By Chris Rowland.
Following last Thursday’s Part 1, here is a second set of answers to the questions we asked our team of writers:
Does this feel like a one-off ‘outlier’ season for us or the start of a sustained period of challenging at the top?
Lee Mooney: I do have some worries for the season to come. First is the potentially damaging impact of a ‘rapid recalibration’ of expectations. My stretch target at the start of this year was 4th. I was whole-heartedly expecting a 5th or 6th place finish if I’m being totally honest. To be still in with a mathematical shout of the title on the last day of the season is just bonkers! I’m enjoying every minute, don’t get me wrong, but it’s still bonkers.
Next year will be different. Upgrading the squad, replacing the players we’ve loaned in (assuming many will return to their parent clubs) and extending the depth of the squad to cope with a Champions League campaign will create a lot of ‘noise’ for a small and settled group. Who knows how that might disrupt things? With so many players potentially coming/going, is it realistic to expect them to instantly gel and add to this season’s output?
Jon Rushton: We’ve been playing at a Champions’ League level since January 2013, and I don’t see this season being the end of that. Our 2014 performances equate to 2.47 points per game – that would be 94 points if sustained over a season. So that’s the range – bearing in mind the extra games, but hopefully bigger squad – I genuinely believe we’ll perform somewhere between the 2013 and the 2014 level next season. Anywhere from 75 to 95 points in the league, and either scenario is realistic in my world.
Rodgers will have to learn lessons as well as the players in the Champions’ League and we’re in the lowest pot I believe. But we’re one of the top ten teams in the world right now, no doubt, and I think we’ll make the knock-out stages.
Chris Rowland: Mignolet, Flanagan, Sakho, Allen, Coutinho, Sterling, Henderson, Sturridge – they’re not going to get any worse are they? They’re going to benefit from this season, surely. With several new faces to come, a few returning loanees are one or two new youngsters coming through, and everyone from FSG to Rodgers ‘on the same page’ as far as building something sustainable and long-term is concerned, then I don’t care how much money Utd throw at it and how many strikers Chelsea sign and whether Spurs finally get a manager who’s up to it, I think we’re going to be around for a while. This doesn’t feel transient and fragile like it did last time we were runners-up, with so much more stability surrounding the club, including financial, and a redeveloped stadium to factor in.
Alun Evans (TTT Subscriber FirePhoenix23): It may be an outlier in the sense that we may not be challenging for the title this time next year but I do think that we are looking at the start of a sustained period of excellence. I think this off-season is vital. We need to resist the temptation of trying to change too much. Bring in too many and the unique circumstances that allowed us to prosper will have gone. Constant and gradual improvement is what we need. Build for 10 seasons not just next one.
Shaul Mitelpunkt (TTT Subscriber Serpico): No outlier, sorry Spurs fans. We have been good for too long and the infrastructure is very stable.
Equally, sustaining a challenge is a tough trick and everybody has to prove themselves every year again and again. Our folks seem resilient but the moment they feel they ‘made it’ it will start to fade away. They must stay hungry, and I believe Rodgers can motivate them to accomplish that.
Russel Lunt (TTT Subscriber thundyr): Teams don’t just go on a win streak of 11 in any league without significant merit and some good fortune on the way. We rode the wave of a combination of outstanding attacking play and poor results from our rivals, and while such circumstance may not assist us to the same degree ever again at least the nature of our victories left little to luck, suggesting future sustainability as long as we keep hold of our key players. However, it’s important to realise that goal-machine Suarez basically hasn’t missed a minute of action since his ban ended, and our dip in discipline coincided with Henderson missing three fixtures and therefore depriving our midfield of his athleticism. While injuries to key players have demonstrated we are not a one-man team, they have also exposed the uncomfortable knowledge that when we can’t field 11 of our top 15 players for the full 90 we just seem to come up that little bit short.
