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A Year on the Liverpool Offside: Starting Over, Settling In

charlie adam disappointment

Liverpool ended 2010-11 in fantastic form, perhaps even convincing those most hopeful that with a tweak here and a winger there a legitimate run at the title wasn't entirely beyond the realm of possibility. With summer signalling that Damien Comolli and Kenny Dalglish were more interested in rebuilding than refining, though, that hope faced up to growing fears about all the that could go wrong with a largely new starting eleven as the season began.

Those running the club had gambled heavily on proven Premier League talent, often paying well over the odds for British-trained players in particular on the theory that their premium investment would be paid back immediately, since the new arrivals wouldn't need months to fully integrate themselves into a highly physical league in an unfamiliar country. Still, even considering that many of the players had experience in England, attempting to almost entirely rebuild the core of the squad in one summer when the players already on hand had just finished making a strong case that they deserved to be shown a bit of faith by the manager and owners seemed to many an example of trying far too hard to fix something that didn't seem broken in the first place.

At least for those not eagerly preaching that questioning Liverpool's manager in any way was tantamount to treason, that is. Every Liverpool fan may have wanted Dalglish to be right, but for many as the season approached it was equally difficult to completely dismiss the nagging sense that some of the summer's moves were destined to make the club worse in at least the short and medium term at a time when success in the short and medium term—and with it the hope of returning to the Champions League—was the only thing that really mattered.

And if there were a lot of people nervous about the overhaul still taking place as August 13th and the opening match of the season kicked off, that first game didn't do much to settle those nerves, as many of the new signings waltzed directly into the starting eleven to generally poor results. Aside from Jose Enrique, in fact, it was difficult to make any kind of case for the new arrivals starting based on their early performances. Though now that they in fact were at Liverpool and starting week in and week out, for some just how dearly the club had paid for supposedly Premier League proven talent to avoid just such a painful and extended settling in period quickly became buried beneath demands that real supporters had a duty to blindly support the new arrivals because—if one was feeling entirely optimistic—they just needed a run of starts and a bit of positive energy to find their form.

It was a theme that, sadly, became a major point of contention for fans across the first half of the 2011-12 season, with many of those who follow Liverpool insisting that an at times disappointing fall could have been—and in fact often was—predicted based on events during the summer, and that obviously better decisions could have have been made. In the meantime, the other half of those who follow Liverpool suggested that whether or not one agreed with the moves that brought Liverpool's squad to where they were, making the best of the situation and supporting those in charge in the belief that they could get things right in the end was the only way forward.

With disagreements on the quality of players like Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing, not to mention conflicting beliefs as to the wisdom of paying over the odds for British talent in the first place, the narrative for the autumn of a squad and manager needing to prove themselves seemed set early on. The moment that cemented Liverpool's immediate future, however, both when it came to the shape of the new Liverpool on the pitch as well as to the way in which fans would talk about events on the pitch for the next few months, came on the final day of the summer transfer window when Raul Meireles was shipped to Chelsea.

Suddenly, Liverpool hadn't actually strengthened their midfield depth over the summer—they'd just swapped out a player who had been central to the previous season's success and replaced him with inconsistency and unknowns. Unless, of course, they'd shipped off a soft player who didn't want to be at Liverpool anyhow and wouldn't have gotten much playing time with Charlie Adam in the squad and Steven Gerrard expected to return. Either way, though, and combined with the raw Jordan Henderson appearing to unseat Liverpool's leading goal scorer from the previous season without having to earn his starting role while Stewart Downing tracked up and down the left side in front of Jose Enrique, it was a brand new Liverpool that would spend the next few months attempting to form some kind identity in a year when missing out on the Champions League yet again would mean the real risk of seeing the club become stuck in mid-table for years to come.

It wasn't all that pretty at times. And with it still far from clear if many of the summer's transfers—either incoming or outgoing, and no matter if one factors cost into the equation—were especially wise, for many those early doubts have only grown. Meanwhile, no matter one's outlook in regards to the individual decisions, everybody continues to hope that this new Liverpool side and the many players who appear to still be seeking to fully settle after half a season will round into form before it's too late.

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