FA Cup: Round Four
Capital One Cup: Runners-up
Europa League: Runners-up
Even before the 2015-16 season began, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers was clearly under considerable pressure. Given a second chance after a largely disappointing year which had culminated with an embarrassing 6-1 thrashing at Stoke City, he had to make a strong start in order to remain at Anfield for the foreseeable future, all while no longer able to call upon the influence of Steven Gerrard. The long-time captain had finally said goodbye to the club to which he was, and will always remain, inextricably attached.
No shortage of money was spent over the summer in order to help launch the bid to restore Liverpool’s place in the Premier League’s top four, with technically gifted Brazilian playmaker Roberto Firmino brought in from Hoffenheim for £29m and Nathaniel Clyne purchased from Southampton, while Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke became the club’s second most expensive signing at £32.5m.
Elsewhere, James Milner arrived on a free transfer from Manchester City, Danny Ings joined from Burnley, and young striker Divock Origi became part of the first-team. The Belgian had been signed the previous summer, but had been sent back to previous side Lille for a season-long loan.
A reasonably positive first three weeks yielded seven points and a record of no goals conceded, but it all unravelled in the final game of August as a series of defensive errors led to an awful 3-0 defeat at home to West Ham United, before a spectacular strike from Benteke was in vain at Manchester United following the international break as they were well beaten again.
Injury-plagued striker Daniel Sturridge returned with two goals against Aston Villa, but just a week later Rodgers would finally bite the dust; left to count the cost of his inability to address the obvious deficiencies that existed in key areas and the lack of entertainment value on display.
The man chosen to be his successor guaranteed that that would not be the case from then on, as Jurgen Klopp arrived full of smiles and infectious energy. Securing the German’s services was a statement of intent and the supporters greeted him with instant affection. The first signs of his influence shining through came in a 3-1 win at Chelsea, but it was the manner in which they took title hopefuls Manchester City apart in November that really got people talking as Firmino and Philippe Coutinho gave more than a glimpse of their creative best.
Following a 6-1 thrashing of Southampton in the Capital One Cup that saw Origi net a hat-trick, the Reds inexplicably seemed to hit the wall, almost totally losing their fluidity in suffering dismal defeats at the hands of Newcastle United and Watford. Progress to the knockout stages of the Europa League was secured, but generally performance levels dipped dramatically as the fixtures began to arrive thick and fast.
A totally unconvincing penalty shootout win against Stoke in the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup was the highlight of a disappointing January, while the following month was certainly not lacking in incident. Supporters staged a walkout during the draw with Sunderland in protest at proposed ticket prices for the proposed main stand, there was an extra time exit from the FA Cup, Villa were hammered 6-0, and then it was all about the showdown with Man City at Wembley.
It was a game which appeared too close to call and so it proved, going all the way to another battle of the spot-kicks where they ultimately proved second best. For long spells they lacked fluency and needed to rely on the interventions of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet and makeshift centre-back Lucas Leiva to keep them in it, before Coutinho plundered an equaliser that did not look like coming.
Revenge came just three days later as Liverpool turned over Manuel Pellegrini’s men with ease in the Premier League, but the club was still labouring in mid-table. It was a brace of games that epitomised the team’s all-round inconsistency as sometimes they could produce showstopping attacking play, but all too often they threw in a second rate performance and that held them back desperately.
Such was the lack of remaining domestic honours to fight for, the majority of the focus turned towards the Europa League, particularly when they were paired with arch rivals Manchester United in the Round of 16. A commanding effort over two legs sent them through to face tournament favourites and Klopp’s former club Borussia Dortmund.
It was an epic clash, with an entertaining 1-1 draw in the first leg giving way to a return match that will be remembered for years to come, as a staggering comeback from 3-1 down deep into the second half saw central defenders Mamadou Sakho and Dejan Lovren find the net to complete a 4-3 success and send the red half of Merseyside into a state of delirium.
Sakho was soon moved away from the first-team setup after a failed drugs test emerged, with results showing the presence of a weight burner in his system. All the same, the coped well enough without the Frenchman in the semi-finals, overcoming a one-goal deficit against Villarreal to breeze into the final with a stunning second leg performance inspired by the colossus in midfield that is Emre Can.
Away from the field, April 2016 will be remembered for a historic legal verdict, as after 27 years the club’s supporters were finally absolved by a jury of any blame regarding the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. It finally vindicated and rewarded the courageous campaign for justice following the events of that horrific day when 96 people died.
The Premier League had long since taken a backseat and it was just a case of playing out their remaining fixtures, although youngsters did get their fair share of chances to stake their claim for a place in the side for the future. Conor Randall, Kevin Stewart and Cameron Brannagan all did themselves credit, while former academy graduate Jon Flanagan worked his way back to fitness after two years out.
So after finishing a disappointing 8th place, Klopp led his side to Basel to take on perennial winners Sevilla in the Europa League final. The first half went superbly as a fine Sturridge strike put them a goal ahead, only for a sorry collapse in the second period to see them well beaten and left to regret the missed opportunity to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
That second half display also served to reinforce the pressing need for a significant rebuilding job over the summer. Klopp will surely have a clear idea of what he needs to do in order to help the club live up to its mighty status, and to be fair he has already helped them overachieve by reaching two cup finals. Next season promises to be totally different at Anfield.