Transition has been the key word at Liverpool the past couple of seasons, during which time 22 players have come into the squad (not counting loans). Many new faces, many of whom have been pilloried for their lack of performance on the pitch. Recent league performances, in particular, have tried the patience of supporters. It's never easy to reshape a side, and such has been the case at Anfield where, dare we use that en vogue word, the club is in the middle of at least a three-year "project." One, Liverpool fans hope, will work out better for Kenny Dalglish than Chelsea's ex, Andre Villas-Boas.
There have been signs of promise, including Liverpool winning the Carling Cup, its first trophy in six seasons, in February. The Reds are also scheduled to face archrival Everton on April 14 at Wembley, a cup tie that should (fingers crossed) offer a bit more fire and brimstone than the wet noodle of a league match between the two teams on March 13, which was really only notable for Steven Gerrard's hat trick and Everton's lackluster team selection. The Old Firm it wasn't. April's faceoff will be the first time the two sides compete at Wembley since the 1989 FA Cup final, so the tackles should be flying.
Building confidence on the back of a cup run will help boost morale, but equally, it won't be enough to gloss over Liverpool's shortcomings in the Premier League. After 30 games played, it trails No. 1 Manchester United by 31 points; at the same juncture in the season last year, the Reds were 18 points behind league leader United.
You can point to all sorts of issues. Dalglish & Co. have especially struggled at Anfield, where they've drawn eight (a killer in a points race), won five and lost two. There's been some profligacy in front of goal -- with 13.1 shots per goal this season, compared to 13.3 for Wigan, 12.1 with QPR and 11.9 with Everton. (United is tops at 6.3 shots per goal). And the woodwork has been as much an enemy to the Kop as anyone from the blue of Merseyside: Liverpool leads the league with most shots, 17, that have hit the woodwork and not gone in, ahead of 15 for Man City, 13 for QPR, 12 for both Chelsea and Fulham. Beyond analytics, you can analyze all sorts of issues with player performances (a story for another time).
Of course, it's all how you slice and dice the definition of success. Liverpool could end up with two trophies this season; and we know one of the two Manchester clubs will finish with nothing in their cabinet.
To discuss Liverpool's season, we chatted with one of its iconic players, central defender Jamie Carragher, who has been with the club since he joined the youth team in 1990 and played his first senior ball in 1996. While he has logged a ton of miles for the cause, Carragher, 34, still bleeds Liverpool red with the passion of any supporter.
Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC/Getty ImagesSteven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher celebrate Liverpool's Carling Cup victory, the club's first trophy in six years.
Hi, Jamie, it's a pleasure to chat with you. First question: What has Kenny Dalglish brought to Liverpool FC since taking over the reins as manager?
Jamie Carragher: Well, I think, obviously, he's been here now just over 12 months. He's increased the presence of the club, that's what he has about him because of who he is and what he's achieved in football as a player and as a manager. When Kenny arrived, with the club in a very difficult position, he gave everyone a lift, not just in terms of his presence but also with performances and results on the pitch at the end of last season. You know, this season there's been a lot of change in the playing staff, with a lot of new players coming in, you know, for the better. You could see that with us getting our first trophy in six years. That was a massive achievement for everyone at the club, and we're set up nicely in the FA Cup. We're probably a little bit short in the league where we'd like to be -- we'd like to be closer to the top four -- but hopefully we can close that gap between now and the end of the season.
You guys play Everton in the FA Cup on April 14. The last derby was a bit of a letdown, intensity-wise. Can we expect a right old cup tie this time around?
JC: Oh, of course, I'm sure it'll be a lot closer than the last league game was, since we normally don't get results like that in a derby, where it's normally very tight with one goal into them. It's a massive game, of course, we can't deny that. It's something [Everton versus Liverpool in the FA Cup] we've not really had much of in the past. The former players had cup finals against each other -- I think there were two cup finals [in 1989 and 1986] -- and big games in cup ties, but it hasn't really happened much for me self as a player in the last 10, 15 years. So it's something for the whole city to look forward to. I'm just hoping as a city we represent ourselves well, the supporters going down to the game together like it was in the past. Hopefully we'll get the result, but I'm sure that's what the Everton side will say as well.
