas, Kolo Toure, Victor Moses and Mamadou Sakho arrive at Anfield, while Andy Carroll permanently moved on, as did Jonjo Shelvey, Jay Spearing and Stewart Downing – with Jamie Carragher having hung up his boots after 737 games.
And what was to follow over the course of the 38-game campaign was an exhilarating, but largely unexpected title charge which was ultimately built on quicksand.
The SAS Lead the Charge
A stunning 52 goals were scored off the laces of the Reds’ most exciting attacking duo in recent memory, a tally which accounted for 51.5 percent of Liverpool’s goals in the league.
The men responsible were a sight to behold, with pace, trickery, game intelligence and a lethal finish ensuring opposition defences were quaking in their boots when it was time to face the men in red.
Suarez (31) and Sturridge (21) were the first Liverpool strike partnership to each hit 20 goals in a single season since Ian St John and Roger Hunt in 1963/64.
While not your typical ‘partnership’, the two were individual stars who thrived in the system, had an almost telepathic understanding with the other and pushed one another to greater heights, ones which remain revered at Anfield.
With Raheem Sterling (nine goals) and Philippe Coutinho (five) in their company, Liverpool’s forward contingent was one which ensured the deficiencies in defence did not impair their ability to win games, irrespective of the number they conceded.
Suarez and Sturridge left a lot of questions as to what could have been, with this their only full season together as the former departed come season’s end.
The SAS’ ability to make anyone look foolish was a centre-piece of Liverpool’s title charge, but they had a myriad of contributors who propelled them to the cusp of the holy grail.
From Suarez’s outrageous header on the edge of the penalty area against West Brom to his cheeky four-goal rampage against Norwich, not to mention Sturridge’s delicate chip over Tim Howard in the Merseyside derby and his audacious lob against the Baggies.
And how could you not laud the captain’s lethal dead-ball finishes, with 10 coming from the spot in 2013/14 – which almost ended in a hat-trick of penalty goals at Old Trafford, only for Gerrard to hit the upright with his third attempt.
Coutinho’s strikes from long range were taking shape, while Sterling proved decisive in the run-in with his composure key in the 3-2 victories over Man City and Norwich respectively.
This lot certainly knew how to get you on your feet.
There were Two Kinds of Thrillers
And it ensured there were plenty of thrillers, both of the jaw-dropping and nail-biting kind.
Then there was the 4-0 mauling of Everton at Anfield, the 5-1 annihilation of Arsenal where after just 20 minutes Liverpool were four goals to the good – and no one can forget the 3-0 triumph at Old Trafford.
But Liverpool’s eye for attack was also forced to compensate for the soft underbelly at the back, one which conceded a total of 50 goals.
It led to topsy-turvy affairs at Stoke, Fulham, Swansea, Cardiff and Norwich, not to mention the tense 3-2 win over Man City at Anfield with just four games of the campaign remaining.
The two extremes would ultimately prove key in Liverpool’s downfall and deny one of their greatest ever servants the trophy he so thoroughly deserved.
Gerrard Moves Deeper
With the skipper edging ever closer to the end of his career, his role would change in 2013/14 to that of a deeper-lying one.
He would dictate the game from a different vantage point whilst preserving his energy and allowing him to use his pin-point deliveries with devastating effect – see Sturridge’s goal at Fulham.
For once, Liverpool were no longer solely reliant on Gerrard carrying the team on his shoulders in every capacity and the freedom saw Gerrard hit new heights, ones which would see him named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year for the first time since 2008/09.
He was able to dictate the rhythm and tempo of the play and allow Liverpool to dominate the game and the ball, and the move was one which helped propel the Reds to the precipice of glory.
Built on Quicksand
The Reds would, of course, finish two points short and there were to be no wild celebrations with the Premier League title being lifted in the air at Anfield by the man many craved to see rewarded for his services to the club.
The tilt at the title was built on quicksand, Liverpool had to outscore their opponents as their defence was not up to the standards required for a team who had any hopes of consistently challenging for top honours.
Liverpool dropped points on 12 separate occasions, six of which were against teams placed 10th and below in the final league standings.
The additions of Toure, Mignolet, Aly Cissokho and Sakho in the summer were not enough to plug a leaky defence and with Suarez to depart and Sturridge to succumb to injury, the Reds’ ability to compensate with goals or their own dried up and their shortcomings were then on show for all to see.
Conflicts between Rodgers and the ‘transfer committee’ and the downward trajectory of performances and results would ensure that 2013/14 was nothing other than a flash in the pan.
It was an enjoyable ride filled with countless moments to savour, but the recovery on the field and from both the pain and heartbreak was to require a considerable number of years.