After reaching our second Champions League final in three seasons, there was an overall sense of excitement heading into the 2007-2008 season. The league progress was hardly progress, finishing 3rd yet again, but further behind the pack, but we were becoming a force in Europe and were no longer just “underdogs.” That said, there were some grumblings without a doubt as the “silly season” (summer) was underway. Supporters were quickly disenfranchised with the ownership duo of Hicks and Gillett, and what on earth was going on with a return of “lack of goals?” With one fell swoop of the pen on July 4th, however, many of these doubts were cast aside. Liverpool FC had just signed Fernando Torres, and it was a signing that was about to completely alter the face of the club. He was expected to be good, but one look at him during pre-season and all of a sudden the supporters were in absolute ecstasy. This kid had ability. LOADS of ability. Pace. Power. A football brain. EVERYTHING. A few weeks later, and we had snapped up Ryan Babel and Yossi Benayoun. Needless to say, things were looking up as we were putting together a deep squad with loads of ability.
After an incredibly strong start, gaining 10 points from the first 12 available, Liverpool were looking like a completely different animal than before. All of a sudden, Gerrard was no longer a one man show. The problem was, though, we were about to hit some misfortune and something called “off-pitch sh**” was about to barnstorm our efforts. After a few poor results (mainly draws), Liverpool found themselves basically out of the running yet again for the title, and three matches into the Champions League had seen us with a solitary point… the losses to Marseille and Besiktas were less than impressive. That’s on the pitch. Off of it, the owners were flirting with Jurgen Klinnsmann, asking him to become manager of Liverpool FC if Rafa didn’t get us into the knockout rounds.
Let’s just say that this made Hicks & Gillette about as popular as a condom machine in the Vatican. The supporters were outraged. How could you even IMAGINE sacking a man who had led us to two CL finals in three seasons, and brought our club from obscurity back into the limelight? Were they that daft? Fortunately, fortunes turned around and Liverpool stormed their way into the knockout rounds, making it all the way to the semifinals where finally Chelsea got the better of us. The league form didn’t improve quite enough, either, and we finished 4th, which wasn’t so great. The form of Torres and Gerrard, however, was spectacular. The two of them lit up the league, and would prove to be the Premiership’s story of the season, with Torres breaking the record for the most goals a foreigner had scored in their first Premiership season (24) and overall in all competitions (33).
The 2007-2008 was sub-par with some quality moments, but unfortunately was littered with too many poor results, particularly against the top teams. Much improvement was needed.
TOP 5 MOMENTS
5) Kuyt, Gerrard, and Torres sink the Italians 3-0 on aggregate.
Inter Milan went into the Round of 16 tie with quite the confidence. They were over 30 matches in all competitions without defeat. Understandably, they felt like they were favorites against a Liverpool side who were struggling in the Premiership and just barely keeping their heads above water in Europe. That all changed once the match started, and they simply couldn’t keep up with us. Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard scored nice goals, but the writing was on the wall with several close Torres chances. In the second leg, up 2-0 already, we defeated them 1-0 thanks to Fernando Torres in yet another performance where we looked like the better team. This result, I feel, is where people finally started saying “look… Liverpool is for real.”
4) 6-0 thrashing over Derby County
For the first time in ages, Liverpool were starting to understand how to play some truly sumptuous football. This was illustrated in a 6-0 thrashing of Derby County where we looked like giants out there… but giants with ability and technical prowess! There were some beauties (Babel’s lovely dummy and curler), some goals earned by hard work and grit (Torres’ first due to Monster Masch’s tackle), some that were of great fortune (Torres’ second, Alonso’s first), and some where we were just too much for them (Alonso’s second, Voronin’s first). A superb day full of excellence from the men in red. Pity it didn’t last…
3) THAT Champions League Quarterfinal Classic. Liverpool 4, Arsenal 2.
There are magical European classics at Anfield that resonate throughout the soul of our great club. St. Etienne in 1977. Chelsea in 2005 and 2007. Auxerre in 1991. Add Arsenal 2008 to that list. This one was special. After being level 1-1 in the first leg at the Emirates, we went into this encounter having basically been battered by any good side in the league. We couldn’t win if our life counted on it. And evidence of that was on show after only 15 minutes, as Arsenal took the lead. Sami Hyypia’s majestic header leveled up the score before halftime, and then 15 minutes after the break Fernando Torres’ sublime turn and finish into the top corner gave us the 2-1 lead. We were sucker-punched moments later after Walcott’s run found Adebayor with an easy tap-in for 2-2, and Arsenal would be through with only 5 minutes to play. But the football gods were on our side, and Gerrard converted a penalty and Babel ran clear though to give us an astounding 4-2 win that will forever live in my heart. WHAT A BREATHTAKING MATCH!
