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Featured: Three title challenges in 23 years. How does today's team compare? (ESPN article)

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by Dave Usher for ESPN
 
It's been 23 long years and counting since Liverpool were last crowned Champions of England. In that time they've probably only had three sides that were really capable of winning the title, but for varying reasons they failed to get over the finish line.

The Roy Evans side of the mid 90's certainly had enough talent to become champions but unfortunately lacked the mental strength and professionalism to get the job done. The 1996-97 season was Evan's best opportunity but his men choked down the stretch and handed the title to arch rivals Manchester United.

If Liverpool held their nerve that year, who knows how differently the next decade would be? Instead, they buckled under the pressure and the expression 'fourth in a two horse race' still sends shudders down Kopites' spines, conjuring up painful memories of David James flapping at near post corners against Coventry City at Anfield.

Liverpool had led the way for most of that season yet finished seven points behind United. It was almost unforgivable, the title was there for the taking but the 'Spice Boys' -- as they were dubbed back then -- completely blew it. United only amassed 75 points that season, which in most years since wouldn't have even gotten them within sniffing distance of a championship. It smarts just as much today thinking about that as it did at the time. 'The Spice Boys' were a good team, just not as good as they thought and that complacency and lack of professionalism cost the Reds the best chance they've had at winning the title in the last 23 years.

That side played a very similar formation to that which Brendan Rodgers has recently implemented. Three at the back, two wing backs, a couple of central midfielders, one in the hole and an explosive front two. This was in the era just before Premier League clubs began importing foreign players in such huge numbers and -- aside from the Norwegian duo of Stig Inge Bjornebye and Bjorn Tore Kvarme -- the dashing Czech Patrik Berger was only other overseas player in the squad.
 
The brand of football that team produced was as consistently pleasing on the eye as anything witnessed at Anfield since Kenny Dalglish's last great title winning side, but man for man the 1997 squad does not compare favourably with many of the sides that followed, including that which we see today. For me, only Berger, Rob Jones, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman from that side would get anywhere near the present team, that's how much the standard of Premier League player has risen since then.
 
Read the full article here.

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A fit Redknapp would walk into our midfield at the moment and, in 2009 at least, Aurelio was more than serviceable. He was a big part of that team, particularly in the run-in (where his title winning experience may have shown through?), although the damage was done by then as it turned out...

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That team of Rafa's was fucking amazing in the '08-'09 run in after the 2-0 defeat by Middlesborough. It was aggressive, fluid, attacking football at it's best as we steamrollered a succession of outstanding opponents. Certainly that was the best football I've seen from us since the days of Barnes/Beardsley/Aldridge. 

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Almost put a seat through on the Kop after Arshavin scored his third goal; the shushing prick.

Aye. That shrugging, "can't believe it" celebration. Yeah, we couldn't believe it either; we were the only team the fucking elf showed up against.

 

 

 

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I don't even really think about that game when I look back at what might have been from that season.  Drawing at home to Arsenal may have been the final nail in the coffin, but it was the stupid points dropped earlier in the season that did the damage.

 

The way we played in the last three or four months of that season was fantastic, that's the best side we've had in many a year.

 

That being said, the best chance we had to win it was definitely when David James and co threw it away.

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Kind of a depressing read in many ways but bang on the money nonetheless.

 

I don't see anything much to fear in this league at the moment and I really do think we could put a challenge in for 1st if we can keep churning out the wins until January. City look poor at the back, Chelsea look poor up front, Utd look poor all over. Spurs are overrated. Arsenal look good but are relying hugely on their midfield.

 

That's not to say that I'm expecting us to challenge necessarily. I just think it is a realistic possibility looking at the league right now; especially if we can get Johnson and Coutinho back fit and firing. What will make or break our season, I think, is our midfield. If we can get a bit more out of Gerrard, Lucas, Henderson and Allen then we will be laughing. We don't look strong in that area on paper but hopefully the competition provided by Allen's return will make the others up their game another level.

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If we can get a bit more out of Gerrard, Lucas, Henderson and Allen then we will be laughing. We don't look strong in that area on paper but hopefully the competition provided by Allen's return will make the others up their game another level.

 

I'd actually say our current midfield looks way better on paper than we're seeing on the field.  Lucas is in the Brazil squad, Gerrard is Gerrard and had a slow start last year too before going on to have a great season.  Henderson is coming along well and I really like Allen.

 

On paper I'm ok with them, but on the pitch something just isn't right.  I don't know if it's down to an individual, both individuals or the tactics, but they just don't look right do they?

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A good read.

 

Dave is right to make two comparisons, firstly the current side versus past ones, secondly to compare the standard of the PL now versus then.

 

There is no doubt that the SAS, if they can play consistently, are a match for anything in the past. The midfield looks light by both measures.

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That team of Rafa's was fucking amazing in the '08-'09 run in after the 2-0 defeat by Middlesborough. It was aggressive, fluid, attacking football at it's best as we steamrollered a succession of outstanding opponents. Certainly that was the best football I've seen from us since the days of Barnes/Beardsley/Aldridge.

