In the last seven years Liverpool have gone from Champions League winners to a mid-table Premier League side. Yes! It’s shocking but true. So, what’s the reason?
They are the same club who won the Champions League in Istanbul 2005, in one of the most memorable matches I have ever seen. They are the same team that won the FA Cup in 2006 against West Ham United on penalties, thanks to a stunning late goal by Steven Gerrard which took the game to a penalty shootout. They are the same side that were beaten by AC Milan in the finals of the Champions League in 2007 and also finished runners-up to Manchester United in the Premier League the following season. Since then it has been a downfall for the club who have won 18 league titles and 5 European titles. They finished seventh in the 2009-10 season and then sixth the following season. This was intertwined with the sacking of two managers. The Reds are currently lying eight in the table and below their fierce rivals Everton with just four games to go.
The fall began since the departure of one player in 2009 and yes, you have guessed it right. I am talking about Xabi Alonso who joined Real Madrid in the summer of 2009. Alonso joined Liverpool under Rafa Benitez in 2004 from Real Sociedad for a fee of £10.4m. He had a very successful debut season with the Reds, scoring a goal in the memorable Champions League final win over Milan in Istanbul. He soon became the very important and integral part of Rafa Benitez’s style of football and tactics. His fantastic passing abilities and great tackling helped him establish himself as one of the best midfielders in the league alongside Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard to name a few. He became the perfect foil for Gerrard, as he would let the talismanic skipper to play his normal attacking game, while he himself would control the game sitting in the midfield. The arrivals of Javier Mascherano and Lucas Leiva posed him with some tough competition for place in the Liverpool side but that didn’t have any effect on his performance instead he got even better.
The 2008-09 season began with rumours of rift between Benitez and Alonso as the manager wanted to sell his compatriot to fund the purchase of Gareth Barry from Aston Villa. It unsettled Alonso but had no effect at all on his performance. He scored a deflected winner against Chelsea in Liverpool’s 1-0 win over the Blues at Stamford Bridge making the Reds the first away team to win at the Bridge in over four years. He also became the first player to complete 1000 successful passes in a single season. He scored what was to be his last goal for Liverpool against Hull on a rebound. In summer, he ultimately left for Real Madrid for fee of £30m to join the 2nd Galácticos era under Madrid president Florentino Perez. His consistency with Real Madrid, helped him establish himself as a key part of Spain’s World Cup winning team in South Africa.
Since his departure, Liverpool have never been the same team that they used to be. His supposed replacement, Alberto Aquilani never had the same quality and talent possessed by Xabi Alonso. The Italian failed to settle in the Premier League and also has spent most of the time with physios. Javier Mascherano was still at the club when Xabi Alonso left, but he lacked the vision and the passing which Alonso provided. A season later, Mascherano left the club for Barcelona and was replaced by Raul Meireles. Suddenly the defence lacked cover and looked shaky. Lucas Leiva has improved over the past couple of seasons, but he was never in the same mould as Xabi Alonso. The Reds’ league position slipped and also they have not played in the Champions League for more than two seasons now.
It is surprising that Liverpool haven’t still replaced him even after three years. There are players like PSV’s Kevin Strootman or Athletic Bilbao’s Javi Martinez who are as good as Xabi Alonso if not better and surely could do a better job than the likes of Charlie Adam and Jordan Henderson, who have had a poor first season at Anfield. Strootman and Javi Martinez might not be as classy as Xabi Alonso but they are good enough to do his job at Liverpool and are surely are better than the likes of Adam, Spearing and Henderson.