Liverpool head into their 19th game of the season, midway through as we welcome the New Year in 4th place with 36 points on the board but is this the best Reds side in a decade?
First things first, the season is only halfway through and there are another 20 games to play including a clash with Chelsea on Sunday at Stamford Bridge. Liverpool currently sit fourth in the Premier League but have been in fine form and flying high under Brendan Rodgers, keeping pace with the leaders this term currently Manchester City as well as Arsenal.
Flashback to the season the Reds won the Champions League under Rafael Benitez, the side had the likes of Jerzy Dudek, Sami Hypia, Milan Baros, John Arne Riise, Harry Kewell, Djibril Cisse, Vladimir Smicer, Xabi Alonso, Luis Garcia, Dietmar Hamann, Fernando Morientes, Jamie Carragher, Igor Biscan, and of course captain Steven Gerrard but I’m prepared to argue that, aside from some a handful of players in that squad, the current team is better and more well balanced.
Gerrard pretty much single-handedly led the Reds to the Champions League title in 2005 and he has been the club’s most loyal and committed servant for almost a quarter of a century now.
If you look at the side a season later which saw the return of Kop legend Robbie Fowler and the arrival of Daniel Agger, Peter Crouch and Boudewijn Zenden I’d still say the current squad and first-team is stronger now.
Liverpool finished that term in 2005/06 in third place and they had 40 points by the midway point that term but, even though the won the FA Cup, I’d still put their current squad higher, due to the immense amount of competition for the title race this term and the level of quality in the league.
Liverpool finished 4th still under Benitez in 2007/08 and had 36 points by the midway point with a squad that included Pepe Reina, Yossi Benayoun, Alvaro Arbeloa, Dirk Kuyt, Ryan Babel, Javier Mascherano, Lucas, and Emilio Insua and a recently bought Martin Skrtel.
It took that centre-back pairing of Skrtel and Agger a number of years to develop into what it is as a unit and what they are individually as players now. Kuyt was a fantastic player for Liverpool such was his work-rate and quality but again the Reds were still over-reliant on Gerrard who suffered a little following the sale of Alonso.
In 2008/09 Liverpool finished 2nd behind Manchester United but were top of the table with 45 points by this point and that is the closest they’ve come to the title in recent years.
Players like Robbie Keane and Fernando Torres, David N’Gog and Philipp Degen, with Martin Kelly coming through made for scintillating football but, again, to no avail, and again they still relied on Gerrard to provide service to Torres.
Looking at the first team now from back to front: Simon Mignolet is as good if not better than Reina in his heyday, Jose Enrique is as good as Riise was in his, Agger and Skrtel are as solid a centre-back pairing as they’ve been in years and Mamadou Sakho and Kolo Toure are fantastic signings, Glen Johnson is back to full fitness and arguably better than Carragher was back in the day.
Lucas is every bit as capable as Mascherano and between them Henderson and Allen look to have improved (although not to be compared to Alonso or Hamann), Gerrard is still going strong apart from his recent injury, youngsters Sterling, Flanagan and Wisdom are really coming on, whilst Luis Suarez is better far than Torres, Fowler, Keane and Kuyt in their prime no doubt and Daniel Sturridge had been unstoppable before his injury and certainly better than Crouch, N’Gog, Kewell, and Baros. January signing Coutinho is better than any other player the Reds have had in that position in decades (bar Gerrard of course).
With the exception of some exceptional players and club legends like Hamann, Fowler, Hypia and Carragher, who were really part of a different generation at Anfield, I do think this is the best Liverpool side we’ve probably seen in a decade.
The side that won the Champions League was a very good side but relied all too heavily on Gerrard to save the day and the teams since have tended to do much the same but, as we’ve seen with both Gerrard and Sturridge out at present, this Liverpool side can hold their own in this title race under the very strong leadership of Brendan Rodgers.
image: © Nigel Wilson