Thursday, 13 May 2010

End of Season Awards

Believe it or not, despite the torrid nature of this incredibly disappointing season there were a few bright sparks who shone out through the darkness of the turmoil that has surrounded and engulfed the Reds during the past 10 months.

In this blog I will be assessing the performances of the players, and awarding the titles of "Player of the Season" and "Young Player of the Season."

Player of the Season

There is simply no doubt about this one. It has to be Pepe Reina. The Spanish stopper has been on top form once again this season, and without him Liverpool would have suffered badly at the back.

Time and time again Reina has put in flawless performances, allowing the Reds a firm foundation on which to build. His shot stopping has been excellent, and his abilty on the ball means that in many matches he acts like a sweeper, clearing any potential danger before it has time to develop.

At Anfield especially he is often untested for vast periods of play, and yet he has such a high level of concentration that he manages to make crucial point winning saves which lesser keepers would fail to make.

A brilliant example of this was when Fulham travelled up to Merseyside in the middle of April. Roy Hodgson's men parked the metaphorical bus and refused to budge for the whole 90 minutes. Although their style of play was boring and extremely defensive, it was effective as they became the first team to stop Liverpool scoring at home all season. During injury time the Cottagers had their first effort on target, however Reina was more than up to the task as he produced an instinctive stop to beat away Damien Duff's driven strike.

If that goal had gone in then not only would it have cost Liverpool a point, it almost certainly would have also led to the destruction of team morale, leading to even poorer results at the business end of the season. As the old saying goes, "Kill a butterfly in the past and it could dramatically change the future."

Reina has played so well this season that despite of the fact that we have had to rotate our back four time and time again due to injuries to various players, his startling displays have meant that Liverpool have the third best defensive record in the Premier League.

Moreover, he received the Golden Glove award for the fourth time during his spell at Liverpool, as a result of keeping the joint highest amount of clean sheets. Pepe has now achieved that magnificent achievement in four out of the five seasons he has been at Liverpool.

The Spaniard outshone all of his teammates this season with his consistently top draw displays, however a couple of others also had good seasons. Javier Mascherano had a shaky start to the season as he worried over whether Argentina could scrape into the World Cup, however once Maradona's men had secured qualification Masch reverted back to his old self, giving 100% every game and throwing himself into tackle after tackle, showing full commitment to the cause. His domineering performances in the middle of the park meant that when he was moved to right back to cover for the injured Glen Johnson, although Mascherano performed relatively well (with the notable exception of the Chelsea game) Liverpool missed his voracity in the centre of midfield, and failed to control matches in the same manner as we had done before.

Fernando Torres played well this season as well, even though injury denied him the opportunity to really push on and help Liverpool's charge for Europa League glory and a fourth placed finish. The 26 year old scored an impressive 22 goals in 32 appearances this season, easily surpassing his closest rivals for the title of Liverpool's top scorer. Steven Gerrard had one of the worst seasons he has ever had in a Red shirt, yet still managed 12 goals, whilst Dirk Kuyt's form deviated significantly from the sublime to the ridiculous. Nevertheless, the Dutchman scored 11 times.

Overall, there is no doubt that Reina was by far the best performer this year. Unlike the Tories, he managed to collect an overwhelming majority of 75% of the vote in the official website's online poll to determine who the fans player of the season was. Thankfully Reina has recently signed a new 6 year deal, which will keep him at Anfield until 2016.

As well as securing the services of one of the world's best goalkeepers for the next 6 years, this deal could prove to a crucial sign to supporters that things are looking up. Reina could walk into any other team in the world, so for him to sign a long term contract with Liverpool must surely mean that fresh investment is just around the corner.

Young Player of the Season

There was little doubt about this decision either. Not only has Lucas been by far our best young player this season, he has also been one of the best and most consistent perfomers in the whole of the squad.

Lucas has been unfairly set up as a scapegoat by many supporters. They seem to think that he is the root cause of all of the team's problems, when nothing could be further from the truth. These are the type of people who display the full extent of their footballing knowledge by posting comments along the lines of "Rafa, drop Lucas and we will start winning. It's that simple" onto Facebook and other social networking sites.

The truth is that Lucas has played superbly well this season, and has been the second most consistent performer this season, behind the simply excellent Pepe Reina. The 23 year old Brazilian has stepped up to the plate this season, putting in some excellent displays that have won other many doubters. His passion and thirst for a tackle are evident every time he plays.

Also, his passing has improved greatly, with many of his passes in the Xabi Alonso ilk. His long through ball for Torres winner against Blackburn was fantastic whilst his wonderful lofted pass to play through Babel to score our fourth away to Burnley was out of the top draw, however his best, and most important pass this campaign was in the second leg of the semi-final against Athletico Madrid, where he kept his cool to play an intelligent chipped ball to Yossi Benayoun, who had the space and time to score our second.

Due to injury many other youngsters have been thrown into the team this season. Martin Kelly put in a man of the match display at home to Lyon in the Champions League, whilst Stephen Darby performed solidly when he was selected to face Reading at the Madejski Stadium.

Many fans have been calling for the inclusion of Dani Pacheco, however his involvement has been restricted to a few substitue appearances. The most significant of these came at home to Unirea in what was our first game in the inaugural Europa League. Pacheco added life to our attacking play, and even managed to bag an assist as he cleverly set up Ngog, who headed home from yards out.

That leads me nicely to David Ngog. The former PSG player has had some big boots to fill for large parts of the season as he has regularly filled in for the often injured Fernando Torres. Ngog has scored 8 goals in 24 appearances this season, a vast improvement from his 3 goals in 19 appearances during the previous season. Although he still has a long way to go, if he continues to develop at this rate then he could be a vital part of our future.

Lucas has been a key performer for us this season, and deserves recognition for what has been an encouraging season. He must now go on and prove his abilty by having an even greater impact next season, when Liverpool will need all players to be performing at 100% for the majority of the season if we are to have any hope of even challenging for number 19.

Finally, congratulations to both Pepe and Lucas. Let's just hope that we have more candidates for both player and young player of the season next year...


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