2) Liverpool 8, Besiktas 0
The Reds had lost to Besiktas 1-2 in Turkey, and although we desperately needed a win, nobody expected this sort of response. After 20 minutes, we were on our way. Peter Crouch opened it up, and from there the floodgates opened and there was a red tide that Besiktas just couldn’t deal with. Following the Crouch strike, Yossi Benayoun scored an unlikely hat-trick. Steven Gerrard added a fifth after some lovely interchanges between he and Voronin, and then Ryan Babel stunned the Turks by delightfully backheeling a goal and then scoring one of the luckiest goals in history as the Besiktas defender cleared a ball off of Babel’s side and in! The 8th was capped off as Peter Crouch headed in from a corner, making Champions League history.
1) Fernando Torres
Anything and everything about this kid. He scored two consecutive home hat-tricks, 33 goals, some absolute crackerjacks, and worked extremely hard for the cause. From the moment he signed, you could tell he was going to be something special. In a season where perhaps only a few matches stick out as really excellent, Fernando Torres was a sight for sore eyes… especially when he linked up with Stevie G.
TOP 10 BEST GOALS
10) Torres v. Arsenal (CL)
Sitting at 1-1, and 2-2 on aggregate, it was unknown at the time who would qualify for the semifinals of the Champions League. This was a time for the heroes to step forth, and often times the heroes don’t just score good goals, they score majestic ones in these moments. This was the role of Fernando Torres, and he stepped up to the plate in memorable fashion. The ball fell from the top of Crouch’s noggin and Torres was able to control it with his back to goal, and then managed to find some space and SMACK! Top corner. Lovely goal.
9) Torres @ Derby County
Fernando Torres was at it again against Derby County in December. The opener of the match was a goal from Torres that Darren Moore would probably feel best if soon forgotten. Tough luck, D-Moore. It’s here, and it was excellent. Torres gave Moore the ultimate nutmeg/ankle-breaker combo, and then managed to outwit Leacock and curl it wonderfully into the far corner from 10 yards. It was a goal of pure bliss, quality, trickery, and of course confidence. Typical Torres.
8 ) Fabio Aurelio @ Bolton
Fabio Aurelio may have taken a while to score his first for Liverpool, but it was one that was well worth the wait. Off of the corner from Alonso, the ball fell fortuitously to the left peg of Aurelio, who took a whack at it into the near post corner with some impressive ferocity, not to mention accuracy. The goal just looked so pure and easy… and the reality of it was that this strike would have been sent well over the bar by most players in the world, yet Fab kept his composure and earned his just reward for it. GET IN.
7) Torres v. Newcastle
Ever see the classic Pele maneuver in the World Cup where he dummied the keeper and almost scored? It is a piece of World Cup folklore that footballing people regard as one of the most impressive non-goals they’ve seen. The goal from Torres against Newcastle was about as close to that as I’ve seen, and it was truly lovely. A splendid throughball from Gerrard set it all up, and with just the keeper to beat, Torres inexplicably let the ball continue on its path. Yet, with a dip of his shoulder and hips, Given fell for it and Torres had a tap-in. Wow.
6) Gerrard @ Newcastle
Newcastle were the victims yet again, and this time it was a howlitzer from Gerrard from a free kick about 30 yards out. Gerrard had been booed all match long after England had been knocked out of qualifying for the EUROs. He put the boo-birds into immediate silence with this strike, underlining that nobody hits the ball with such incredible force as Gerrard. The ball was hit accurately into the top corner, sure, but the power in which it was struck is simply stunning.
5) El Zhar v. Cardiff City
Nabil El Zhar has scored one goal for Liverpool… but what a goal. At 1-1 in the League Cup, Liverpool needed a bit more love. So up stepped not-so-frequently used Nabil El Zhar, our diminutive Moroccan winger. Steven Gerrard laid the ball off to him in a seemingly harmless position in the middle of the pitch, and El Zhar didn’t even blink an eye. He just put laces to it and watched it fly in and off of the post. Delightful, confident, and something he’ll never forget. The DJ Spoony impersonation was a nice throw back to Emile Heskey, as well!
4) Torres @ Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough grew to hate Torres in 2007-2008, and this was the beginning of it. Up 1-0 over us, Boro were cruising. In typical fashion over the years, it was as if we had forgotten which boot to put on which foot once we reached the Riverside Stadium. Torres dragged us out of the mire on this particular night, and it was a stunningly powerful hit. Babel slipped the ball into the path of Torres, who despite slipping, found his footing and decided to take a smack at it from a good 25 yards out. The ball flew into the top corner, and with such force that it appeared to hit the post. It didn’t. It was just hit so hard that the ball flew off of the net like it had struck woodwork. What a strike, son!