It certainly feels like the magic of the FA Cup is back, at least for this tie. But the league has been a different story for Liverpool, as you're 31 points behind league leader Manchester United. Jose Enrique recently came out and said that fans shouldn't blame the manager but point the finger at the players. What's your take?
JC: There's been a lot of change, hasn't there, with players coming in and out, so we've got a lot of new players learning to play the Liverpool way and what it means to play for Liverpool. And I hope they progress again next season as well. The competition in the league has never been stronger, especially with Man City coming in with the title money they've got, and the job Harry Redknapp has done with Tottenham Whereas our manager has only just come in and tried to build a side up. But if you actually look [closely], we don't have as many players in our squad who've won a title, or certainly not a Premier League title, but you look at the manager, he's got four [titles], so I don't think [our struggles] have to do with our manager. As a group of players, we need to improve. Maybe we need a couple new players next season to push us on, and you're hoping the players we bought this season will then go on to another level after a year's experience playing for the club.
You talk a lot about the "Liverpool way" when discussing the new players on board. What do you mean by that?
JC: It's not just them, it's all of us, as I've said -- in the games we haven't done that well. You can see it by our home form, a lot of draws, that is what I'm saying, playing the Liverpool way. When you play home games you have the pressure of your own crowd -- it's a demanding, and great crowd -- but at Liverpool we expect results and to win every week that we play at home. So there's that aspect of it. And also the way the opposition play. Every team comes to Anfied to defend, really, so it's different in that sense. Also the media pressure of playing for Liverpool is always strong -- it's one of the biggest and best clubs around. Learning to be a Liverpool player comes with experience. You know, me self and Steven Gerrard have been here a long time and know how it works. I'm sure next season and toward the end of this season, with the first trophy in the bag, the new players will go on to another level.
Mark Thompson /Allsport Loyal servant: Carragher during his days for the England U-21 team in 1997.
What's your sense of the Premier League this season? City and United are battling for the top spot, there's a tussle for third and fourth, and English teams haven't fared well in Europe.
JC: I think it's fair to say that from the performances in Europe, that English teams, we're not at the level we probably were three or four years ago. I mean, you look at Real Madrid come and take Ronaldo away from the league, and we lost [Xabi] Alonso. I think invariably the best players always end up with them or Barcelona. I think La Liga is the top league now. Look at Athletic Bilbao's performance against Man United, everyone was talking about how well they played, and that's the fifth, sixth team in Spain, really, against the [Premier League defending] champions and maybe the best team in the country. It was a well-deserved defeat, if you like.
But I think football goes in cycles as well. Three or four years ago, I think it was right to say that we had the best league in Europe and some of the best teams. We always had two or three teams in the [Champions League] semifinals and a team in the final. But now I think it has change, you're getting the Spanish clubs playing well, the way AC Milan is doing in the Champions League, Napoli's performance as well against Man City. They all may be coming back, but football is all about cycles, and I'm sure we'll be back on top soon enough.
When you finally hang up your boots, what's next? You've talked about possibly coaching.
JC: To be honest, I think about a few things that I'd like to do, but you have to be offered a job you like to do. It's not set in stone that it'll be a coach or manager. If something comes up that I like to do, I'd do it. But there's no set plan, if you like, in place for me. I will just keep playing as long as I can and the club sees fit, and then whatever happens after that, I'll make a decision on what type of stuff I get offered. Obviously, a lot will have to do with me family as well. I'm open to anything at the moment. It's interesting -- it's something I've never had as a player, really, I've only always wanted to play for Liverpool and hadn't had to make decisions about different clubs, thankfully.
You are quite the throwback, playing your entire career with one club. What has that meant to you?
JC: It's been a privilege for me, really, to play for one of the biggest clubs in the world, an iconic club, an institution. The club have been great to me, and I hope to finish my career here. That, for me, would be a great achievement.