Seasons to Remember: 2008-09
Near Misses and Remarkable Games
Co-written by Anthony Stanley.
OK, we ended up not winning anything. But it was one hell of a ride.
2009 deserves a place in our history. It was the culmination of Rafa Benitez’s marvellous work – the zenith of just how effective we could be under the Spaniard’s stewardship. We were unlucky in two massive competitions and it could easily have been so much more. It also should have heralded something special; looking back, there is a trace of a team reaching their peak but just falling short. The reality, however, is that the Liverpool crafted by Rafa may well have been able to kick on and grab that elusive title if not for ownership circumstances that were beyond his control, circumstances that would eventually lead the club to court.
But the season should be celebrated simply because of the memories that it bequeathed us. Benitez had given us plenty of those already in the campaigns preceding this, most notably in Istanbul in 2005 but also in reacking another Champions League final in Athens in 2007. But it all came together in a near-triumphal procession in which we ultimately fell just short, but for that period we were back on the map of being genuine contenders again.
Yeah, déjà vu. In this case, familiarity does indeed begin to breed contempt. But remember Madrid getting spanked in the same week as United, two 4-4 draws in seven days against two of our closest rivals, Gerrard’s hat trick at Anfield as Villa were contemptuously swatted aside, Newcastle hammered at Christmas time in St James Park, Fernando Torres terrifying the opposition, Alonso purring, Mascherano snarling, Stevie racking up goals, 106 strikes from the team in all competitions, 25 league wins, 86 points.
Celebrating failure? No, this is a paean to us getting our voice back and how we could have ended years of domestic frustration which would have to wait a further 11 years. In the modern landscape of shifting and swirling financial realities, it was, without doubt, a successful season.
The first few games of the season gave no clue as to what would eventually coalesce into a title tilt. In the opening match, Liverpool laboured to a 1-0 win against Sunderland in the Stadium of Light, looking insipid and uninspired from the off. A Fernando Torres thunderbolt in the 83rd minute lit up a drab affair. It was typical of the recent European Cup winner with Spain, who was possibly the best striker on the planet at the time; as the Black Cats’ manager Roy Keane lamented stoically:
‘We’re only talking about one moment, but that’s all the top players need. We worked hard and played really well, but it was a goal as soon as it left his foot. That’s why he cost a few bob. That’s why the Premiership is the toughest league in the world. That’s life.’
It was even tighter in the next game in what looked a banker at Anfield against Middlesbrough (if we ignore the bogey team moniker). Mido gave the visitors a 70th minute lead and in the siege that followed the Reds finally got their act together but it wasn’t until the 85th minute that Jamie Carragher equalised. No prizes for guessing who netted the winner in the last minute – Steven Gerrard firing a looping half volley with the inside of his foot into the far corner.
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