Liverpool FC: An Expert Analysis of the 2012-2013 Season
An expert examines how Fenway Sports Group’s Premier League franchise had another year of promise and frustration.
The British Premier League season just ended, and so did John Henry and Fenway Sports Group’s second full year of owning world-renowned franchise Liverpool FC. The end result: Seventh place, with 61 points—behind the team’s old nemesis Manchester United (first place, 89 points) and crosstown rival Everton (sixth place, 63 points). The season brought mixed results for new manager Brendan Rodgers and his squad of mostly young players are adapting to a new style of play. But with John Henry & Co. working within a tight budget, it’s an uncertain time to be Reds fan—a sentiment Red Sox fans know all too well.
As always, we turn to John Williams, author of the definitive LFC history Red Men, to make sense of it for Boston sports fans. He analyzed how the team did and a wish list for the future (including more Henry/Werner sightings at Anfield):
On the overall season:
“The bare bones of the latest Liverpool season are quite hard to read. Despite the disappointments, I think most LFC supporters are willing to cut new manager Brendan Rodgers some slack. Most people like him and the style of football we are playing—it’s attack minded, passing-focused, intelligent, and mainly on the floor. Early on, against seasoned opposition, he also fielded a number of very promising but very young players, a strategy which provided optimism for the future but did not always work out well in the present. This showed some foresight and courage on Rodgers’ part—there was anxiety and criticism from fans—and it may have its rewards eventually.”
On what’s mostly frustrating the fans:
“The frustration has mainly come with crucial points lost to mediocre teams when we thought we were really making good progress: home defeats to West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa, and goal-less draws to relegated Reading and obstinate West Ham—these effectively killed off our hopes of a top four finish. A loss in January to lowly Oldham Athletic in the FA Cup was a nadir. We were never outclassed or outplayed, but often the Reds lost out in tight contests or in matches when we did not score early, a sure sign of inexperience and a lack of battle-hardened players. But we were also playing catch-up football right from the start, given our taxing early fixtures and the reliance on young talent.
On the roster:
“Under pressure, Rodgers made two excellent young signings in January—the English striker Daniel Sturridge and the Brazilian midfield man Philippe Coutinho. These have lifted everybody, and these guys offer goals and real creative talent. In the opposite direction, however, the brilliant but unpredictable Luis Suarez briefly lost the plot and is now suspended for 10 matches for biting an opponent on the pitch! Anger management and other therapies have been suggested during an enforced absence which will now stretch into next season. Should he stay? Will he stay? I think he will—the manager has backed him on this and other issues, and few clubs will want to cope with his special kind of ‘difficulties’, despite his incredible gifts. Suarez might actually ‘fit’ our club—and this rather contrary and willfully deviant city—better than most.
The great Bootle-born defender Jamie Carragher (‘great’ is over-used in football, but in this case is completely appropriate) played his last match for the Reds in the final fixture—730-odd completed for Liverpool, a lifer. He first joined the club as a nine-year-old Evertonian, and never looked back. I have probably seen more than 500 of these games and could count his poor performances in single figures. In the era of global player mobility and huge financial rewards, I fear we may never see his like again, and he will be desperately difficult to replace for his leadership, organization and sheer will to win.
But there were signs of life this season beyond the established star men. With Steven Gerrard injured and Suarez suspended, for example, Liverpool hit a very good vein of form late on to show that some of our younger players—Jordan Henderson, Jordon Ibe, Coutinho, and Sturridge—are improving and growing. Winning 6-0 away at Newcastle was an unforgettable moment. We will have also have Martin Kelly and Joe Allen back next season after long-term injury. In short, we have a young, developing squad with lots of promise.”
On the prospect of next season:
“If we can sign a class centre back to replace Carragher, keep hold of goalkeeper Pepe Reina and Suarez, resolve the Andy Carroll issue (he will leave for West Ham), and sign a couple more decent players, we definitely have a squad that can challenge for Europe and trophies next season. That’s a lot of ‘ifs’ in one sentence, I know. And the problem Liverpool faces is that, next season, the top three clubs in England will all have eager new managers and they all have more spending power than Liverpool. So while the ‘old order’ may not be quite as stable next time round, money still talks. Can Liverpool match this ambition with their own inspired, but cut-price, buys? It is a major challenge.
With all these managerial comings and goings, Rodgers will not seem quite the new kid on the block, a perception that has bought him some time. The club’s supporters fully expect to play in the Champions League in Europe, so fourth place is a minimum target. Hope springs eternal on the pitch. Off it? Well, we still look and feel as if we are directed too absent-mindedly from afar: it is widely interpreted as a sign of disrespect. We can only wait and see how the U.S. interest develops (or not). Perhaps if we ARE challenging at the very top next season, our owners will visit us more often. Global sport is a strange beast.”