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Liverpool Season Review 2006/07

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Paul Grech

As a young kid, Paul Grech got used to hearing ‘oh no, not him’ when the others found out that he would be playing on their team. He quickly took the hint that he was crap at football. Hopefully, he’s a bit better at writing about it....
[full biography]
05/06/2007 08:00:00.
read: 1697 times.

A season that promised so much but which ultimately ended in disappointment. That is how Liverpool’s 2006-07 campaign will be remembered given that, for the first time since Rafael Benitez took over, they ended the season without winning anything.

Actually, that’s not quite true for they did win the Charity Shield back in August. That game, a fantastic effort that made Chelsea look distinctly pedestrian, underlined just why Liverpool were considered as genuine title contenders. Once the league season started, however, those hopes were quickly swept away.

The root cause of the problems was an inability to win outside Anfield. Out of their first seven away games they only managed to get two points with the first win on their travels coming as late as December (4-0 at Wigan). That they were drawn to play against Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton and Bolton within the first couple of months didn’t help either especially with new players coming in and needing time to settle.

Those new players were another problematic issue. Rafael Benitez wouldn’t say as much – although he eventually did after the Champions League final – but of last summer’s three major transfers only one (Dirk Kuyt) had been his first choice. For the right side of midfield he wanted Daniel Alves whereas upfront he’d have liked someone less controversial than Craig Bellamy.

It was lack of transfer funds that forced his hand and, ultimately, he got what he paid for. Bellamy never really got to grips with Benitez’s constant rotation and the Spanish manager appeared to give up on him midway through the season. Jermaine Pennant fared slightly better, especially in the latter part of the season where he consistently got better to the point where he was arguably Liverpool’s best player in the Champions League final

Not that Benitez can be absolved of all blame where transfers are concerned. For the previous twelve months he had been bigging up Mark Gonzalez as a player capable of taking the Premiership by storm. The winger’s application for a work permit had initially been turned down but a highly successful loan period at Real Sociedad had seen the decision reconsidered. The Chilean promptly scored on his debut (an all important winner against Maccabi Haifa in the Champions League qualifiers) but then did little else during the rest of the campaign.

The same, to a lesser extent, can be said of Gabriel Palleta. In some very weak pre-season games, the young Argentine defender had looked very much out of place but that was put down to a young player still getting to grips with his surroundings. Unfortunately, that didn’t turn out to be the case as his occasional forays in the first team led to similarly disjointed performances. His worst game came in the humiliating 6-3 defeat at the hands of Arsenal in the League Cup quarter final where he managed the impossible in making Jeremie Alladiare look good. He’s still young enough to develop, but a tendency to try and hack his way through a game justifiably raises doubts.

Other new players, did decidedly better. Daniel Agger’s had spent the latter half of the previous campaign getting to terms with English football so when the new season started he quickly bedded in, taking Sami Hyppia’s place in the side with ease.

Javier Mascherano, a mid-season arrival from West Ham where he had struggled to get on the bench, did the same. The Argentine’s class quickly shone through and he was so good that by the time the Champions League final came around, most of the talk was about whether Xabi Alonso would get to play: there was never any doubt that Mascherano would start.

Once again, therefore, Liverpool had to turn to Europe for their fulfillment. Benitez once again proved his total mastery of continental football as his side made their way impressively past Barcelona and PSV Eindhoven before overcoming arch rivals Chelsea on penalties.

Hopes, therefore, were justifiably high of number six making its way to Merseyside. It wasn’t to be. Ironically, and opposed to two years back, Liverpool were the better team in the final but this time Milan had all the luck. When Andrea Pirlo’s free kick hit Pippo Inzaghi and went in on the stroke of half-time, it was clear that this time the gods were siding with AC Milan.

The Champions League had also ushered in new owners George Gillet and Tom Hicks, whose first game was the home defeat to Barcelona. The atmosphere at that game, and the subsequent semi-final against Chelsea apparently taught the American duo just what a special club they had bought.

Their success in doing so had been a surprise. Up till December, the DIC had been apparently given the go ahead to formalize an agreement to buy the club. Eventually, however, the deal would crumble in the space of 48 hours after owner David Moores had a rethink. In cam Gillet and Hicks with their promise to build a new stadium and finance Benitez’s team building.

The Spanish manger would take to heart that promise, and would publicly remind the Americans moments after the end of the Champions League final. It was the second time that he had gone public about his concerns – the first time was when he had complained that he had yet to meet with the new owners to discuss their plans – and it highlighted a certain degree of unrest at the club.

During the same press conference, Benitez had made thinly veiled criticism of the club’s CEO Rick Parry, with accusations that the club was too slow in signing new players. Indeed, Parry must have more reasons than most to try and forget the final, what with the controversy about the club’s ticketing allocations.

There were other, minor but significant issues that helped sour the season’s end. Frank McParland, one of the main scouts and a man highly valued by Benitez, decided to move to Bolton where he’ll be Sammy Lee’s general manager.

This had been preceded by Steve Heighway’s retirement from his role as the Head of the Academy. Heighway left in the best possible manner by guiding his team to a second consecutive FA Youth Cup success but he was also highly critical of the way local players were being treated. With more young foreign players coming in at the start of the summer, his prediction that none of the cup winning side will make it won’t go away.

All of this paints a very drab picture. In reality, however, the nucleus for a title winning squad is there. Yet whether season 2006-07 will in future be considered as a season of further consolidation or the year where everything started to unravel depends on what happens over the next couple of weeks.

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