Liverpool Must Now Build For A Brighter Future

A wondrous campaign Liverpool may not have ended in glory, but they are the Premier League's good news story. Now to ensure that this was more than just a season in the sun...

Last Updated: 12/05/14 at 10:52 Post Comment

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There was to be no miracle. Queens Park Rangers almost achieved the unthinkable two years ago, but that was a side that still had a place in the Premier League to fight for. Sam Allardyce's West Ham managed to put up an initial sturdy resistance but, as so often during this season, Manchester City's quality eventually, inevitably, told.

At Anfield, the dampest of damp squibs. Newcastle have been on a rotten away run of late, losing four consecutive games without scoring, but it took them just 20 minutes to break Liverpool's clean sheet and heart. Yoan Gouffran crossed from the left, and Martin Skrtel scored his fourth own goal of the season, a Premier League record. The second half brought comeback inspired by the introduction of Philippe Coutinho and a final return of 84 points and 101 goals, but there was little in the way of final-day tension. That should not mask a season of wonder.

Champions for the second time in three seasons, it would seem foolish to predict that City will suffer a similarly ignominious fall from grace as last season, when Roberto Mancini lost the respect of his players. Manuel Pellegrini is surely too pragmatic, too assured and too professional for that - these are the clear favourites for the title next season.

Familiarity breeds contempt, however. It has been a wonderful title race, but this trophy unavoidably feels less special for City than the one earned two years ago, simply because it is a repeated feat. Due to the increased likelihood of success that money brings, what was once cherished as unreachable now begins to look immediately accessible. Titles and trophies will obviously still cause short-term elation (and one only needed to see the home crowd at the Etihad for evidence of that), but they inescapably begin to simply become notches on a footballing bedpost. The reason for the extraordinary interest in Manchester United's fall from grace is that everyone had got so used to them being utterly ruthless. Vive la difference.

City supporters and players will evidently celebrate long and hard, but winning the league title, for so often a distant possibility, is now categorised as a distinct probability by the club's owners. Pellegrini was given a target of five trophies in five seasons, and the reality is that Sheikh Mansour will expect both a retention of the title and a better showing in the Champions League next season. Such is the pressure at the top of football's financial food chain.

It is for that reason that Liverpool are the most prominent good news story of this Premier League season. Talk of 'deserved champions' is cheap for two reasons, firstly because such a description is meaningless - as we've said before, this is a race, not a beauty contest - but also because it patronises Liverpool's success this season. They have been better than plucky and gutsy, and better still than demeaning epithets of 'oh wouldn't it be so perfect if they did it'.

Liverpool's rise has been phenomenal. Starting the season as 33/1 sixth favourites, they have surprised, impressed and convinced the significant doubters - Brendan Rodgers has done exactly the same. They have taken more points than in all but one season since 1988, scoring more league goals than in each of their last 118 years. Liverpool's defensive fragility has been oft-criticised (and they have conceded nine more than other side in the top five), but their attacking record atones for such leakiness. Football is a balancing act and, whilst Liverpool's 'goals conceded' column has obviously suffered for their attacking air, a goal difference of +50 is better than any team in England managed last season - only City and Wolves surpassed it this time around.

However, whilst Liverpool should be warmly commended for their achievements during this wonderful season, they have only a short window for self-congratulation. It is easy to become a victim of success, and the pressure will be on the club to kick on and improve. The added strain of Champions League participation merely adds to the requirement to invest. Now is the time for bravery, for economic courage. Now is the chance to take this incredible surge of goodwill and positivity generated by such a fabulous campaign, a performance better than any could have envisaged.

This annus mirabilis has also provided Liverpool with a financial shot in the arm. Their incredible run of late-season form has seen their matches shown live 28 times this season, three more than any other side - the Liverpool revolution has certainly been televised. The Anfield coffers have been swelled to the tune of an estimated £97.8million in television revenue, an increase of £43million from last season. If that can be handed to the manager to spend on new recruits as a reward for his startling excellence, progress can be maintained.

It is an opportunity of which Brendan Rodgers will be well aware, and he remains bullish. "The key ingredient we take away from this season will be belief. So we're going to be better for that and we'll go into next season with belief and that is going to make us a real force next year. Other teams will improve, of course, but we'll be better as well." Rodgers' optimism is shared by the jewel in Liverpool's crown, Luis Suarez, who this week talked of progress at Anfield: "Let's hope this is the start of a great period for the club, where we aim even higher and achieve our goals."

Suarez's use of "we" should console even the most disappointed of supporters on Sunday evening. Thwarting the expected approach from Real Madrid will be the most crucial piece of summer business, but reinforcements are also required at left full-back and even in central defence, where Mamadou Sakho has rarely looked entirely comfortable.

The added pressure of at least six midweek Champions League matches increases the necessity for added strength in depth, and the manager admitted as much after the victory over Newcastle. "We absolutely have to bolster this squad," Rodgers admitted. There are certainly plenty more reasons for players to be attracted to a move to Anfield than 12 months ago.

With the fight for justice off the field and a fight for the title on it, this has been a memorable season for everyone concerned with Liverpool, the performance of the team far beyond anyone's most optimistic aspirations.

It would undermine the distinction of the last eight months to suggest that the hard work only starts now, but this will be a critical summer for the club. There must be a concerted determination to ensure that this is the start of a brighter future, rather than just Liverpool's season in the sun.

Daniel Storey - Follow him on Twitter.

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