Monday, January 5, 2015

Liverpool: Most important game of the sesaon - AFC Wimbledon.

Steven Gerrard’s decision over the weekend to leave Liverpool Football Club at this season’s Barclays Premier League end, poses a startling scenario for all those involved with the club. Liverpool fans are faced with the end of an era, players are poised to play into the future without their inspirational captain, Coach Brendan Rodgers has the impossible task of replacing a legend, and Gerrard himself will be dealing with ending a 25 year association with his hometown and only club.

Steven Gerrard will say goodbye in 2015
Although having played his entire career with Liverpool, Gerrard’s decision was hardly surprising considering the way this season has played out for the reds. What a difference a year can make, this time last year Liverpool were a top of the Premier League Ladder, flying high on the attacking style employed by Rodgers, led by the season’s player of the year and best striker, Luis Suarez. This season, Gerrard and his men sit in 8th place on the EPL ladder, having already been knocked of the Champions League in the round stage, and their magical striker is long gone.
Liverpool’s dismal season thus far can ultimately be traced back to Suarez’s extraordinary ‘not again’ moment at the World Cup in Brazil. Leaving the club with no choice but to offload him and pick up a handsome transfer fee when it was there for the taking, the exit of Suarez caused two problems. One, the ultimate loss of one of the world’s best who scored a remarkable 31 goals in season 13/14 from just 33 appearances; and two, the effect on confidence of the players still in the team without their gun striker. Brendan Rodgers bought players who he claimed would become ‘world class’ under his guidance, and made the somewhat panic buy of Mario Balotelli just after the season started.

With limited success on the horizon and the knowledge his best ever chance at winning a premier league – the only title that he hasn’t claimed – was last year, Gerrard has made a decision for himself to leave on a high, still as regular starting player, and as captain. While Gerrard’s commitment to the club for the rest of the season cannot be questioned, the players around him must now lift and ensure the Steven Gerrard Farewell Tour is as successful as it can be. And that starts tomorrow morning Australian time, when Liverpool travel to Kingsmeadow and take on AFC Wimbledon in the Third round of the FA Cup. This is by far and away the most important game of the season thus far for Liverpool, who must now shift their focus to sending out their club legend on a high. With recent measly performances against mediocre sides, Rodgers must send out a strong line up and send a clear message to fans with a dominant performance against ‘The Dons’ in the first game since Gerrard’s announcement. The Reds do not return to Anfield until January 20, when they ironically face Chelsea, who ended their chance of a Premier League title last year when Gerrard ‘let it slip’.

As a Liverpool fan, it’s just so hard not to wonder what would have happened this season if Suarez had of stayed. Would Liverpool be currently on top of the table? Would Gerrard have already been resigned for another year? Would Liverpool again be on the cusp of their first Premier League era title? It’s a case of what ifs; for the team of 13/14 it’s a case of what could have been, for Liverpool as a club it’s a case of what’s next, for the fans it’s the thought and anxiety of what’s to come without their captain of the last 12 years. While time can be spent wondering, in reality it’s the grim realisation of what’s happened and what can’t be changed. The only thing that’s in Liverpool’s control is their commitment to the rest of the season, and with seven FA Cups to their name, surely they must now chase their eighth and help deliver Gerrard’s third to send out their club’s greatest a winner.