Can England get out of their 2014 World Cup group?

After England were drawn with Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica in the ‘Group of Death‘ for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, I asked a few people on the streets of Preston whether they thought they could progress or not.

The people I asked weren’t rife with optimism, with the general thought being that England will have to rely on their attacking players, such as in-form Daniel Sturridge who has scored 11 goals in 14 games this season, to cover their defensive frailties. The Three Lions have put in poor performances at recent major championships, so it is understandable for even the most die-hard of fans to be wary.

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Liverpool 2012/13 season – the final verdict

Unfathomable. That sounds like a good word to describe the 2012/13 season of the once mighty Liverpool FC. After suffering in obscurity for the past few seasons since the departure of fan favourite Rafa Benitez, the Reds look like they might be on their way back to the big-time.

The sacking of Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish was met with some disdain by the Anfield faithful, but wasn’t too surprising. Dalglish brought home the Carling Cup with a thrilling penalty shootout victory over Cardiff City, Liverpool’s first trophy since the FA Cup in 2006. He also lead the team to the FA Cup final against Chelsea, however the Blues prevailed 2-1.

Unfortunately for Anfield’s favourite Scotsman, he could only guide the team into 8th position in the league, their worst finish since the 1993/94 season. This wasn’t considered good enough by owners FSG (Fenway Sports Group), and they showed Dalglish the door. Of course, minutes after the news broke that he was gone, rumours of who the new manager was going to be flew around.

Martinez. Benitez. Mourinho. Just 3 of the names tossed around on various betting websites and Twitter. Martinez, Wigan Athletic manager, was even photographed in Miami talking to FSG owner John W. Henry, sparking speculation that a deal was just around the corner. Benitez, on the other hand, had his odds down to 1/2 at one point. Soon other names began to pop up, including Van Gaal and eventual successor Brendan Rodgers.

Rodgers had guided newly-promoted Swansea City to an impressive 12th place in their debut in the Premier League, using his philosophy of passing football to play around teams they had no right to get a result from. This earned him plaudits from across the footballing world, and caused Swansea City to be hailed “the next Barcelona” by many pundits.

In June 2012, Rodgers was officially hired by Liverpool. The response from fans was mixed, to say the least. Some fans were happy at the appointment, hoping a young manager would be able to create a legacy at the club, in the same way Ferguson did at Man United, or Paisley did at Liverpool. Some fans were sceptical, hoping that a new manager would get them back to the big time, but also wary of his lack of managing experience.

Other fans, safe to say, were not happy. They thought his season at Swansea was a fluke and that his age would mean he wouldn’t be able to gain respect from players, in the same way that Andre Villas-Boas had failed to garner any during his short tenure at Chelsea.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at how the season panned out for Liverpool FC.

When I look back to the first 5 games of the season, only one word springs to mind: poor. All the positive energy surrounding the appointment of Rodgers was duly wiped away with a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of a superb West Brom. This was followed up with a 2-2 draw at home to champions Manchester City, which could have been won by either side, but was a massive improvement from the Reds.

The next game was an awful 2-0 loss at home to Arsenal, and another poor performance mean they could only escape with a point at Sunderland in a 1-1 draw. Then came the big one: Manchester United at home. The game was effectively done just 39 minutes in when Jonjo Shelvey was controversially sent off for a foul on Jonny Evans. Despite falling behind, United outclassed their 10-man opponents and took all 3 points back to Old Trafford.

Finally, after 6 games, Liverpool registered a win with an excellent 5-2 win at Norwich. Carrow Road was the site of a famous Luis Suarez hat trick last season, and this time was no different as Suarez once again registered a 3 goal haul. This was the start of an 8 game unbeaten run for Liverpool, but only 3 of these were victories. Draws against Stoke, Everton, Newcastle, Chelsea and Swansea were intertwined with victories against Reading, which included Raheem Sterling’s first senior goal, and a wonderful victory against Wigan.