(watch me!) (by the way, there are a few goals after this one… I’m only talking about the first goal here)
3) Lucas v. Havant & Waterlooville
In a memorable FA Cup tie, Liverpool had been pitted up against the giants of the conference… Havant & Waterlooville. This match could never have produced good things for us, but it started off in nightmare fashion… down a goal! We ended up winning 5-2, and this is largely thanks to a wonder-strike from Lucas Leiva. Lucas had received the ball from Kuyt about 35 yards out, took a few strides in, and unleashed an immaculate curling beauty from 25 yards out into the top corner. This goal screamed “picture book goal.” Very easy on the eye, that one.
2) Babel v. Besiktas
Ryan Babel is a true enigma. There are moments where he is simply unstoppable, and others where his predictability is almost laughable. This was one of those unstoppable matches. He ended up scoring twice in the 8-0 rout over the Turks, but his first (and Liverpool’s sixth) was the real cherry on top of a lovely treat. Benayoun sent in a nice cross into his feet, but since it was a bit behind him he had no choice but to either trap it or… backheel it into net with a neat little flick and a RIDICULOUS amount of accuracy and style points. The goal was basically hand-crafted by God to look perfect. Well done, lad.
(watch me!) (the last few seconds have the best views of the goal)
1) Torres @ Marseille
Fernando Torres is the king of goals, let’s just start there. Next, let’s migrate to a goal he scored in France. Liverpool needed a win to progress into the next round of the Champions League, and we were already up 1-0. He furthered our lead with what was simply a masterclass in dribbling, composure inside the box, and expert finishing. He took a neat pass from Kewell and jinked past what looked like 8 defenders in the box despite having hardly any space and slipped it into the lower corner. A moment of absolute quality, to say the least. This was one of those moments where you just have to stand up and say “he is a god.” End of story.
(watch me!) (push play, even if something else pops up… it will eventually show the video)
TOP 10 MOST IMPORTANT GOALS
10) Torres @ Chelsea
Ultimately this goal brought us into extra time, which we lost, but at the time it seemed to be the goal that could get us that much closer to the third Champions League final in four seasons. Down 1-0, Yossi Benayoun slipped in a brilliant pass to the onrushing Torres, who coolly slipped the ball into the corner for 1-1. In extra time we ended up losing 3-2, but this goal had all the potential to set us up for even more glory. Just goes to show that Fernando Torres shows up for the big occasion, which was incredibly evident in the Champions League knockout stages in this 2007-2008 season.
9) Crouch v. Besiktas
Peter Crouch’s first goal against Besiktas was not just a first in a 8-0 rout. You have to remember that before this first goal, Liverpool had recorded one point in three matches, and was in serious danger of being dumped unceremoniously out of the Champions League and maybe not even into the UEFA Cup. So when he rushed onto a ball and found it fortunately land back at his feet, he was able to strike the ball… right into the keeper. The ball bounced back to him, and he was able to make the easiest of tap-ins! 1-0 it was, and it was the beginning of a rejuvenation that would lead all the way up to the semifinals. No goal from Crouch here, and who knows what would have taken place!
8 ) Gerrard @ Aston Villa
For approximately 5 seasons, Liverpool had gone without a win on the opening day of the season. Heartbreaking results against Chelsea, Middlesbrough, Tottenham, and Sheffield United in the previous seasons had seen Liverpool get in the habit of falling behind right at the starting gun. So when the score became 1-1 with only minutes remaining, it was a sinking feeling of “not again!” Gerrard, though, was up to the task and curled home an unbelievably good free kick into the top corner to send the travelling support (and yours truly at home) into wild celebrations.
6) Hyypia v. Arsenal
Down 1-0 and looking dreadful against Arsenal in the Champions League quarterfinals second leg, Liverpool were in trouble. But when you’ve got a colossus in set-pieces like Sami Hyypia, you can always count yourself capable of getting the goal. And that he did, with a magnificent flying header that crashed off of the upper post and in. 1-1, and a real classic was now underway.
5) Gerrard @ Marseille
The scenario was clear. Liverpool must win, or else the UEFA Cup beckons. So in five minutes, Steven Gerrard writes the script in Marseille. He won the penalty, had it saved, and then smashed in the rebound. It is moments like that that cement Gerrard’s place in Liverpool’s fantastic history. He was always going to score, even if it was saved! We ended up winning 4-0, but Gerrard’s goal was the catalyst.
