“A football team is like a piano. You need eight men to carry it and three who can play the damn thing.”
In the 2013/14 season Liverpool experienced, in the words of Jim Fishlock ,”a perfect storm”. It was a season in which the Reds and their manager catered brilliantly to a world class player, finding an ideal system for the football genius of Suarez, whilst also producing a supporting cast which could occasionally overshadow the Uruguayan.
The latter half of that season belonged to Raheem Sterling, who was one of the more impressive players during the run-in and took the spotlight from Suarez. Sterling’s form coincided with an excellent winning run which saw Liverpool become serious title contenders.
Referring back to Shankly’s quote, Suarez, Sterling, and the excellent Daniel Sturridge were the three men playing the piano, whilst a whole host of players worked behind them in midfield to carry it.
The role Steven Gerrard takes up in this analogy could be that of a conductor. He helped decide who played what when, and as he was often the deepest most central player on the pitch, he was responsible for keeping things on the right track.
Whilst much of Liverpool’s game was built around their outstanding number 7, the team had an obvious identity which other players in the team bought into, even if Suarez was off-form
Their free flowing, relentless attacking play led to praise from across the continent and beyond, and players who had been criticised in the past were propelled to new heights.
The team came within a whisker of winning the league, and the prospect of seeing this show on Europe’s biggest stage – The Champions League – had Liverpool fans brimming with excitement and anticipation.
The players and manager had carried the piano up to the top floor, but instead of proceeding to play it, it was thrown back down the stairs in what turned out to be a limp and embarrassing end to 2014.
These failures have been documented before, as has the slight turnaround the 3-4-2-1 formation brought, but performances in recent weeks have been a sour footnote to the 2014/15 season.
A dismal performance in a winnable FA Cup semi-final means another trophyless season, and the old “already on the beach” cliché could be used to describe the performances in games against Hull and West Brom.
This from a team who were supposed to be challenging for a top four spot, and one who are been given every chance thanks a poor Manchester United side who continue to drop points.
Regardless of results, the loss of identity is startling and comes back to the summer failures in the transfer market, particularly in the striking department. This season’s systems were often hampered by the lack of a tireless worker leading the line, who would set the tone for the rest of the team behind them. That said, the team should be performing better with the players they have.
There may have been some triers within the side, but not many doers, and this summer Liverpool will also lose a player who’s done so much for them at crucial stages in past seasons.
Steven Gerrard gave us a brief reminder of this in the recent game against Queens Park Rangers. In what will probably turn out to be a meaningless game, he demonstrated a passion to win the game not matched by those around him; evident in his disappointment when missing the penalty and the passion in his celebration when finally scoring the goal.
A lot of this might have been down to personal reasons, such as wanting to score at Anfield in his final games, but nevertheless it was still a reminder of what Liverpool are currently missing, and that no-one has really stepped in to replace this, regardless of position.
It’s this lack of application, lack of class, and lack of conviction which has hurt Liverpool, and will continue to do so should they not rectify the mistakes of last summer, this time around.
No one’s playing Shankly’s metaphorical piano any more, and whilst there are still several players willing to carry it, some at the club are just standing watching.