Merseyside is enjoying a renaissance of a kind. The two football clubs from the city of Liverpool are doing tremendously well this season and are exceeding expectations with regards to what one would have expected at the start of the season.
Liverpool FC – What was expected?
Liverpool FC were going into this season with a mixed set of beliefs and expectations. The 2012-13 season was described as being ‘under-par’, a term used to shield readers from flinching at the alternative description: ‘disaster’. The new manager, Brendan Rodgers, started his tenure terribly. Was sacking the club legend a mistake? Should Rafael Benitez have been persuaded to retake the job of Liverpool manager? Should the responsibility have been given to Andre Villas-Boas, the other candidate for the managerial hot seat. A lot of questions sprung in the supporters’ minds. The Reds had an appalling start to the campaign, losing conclusively against West Brom 3-0 to former assistant coach (to Kenny Dalglish) Steve Clarke’s side. So should Steve Clarke have been given the job?
The start was further marred by a terrible summer transfer window where the likes of Joe Allen, Fabio Borini and Oussama Assaidi were purchased, while the club was unable to get Clint Dempsey. This after a rather public courting of Fulham’s talisman, making even the faithful raise their doubts over a club which in the distant past had been synonymous with success. However, a successful winter transfer window saw the raw talents of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho come in, and restored stability in the club’s campaign. At one point, Liverpool were being tipped to finish in the lower half of the table. While a 7th placed finish is hardly respectable, it could have been worse had the trajectory of the first few games continued. The latter half of the season also showed, in a rather blurred way, what was in store for a Liverpool fan in the next season.
2013-14: Liverpool & Rodgers Earn Global Acclaim
In complete contrast, Liverpool won their first three games of the present season. They won these without their star player – Luis Suarez. They had a decent transfer window as the likes of Simon Mignolet and marquee signing Mamadou Sakho boosted their squad, but the additions of Iago Aspas and Kolo Toure were met with mixed reactions.
What was expected from Liverpool was their supporters whining ‘next season is our season’ again. What was expected from them was them battling hard to get to the fourth or fifth spot. What was expected from them was a struggle. What was certainly not expected was the club winning nine games on the run, being on top of the table after 33 games even after the much spoken about ‘lack of depth’. What was most definitely not expected were rumours regarding the approach made by Barcelona to lure Brendan Rodgers away. And what again not expected was Pep Guardiola complimenting Liverpool’s season and saying he would love for the club to be back in the Champions League next season.
Everton FC: Martinez Wipes Out Memories Of Moyes
Everton FC have had a very mixed couple of years in the Premier League. Last season, David Moyes’ Toffees finished in sixth place, above their city rivals for the second time in succession. Moyes was pried away by Manchester United as the Scotsman took over the reigns at the Manchester club after the legend, or rather god-like figure of Sir Alex Ferguson decided to retire. The Toffees were left without a coach for the next season and they picked Roberto Martinez as the man who would lead them. Incidentally, Roberto Martinez was reportedly one of the top contenders for Rodgers to be the man to take over King Kenny’s job at Liverpool the previous year.
Martinez had impressed everyone when he started off his managerial career after making Swansea City League One Champions. His time at Wigan Athletic again impressed people as he helped the Latics avoid relegation for three consecutive seasons. His fourth season saw Wigan go back to the Championship, but in that particular edition he made sure the club went away from the top flight in panache, as Martinez’s men beat Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City to lift the FA Cup. A manager of such credentials, it was no surprise when Everton appointed him as the man to lead him forward.
Champions League Spot Contenders
Martinez did well in the transfer department and what really impressed everyone were the loan signings he made. The addition of Gerard Deulofeu, Gareth Barry and Romelu Lukaku, all on a temporary basis, has been instrumental in Everton’s wonderful season so far. Martinez’s style of teaching has been praised by his players, Ross Barkley notably calling him a ‘positive man’ and saying “We do a lot more tactical work (under Martinez) which is good for me because I’m young and still learning.”
What was the expectation with Everton? A fight for the fifth or sixth spot, a struggle to yet again ‘fit in’ in the ‘elite’ spots and yet again, remain the outsiders. A pathetic fight with city rivals Liverpool over who finishes higher and receives that sad egoistic boost. What certainly was not expected was the club beating all odds to remain genuine contenders for the Champions League spot. Or for the Goodison Park side to be in better mathematical standings than Arsenal to possibly get to that fourth spot. Or for them to finish higher in the table than heavy spenders Tottenham Hotspur and Moyes’s Manchester United, and win six games on the trot in the pressure cooker situation that surrounds all clubs this late in the season.
Merseyside Joys & Dilemmas
The two Merseyside teams play wonderful football. They not only get the results they desire, but also do it in an admirable way. Liverpool are the foremost attacking side in the League at the moment and play swashbuckling counter-attacking football, which is an absolute treat to watch. Everton also play a very positive, proactive style of football. Attacking on the flanks remains a key Everton asset and while Steven Pienaar and Leighton Baines on the left were Moyes’ asset, Seamus Coleman and Kevin Mirallas on the right are Martinez’s. The midfield too is more stable at the moment as Barry and James McCarthy try to dominate the heart of the pitch.
What is interesting is that Everton can help rivals Liverpool in their bid to win the title. Everton are presently in a position where they can guarantee a top-four finish by winning their remaining six matches. If Everton defeat Manchester City, at home, it would help their Merseyside rivals become champions (if Liverpool coincide this with more victories, of course). Some Toffee faithful have even said that they would rather see their club miss out on European qualification, than see arch-nemesis Liverpool be league champions for the nineteenth time. However, players such as Sylvial Distin and Ross Barkley have said that they would obviously love for Champions League nights to come to Goodison Park, with Distin even saying that it would be great for the city of Liverpool.
The Victory Of Tactics & Coaching Over Money
Liverpool and Everton were both mocked and told that building a team around a core of British players was a romantic idea as the home-grown players were ‘naturally’ inferior to those bought from outside leagues. Au Contraire, Roy Hodgson can probably choose eight Merseyside players for his Brazil squad– Steven Gerrard, Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, Glen Johnson, Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka and Ross Barkley
Liverpool were tipped to never really rebuild or return to their ‘perch’. Everton were told that it would become a side everyone is indifferent to, unless it attracted a wealthy foreign owner to replace Bill Kenwright. At the moment, the two clubs from the city of Liverpool are great examples of footballing technique, skill and genuine coaching before money. Yes, all the players who were brought in recently have been instrumental in Liverpool’s revival. Keeping Suarez is seriously making a huge hole in FSG’s pockets and getting him in the first place was not easy. But the whole side was not revamped. The League position has not been bought because of the money spent in the last year. Going from seventh to first is not only unprecedented, but hugely admirable. Everton too have not done this with the help of just money. Their coach has employed new tactics, been shrewd on and off the training ground, and they are having a stellar season, which is surely a refreshing change from all the mediocre ones they have had.
Liverpool and Everton are the two most impressive phenomenons in the Premier League. Next season is going to be very exciting for the city. For its revenue too, as the city will be attracting a lot of tourists, if Champions League nights do indeed arrive. From a purely footballing perspective, all the pundits, fellow managers and fans of other clubs have truly stood back and thrown envious glances at these two clubs. Even if they don’t admit it, they have been taken aback by the revival that these two sides have made.
The Merseyside revival is already a success story- with or without the climax of the season.