The run came to an abrupt end at the hands of Gareth Bale and Spurs, who beat the Reds 2-1 at White Hart Lane. The next 9 games summed up the season, and justified my “unfathomable” comment earlier. A 1-0 win against Southampton was followed up by a superb come-from-behind 3-2 victory at West Ham, in which Shelvey scored the winner playing in the ‘false 9’ role due to Suarez being suspended and Borini being injured. Liverpool then came back down to Earth with a baffling 3-1 home loss to relegation candidates Aston Villa, but restored parity with a 4-0 home victory over Fulham. The match against Fulham marked Stewart Downing’s first Premier League goal and assist for Liverpool.

Another surprising result followed, this time a 3-1 loss at Stoke, but Liverpool then recorded two Suarez-inspired back-to-back 3-0 wins over QPR and Sunderland. A controversial 2-1 win over Conference side Mansfield Town followed, with Suarez being accused of handball during the build-up to his goal. New £12 million signing Daniel Sturridge scored on his debut in that game, and then on his Premier League debut a week later in the 2-1 away loss to Manchester United.

Sturridge then became the first Liverpool player since Ray Kennedy in 1974 to score in his first 3 matches when he scored the fourth goal in a 5-0 drubbing over Norwich City. Back-to-back 2-2 draws followed, away to Manchester City and then Arsenal, both of which games could have been won. Liverpool dominated in both, but couldn’t hold on for the victory in either match. Another dominant performance against West Brom could not be turned into a victory, with Gerrard missing a penalty in a 2-0 loss.

A series of fantastic results came Liverpool’s way over the next 3 games, including their first win against a top half club in the season with a 5-0 win over a short-handed Swansea, who had more than one eye on the Capital One Cup final against Bradford City a week later. This game marked the first goal by new signing Philippe Coutinho.

Luis Suarez scored a hat trick a 2 weeks later to comfortably dispatch relegation threatened Wigan Athletic, and then a very impressive 3-2 win over Spurs followed. A 3-1 loss in their next game at Southampton proved to be the final blip in Liverpool’s season.

Liverpool got revenge at Aston Villa with a 2-1 win in the Midlands, and then a series of draws followed, including 2 0-0s at home to West Ham and away to Reading. The most controversial game of the season came next, a tasty 2-2 draw at home to Chelsea. Luis Suarez scored a 97th minute equalizer, however he probably should not have been on the pitch after he appeared to bite Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic on the arm earlier on in the game. Suarez was subsequently banned for 10 games.

With 23 goals under his belt so far in the season, there were worries that Liverpool would struggle for goals. These rumours were quickly dispelled with an outstanding 6-0 victory at Newcastle United. An entertaining 0-0 draw vs Everton meant that 6th place was all but gone, but Liverpool finished the season in fine form with a Sturridge hat trick destroying Fulham 3-1, and then a Coutinho goal gave Liverpool a 1-0 victory over relegated QPR on the final day, which was the 707th and final game of Jamie Carragher’s illustrious career.

7th place in the Premier League isn’t exactly the return that Liverpool fans wanted, but there were many positive signs that were very encouraging. The coup of Coutinho for a mere £8.5 million from Inter seems like a bargain, as he scored 3 goals and got 7 assists in just 13 games. Another signing, Daniel Sturridge, who scored 10 goals and got 5 assists in 14 games.

During 2013, Liverpool lost just 3 games. This is likely due to the signings of Sturridge and Coutinho, as well as the presence of club legends Gerrard and Carragher who really stepped up during the latter half of the season.

I think the poor showing in the first half of the season can be put down to the players still trying get used to Rodgers’ new style, and also Rodgers’ tinkering of the line up on a weekly basis meant some players were unsettled.

Despite the criticism they received after many poor showings last season, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing had fantastic seasons. Henderson bossed the midfield and showed that there is a successor to Gerrard in the midst, and Downing gave a great option on the wings with his ability to cross and cut inside at will.

Player of the Season: Luis Suarez. Quite simply brilliant in every game he played in. 23 league goals and 30 in all competitions speaks for itself. Not forgetting his 8 assists in the league, he was just inspiring in every game, and he needed to be. After loaning out Andy Carroll to West Ham and losing Fabio Borini to injury early on in the season, Suarez had to be a 20+ goal scorer to give Liverpool any chance of a respectable season.

Overall grade: B-

Started off very poorly, but an outstanding end to the season turned Liverpool from a potential laughing stock into serious top 4 contenders next season.