By Justin Fitzgerald
I read somewhere once that people are lucky and unlucky according to the ratio between what they get and what they have been led to expect. Liverpool fans certainly didn’t expect to be sitting at 8th place on the league table, 16 points out of Champions League qualification, but things don’t always turn out as you plan. Any number of excuses can be made from players going down injured to Liverpool hitting the woodwork 32 times and counting, but I prefer to look at things in a different light. While the Reds may be on pace for their worst finish since the 1953-1954 campaign when they were relegated, the fact remains that a cup double and the chance to move into a tie with Tottenham for 3rd most FA Cup titles at 8 a piece is within their grasp.
While we don’t know the extent of influence he actually had in the summer signings, Comolli is gone not because of what he did but for what he failed to do. Often complaining about an apparent “lack of value” in the January window, Liverpool made no attempt to enhance its striking options and now have scored literally half the goals that Manchester City have (86 vs. 43). Everton and Newcastle saw no such lack of value, signing Nikica Jelavic and Papiss Cisse. Both have been smash hits so far, with Cisse and Demba Ba forming one of the most potent goal scoring duos in the EPL.
While Liverpool’s signings may not have gotten off to the same flying start, I think the jury’s still out. In fact if there is one benefit to Adam missing the rest of the season with a knee injury, it’s Jordan Henderson finally being able to play in his preferred central role in midfield. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been super critical of Henderson’s play so far this season.
He is clearly not a winger and should never be played on the outside, yet in recent performances against West Bromich Albion and Swansea Henderson has shown the ability to maintain possession and create chances, putting in inspired performances as a true box to box midfielder playing in his preferred position. When Rafa Benitez first brought Lucas into the side I remember shouting obscenities at the TV while watching him play and thinking, “How it’s possible that Liverpool have managed to sign the most un-Brazilian-like Brazilian I’ve ever seen in terms of technique?”
It was clearly not the beautiful game, his play was sloppy and inhibited and it all came to a head in the 2008/2009 season when he gave away a last-minute penalty against Wigan and was then sent off in the Merseyside Derby, all within the span of seven days. Remind you of anyone? Lucas was twenty years old when joined Liverpool from Gremio in 2005, Henderson was the same age when he joined from Sunderland. The parallels are there, what remains to be seen is if Jordan Henderson can adapt and has the strength of character to persevere amidst adversity in the pressure cooker of the EPL. Lucas talked recently of his early struggles and how he was able to make the necessary changes including “speeding up his game” to be successful, let’s hope that Jordan can continue to do the same.
So with 3 games left in the season and one of them a return to Wembley, Liverpool have the chance to finish out the campaign on a high note with a cup double. I prefer to look to the future rather than dwell on the past, and while this season has been a disappointment in some ways, in others it gives strong reason to be hopeful. Jonjo Shelvey, Lucas Leiva, and Jordan Henderson have the potential to form a formidable partnership in the midfield for years to come, Raheem Sterling is one of the most promising prospects in years, and Liverpool now have committed owners who have dedicated funds to strengthening the team for the future. But for now…
It’s a long way to Wembley stadium
It’s a long way to go.
It’s a long way to Wembley stadium
To see the greatest team I know.
So it’s goodbye Upper Parly, farewell Clayton Square.
It’s a long, long way to Wembley stadium,
But Liverpool will be there.