A Year on the Liverpool Offside: Falling Back to Earth

raul meireles liverpool 2011

From fears of relegation to hopes for a top four finish, and from passive defensive football to pass and move thrills, the 2010-11 season almost ended perfectly for Liverpool after the rockiest of starts. But almost isn't the same as getting there, and the world rarely conspires to provide the ideal, storybook ending that might be hoped for. Still, for all that it was disappointing for Liverpool to fall just short at the very end after a monumental push up the table in the final months, then just as falling short is worlds apart from getting there, so too is it from doom and gloom and never having had a chance.

In the end the squad, never as deep as Dalglish or the supporters would have liked, simply ran out of gas, the mix of regulars not seen as good enough by the previous regime and spare parts never expected to make much of an impact—at least not yet in some cases—unable to drag the club any further up the table. A strong day for Luka Modric and Spurs met little resistance from a Liverpool side clearly missing Raul Meireles and became the first blow, all but destroying the unlikely hopes for a top four finish and miraculous return to the Champions League.

Then, with only a Europa League spot to play for, Liverpool were even less inspiring against Aston Villa in the final match of the season as they dropped completely out of contention for European play. Given how far Liverpool had had to climb—and just how far they had climbed under Kenny Dalglish compared to what their form and standing had been under Roy Hodgson—it may not have been the end of the world as it seemed in the moment. Still, after the way they'd played over the preceding two months, it hurt to see the players come up just that inch short, reminding everyone of two seasons before when the club had similarly fallen just short of the league title over the final weeks.

Still, when one looked beyond simply the final standings there seemed much to be excited about, from the revamped academy that had begun to bear fruit, to Kenny Dalglish being named the club's permanent manager after operating throughout the spring under the caretaker tag, to the schadenfreude of watching Manchester United get demolished by Barcelona in the Champions League final while the London media tut-tutted Liverpool fans for not backing the English side. Plus there was always the constant distraction of the soon-to-open transfer window, with half of the internet convinced Juan Mata was at that very moment stepping into the Babelcopter to begin his trip to Liverpool.

There was also the matter of trying to digest the craziness of a season that had started with Christian Purslow attempting to sell Lucas Leiva to Napoli for £3M—only for the Italian side to baulk at the fee—and ended with the player a near-universal pick as the club's best of the season. Elsewhere, readers of the Liverpool Offside as well as of the three other sites participating in our season ending poll series picked Joe Cole as flop of the season, Martin Kelly as the young player of the season, and thought Raul Meireles' volley against Wolves was the campaign's best goal.

All things considered, it was a season that still doesn't entirely make sense, even after a further seven months in which to gain further perspective. After the summer transfer window and the way the current campaign has begun, it also remains far from clear how the events of the first half of 2011 fit into the narrative of the club's long-term aspirations. That, however, is another issue entirely, and for all that it didn't end quite how everybody would have hoped, in the end it's hard not to look back on the final days of last season's wild highs and lows without at least a touch of fondness for the way in which the club so nearly made it to a place in May far beyond what would have seemed reasonable to dare hope for in January.

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