Liverpool's lessons from history
Before the departures and the arrivals, before the injuries and the failed fitness tests, the 2014-15 season was bound to be daunting for Brendan Rodgers and his boys. The ill omens of history and precedent were already snapping at their heels.
To begin with, no Liverpool team has ever immediately repeated a season like the last one. Any manager who reached that standard of performance has always gone backwards the following year. That includes the two giants of the club: Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley. The latter came closer than anyone in 1980, and to be fair to him 1979 had been -- still is -- the greatest Liverpool league performance ever, so by that very definition couldn't actually be bettered.
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In fact, out of the 10 best league performances in Anfield's illustrious history, only Paisley has successfully defended the title, but both were with reduced points. Rodgers took a giant step forward last season, a remarkable gain of 23 points after his debut year. Should he even get close to 80 points this time around he'll have managed to emulate one of the sport's iconic figures, in Paisley, but it still wouldn't be enough for a proper title challenge. That's how high the standards are in the Premier League nowadays.
It also won't help that pressure always builds on a modern Liverpool team because of the incredible achievements of the past. Hardly a day goes by without somebody mentioning that first place has eluded this colossal club for 24 years now. It won't matter to any neutral that, apart from the good people at Old Trafford, no one else in England comes close to the Reds' success. They'll continue to snipe regardless.
The hectoring of inferiors matters little, but there is a daunting build-up of self-examination that pressurises each new generation of Liverpool stars. Consequently in this quarter-century of so-called failure there has always been a year of frustration after every close call. Since 1990 Liverpool have challenged sporadically for the title but every time they have done so a dark cloud of "what might have been" overshadows the next one.
After near misses from Roy Evans, Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez they were all out of the next title race by Christmas -- providing Rodgers and the players with yet another hoodoo to bury.
There is finally the regular dilemma of getting your side to perform to its full potential after any World Cup. There are always teams who successfully navigate the difficulty of almost an entire squad having less summer rest and preparation than usual, but even in the glory days that team was hardly ever Liverpool.
The club has won the English title twice immediately after a World Cup -- in 1979 and 1983. Of course they had a great manager and a great team then, but even that hasn't always helped. What may have seen Paisley buck the trend was the Scottish "spine" of his team: Alan Hansen in defence, Graeme Souness in midfield and Kenny Dalglish. Though Hansen only went to one World Cup, the ignominy of their country's World Cup attempt might well have spurred them on to a colossal domestic performance and a chance to silence their largely English tormentors.
In a strange way, that might also assist Rodgers today. The Liverpool squad already had a strong English contingent before the summer raid on Southampton, and every one of them came home from Brazil with their tail between their legs. What better way to soften the blow of an embarrassing World Cup campaign than by immediately turning it on back home? Of all the straws football fans have ever clutched, that one is admittedly rather flimsy.
Liverpool supporters already had good reason to be wary of the forthcoming season before Luis Suarez sank his teeth into an Italian shoulder and permanently packed his bags for warmer climes. A third of his fee was already spent on Adam Lallana, who almost immediately damaged his knee ligaments and will now miss the start of the season.
More money might have been spent on Loic Remy had he not failed a fitness test, the club seeming not to notice his medical history, if you can believe that. That's the moment Fabio Borini chose to stall on a lucrative move to Sunderland. There's a month of the transfer window to go and another possible 30 million pounds to spend, but so far it's not had the fans in any degree of awe just yet, and -- since everyone else is mentioning it -- the lesson from Spurs trying to incorporate lots of new players in one go needs to be learned too.
It doesn't help that Arsenal (Alexis Sanchez) and Chelsea (Diego Costa) added the striking power their teams lacked last season, while even Everton have made a club-record move to bring in Romelu Lukaku. While the media salivating over Louis van Gaal can be irritating, there's little doubt the comedy days of the David Moyes era are well and truly over. The charge behind Liverpool has already been loudly sounded.
And lest we forget, Liverpool still have to negotiate a very tricky autumn with the addition of six tough Champions League fixtures that weren't in last season's comparatively gentle schedule.
So is it worth even turning up in August? Should Liverpool clamber back into bed and hibernate until the 2015-16 season begins? Of course not -- these are the big challenges top footballers should welcome with open arms. Little can be learned from preseason matches, but there was enough in the 2-2 draw with Manchester City on Wednesday night to suggest the team can continue to score freely while entertaining everybody with their comical defending. Sounds exactly like last season to me.
Benitez was the first Anfield manager in the modern era not to be given a second chance after one relatively poor season. His swift departure was followed by similar speedy farewells to Roy Hodgson and Dalglish. Though Rodgers looks secure, a dismal season could change all that, but it would be harsh indeed to judge him unfavourably should he fail to overcome complications that even the great Shankly and Paisley couldn't conquer half the time.
History suggests strongly that this Liverpool season will be a setback, and, should that actually transpire, it will serve supporters well to bear in mind that it most probably couldn't have been avoided. If Rodgers actually can help Liverpool to another excellent season and pull this one off, he'll be the real Special One.