For Part 1 of this tale, see here.
Where did we leave this adventure last time out? Ah yes, Liverpool had just won the Premier League title and the Champions League. All was good and right with the universe, but things wouldn’t stay that way.
The irony about the 2013/14 season is that in reality, this represented a ‘nearly’ year for Liverpool. They went agonisingly close to claiming their first title since 1990 – for me, that burden no longer applied, and I went into the season as reigning champions – which created a whole new kind of expectation, the desire to win back-to-back titles.
The squad was more or less the same as before (I saw no reason to make drastic changes and unhinge my side), except I brought in Marek Hamsik from Napoli, and Rodriguez was moved on (I think). Hamsik spent much of his first season rotating with Lucas in the defensive midfielder role, though he was also capable of playing out on the left and as a more central-minded midfielder. Youngsters like Harry Kane, Jack Robinson and Martin Kelly got reasonable runs in the first team, but despite the goal-scoring feats of Luis Suarez and Giuseppe Rossi, I could not guide Liverpool to a second consecutive league title. Instead, my side would finish two points behind eventual winners Manchester City.
The Champions League brought no relief. Whilst my side qualified from the group stages, the journey to retain that particular trophy ended rather ingloriously in the first knockout round, with a tame 2-1 aggregate defeat to Shakthar.
At least the 13/14 season wasn’t a completely barren one. A 3-0 win over Colo Colo brought the Reds World Club Championship success, a 3-2 win over Aston Villa brought me the League Cup, and I collected my second FA Cup with a comfortable 3-0 routing of Sunderland.
There’s a reason the title of this chapter is called ‘Inconsistency’. Having failed to win the title the previous season, things would flip around completely in 2014/15, with my team winning the Premier League at a relative canter, nine points clear of Man City and with a goal difference of +83.
The backbone of this success was a miserly defence that conceded only 25 goals all season, and of course, the exploits up front of Suarez and Rossi, who between them scored 86 goals. I gave a first team debut to youth team players Gavin Pringle and John Allsop, and also set about putting Danny Wilson into the first team on a regular basis. Jordan Henderson continued his upward progress as a footballer, and I also achieved what I regard as one of the bargains of the century – I signed Jack Wilshere from Arsenal for £20 million. He put in a good shift (as did pretty much everyone), but the league was the only prize to be won.
My Champions League adventure ended at the quarter-final stage. I’d thumped Paris St Germain 5-2 in the first leg at Anfield, and was thus quietly confident of reaching the next round – oh how wrong I would be! A 4-0 thrashing was meted out to me in Paris – putting my European adventure to an end for another season. Disappointing FA Cup and League Cup runs also took place. Still, a second league title in four seasons as manager wasn’t too bad.
The following season I would not only fail to defend the league title, but Liverpool would slip to third in the standings by season’s end, only one point behind second-placed Manchester United – but six points behind Premier League winners Tottenham (Leicester, in case you’re wondering, weren’t even in the top flight on the game at this stage). The season starting brightly enough – my first results were – 7-0, 8-0, 4-1, 4-1, 3-1 (Champions League), 3-1, 4-3 (an extra-time League Cup win over Man City), but a shock 3-1 defeat to West Brom followed, and this was immediately followed by a 3-1 defeat against Barcelona in the Champions League. I would go on to lose to Barcelona again in the home group stage game, but would follow them into the knockout stages.
League form included a defeat away to Chelsea, but after that the ship steadied. Eight consecutive wins followed, and the team went unbeaten for 14 matches before becoming a cropper at Stoke. In the middle of all this the team reached the League Cup Final (but would be defeated on penalties against Spurs), and I would guide Liverpool to the Champions League Final (knocking out Marseilles, Fiorentina and Paris St Germain along the way).
As the season neared its conclusion, league form began to dip. Defeats way to Everton, Arsenal and Manchester United came just when I needed the team to keep pushing and keep winning, though I would knock Man Utd out of the FA Cup at the Semi-Final stage and go on to beat Spurs in the Final, avenging my League Cup defeat, and also ensuring that my record of winning at least one trophy every season had been maintained.
For the Champions League Final, I was up against the mighty Barcelona – and whilst my memories of this occasion are fuzzy, I do remember that losing on penalties after a 2-2 draw felt like an injustice – something makes me think that the result was somewhat harsh on my side, who I felt deserved more for their efforts. Having reached three cup finals and only winning one was also a bit… disappointing, shall we say?
I remember this campaign for two reasons. Firstly, the nail-biting end to the Premier League title race, and secondly, the Champions League Final.
The squad was more or less unchanged from the previous two seasons, except I signed Turkish attacking Midfielder Gökhan Töre from German side HSV. Jack Wilshere would miss pretty much the entire season through injury (art imitating life there), but Gökhan Töre Would provide skilled cover. Over the course of the fight to win the league, the team was slow and steady to begin with (not as free-scoring as in previous seasons), but in the Champions League, the group was pretty straightforward, with 5 wins out of 6.
In the first knockout stage, Liverpool would thump Leverkusen 4-0 away from home and go on to win 3-2 at Anfield, setting up a mouthwatering Quarter-Final against Man Utd. Having recently beaten them 3-0 in the Premiership at Anfield, that result was almost repeated in the first leg – I ran out 3-1 winners. In the second leg I held Utd to a 1-1 draw and booked a Semi-Final against Spanish giants Real Madrid.
Whilst this was going on the title race was drawing closer to a conclusion – and going into the final round of the season, with a few stuttering performances costing me, Liverpool would be away against one of the contenders, Chelsea.
What I needed was a win. There were no two ways about it – a win and the title (thanks to Man Utd drawing away with Norwich) would be mine. Matches away to Chelsea were never ones I had found to be easy, but as the game ticked by, with the score at 2-2, one more goal and my Liverpool side would be champions on the basis of far superior goal difference. Unfortunately, despite pressing, that goal just would not come, and Chelsea were champions.
I now found my hopes of maintaining my trophy-streak resting on one match – the Champions League Final, and my opponents? Once again, Barcelona.
This is where one of the most remarkable sequences of events conspired to help me out, and I don’t mind admitting that I ‘played the game’ to ensure my team had the best possible chance. Pep Guardiola had left Barcelona at the end of the previous season, and in his stead had come Rafa Benitez. Somehow, Benitez had taken Guardiola’s team of incredible talents and ushered them down La Liga to fifth, and therefore without Champions League football if they failed to win in the Final. With the La Liga season concluded, Barcelona took the decision to sack Benitez with less than a couple of weeks to go before the Final – and they approached me to replace him.
I told Barca I’d consider it, though in reality I had no intention of quitting Liverpool at that stage. Barca agreed, meaning they’d go into the Champions League Final with a caretaker manager, and I knew this would give me an edge. I was proven right, as Liverpool won 3-1, avenging last season’s cruel penalty loss and claiming European Cup no. 7.
So, see what I mean about inconsistency? Winning consecutive titles had proven elusive, but with Big Ears returning to Anfield, was this to be the catalyst for sustained success? We’ll have to wait for the next chapter in this little story…