A season of epic proportions for Liverpool Football Club, forever tainted by the way in which the title race was settled. Liverpool's greatest charge for the title in over twenty years can only be summed up by the commentary of Martin Tyler on that infamous April day at Anfield. After a terrific run of form, including a 5-1 victory over Arsenal, a 4-0 victory over Tottenham, a 3-0 victory over Manchester United and a dramatic 3-2 victory over Manchester City, Liverpool were on the verge of winning their first ever Barclays Premier League title.
How did the title slip from their grasps? It came from a slip of much lesser, yet much more phsyical, proportions as Steven Gerrard, Liverpool's captain for over ten seasons, lost his footing while in possession of the ball, in turn allowing Demba Ba a free passage to Liverpool's goal where he took advantage of Gerrard's mistake and knocked Liverpool off their perch once more. When you're on top of the league, the only way to go is down and Liverpool did plummet as Manchester City stole the title from their grasps.
Fast forward a few months and Liverpool are eleventh in the Barclays Premier League, without any sort of confidence and without the man who lit up Anfield for three and a half seasons. Luis Suárez departed for FC Barcelona over the summer in controversial circumstances. A world class striker leaving Liverpool rings a bell and recalls memories of former departed strikers such as Fernando Torres, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, Ian Rush. In the past, Liverpool always found another striker who, like his former, found instant form at Liverpool. This time, however, Liverpool are left with an injury-prone Daniel Sturridge, an out-the-door Fabio Borini, an ageing Rickie Lambert and an uncontrollable Mario Balotelli.
The hopes and dreams of the fans are resting precariously on the shoulders of young Raheem Sterling, a young man who, despite his much-discussed private, has produced more than enough moments of magic for his team over the last few years. At the age of nineteen, Sterling is one of the most feared attackers in the Premier League. His pace and work ethic sees him travel across the pitch faster than most, in both attack and defence while his dazzling skill on the ball means no defender in the world can stop him, when Sterling is on form. His impressive performances have spread on to the international stage too, as he was England's shining light in a rather dismal World Cup campaign in the summer. There is no doubt about it; Raheem Sterling will become one of the best footballers of his generation, if he can keep away from injury and continue improving at his current rate.
However, Sterling cannot carry Liverpool on his own. Brendan Rodgers spent a large outlay of his transfer budget on attacking players in the summer, bringing in the likes of Adam Lallana, Lazar Markovic, Rickie Lambert and Mario Balotelli, while Suso has returned to the first-team picture on a more permanent basis. There is no doubt that these players all have skills which can help Liverpool's cause and, with the exception of Lambert, they are all still quite young and can develop their skills much further under the correct guidance. Yet despite their qualities, none of them have yet picked up the baton for Liverpool and impressed. We have seen brief glimpses of the qualities which each player has in their lockers but nothing decisive has been seen thus far. While it is still early days and both Lallana and Markovic suffered unfortunate pre-season injuries, you would expect more out of players who cost the club a great deal of money.
One man who Liverpool desperately need back in their starting line-up is Daniel Sturridge. The English man has been sidelined for a number of weeks due to an injury which he picked up through overly-rigorous training with his national team. The pacey centre forward was runners-up in the Premier League golden boot to former team-mate Luis Suárez last term, as Sturridge scored 21 times in 29 appearances for the Reds. Sturridge does have his critics for his decision making at times, as he sometimes opts to go for a more direct route to goal rather than looking for a passing option. Despite his weaknesses, Sturridge is Liverpool's best attacker and their biggest goal threat. His pace, his movement off the ball and his reading of the game makes him a player who you can pick out anywhere on the pitch. Much like Sterling, he possesses great dribbling ability and he is very, very clinical in front of goal. When the ball cannons off his left foot, you can almost expect a goal, or at least for him to really work the goalkeeper. Sturridge will give Liverpool a massive boost when he returns.
A man who assisted several of Sturridge's goals last season, Steven Gerrard, has come under a lot of scrutiny so far in this present season, due to his disastrous performances so far. The thirty-four year old's costly error last season has affected him very badly. He no longer has the raw, fierce energy which emanated from him in the past. Instead, he seems like a fish on dry land most of the time. Rodgers continues to deploy him in the half-back role, where he is supposed to put his long-range passing to good use. However, his passing has been distinctly average so far this season, which eliminates Gerrard's main purpose in the starting eleven. What does he contribute which Lucas, Can or Allen does not? The alternative midfielders all have more pace, more energy and are quicker on the ball. Is it time for Gerrard to step down as a first-team player? I'm personally unsure but I do know that Gerrard no longer plays with the ability of a top player.
Further behind Gerrard lies an unresolved issue; an issue which has bugged Liverpool since 2009, their defence. There is just one defender who has played in both of the last campaigns where Liverpool finished second in the Premier League and that man is the much-criticised Martin Skrtel. Despite his faults, however, Skrtel has undoubtedly been Liverpool's best defender so far this season, which is very worrying for the club. The arrivals of Sakho and Toure last season brought more panic than security as mistakes from either were likely. Dejan Lovren was brought in for a huge £20M fee but has so far been unimpressive. While Lovren is better on the ball than the other centre backs, he is slow to turn and his positioning can be woeful at times.
One positive signing this season has been Alberto Moreno, who has been a revelation at left-back so far. Originally filling in for his injured compatriot, Moreno has knocked Enrique out of the starting eleven after a number of eye-catching performances. The young Spaniard joined from Sevilla in the summer and was immediately thrown in to the deep end against Manchester City, where he looked comfortable. His brightest moment so far in a Liverpool shirt came at White Hart Lane where he ran from the half-way line to score Liverpool's third of game in a rare impressive victory for the Reds this season. Alberto Moreno is still only twenty-two and has a lot of potential. He has been likened to Barcelona's Jordi Alba, due to his pace and attacking ability. Moreno's hunger can help Liverpool turn over their unimpressive season.
You can spend hours listing all the problems Liverpool have had but there is one under-lying problem which won't disappear over the course of four or five games. Last season's disappointment has hit the squad hard and you can see how little innovation they now have (except for Sterling and Moreno, of course). The players don't perform to the best of their abilities any more and that is epitomised by the lack of risky, attacking football which was associated with Liverpool last season. The players are scared of losing and are unwilling to make a mistake, inspired by Captain Fantastic, Steven Gerrard. It would be unfair to place the blame on the skipper but it was his mistake which snowballed in to a crash of confidence in the Liverpool camp. Liverpool need a new talisman' a new innovator in their squad. Luis Suárez brought much of the creative play last season, now they miss him tremendously. Who can be that bright light? Sterling looks set to fill his boots but he cannot overcome the challenge alone.
Do Liverpool need to sign yet another player? Yes, they do. They need someone who's attacking ability is evident in everything they do and who has a hunger which rages for the whole ninety minutes. Manchester United brought in Dí Maria and Falcao, Chelsea brought in Fábregas and Costa, Arsenal brought in Sánchez and Welbeck. Liverpool need players with their hunger and innovation, otherwise they will continue to slide down the table.
Liverpool need confidence and desire back in the team. While the majority of the players are still young and have plenty of room for improvement, somebody needs to step up to save the team. Liverpool need somebody who can take the mantle previously occupied by Luis Suárez, or continue to slip up. Who can be that man? Can Raheem Sterling do it? Can Daniel Sturridge? Or will their efforts be in vain?