It was as close as we got to that night we got to see his Valencia side that destroyed us in '03 on a regular basis while he was here.

 

That run in was probably the best I have seen from any side in the Premier League.

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I don't think we xan comment on how this team compares until till they actually put a title challenge in.

 

There is potential but I am not 100% sure at the moment. I think January and the correct midfield signings are vital.

 

Another good article too Dave. Enjoying all this exposure your getting. Keep it up.

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Was that not the season Bjørnebye got 16 assists in the league? He is much more solid at the back than Enrique as well so he should so I cant see how he could miss out.

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Bjornebye was a better crosser than Enrique, but that's it.  Enrique is better in pretty much every other way, and I'm not even a particularly big Enrique fan.

 

Not like you to big up your fellow countryman Frode!

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Bjornebye was a better crosser than Enrique, but that's it.  Enrique is better in pretty much every other way, and I'm not even a particularly big Enrique fan.

 

Not like you to big up your fellow countryman Frode!

 

I honestly dont understand the bad press Bjørnebye is getting, not the most technical in the world obviously but as hard working and professional as you can get them, great defender with an absolute peach of a left foot and 16 assists in the lague in one season is superb now matter how you put it.

 

I know people think I try to talk up Norwegian players, but the reality is that I think most of them are absoloute dogshite, but on the other hand if you follow someone closelyt you also get aware of their qualities a bit more.

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Stig had one season like that, it was an anomaly as in most of the others his crosses ended up in the stand behind the goal.  His crossing on the run was horrific, but if he was able to kill the ball and whip it in from a standing point rather than on the move his delivery was very good.

 

He was one paced, couldn't beat a man (which is fine, it wasn't his job), was a decent defender but nothing special and was generally limited.  Enrique is superior in pretty much every way.

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I know people think I try to talk up Norwegian players, but the reality is that I think most of them are absoloute dogshite, but on the other hand if you follow someone closelyt you also get aware of their qualities a bit more.

 

You do talk up Norwegian players. Thinking most of them are shite doesn't change that. It's the other ones we're talking about.

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Not sure we can include the current team as of yet. If we are still in the mix down the home strait, then a comparison would be worth considering.

 

As it stands, the best side we've had since the last title win is the 2008/09 side. They lost only 5 games all season - 2 in the league and one in each of the 3 cup competitions. The Champions League first leg defeat to Chelsea was definitely an off-night because the team's momentum at the time was the total opposite of that result. The FA Cup defeat could be classed as a draw since so many people didn't see the winning goal! Ultimately it was all those league draws at Anfield that caused us to miss out on the title, but we consistently showed something that season that has frequently been missing since 1990, and that was the ability to turn a deficit into 3 points as well as keeping going to the very end to get a late goal.

 

It's such a shame that off-field shenanigans derailed all the promise of that season, and we are only now slowly recovering.

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I'd actually say our current midfield looks way better on paper than we're seeing on the field.  Lucas is in the Brazil squad, Gerrard is Gerrard and had a slow start last year too before going on to have a great season.  Henderson is coming along well and I really like Allen.

 

On paper I'm ok with them, but on the pitch something just isn't right.  I don't know if it's down to an individual, both individuals or the tactics, but they just don't look right do they?

 

 

That's true I think, but it's still the weakest part of the team on paper (as well we on the pitch.) They can definitely play better than they have been, but I think the problem is that neither of them have the mobility required to dominate a game in the later stages; Gerrard has lost it and Lucas probably never had it. I said in another thread that I think a change to 4-3-1-2 - especially in home games, or games we're expected to win - could solve a lot of our problems. Throw Henderson or Allen in there and it will hopefully give us more energy, as well as more control of the ball. Obviously just throwing Henderson in with Gerrard didn't work against Palace so this would be the next thing to try imo.

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Mostly spot on from Dave there.

 

It is a tough task indeed to win the league and even get into the top 4 these days, and it has been especially difficult in the last couple of years.

 

It is a big BUT though, as this excact season is special because of the transition status at the other top clubs. This season the title is up for grabs like no other year since the early nineties, any of the top 6 teams can win it with a bit of momentum and luck. I honestly can't see one team that stands out as frightingly good and impossible to beat. As for us; if we can build on the good start and keep in touch with the top until january and then strenghten in the two weak positions, I refuse to rule us out as title contenders.

 

As for the need for strengthening; it is kind of depressing to think about how close we have been at times, but we haven't managed to fill the last important gaps in the squad when needed.

 

Since the early nineties we have always been two class players short, it seems. Under Evans we had lots of flair and a fantastic attack, but we lacked steel in midfield and defence. After McManaman we have desperately lacked quality out wide. With two top class wide men under Rafa we would have been totally fucking unbeatable.

 

Now; we are on the verge of becoming very, very good. It all depends - again - if we can bring in the two missing pieces; this time the obvious need is one top class attacker (a pacey wide man) and one (or even two) dynamic CM.

 

We are walking on a very thin line now between huge succes and failure.

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Good article Dave, agree with all of it.

 

If we can just get the midfield right, keep the ball a little better and have some luck with injuries, who knows what we can achieve.

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