PL25: Stevie G’s Farewell Tour (2014/15)

The 2017/18 season celebrates 25 years of the Premier League. To mark the occasion we’ll be taking a look at some of the more off-kilter moments from each season. Having cruelly seen his dreams of a first Premier League title snatched away in the final weeks of the previous season, and with his contract at the club entering its final year, 2014/15 gave Steven Gerrard one last chance to win a league title with the club he’d given 17 years to. Gerrard’s swansong, however, was far from straightforward.

It was a moment, at the time, that encapsulated the spirit of Steven Gerrard. That most passionate and committed of club captains, who had dragged his side to a Champions League victory nine years earlier, managed to clear his head after a frenetic late victory against title rivals Manchester City, beckon his team-mates into a huddle and utter the immortal words: ‘This does not fucking slip’, Football is a cruel mistress. Two weeks later, in a finely poised match at home to Chelsea, with half-time seconds away, Gerrard collects the ball in his own half and, as he attempts to control it, slips. Chelsea striker Demba Ba races onto the loose ball and tucks it past Simon Mignolet to give Chelsea the lead – they eventually win the game 2-0, the momentum going into the final weeks of the season swings, and Liverpool finish second. They would, indeed, have to go again.

Slip

Recovering from the psychological blow of a failed title challenge isn’t easy, just ask Kevin Keegan, but Liverpool’s chances of going the distance the following season were dealt a severe blow as early as July, when Luis Suarez completed his anticipated move to Barcelona for £65m. Suarez was always destined to leave Liverpool that summer after his contract rebellion in 2013 caused such a stir in the press, and Liverpool were forced to strike a deal whereby the Uruguyan would be free to leave after the 2014 World Cup. A four-month ban from all footballing activity, meted out after the toothy striker bit Giorgio Chiellini during a group stage match, meant that Liverpool would have to adjust to life without Suarez either way, and manager Brendan Rodgers went on a summer shopping spree in the hope of reigniting the flame within his team. £49m was thrown the way of Southampton for the services of Rickie Lambert, Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana, Emre Can and Alberto Moreno arrived for the combined cost of £22m, a further £20m was shelled out on Lazar Markovic (!!!), and the Reds replaced one mercurial nutjob with another as Mario Balotelli arrived to fill the golden shoes of Suarez. The first half of the season didn’t go entirely to plan, as defeats to Aston Villa, West Ham, Newcastle and Crystal Palace among others left Liverpool floundering in 8th by the turn of the year 18 points behind league leaders Chelsea. A leaky defence had seen the Reds drop ten points from winning positions, and without the goals of Suarez, they struggled to land the decisive blow against bottom half strugglers – the 2-2 draw at home to bottom side Leicester, after being 2-0 up, was Liverpool’s season in microcosm. On the plus side, Rodgers had built up plenty of goodwill with the Anfield faithful the previous season and the atmosphere at the stadium refused to turn toxic. On 2nd 2015, however, the news all Liverpool fans had been dreading arrived.

“This has been the toughest decision of my life and one which both me and my family have agonised over for a good deal of time.” Steven Gerrard was to leave the club at the end of the season. Though not particularly surprising, Gerrard was fast approaching his mid-thirties and his impact on games was slowly diminishing, it represented the end of an era for Liverpool. Gerrard had made his debut for the club against Blackburn Rovers in 1998 and established himself in Gerard Houllier’s side that went on to win a cup treble in 2001. Replacing Sami Hyypia as club captain in 2003, the scouser then became the driving force behind Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool side, winning the Champions League and FA Cup in successive years, and producing matchwinning performances in both finals alongside consistently excellent form in the Premier League. Having made over 650 apppearances for the Reds ahead of his announcement, and chipping in with over 150 goals, Gerrard had arguably become the club’s most important player since their 80s heyday. A true modern icon on Merseyside, and a player that the Kop will forever hold dearly. He now had just five months to save his club’s season. Gerrard’s announcement coincided with a spectacular run of from the Reds. Already unbeaten in four, the run from 2nd January to 16th March saw Liverpool play nine times and drop just two points. Wins over Tottenham and Manchester City were the highlights during this unbeaten period, and they rocketed up to fifth in the league, closing the gap on Chelsea to ten points. Next up, Manchester United.

gerrardred

Gerrard had enjoyed some tremendous moments against Liverpool’s North-West rivals, not least in the 4-1 and 3-0 victories at Old Trafford in which he ran both games and could have had a hat-trick of penalties in the latter. For this one he had to make do with a place on the bench, with Joe Allen taking his place in midfield. Having watched his side go a goal down in the first half thanks to Juan Mata, Gerrard emerged from the tunnel for the second half, brought on in place of Lallana. His first involvement was a robust challenge on Mata, before Ander Herrera fouled the Liverpool captain. Clearly fired up for his final game against United, Gerrard retaliated with a stamp and, having been on the pitch for just 38 seconds, was dismissed. In his absence, Liverpool lost 2-1, and their unbeaten run was over. With hopes of a Champions League place fading, the Reds turned their attention to the FA Cup, and the script for a fairytale ending had already been outlined – the final would take place on Gerrard’s 35th birthday, and would offer the captain the perfect opportunity to bow out with another trophy to his name. Unfortunately someone forgot to post the script to Aston Villa, and in the semi-final at Wembley the struggling West-Midlanders caused an upset, as Fabian Delph’s second half goal sent Villa to the showpiece to face Arsenal. Still, Gerrard returned to league action to score a late winner against Queens Park Rangers, and followed it up with an equaliser at Chelsea a week later to keep the Reds in touch with the top four. The chances of them overhauling Manchester United were slim however, and in Gerrard’s final game at Anfield relegation threatened Crystal Palace unleashed a hail of piss over the midfielder’s parade, running out 3-1 winners. And so it came down to the final day of the season, and a low-key, dead rubber with Stoke City. A fifth-place finish was still not assured, with Tottenham hot on the heels of the reds,  but surely a Liverpool side inspired one final time by Gerrard was see the job out? Oh, perhaps not. Stoke turned up to the party like that macho, overly-competitive friend of a friend who always insists on arm-wrestling everyone and completely ruined the day. A first half brace from Mame Biram Diouf was followed by goals from Jon Walters, Charlie Adam and Steven Nzonzi, and somehow the Potters found themselves 5-0 up at half-time. There was still a magical moment to come in the second half as Gerrard raced on to a through ball, Stoke defender Marc Muniesa appeared to give up the chase, and the captain slotted in his final goal for Liverpool. Despite there being only twenty minutes left and a four goal deficit, Gerrard defiantly plucked the ball out of the next and raced back to the half-way line. Sadly there was no miracle comeback, and former teammate Peter Crouch added a sixth for Stoke late on. Spurs won, Liverpool finished sixth, and Gerrard’s farewell tour came to a melancholy end.

Jose Mourinho won his third Premier League title with Chelsea in his second spell, seeing off the limp challenge of Manchester City and Arsenal to win the league with a few weeks to spare. Leicester City, bottom at Christmas, embarked on an incredible run to finish fourteenth, as QPR, Burnley and Hull were all relegated.

chelsea1415

After spending a year at LA Galaxy, Steven Gerrard hung up his boots and returned to Anfield in a coaching capacity. He is currently manager of Liverpool U18s, but he will never be forgotten for the most incredible moment of serendipity in football history. He said ‘This doesn’t slip’ and he LITERALLY slipped. What a sport.

 

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