4) Torres v. Porto
With one and a half matches remaining in the Champions League, Liverpool were at halftime at 1-1, knowing that they must beat Porto to have a legitimate shot of making it out of the group. Fernando Torres was the man to make the breakthrough, charging through the defenders like a bull in a china shop and slamming home a shot into the side netting with an anger and passion that is unrivalled by most stars of his calibre. It was superb on every level, and we went on to win 4-1 on the coat-tails of this strike.
3) Kuyt @ Everton… both penalties.
Any Merseyside Derby is an important fixture, but revenge made this one particularly necessary to do well in. The season before, Liverpool lost 0-3 at Goodison Park, and a similar humiliation would not go down well with the players or the supporters. Down 0-1 to a Hyypia own-goal (which is quite rare), the Reds found themselves up Poop Creek without a paddle. Steven Gerrard won a penalty for the Reds, though, and oddly enough Dirk Kuyt stepped up to take the strike. He took it magnificently, and it was 1-1. In the dying seconds of the match, Phil Neville’s goalmouth hand ball denied a clear Lucas goal, and Kuyt was able to step up to the spot in order to take home the three points in a crucial derby… and he struck it JUST well enough to give us the victory. Cue insane celebrations.
2) Kuyt v. Inter Milan
The home match against Inter Milan was a classic example of complete and utter domination without anything to show for it. Chance after chance fell our way, and chance after chance went begging. But on 85 minutes, this all changed when Dirk Kuyt was found with space inside the 18 with an arrowed right footer that he slammed into the ground and off of Maicon, which deflected into the top corner. The strike was on target, but Kuyt was lucky to score. Lady luck is needed in a lot of big matches, though, so I will take nothing away from him. It was a VERY critical goal in this encounter. Well done, son! You just helped us upset a club who hadn’t lost in over 30 matches!
1) Gerrard (pen) v. Arsenal
What is it about Liverpool and penalties? It seems as if they always come our way in the big moment, and that we always score them. Put one of our lads in an England shirt and that disappears, but put them in the red of Liverpool and the goal seems to have a magnet drawing it towards the back of the net. In this case, Liverpool were at 2-2 against Arsenal and a miss with this penalty after 88 minutes would lead to being knocked out of the competition. With nerves of steel and veins that were flowing with pure ice water, Stevie G tucked away the penalty high into the corner, JUST out of the reach of Almunia. The Kop, Gerrard, yours truly, and millions of Liverpool supporters went absolutely ape. We had done it again!
SIGNINGS AND DEPARTURES
The big story in the summer of 2007-2008 was clearly that of Fernando Torres. It wasn’t the longest courtship, which was nice, and he was signed on within days of the intensified speculation. The signing became an instant success, with Torres playing very well during pre-season and netting many goals right off of the bat.
Other signings in the summer included Lucas Leiva, who was to be eased in, and also Benayoun and Babel. Andriy Voronin came on as a free, which was for the best as it turned out, and we also signed a promising youngster in Emiliano Insua, who was also to be brought on very slowly.
Of all of the transfer summers up to this point for Rafa, you’d have to say that this one was perhaps his best other than his first summer of Garcia and Alonso. And then, to top it all off, he went and got Martin Skrtel from Zenit St. Petersburg. Skrtel has been an incredible success, and it just goes to show that Rafa is starting to nail the whole “good signings” thing.
Departures over the summer of 2007-2008 were quite minimal, as it turned out. Rafa did well to ship out the deadwood, as Craig Bellamy was off to West Ham, Mark Gonzalez found his way to Real Betis, and Bolo Zenden was heading to Marseille. From the category of “nearly legend,” Luis Garcia and Jerzy Dudek were also on their way out, both of whom were heading to Spain. Luis Garcia was a sad departure, but the writing was on the wall as it was clear he did not have a natural position other than Gerrard’s… and he just wasn’t fitting in with the new scheme. He had played his part over the first few seasons, though, and will never be forgotten for the short impact he had with us. Dudek, as well, played a memorable role at the club, saving some incredible shots from Shevchenko in Istanbul, including the last penalty in the shootout. He may not have been the most reliable keeper, but he was a nice bloke and his time at the club will be looked back at with some fondness.
Then there was the departure of Robbie Fowler, who was a surprise signing a year and a half earlier. His time was clearly up, but he was finally able to get the proper farewell on the last day of the 2006-2007 season. His next stop would be Cardiff, and Liverpool were lucky to be drawn against them later in the League Cup!
