Posted by Garstonite on December 31, 2005, 06:25:07 PM
What a year it has been.
From the lows in Cardiff, Selhurst Park and St Mary’s to the highs at Anfield, Stade Louis II in Monaco and, of course, Istanbul. On balance, it has been a great year for Liverpool Football Club and it is quite remarkable to see just how far we have come. We end 2005 after ten consecutive wins and breaking Kenny Dalglish's 1980s side's defensive record, it has been the perfect end, to a wonderful, wonderful year.
Following a roller-coaster 2004, which saw frustration at the tail-end of Houllier’s reign and topsy-turvy start to Benítez’s tenure, it was time to get down to some form of consistency at last in the new year. It was the seemingly unstoppable league leaders Chelsea who we faced first ...Frustration
In a game which saw total pressure from the home side, a stone-wall penalty turned down from the hapless Mike Riley, a broken ankle for Xabi Alonso from a Lampard challenge, and a deflected shot from substitute Joe Cole wrong-footing Dudek, Liverpool lost the game, unfairly, 1-0. On one hand, fans were left cheated and angered by both the score-line and, of course, the manner in which we lost the game but, on the other side of the coin, we had made the side that would go on to win the title quite comfortably look ordinary and should have won. Little consolation yes, but there were many positives to take from that particular game.
Unfortunately, that was not the only game in the second half of last season in which fans left the stadium at the end feeling deflated. Defeats to Burnley in the FA Cup, relegation strugglers Southampton and Crystal Palace, Chelsea (again) in the League Cup final in Cardiff and the lack of that extra quality in games such as Middlesbro’ and Blackburn at home.
This season, again, despite our healthy league position and our wonderful run of form, there were many occasions Reds fans were left looking up to the skies. But, at the end of the day, that’s what football is all about I suppose, isn’t it? Chelsea (once again) at Anfield beat Liverpool 4-1, the worst defeat suffered at home for over 30 years. And like last season, there was domestic cup woe when we lost at Selhurst Park. It was the same week that we were beaten against Fulham at Craven Cottage 2-0. Cue the media frenzy claiming Liverpool fans wanted Rafa Benítez (yes, the man that brought home number 5) out. But, as we all know, good things come to those who wait.Improvements
It is now becoming clear that Benítez master plan is slotting together like a proverbial jigsaw. Knowledgeable Liverpool fans could see it all along; even subtle changes such as a better home record (even if we did have to put up with poor away form), more dynamic attacking play, the better use of substitutes and a more suited game plan than we were used to previously. It is nice to have now broken those records and posted positive statistics to confirm what we already knew.
One thing that Anfield had missed for too long was those magical European nights that from the late 60s through to the early 80s we participated in regularly. In 2005 some of best teams in the world came to Anfield, were beaten and left licking their wounds and with a ringing in their ears. It was a chance for the crowd to play their part and how it did. It is ironic to think that with the likes of Juventus, Chelsea, Betis and Leverkusen all failing to win at Anfield, CSKA Sofia would be the only team to defeat us.
In the league in 2005 we have only been beaten three times at Anfield, and those occasions were against the best opposition: Manchester United and Chelsea (twice).
Our achilles heel last season was our away form. This has probably seen our most dramatic progression. Early on in the season it began by turning defeats into draws, now we look to have made the full transformation by turning the draws into wins. Only Fulham have managed to beat us on their own turf since August. The Merseyside Derby win on Wednesday bore full testament to the hard-work Benítez has put into Liverpool Football Club. The dramatic change around in fortunes between both ourselves and Everton is a prime example that class is permanent and form is temporary.Istanbul
The 25th May will, of course, be the reason that 2005 is always remembered by Liverpool fans. From the brink of embarrassment, to the heights of glory, it was a night that everybody who witnessed it will never forget. It was the greatest final in the history of European Football. A match for the ages.
After finishing fifth and behind bitter rivals Everton, reaching the Champions League Final had allowed Reds to retain hope in their hearts and despite being huge underdogs against Milan, we silenced the critics once again.
It seems now, looking back, like some sort of hazy dream. Somehow, somewhere between the players on that green pitch, the fans that outnumbered their Italian rivals three or four to one and the managerial staff in the dressing room at halftime and at the side of the pitch for the rest of the game, Liverpool conjured a win. Somehow.3-0 down against an Italian team … it just doesn’t happen.
Game, well and truly, over.
The Liverpool players will surely just be playing for pride …
What will Rafael Benítez be saying to the players?
Some say it was fate, others put it down to Rafa's half-time team-talk, others to the Scouse hearts of Gerrard and Carragher willing the team forward. All I know is that Richard Keys hosting the coverage for Sky was right when he said that you may never, ever see another final like it. Of course that's excluding every other night when I watch the DVD again!
While a few mealy-mouthed critics questioned whether we were worthy champions, the vast majority of Europe hailed our stunning win. As Simon Bank in Sweden's Aftonbladet so memorably put it:"Worthy Champions? Huh? I see Xabi Alonso dance, Steven Gerrard laugh, I hear 45,000 sing You'll Never Walk Alone. I have seen Liverpool beat Milan in the greatest final that has ever been played. Liverpool-Milan 6-5 (0-3). The question is not if they were worth it. The question is if we were worthy of watching."
So, here’s to 2006 – hopefully we'll see Benitez continue to bring in more class in the transfer windows, witness many more great games, be placing many more trophies in our ever-growing cabinet and get that extra bit closer to Chelsea in the league.
Cheers and all the best for the New Year.© Garstonite 2005
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