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Liverpool & Roma’s job is only half-done. Consistency & sustainability now key


7th place with 61 points. 6th place with 62 points. That is what Liverpool & Roma’s 2012/13 league position spelled. The unpleasant factor in that is that it wasn’t even a surprise. Both these traditionally competitive clubs had fallen well off their high horse and into uncharted territory, with the risk of near perpetual mid-table obscurity.

Both have now found their feet, and certainly the club’s ideology, as they rescued themselves from a faltering status and emerged as shock contenders, league leaders and eventual runners-up in their respective leagues. But while fans and management can certainly chuckle at their success, their happiness should be no more than that. To have achieved their remarkable league positions is quite incredible, but the job is only half done. The rest test begins now to ensure this season’s efforts weren’t in vain.

Failure to carry forth from the successful period

Both the clubs have had their fair share of similar success as this season has produce. Roma faced a period of significant success with constant title challengers and European adventures where they fared above average more often than not. Back-to-back domestic trophies helped keep their reputation running, but a few months of struggles saw them part ways with Luciano Spalletti, and they failed to really recover. A second place finish did follow under Ranieri, but since Spaletti left mid-way the 09-10 season, Roma have had 7 different managers at the helm, including current tactician, Rudi Garcia.

They tried their hand with different sets of managers with young coaches like Montella and Enrique being given the opportunity, while experienced head Zdenek Zeman was offered a return to the club. None were successful at lifting the club again, none stayed past more than a season.

Liverpool experienced their most successful seasons in recent memory when they lost out on the Premier League by 4 points to Manchester United and an impressive Champions League showing as well. But a poor transfer window where they lost their most important player in Xabi Alonso, failed to adequately add to the squad and failure to realise the need for tactical alteration has seen them fail season after season, until stumping up a recovery this season.

While Roma should have stuck with Spalletti, Liverpool too were probably guilty of replacing Benitez too soon. They had built the foundations, found success in the past, but were replaced at the slightest whiff of failure. And therein lied the mistake. Liverpool struggled with an inept Hodgson, found pride under Dalglish but little success and have now found a leader in young Rodgers.

The failures of those two season’s must remain as lessons for both the clubs. Similar errors can so easily occur; and if the fans aren’t able to get that message across to the management, captain’s Steven Gerrard and Francesco Totti most certainly will.

Belief in the managers, and their approaches

If there’s one factor which both Liverpool and Roma are being given unanimous praise for without any real opposition, is the tactically brilliance of their systems, and thus their managers. Both have found success with their tactical approaches and have rightly been recognised for it.

The Northern Irishman has been more than happy to implement tactical variations, trying a 3-5-2 at some points of the season before shifting to a 4-3-3 towards the end, away from his philosophy of a 4-2-3-1. But his dependence has largely been on a core set of players who he has required throughout the season. A small squad of just 13-14 ‘relevant’ players. Rudi Garcia on the otherhand, has stuck largely to the 4-2-3-1 formation, and it’s slight variations. But unlike Rodgers, he has had to change his side around multiple times opting for a different players especially in wide areas and up-front.

What is evident with this is that both managers are aware of the need for tactical versatility to be successful. Rodgers & Garcia certainly know their tactical systems, and fans of both clubs should be at peace they have the knowledgeable men in charge.

Now what is crucial from the club’s point of view is to keep their belief firmly in these managers. Like Benitez & Spaletti before the, both Rodgers & Garcia have laid the foundation in their early years at the helm. To find success, they need to be allowed to continue their plans, continue to implement their ideologies, and above all, need to be afforded patience to find success. Despite the success of the present campaign, chances remain of a less than impressive 2014/15 season the aftermath of which shouldn’t result in replacements. The true test for Brendan Rodgers & Rudi Garcia starts next season, with pressure to build on their success, to deal with expectations and contend with the added burden of Champions League football.

You would have to expect the fans to stick behind the men, one can certainly hope they do, but the management too need to realise the importance of a long-term strategy, after failing to do so in recent seasons.

Interestingly, Rudi Garcia was voted Manager of the Season by readers of Outside of the Boot in the Serie A 2013/14 End of Season Awards, while Brendan Rodgers took the same honour in the Premier League version.

Failures & transition period for rivals; pressure on next season

Both the Premier League and the Serie A faced chopping and changing for most of the clubs. Manchester City, Chelsea & Manchester United all found themselves with new management, as did Everton and eventually into the season – Tottenham Hotspur. While Juventus were well equipped with Conte in charge, both Milan clubs were struggling with Inter appointing a new boss and Milan eventually parting ways with Allegri. Napoli too had a new managerial appointment (as did Roma too).

The stage was perfect, more so for Liverpool than Roma, to take advantage. While challenging City & Chelsea was always going to be a tough ask, Liverpool did remarkably well, benefiting from the lack of European football and taking full advantage. United’s failure and consequent fall from the top four opened up some space for the Reds, while impressive seasons for Arsenal & Everton didn’t directly hinder Liverpool in the last two months or so.

AC Milan, like their fellow continental powerhouse Man United, had a miserable season which may also end in no European football. Napoli will be disappointed at not progressing from the platform they set last season, despite the cup triumph. Inter’s revival is still in transition, with the likes of Fiorentina and Lazio surpassing them. Thus both sides took advantage at the right moment, a weakened transitional phase for their rivals.

Having said that, Inter have improved to a certain degree, Benitez will certainly look to progress in his second season, Fiorentina have set the foundation too while you can’t expect any thing else from Juventus besides going from strength to strength. In England, Man City & Chelsea are near assured top four finishes, United will look to come back strongly in a European-less season, Arsenal will need to do better or risk further stagnation while Martinez can certainly improve Everton.

The transitional period was taken advantage of, maintaining that when their rivals return is what Roma & Liverpool need to deal with. From 6th/7th to runners-up is a remarkable achievement, one they did without any burden. But the pressure of maintaining performance and dealing with rising rivals is a whole new ball game for both sets of players.

Investments are required to build on the success

Liverpool owners, FSG (John Henry & Tom Werner) have a good relationship with Roma owner James Pallotta. Both sets of owners are held in high regard back in their home town of Boston with their ownership of the two main sports franchises in the city – Boston Red Sox (owned by FSG) & Boston Celtics (of which Pallotta is a shareholder). It is with this close connection that the two clubs will once again have a friendly in Boston this summer. You’d have to expect both sets of owners to have a discussion, boast on their respective football club’s success and most likely, follow similar philosophies for their clubs.

FSG & Palotta will realise the importance of investing, significantly but smartly, in the transfer window. Reinforcements are needed if they are to build on the success of this season and make a decent case for themselves in Europe too. Roma & Liverpool impresses with small squads, and many of the players aren’t worthy of a Champions League club. This wasn’t as evident without European football.

But what the likes of Juventus, Manchester City & Chelsea have above Roma & Liverpool is the strength in depth. This was clearly lacking in both the sides. The manager’s tactical versatility will certainly go in tandem with more options in the squad. Both sets of management would be wrong to blind themselves with the success of this season, and believe that they can go again with the same squad next season. Not the place to make predictions but Liverpool & Roma can’t replicate the success of this season unless squad improvements are made.

Thus we see a similar point in the history of Liverpool & Roma. From a neutral viewpoint, it’s good to see both these clubs back in the Champions League.  While the easy bit has been taken care off, the job remains half-done. Consistently replicating these performances and sustaining themselves at the top was far more important than winning their respective leagues. A crucial summer window (isn’t it always?), a memorable upcoming season, but one of the most vital one’s in the club’s history.

Sami Faizullah

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