So how did season one finish? Can we say that the first year was a success? Did I keep my job? Let’s find out…
First things first. My internatinal cleansing continued and I have finally got rid of Benteke for a measly £15m to Juventus after turning down bids of £7m from multiple EPL clubs. Firmino stays however as no club wants him. Liverpool’s best player has been offered to clubs for half of his value, as well as a wage contribution from us, and no one wants him. Looks like he will be with the U21s for another few months.
How did the team perform across the competitions?
Last time round I spoke about how crucial the next few games, starting at Swansea, would be and as the schedule shows, they didn’t go well. At all. No wins in 6 games. We went 3-0 down to United in the first half hour, conceded late goals to Chelsea, Arsenal and West Brom and yet again delivered a shocking performance against Sunderland. I was convinced this was the end for my tenure as Liverpool manager but the Board showed mercy. Actually, they didn’t even speak to me. Must have been on holiday from New Year till March with my side taking 1 point from the first 6 games of 2016…
Things did turn around however, with our real run of form starting at home to City. We managed to counter attack a Man City counter attack and snatch a big 3 points. The season ended with four, nerve-wracking 1-0 wins in a row, with new signing and midfield maestro JWP scoring a world-class winner on the stroke of half time away at Stoke. But where did this leave us in the league?
6th. Not too bad from where I’m sitting. To turn our league form around as we did, I am relatively proud of our position. We met the Board’s expectation in a season where we saw a major overhaul of first team players, with most of our best players leaving to other clubs, some of who were divisional rivals. The crazy thing is we were only three points of Spurs in 4th. We should have easily picked up another four points on the turn of the year in that dreadful spell of form and that would have got us into one of those top four positions. Maybe I should just be happy to have kept my job! Either way, Euro Cup qualification was secured much to the Board’s delight.
Cup competitions and Europe…
Well let’s look at the Capital One Cup firstly.
We comfortably dispatched Leicester over two legs, and the Foxes have become a team I love to face after beating them four times this season. But it was Arsenal who delighted their fans with the trophy, edging what was a tough game that was ultimately won on penalties. For me, the game was lost in the 72nd minute when Scott Dann was sent off and we didn’t have the legs to push forward over the next 50 minutes of game time against a frighteningly good Arsenal side. Penalties is a tough way to lose but considering the teams we faced in each round we can be proud of our performance in this cup.
The FA Cup however didn’t go to plan. Clearly all our luck was used up on the Capital One competition. We beat Villa in the 3rd round before drawing to Cardiff in the 4th, who eventually beat us in a replay. On penalties. Again. Bottled it. We did play a weaker team but this isn’t an excuse. If anything, maybe our late league form was helped by only playing once a week and being able to rest more in between games.
We left last time ahead of our First Knockout round tie against Sampdoria. We beat the Italians 2-1 over two legs, and as expected faced Athletic Bilbao in the next round and it was here that our weaknesses were first exploited in this competition. Tournament top scorer Raúl Garcia did the damage. Our young central defenders couldn’t stop him and we were unable to take the chances that came our way. Bowing out at this stage was one step further than was expected, and again may have been a factor in our late season league form.
It would have been nice to win a trophy here but there’s always next year.
End of season review…
So here are the awards sent to my inbox. As you can see, Redmond cleaned up making the team of the season and winning theyoung player of the season and signing of the season awards. Redmond was awarded Player of the Match 6 times from 25 league starts and scored 5 goals and made 6 assists in this time. With an average rating of 7.35 I agree he had a fantastic year.
For me however the signing of the season was JWP. In what was his first season as a first team regular in the EPL, JWP made 34 league appearances and averaged 7.18 in the league. He had a habit of scoring or finding an assist when we most needed it and was the player I always looked to when we needed something special. It surprises me that he doesn’t feature in the top 3 for the Fan’s Player of the Season.
And how did the season go for me personally? OK, I guess. I won Manager of the Month in April and earned myself a new contract until 2019. But it took me too long to find a tactic that worked (enough) and this is probably the reason we didn’t secure a top 4 finish. The Board seem to be happy with the season, probably only because we signed a huge number of young players for the first team, one of my objectives, and finished where we said we would in the league, all with a net spend of only £63m; a figure that these days is acceptable.
The tactic that we will take with us into our second season is a 4-1-4-1. We have found success playing a counter attacking style of football, sitting deep and getting the ball forwards quickly once we have won it back. Sitting deep often creates lots of space for the Wingers and Complete Forward to get behind the back four and this is often where our goals come from. I am really looking to add a more defensive minded midfielder, something I don’t have now, to sit in front of the back four. This tactic works well but needs to be tweaked against certain opposition.
We achieved Euro qualification with only home grown players. Youngster like JWP, Gomez and Redmond have become key players and maybe we could see their key attributes shoot up to 20 (a boy can dream). Going into next year, I simply want us to finish higher than we did this year. I didn’t realise how tough it would be to sign top home-grown players. The very best English players do not want to join us. So instead we will try and sign young prospects and try to develop them whilst blooding through our U18 and U21 prospects. We will try to invest heavily in our youth. This project was intended to be a quick success but I feel that actually the nature of only being able to sign and play home grown players means this is a real long term save. I have doubts whether we could every win the league without extra international players, but can we at least challenge for the top spot?
Join us next time where we will run through the save from the end of the first season until the end of the second season. Can we add a trophy to the cabinet? Which youngsters will become first team starters and will I keep my job?