Come the winter time, we would also say goodbye to Momo Sissoko, who had an incredibly successful first season, but a lack of class became quite evident and it was imperative that we improve on that position. And, on a less climatic note, Cisse’s loan at Marseille came to an end and they signed him permanently. And Paletta left. Nobody noticed.
TOP 5 PLAYERS
5) Javier Mascherano
If Xabi Alonso was not at his best- which he wasn’t- it was imperative that we had some strength in the middle of the park. “Monster Masch” provided exactly that, with a season that earned himself many fans across the world from Liverpudlians and neutrals alike. Though he was not scoring goals very frequently (only the Reading hammer on the record…), he was providing steel and tactical prowess in the middle of the pitch. He controlled the flow of many matches, and was responsible also for allowing Gerrard to press forward and develop that incredible relationship with Torres. Though the stats might not show it, Mascherano was incredibly important towards any success we had in the 2007-2008 season.
4) Jamie Carragher
Jamie Carragher regained some of his confidence in 2007-2008 after a bit of a shaky 2006-2007. Being a bit refreshed certainly helped, as did not starting a season right after a penalty miss that cost your country the World Cup (if you want to be harsh about it), but there was just this sense about Carra that he was more confident this season… other than the opening day handball. Carra’s leadership is not to be underestimated, and his ability to always be in the right place at the right time was also to be commended. He also managed to surpass 500 matches for the club, a record that certainly deserves to be noticed! Well done, Carra!
3) Pepe Reina
Another season of capturing the “golden glove,” and definitely another season of earning the confidence of the players and the supporters. Pepe Reina had a solid season, and was responsible for a crazy amount of our points, making fantastic saves and denying the opposition opportunities with his excellent positional sense and “sweeper keeper” style. Reina’s penalty save over Portsmouth in the beginning of the year was a highlight, but so were performances against the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal throughout the season. There were multiple times where it looked likely for us to get beat, but Reina always managed to keep us in it. Definitely the best keeper the club have had since the days of Ray Clemence in the 1970s. BRILLIANT player.
2) Steven Gerrard
Another productive season from Gerrard, as he scored over 20 goals and notched over 20 assists, to boot! Stevie G’s productivity had a nice little facelift thanks to the arrival of El Nino, but one could also say that Torres benefitted greatly from the exploits of Gerrard. Either way you look at it, both of them are class players that play very well together. Some of Gerrard’s goals in this campaign were sensational, such as long range strikes against West Ham, Newcastle, Aston Villa, Arsenal, Luton Town, and of course that lovely one against Inter Milan. It was a catalog of great strikes from our captain, and he looked like he was discovering the form he had from two years prior.
1) Fernando Torres
Fernando Torres had an unbelievable first season with the club, instantly winning accolades from the supporters and being dubbed the best striker we’ve had at the club since Ian Rush… and given some of the strikers we’ve had since (Owen, Fowler), that is quite the compliment. This compliment was well-deserved, though, as Torres scored 33 goals in all competitions, scored 24 in the league, had three hat-tricks, and scored a multitude of incredibly classy strikes that left yours truly breathless and enthusiastic about our future. Fernando Torres has indeed taken us to that next level. Nice one Rafa… NICE ONE.
TOP 3 FLOPS
3) Jermaine Pennant
The disappointment with Pennant is that he DOES have the tools, but he does not use them often or accurately enough… and his head gets the best of him. Case in point, the Porto match. It was as if he WANTED a red card. He was like a man possessed. The rage on Rafa’s face said it all… “Game Over.”
2) Andriy Voronin
Keeping Voronin at the end of the season was never looking likely. Six goals, MANY appearances, and a lot of frustrating misses and impotence in front of goal. There really isn’t much more I need to say about it. RUBBISH!
1) John Arne Riise
Only a good career saved Riise in the 2007-2008 season, because he was simply dreadful for us in our last season. For a man known for his goals, Riise only scored two… and both of them were in our own net, both in cup competitions that ended in 1-1 draws! Riise will be sorely missed, and has been missed as a character, but his defensive shortcomings certainly are not something we long to have return. That was the problem in 2007-2008, and Rafa knew it.
Top Goalscorers in All Competitions:
(away) 3-0 over Newcastle
(home) 8-0 over Besiktas
(away) 0-3 @ Manchester United
(home) 0-1 v. Manchester United
Games Played/Won/Clean Sheets/etc.:
Clean Sheets: 25
Goals Scored: 119
Goals Conceded: 50
League- 4th with 76 points
Champions League- knocked out in semifinals by Chelsea (4-3 on aggregate)
FA Cup- knocked out in 5th round by Barnsley (lost 1-2)
League Cup- knocked out in 5th round by Chelsea (lost 0-2)