Imperfect ten? Liverpool’s decade of near-misses

Date published: Wednesday 13th May 2020 8:06 - Matthew Stead

Luis Suarez Steven Gerrard Liverpool

Only in the last year have Liverpool become a trophy-collecting machine (bar the domestics that Jurgen leaves in the sink). The Champions League final win in June was followed by the Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. Surely, the Premier League will follow, even if it is with an asterisk.

It would certainly be a great start to a new decade to kick their bridesmaid reputation into touch. Since 2009, Liverpool’s number of near-misses in all competitions had begun to look like negligence…


1) 2008/9 Premier League: Rafa’s rant
Like Liverpool 2019, the 2009 version were very, very hard to beat, losing two matches all season. Eerily, Rafa Benitez’s men also held a seven-point lead (replace Manchester City with United) when it all started to go wrong, although the Spaniard was quick to point out that the Red Devils had two games in hand, both of which they won. It is often written that Benitez’s infamous rant handed the initiative to Sir Alex Ferguson’s team; a look at the ‘facts’ suggests otherwise.

Liverpool finished the season like a runaway train, gaining 31 points from the final 33, including a 4-1 win at Old Trafford, but ultimately came up four points shy. What really cost the Reds were some deadly stalemates against the likes of Stoke, Fulham and West Ham and a totally bonkers 4-4 draw in the final straight against Arsenal, denied by occasional deadly Russian agent Andrey Arshavin. Rafa was seething: “You don’t remember any save from Pepe Reina, it is just four chances and four goals and all of them have been our mistakes.” Quite.


2) 2013/14 Premier League: The Chelsea ‘clowns’ trip up Stevie G
This is the one that really got away. An 11-match winning streak meant Brendan Rodgers’ team only needed seven points from the final three games to ensure the Holy Grail.

Jose Mourinho wasn’t impressed with Anfield’s carnival atmosphere as Chelsea turned up amid a sea of premature celebration. The Portuguese claimed: “They want us to be the clowns in the circus.” Helped by a hapless jester-like slip from Steven Gerrard, the Special One masterminded a 2-0 win by slowing down Liverpool’s ringmasters, at one point grabbing the ball and refusing to give it back to Gerrard.

The Reds’ demise was complete when they inexplicably lost a three-goal lead at Crystal Palace in the final 12 minutes, manically trying to close the gap on Manchester City’s goal difference to make up for the loss against the Blues. Luis Suarez admitted: “We should have said ‘let’s play calmly, we’re 3-0 up and Manchester City have to play in midweek’, but we had that anxiety.”


3) 2012 FA Cup final v Chelsea: Cech claws out Carroll’s cannonball
The return of King Kenny after the failed stop-gap appointment of Roy Hodgson brought a smile back onto the faces of fans and players alike in 2011. There was success too as the Reds claimed the Carling Cup against Cardiff in 2012, the last major trophy in the current Melwood cabinet until Madrid.

Unfortunately for the Scot, the Premier League campaign went off the rails badly. In his last match as boss at Wembley in the FA Cup final, Liverpool were totally outclassed for 60 minutes by Chelsea despite a late comeback initiated by big-money flop Andy Carroll. Carroll pulled one back, bullied JT, but was stunned to see a late bullet header clawed out by Petr Cech as Chelsea saw it home 2-1.


4) 2016 Europa League final v Sevilla: Moreno goes AWOL again
After Liverpool squeaked past Augsburg in the last 32, there was no hint that the knock-out stages of Europe’s second-tier competition would resemble some of The Kop’s great continental nights.

Anfield was rocking when Klopp’s men knocked out LVG’s Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund in the last eight after a memorable 4-3 win. The final against Sevilla was a tough assignment given that the Spaniards had won the competition four times in the last ten years.

Liverpool led after a magical strike by Daniel Sturridge and pressed for a second which didn’t come despite at least two legitimate penalty shouts. Unfortunately, half-time gave Unai Emery the chance to rejig and Alberto Moreno to find his worst form as the Reds completely collapsed to a 3-1 defeat.


5) 2018 Champions League final v Real Madrid: Karius calamity as Salah crocked
Liverpool were certainly not one of the favourites on their first outing in the Champions League under Jurgen Klopp, but after scything through Porto 5-0, smashing Manchester City in the quarter-finals and then running riot at Anfield against Roma, they made it to Kiev with more than a puncher’s chance.

Unfortunately, Sergio Ramos dazed Loris Karius with a sneaky elbow and then took out star man Mo Salah with a UFC arm wrestle forcing the Egyptian to leave the pitch in tears. Even Cristiano Ronaldo had sympathy.

