Transfer failings & saying farewell to a legend – Liverpool FC’s downward spiral in 2014/15

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After a mesmeric, albeit heartbreaking, end to the previous campaign, Liverpool’s world crumbled around them in 2014/15 as a lack of clear direction proved costly.

Following on from a campaign whereby the elusive wait for a league title was within grasp is no easy feat, let alone when there was a disconnect between the manager and those above and around him.

Lacklustre signings were made and the Reds were abseiling without a rope, they were in free fall and a miserable 38-game campaign followed.

Luis Suarez wrangled his way out of Anfield after securing a £65 million move to Barcelona, leaving behind a 31-goal hole to fill in his absence – one which the club was left to look to Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli to fill.

What followed was a season which saw the Reds find the net on 52 occasions with 15 different players finding a route to goal – a tally which was only enough to help secure a measly sixth-place finish.

It is a season which few look back at fondly, if at all, and was ultimately defined by Steven Gerrard’s final game as a Red.

 

A once frightening attack turned limp

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 13, 2014: Liverpool's Mario Balotelli is substituted for Rickie Lambert against Aston Villa during the Premier League match at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The story of Lambert joining his boyhood club in the summer of 2014 was one which would warm any heart, but at that point in time Suarez was still on the books and as was Daniel Sturridge.

But fast forward just over a month and Liverpool were without their star man after he traded Anfield for Camp Nou, then came the head-scratching u-turn for Balotelli.

From “I can categorically tell you Mario Balotelli will not be at Liverpool” to “a really smart piece of business” in the space of just 22 days.

It left Liverpool trading the SAS for two strikers who combined for 41 games and three league goals, with Sturridge’s injury in September following the international break kickstarting a string of setbacks which would plague his career.

He made 12 appearances in the Premier League, scoring four goals in that time.

Therefore, the onus was on the likes of Steven Gerrard, Raheem Sterling, Philippe Coutinho, Lazor Markovic and Fabio Borini to pick up the slack, but they too could do little to arrest the Reds’ downward spiral – contributing 24 goals between them.

It was night and day from the rampaging Reds who scored 101 in 2013/14.

 

Two arrivals to shine under different management

In midfield, however, Liverpool did secure two signings who would prove key in the re-build following the 2014/15 season.

Adam Lallana arrived from Southampton for £25 million and Emre Can from Bayer Leverkusen for just under £10 million, with the former shining brighter with 27 appearances, five goals and three assists, while Can managed a single goal in the same number of games.

But it was Rodgers’ deployment of the German which stunted his progress as he fielded the midfielder at right-back for the last six games of the campaign, which opposition sides exploited at will.

After a total spend of £115 million in the summer, both Lallana and Can would shine the brightest in the seasons to come, while Alberto Moreno and Dejan Lovren would also forge long careers at the club with mixed returns.

 

Finding moments of joy

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Sunday, February 22, 2015: Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho Correia celebrates scoring the first goal against Southampton during the FA Premier League match at St Mary's Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

There was not a lot to celebrate in 2014/15, but there were still moments of individual brilliance which got one out of their seat.

There was the bursting run and drilled finish from Moreno at White Hart Lane which had many excited over the possibilities at left-back, the Lallana-Hendo combo against West Brom and Coutinho linking up with Sterling with perfect precision with the Hammers the victims.

But Coutinho’s long-range strike at St Mary’s has to be the pick of the bunch, with the crossbar and net all in play – there’s no sound like it.

And he was it again the following week with a curling effort against Man City, which also saw Henderson thrown down a gauntlet of his own with a perfectly placed strike.

And you can’t discuss the 2014/15 season without at least mentioning that weird, wonderful and yet disastrous 3-2 win at Queens Park Rangers – or what could have been had Markovic’s volley not hit the crossbar against Sunderland.

 

A sorry goodbye for a legend

STOKE-ON-TRENT, ENGLAND - Sunday, May 24, 2015: Liverpool's captain Steven Gerrard blows a kiss to the supporters as he walks off after his final game for the club, a 6-1 defeat to Stoke City, during the Premier League match at the Britannia Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A 6-1 defeat at Stoke is no way to send off a legend and club captain of over 12 years, but the final game of the season proved to be a culmination of all that was wrong at the club.

Five goals in the first 45 minutes, none to Liverpool, and Gerrard was once again forced to be the man to attempt to drag the Reds back from the abyss, scoring between the Potters’ fifth and sixth goal.

It was symbolic of what the 34-year-old had to withstand in his final campaign, with a limp Champions League exit at the group stage and a calamitous defeat to Aston Villa in the FA Cup semi-final the cherry on top of a disastrous cake.

The shining light was that he was able to leave his beloved Anfield with a goal at the Kop-end in his second to last game at the ground, scoring against QPR in the final minutes to clinch the win.

While it was not to end in any sense of glory, Gerrard was rightly celebrated for his 710-game career which spanned over 17 years, where Reds were able to witness 186 of his goals and see him set up a further 145.

The best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be’

 

Beginning of the end for Rodgers

STOKE-ON-TRENT, ENGLAND - Sunday, May 24, 2015: Liverpool's manager Brendan Rodgers in a post-match press conference after his side's 6-1 defeat to Stoke City during the Premier League match at the Britannia Stadium. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

A sixth-place finish with 62 points saw Liverpool sit 25 points adrift of champions Chelsea after they limped over the finish line having all but thrown themselves off a cliff.

Devoid of match-winners, leaders, self-doubt and no clear tactical plan from one week to the next, Rodgers was living on borrowed time – just more than any of us may have thought at the time.

Transfers lacked a clear vision, the return to Champions League football was nothing short of diabolical and the squad in its entirety was one which had looked to have wavered from his teachings with countless examples of a lack of fight and belief.

A 1-0 defeat away to what would be a relegated Hull was the precursor to the embarrassing defeat to Stoke but came after notable defeats to West Ham, Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Man United.

A 13-game unbeaten streak midway through the season would not be enough for the cheek to turn the other way but Rodgers would be given the benefit of time as he remained at Anfield over the summer.

He returned without Sterling, Gerrard, Lambert and assistant Colin Pascoe and former first-team coach Mike Marsh, but it would prove only temporary as there was a greater plan in motion behind the scenes, which would propel Liverpool back to the top of club football.

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