Season 1 was a rather quiet one. We finished 6th, saw all but a few of our International first team members leave and replaced them with British talent. We survived a tough spell of 6 league games picking up only a point and started to settle on a tactic. Now to run through Season 2.
Firstly, it is worth noting that my transfer budget was large. Nearly £100m. But I never spent a penny of it.
Roberto Firmino eventually was snapped up by Bayern, who got the player for nearly £25m less than his value. This was compensated however through the inflated prices we received for Balotelli and Markovic. Allen and Carroll, two home-grown players left the club. Allen was rarely featuring and due to my real life love for the guy, I had to set him free. Carroll on the other hand started in most of my cup games, consistently scoring a match rating of 7, but I decided that I would rather have U21 players in this squad role this season as I have realised that this is going to be the best way to get quality into my first team. Bids for Stones and Kane would have had to be over £100m each to even get the player to talk to us, Walcott would have cost £75m and The OX another few million on top. The elite players do not want to join and their clubs price us out of trying. Rather annoyingly, Matip joins the club after Klopp signed him up. I will have to loan him out this year and cash him in next season, as I don’t think he would be willing to leave as early as January.
My big money signings were midfielders. Drinkwater was snapped up to play in the holding midfield role, and Delph was prized away from his dark season in City’s U21s. I have high hopes for these adaptable midfielders. Young prospect Cook was bought and loaned to new affiliate club Reading whereas Hendrick will stay and rotate with Henderson. Heaton was purchased to be Butland’s understudy which allows us to loan out Ward to play first team football at the Madjeski too. He will be followed south by new signing Hause, a versatile defender who can play CB or LB comfortably. Excluding any youth players, my cheapest purchase was Andy Carroll for £1.7m. I would say this is a risk but due to the financial situation of the club, there really isn’t any risk involved. Some games last season I felt I was lacking another option, as Wilson and Sturridge are very similar and the thinking is that off the bench, Carroll gives us a second option to mix up our style. Considering we have a minus net spend and I have strengthened the positions I wanted to (in goal, in central midfield and a striker), I am very happy with the window, knowing we have a small fortune to take with us into January, if any top players want to join us.
Board’s expected finish: Euro Cup qualification
Mid summer and the fixtures drop. Leicester, United and Spurs and Liverpool’s bogey team Palace were the first four games. 3-0 win at Leicester, 2-0 win hosting United and a comfortable home win against Palace (plus the 3-0 drubbing handed to us by Spurs) set us off to a good start. City and Chelsea both lost at Anfield before the New Year, leaving us in a healthy position to achieve European qualification. Our home form against the big teams was not replicated away from Anfield. Loses to United, City and Arsenal were tough to take.
Below is the league with just two games to go…
Neck and neck. It all ultimately came down to one think. The fixture list. Whilst City played two bottom half teams, our penultimate game was against Chelsea. Our title hopes slipped away in a 3-1 defeat which even saw John Terry score his only goal of the season. A win on the last day left us in 3rd.
Chelsea did it. City and Guardiola took maximum points too and we stayed in 3rd. If you had offered me third at the start of the year I would have taken it. Champions League football returning to Anfield and the Board are delighted we have overachieved. For me, the worse results of the season were the consecutive away defeats at Sunderland and Bournemouth. Dropping 6 points against two mid table sides is the difference between third and first.
Yet again, we finished top of our group with maximum points. This year however we did concede one goal in the group stages. What should have been an easy tie against Lokomotiv Moscow, well, wasn’t. It came at a terrible time with injuries, as I’ll explain later. The Russian team sat back, and gave us no space to exploit behind their flat back five. Plan B (Andy Carroll) was deployed in both legs but it didn’t work. We shouldn’t have lost to a team like this. The Board were happy with our performance however as they only wanted us to reach the 1st Knockout round. I however was not happy.
Let’s put it this way… We had two brief encounters with cup football. After scraping through against Championship Newcastle, we faced David Moyes’ Chelsea in the 4th round. Our habit of attracting big teams in this competition continues. Normally being knocked out of a cup by the champions to be is understandable, but this result really got to me. Have a read of the news story…
This is it. The epitome of this whole challenge. A purely home grown side could not beat a purely international team. Is this a sign to say that we will never win anything? It certainly feels like it could be. We have never been good at penalties, have we.
I am not a sore loser… but I am certain we could have won the league had it not been for a few key injuries. Ibe had been a key performer for us, winning various player of the month awards and consistently scoring over 7.5 in the big games. Sturridge was our second choice striker and as a result of him being out for 4 months, Wilson looked very tired in parts. Clyne was our best full back and was integral to the success we had down the right flank. With no attacking option to replace him, we did lose the threat of his overlapping runs. It’s easy to say that if X had happened then we would have achieved Y, but when you best left winger misses 40% of your season, results suffer.
This season was a success. Yes, we don’t have any trophies. But we overachieve in the league, something Liverpool haven’t done in a long time, we brought through lots of exiting younger players and we were consistent. We pushed on from last year’s league finish and put ourselves back on the map as a Champions League team.
From a personal point of view, I (finally!) received recognition for using a home-grown squad. From the Swansea manager. Hardly life changing…
After Pep was sacked for finishing second (ironically it was Barca who knocked him out of Europe this season), City offered me an interview which I respectfully declined. Eventually Moyes jumped ship from his title-winning side to the other blue side.
Callum Wilson had an unbelievable year. With so much pressure on him to score consistently, what with Sturridge’s injury, Callum stepped up and then some. Finishing top scorer on 32 goals in the league, he scored 38 goals in 40 appearances all season, averaging a fantastic 7.49. After a slow start last year, scoring 11 league goals and 18 all season, this improvement is remarkable. His understanding of his role in the team is much better, but credit should also go to the wide men. Redmond, Gray and Ibe have all improved dramatically and between them they must have set up at least 75% of the goals Wilson scored. The offers for Wilson are bound to come in, but the boy is going nowhere any time soon.
My other stand out player is again, Nathan Redmond. Averaging 7.91 in the league, Redmond is potentially the best player in my squad. His improvements have lead to him doubling his goals scored and assists made figures from the previous season which is an astonishing feat. He made the Player’s Team of the Year and was their Player of the Year. I see a new contract being offered very soon indeed.
Other notable mentions go to full backs Clyne (averaged 7.78) and Cresswell (7.47) and midfielders Hendrick (7.39) who settled straight into the EPL alongside JWP (7.38).
I want to really briefly talk about the England set up. This is where more Liverpool success can be seen. The main squad currently features 7 Liverpool players, including the still uncapped Wilson. The U21s is home to 6 Liverpool stars, 5 of which are key first team players at Anfield and the U20s features 5 of our youth prospects. This is really pleasing and can be seen as a measure of success for this challenge. Numerous news stories this season have mentioned the ‘Liverpool Bias’ of the England squad’s but they can be seen as a testament to our project.
My plan now for the save is to holiday for a few years to monitor the outcomes of this challenge. I have had plenty of fun playing this save, but I am interested to see how another manager fares with my home-grown squad and with other commitments creeping back in, this seems like a good compromise. I will holiday one full season as manager before resigning and then we will give the incoming manager a season or two to evaluate his performance. I am aware that the new manager is more than likely to buy in foreign players, but I am hoping that by then our current players will be such a well oiled machine that we will not feel the need to add too many new faces. Either way, we can evaluate the success of the home grown players and assess the challenge. Thanks for reading as always.