The German keeper, who was later proven to have concussion indicators, consequently made two calamitous errors. Firstly, he threw the ball onto Karim Benzema’s outstretched foot, watching in horror as the ball rolled in. After Gareth Bale’s worldly overhead kick restored Madrid’s lead, the former Mainz stopper then let a long-ranger from the Welshman wriggle through his cauliflower hands. It was Klopp’s sixth loss in seven major finals. It was the start of a long and sad fall-out for Karius, who terminated his loan at Besiktas this month.


6) 2016 Capital One Cup final v Man City: A shoot-out shocker
Within four months of taking the hot seat, Klopp was leading his team out at Wembley against Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City, a pre-behemoth pre-Pep team that Liverpool had dismantled 4-1 at the Etihad in the Premier League

Truth to be told, City dominated the match and should have won in 90 minutes after Fernandinho’s shot went straight through Simon Mignolet. However, Philip Coutinho’s leveller seven minutes from normal time set up a penalty shoot-out – a Liverpool speciality. Unfortunately, Coutinho, Adam Lallana and Lucas hadn’t read the Istanbul or Millennium Stadium script, and all missed from the spot. The German declared he felt “s…t” but that only “silly idiots stay on the floor and wait for the next defeat”.


7) 2015 FA Cup semi-final v Aston Villa: Tactics Tim bamboozles Brendan
After a desperate season where a Champions League place was missed, Liverpool were still generally expected to beat Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa, who languished in 17th place in the Premier League.

Despite a Philippe Coutinho opener after half an hour, Villa bossed the game as the sunshine-coloured Liverpool shirts turned up with yellow fever on the big occasion.

A bullish Sherwood claimed that his game plan bamboozled the Reds: “We looked at Liverpool and thought we could cause problems with two number 10s. Jack Grealish and Charles N’Zogbia played in the pockets and were hard to pick up.” Brendan Rodgers subsequently became the first Liverpool manager to win no trophies in his first three seasons since the 1950s. He didn’t get a further chance to win anything after being sacked six months later.


8) 2015 Capital One Cup semi-final v Chelsea: Jose beats Brendan to the Wembley bus stop
Jose Mourinho turned up at Anfield with another parked bus, just a year after his double-decker defence denied Liverpool the title. It worked again as Eden Hazard scored a penalty after a rash Emre Can challenge, although Raheem Sterling’s second-half goal gave Liverpool a glimmer for the return leg. Pool had some brilliant chances at Stamford Bridge with Phil Coutinho and Alberto Moreno denied by Thibaut Courtois, and Jordan Henderson missing an easy header from six yards out. Branislav Ivanovic finally secured the Blues another big day out with an extra-time winner from a set-piece, another Achilles heel in a pre-VVD defence.


9) 2010 Europa League semi-final v Atletico Madrid: Diego Forlan haunts the Kop
The 2009/10 season was the beginning of the end for Rafa Benitez’s love affair with Liverpool. Against the backdrop of his power struggle with owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, they finished seventh in the Premier League, their worst placing for 11 years, and were knocked out of the Champions group stage, Benitez’s specialist subject.

Even the shot at Europa League redemption went pear-shaped. Leading 2-1 on aggregate against Atletico in the semi-final, Diego Forlan came back to haunt Anfield again after his Manchester United double in 2003 to fire the Spaniards through on away goals. The Reds would surely have been too strong for Roy Hodgson’s Fulham in the final. The Spaniard’s contract was terminated after the season ended. He later claimed tight budgets meant that the owners wanted him to be a “bank manager”. “Liverpool was no longer a football club. It was a business.”


10) 2018/19 Premier League: One loss but second place to City
Six wins on the bounce began an imperious first half of the season where the Reds had landed on 54 points from 20 games by Christmas. And it still wasn’t enough to shake off Manchester City. What do you have to do, eh? Liverpool’s only loss was a crucial one at the Etihad at the beginning of January where their lead narrowed to four points.

Four draws in six games against modest opposition in Leicester, West Ham, a hobbled Manchester United and Everton further damaged the cause. Even nine straight wins in the final furlong, some of them hair-rising late late shows, were not enough as Pep’s brigade claimed the crown by one point from Jurgen’s Panzer division. When Rafa said: “It has to be almost perfect” to win the Championship he knew what he was talking about. Liverpool are still waiting, despite that near perfection…”


Tim Ellis – follow him on Twitter

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