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A Year on the Liverpool Offside: Bigger Than Any One Player

agger torres elbow

There was hope. Hope in Dalglish's return. Hope in Suarez' arrival. Hope in the introduction of a more pleasing brand of football. And then, in a moment, it seemed to have all been ripped away.

People talked about the club being bigger than any one player, and they rationalised that things would be alright given that that particular player hadn't really made much of a contribution to any kind of success over the previous eighteen months. But when it came right down to it, those were intellectual arguments; created justifications for why everyone shouldn't feel quite how they did.

The reality was far more emotional. And in that emotional reality, it was hard not to feel deflated by what seemed the cruel defection of a player the fans had come to see as being inextricably linked to the club they cared about. And then, two days after Fernando Torres left the club on a chaotic final day of the January transfer window, Luis Suarez scored on his debut, coming off the bench to put the second goal of the night past Stoke's Asmir Begovic and securing Liverpool's victory.

If it was hard not to be left emotionally drained by the more disappointing developments of the previous week, then that goal and the subsequent victory was just the kind of instant pick-me-up the fans needed, and while Suarez was providing excitement on the pitch from his first touch, Kenny Dalglish and Steve Clarke were also doing their best to make supporters forget the recent struggles the club had gone through. After months of Roy Hodgson's stuffy, inflexible tactics, against Stoke Liverpool lined up in a fluid 3-6-1 formation designed to counter Stoke's aerial threat any time they managed a spell of possession. While Suarez entertained, this unusual formation spoke to Liverpool's returned manager and his assistant being at the forefront of tactical invention, putting to rest the nagging doubts a mock-concerned press had installed about Kenny Dalglish perhaps being stuck behind the times, a relic from an earlier age.

Still, for however good victory over Stoke on a cold Wednesday night in January felt, it was hardly a time for celebrations and moving on from the past. How could it be, with a visit to Stamford Bridge coming up on the following Sunday? A match against the side Liverpool seemed to battle against every season in the Champions League—until Liverpool missed qualifying for the Champions League a year after dropping out from the group stages. A match against a side Liverpool had seen as a direct competitor for domestic glory—until the nearly there of the 2008-09 season was followed by a sharp decline and loss of contact with the Premier League's contenders. A match against a side Liverpool liked to think of as equals on the pitch and historically inferior—until Chelsea went and poached arguably the club's best player six days earlier.

Stoke had felt good, but any joy that followed took on a distinctly nervous air as the match against Chelsea approached, and with it the promise of either triumphing over recent adversity or falling prey to it.

With Daniel Agger planting his elbow on Torres' jaw in the early going, Lucas putting in one of his best performances in a Liverpool shirt, and Raul Meireles knocking home a cross with his left foot 69 minutes in, it ended up a cathartic triumph for the men in red—not to mention another tactical master-class from the coaches as the three centre half formation on display against Stoke earlier in the week was tweaked to include a four-man diamond in central midfield that completely nullified Chelsea's central threat.

The high that followed the close of the transfer window wouldn't be sustained, with uninspiring performances against mid-table sides and a return to the doldrums of Thursday nights in the Europa League soon to follow. But in the moment, given all that had come before, it most certainly felt good to be able to puff up one's chest and insist that the club truly was bigger than any one player without a single nagging doubt in sight.

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