It’s a massive credit to Brendan Rodgers that he found a tactic that bound these few players together into such an irresistible and unpredictable force, but it’s a warning as well. Unless we can find another seven or eight quality players we will fall at the last hurdle with the added burden of the Champions’ League fixture list. We can’t realistically expect to compete with rich(er) teams in the top 7 that have the full allocation of 25 while we send the same 18 to battle each week, even if our 18 are individually younger, cheaper and better than those of our rivals and function better as a unit. The concern is that without significant reinforcement next season’s heavier fixture load will see our title challenge fade earlier rather than persisting to the final day.
My expectations as a fan have gone from “hope to finish in the top 4” to “finish in the top 4”; which is still a far cry from “challenge for the title in May” even though we have achieved that this season. We have taken a large step forward in a manner that suggests our level will not drop significantly, but we have many strides left to take before winning the title can become part of our expectations. That is down to our manager, and long may he wear the Liverbird on his chest.
Alexander Papas (TTT Subscriber Yiannis): No! Emphatically, categorically no! We’ve achieved a very creditable title challenge with a core of players who are for the most part young and inexperienced at the sharp end of football, with zero depth and an injury list that would have relegated us by Christmas in Hodgson’s ill-fated stint. If we can put that good a challenge in that early into our development under both Rodgers and FSG, then we really are in a strong position. Work is obviously needed, as well as investment, but we’ve got a financial set-up and management structure in place to give us everything we need, as long as the people at the top keep broadly making good decisions.
Gerrard’s now-famous “this does not slip” may not have referred to this season’s title challenge at all. I think it should refer to the next five years. This improvement, this growth from one season to the next, this does not slip. Look back on where we were last season to where we are this season – it’s a long way down, isn’t it? Next season, we look back at this season in the same way. If we can just go again next season, then go again the season after that and so on, in a few years’ time we won’t be challenging for the title and we won’t even have won the title: we’ll be sat on top of the mountain, re-arranging our perch and getting it back to the way it used to be, wondering how we ever left.
Dave Cronin: Of all the questions asked, this is the one I hate the most. 2nd is a cursed position for us. While other teams have base-camped here before clinching their first Premier League title, we’ve previously dropped from second to 5th and 7th. On both previous occasions, I felt the dream was in sight but I found myself befuddled by Houllier talking about plateaus and turning corners and then Benitez fighting with two conmen who were selling the team out from under him.
We seem to have infinitely better owners now than on the past two occasions we finished 2nd. Rodgers can expect more support and financial backing than Benitez received and he seems unlikely to lose the plot like Houllier did.
I just worry that like in 2009/10, too much expectation will be placed on the team by supporters, the media and the players themselves so that if they start badly they don’t recover. I honestly believe that but for Mignolet’s penalty save against Stoke, we’d have had a very different season this campaign. Rodgers seems to be able to manage our players’ mentalities well and in Dr Steve Peters he has the best in the business to help with that task. That makes me more optimistic but experience has taught me to be prepared for the worst.
But to answer the question, it feels like the start of a sustained period of challenging at the top end and I really hope it is!
Si Steers: We may find that we regress slightly next season as we have done brilliantly well this year; it depends on how our rivals strengthen, injuries, suspensions, and who we bring in this summer. But I think we are well set for a sustained period in the top four, the important thing is to keep things progressing, and reacting well to setbacks. We also need to improve recruitment if we are going to compete for a sustained period.
Alex Tate (TTT Subscriber Tattva): Certainly the start of a sustained period of challenging. The performance of the club as a whole suggests there is only one trajectory. We have stability, a manager who has football intelligence, is forward-thinking, smart with the press and seems to have the love of the players, and won’t stand of any internal uproar.
Recently teams such as Newcastle and Spurs have shown outliers to be common, but the club is better placed in 2014 than those rivals in their flash seasons.
The rest of this Q&A, where we ask whether we over-achieved this season and what we need to challenge for the PL and handle a CL campaign next season, is for Subscribers only.