Being Liverpool – Four years on from 2013-14

When you think of the Premier League season in 2013-14 two things probably come to mind – Gerrard’s slip, and ‘Crystanbul’.

It’s a shame in a way that those two cruel but iconic moments overshadow what was one of the most if not the most chaotic and enthralling Premier League season in recent memory.

It did not have the comeback or the ‘Aguerooo!’ moment of two seasons’ previous, but it did have a genuine four-way contest for the title in which the contenders traded places at the top nearly every week.

The only ingredient missing from this turbulent season was the final day drama that fans crave, especially after getting the best of it in 2012.

Perhaps some final day havoc was too much to ask for in a season where the lead at the top of the table changed 25 times and for the first time in history more than one team managed over 100 goals.

It’s no coincidence that one of the most exciting Premier League seasons came at a time when English clubs were limp and lacklustre in Europe.

However the lack of world-class teams in the league meant we were treated to a spectacle of four similarly matched sides, with a habit of wildly inconsistent performances.

Leading the way were Liverpool, who summed up the comparative strength of English clubs better than any Champions League performance could with their starting fullbacks of Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan.

Liverpool’s approach was straight out of Kevin Keegan’s handbook nearly 20 years previous. Coutinho, Gerrard and Sterling supplied the league’s two eventual top scorers in Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge in a lighting fast, direct counter-attacking style, which neglected most forms of defensive cover and responsibility.

Liverpool’s vigorous and dynamic approach was backed by the idea that they could outscore anyone, and they nearly always did, notching four or more goals in over a quarter of their games.

Although the season is remembered as a fight out between Liverpool and eventual winners Manchester City, it was Arsenal who ended up spending more time at the summit of the table than any other side.

All of this despite conceding 17 goals in the matches away at their three rivals for the title.

In truth Arsenal collectively probably never believed they would win it, and staged their notorious yearly collapse in February. When they visited Liverpool in February they were the league leaders, however they swiftly became the first league leaders to go four goals down in the first 20 minutes.

From then on they relinquished their lead at the top and never looked back. Arsenal went on to lose 5-1, in a match reminiscent of their four-goal defeat at Anfield earlier this season. In both games Liverpool initiated a high intensity press that Arsenal were unable to cope with.

Current Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp would ever admit to assembling a Brendan Rodgers tribute side, but the resemblances between the two teams are clear.

As well as the tendency to squander three goal leads, parallels between the two sides can be drawn from the front three. Take away Sturridge, Suarez and Sterling and replace them with Mane, Firmino and Salah. Their blitz of defences to frightening effect forces the opposition into otherwise avertible errors at the back.

They also possess the same fluidity that their previous occupiers had, with all three capable of playing in each other’s role, often interchanging positions throughout matches. This draws great semblance to Rodger’s approach to Suarez and Sturridge, who would alternate positions on the flank and down the centre, albeit due to reasons of ego and not versatility.

When Suarez left Liverpool in 2014, many fans felt it would be a while before a player of that calibre wore the strip again. Whisper it quietly, but in Mohamed Salah they have their closest yet. His raw agility and pace instils fear into defenders in a similar vein to the Suarez of years past.

As the season has gone by Salah has drifted into a centre forward role, not afraid to take on responsibility and make things happen himself. With a third of it gone, he’s on track to hit 29 league goals.

The only key difference between the two campaigns lies in Liverpool’s commitment in European competitions. Crucially, Rodger’s side in 2013-14 were largely free from midweek fixtures, and their frantic, high-tempo style thrived in part to their added energy in contrast to their title rivals.

Also, it allowed them significantly more time on the training field to work on set pieces. It is no coincidence that the previous two title winners have scored an abnormally large proportion of their goals from set pieces, and were also absent from European games all year. Liverpool in 2013/14 were no exception, scoring an incredible 26 goals from set plays, more than any other team in the league.

Liverpool fans will remember 2013-14 as the one that should have been, and they looked to have one hand on the trophy after beating their closest rivals Manchester City in what should have been an iconic win. The game was akin to another Keegan classic at Anfield against Newcastle.

Liverpool roared into the game at a furious tempo, deploying a midfield diamond to accommodate all of their rich attacking talents. They raced into a 2-0 lead only for the imperious David Silva to capitalise on the space left in behind Liverpool’s midfield to orchestrate a Manchester City comeback to 2-2.

What happened next could so nearly be remembered as Liverpool’s title clinching moment, as a sumptuous arced Coutinho finish sent them top of the table and left the title in their own hands.

Liverpool travelled to Chelsea a few weeks later knowing that a draw would keep the championship in their hands, and the rest is history.

Mourinho sacrificed his chance at the title, perhaps looking to make an elaborate point about not having the required tools at his disposal, and sat back for the draw.

Brendan Rodgers’ tactical blunder in trying to blow the opposition away when a draw would have sufficed would prove crucial.

This season the Premier League is in different shape to 2014, as it seems to have traded its title as most exciting league in the worldTM, for the strongest again.

At the time of writing, all five English teams sit at the top of their Champions League groups. It’s not inconceivable to suggest that this current Liverpool side would have mounted a similar title challenge in 2014, however Manchester City’s best ever start to a Premier League campaign has put any lingering hopes on hold for another year.

The Author

Felix Tasker

Freelance football journalist - @boxtoboxfootbal and @bpfootball

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