Evaluating talent on the books and figuring out who might improve the squad is a standard first task for any new Reds boss, but Rafa Benitez found a series of additional complications on his hands when he took office in the summer. 2004.
Yes, Liverpool had at least qualified for the Champions League qualifiers this season thanks to a fourth place in the Premier League in Gerard Houllier’s last campaign in charge.
But the Spaniard’s preparations for the vital two-legged game against Austrians AK Graz, which could seal the Reds’ return to the top of European competition, have been hampered by the kind of transfer saga any club can do without. .
Just days before Liverpool’s opener at Tottenham, Michael Owen was left on the bench for the away game in Graz to avoid him being tied for cup as Real Madrid tried to ‘take England’s star striker to the Bernabeu.
A double strike from Steven Gerrard in Austria meant Liverpool had one foot in the Champions League group stage, but later that week the Reds traveled to London the day before the opening game of the Premier League season at White Hart Lane, Owen’s transfer to Real Madrid for a skinny £ 8million plus squad player Antonio Nunez – the forward was only a year away from the end of his contract with Anfield – has been confirmed.
It was a blow to Benitez’s hopes of getting off to a good start, with the timing of the deal just weeks before the end of the summer transfer window and Madrid’s intransigence in rejecting Liverpool’s wish for Fernando Morientes to be part of the transfer hindering the new manager’s will to adequately strengthen his strike force.
Matchday 1’s 1-1 draw at Spurs saw a first goal for new £ 14million striker Djibril Cisse, who arrived this summer from Auxerre, but it was a deal that had been struck during reign from the previous coach and was another tricky problem Benitez would do. have to face.
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The future of club captain and midfielder general Steven Gerrard was also starting to become a subject of speculation in the media and the sight of his international teammate leaving for foreign shores in hopes of earning silverware added. further pressure on the desire of Benitez and the club. to resume an upward trajectory pronto.
Spain full-back Josemi had been the only other notable summer arrival besides Cissé but, just 24 hours before Benitez’s first game at Anfield as coach against Manchester City, a double transfer was announced that would have a significant impact on the Spaniard’s first season. and beyond.
Liverpool completed the signings of Xabi Alonso of Real Sociedad for £ 10million and Luis Garcia of Barcelona for £ 6million on August 20, 2004, two 23-year-old players relatively unknown in England at the time, but a pair who, the following May, allegedly both wrote their names down in Anfield folklore.
Delighted with his double signing, Benitez said: “Xabi is very smart.
“He’s good with long and short passes. He has more talent than strength. He’s smart and will play well.
“He will give us more possibilities in the midfield.
“Last season Luis scored seven goals for Barcelona which was the best score of any player for him in La Liga.
“He played for me in Tenerife on the left wing and scored 16 goals. He comes here as a player whom the coach knows very well.
“He will give us more possibilities in attack and it’s important to have this kind of player in Liverpool. He’s a different player than what we have right now. ”
The two new boys made their debuts the following weekend as the Reds traveled to Reebok Stadium to face the Bolton Wanderers, but it wasn’t the most auspicious start for either.
Kevin Davies’ 38th-minute goal proved to be the winner, with Garcia having a hard-scored second-half equalizer for offside and Alonso gave a whirlwind introduction to the rugged nature of the England midfielder against the accusations by Sam Allardyce.
Within weeks however, the Anfield crowd had enjoyed their first looks at the new Spaniards and very much loved what they saw.
A pair of 3-0 wins two weeks apart against West Brom and Norwich saw grown men pass out in the stands and whisper softly about Jan Molby after witnessing the reach of the passing Alonso while Garcia warned of his scoring ability by finding the net in both games.
In early winter, Alonso began to quickly point out what he could bring alongside Benitez, following his first goal for the club – a deflected free-kick at Fulham as the 10-man Reds (after the expulsion de Josemi) recovered from two goals. at half-time, with a sensational debut goal at Anfield as the Arsenal champion – beaten just once in their previous 54 league games – was beaten by Neil Mellor’s long-range last-minute strike.
The jury was still out for some Kopites on Garcia however, with the little Spaniard’s talent for finding the net being hampered by the fact that he still accepts the physicality of English play and his habit of sometimes losing the ball trying out movies and movies. innovative tips.
His turning point came in the Anfield derby of March 2005. Liverpool had chased David Moyes’ Everton in pursuit of fourth place – and a Champions League spot – for much of the campaign and, after being beaten by Lee Carsley’s goal at Goodison on last December, they knew the victory at Anfield was key to their hopes of recovering the Blues as well as their own self-confidence, as the Reds were drawn to face Juventus in the quarterfinals. Champions League final just two days before Anfield. strong test.
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Benitez’s men started the game as if they knew they had a point to prove and established a two-goal lead in half an hour thanks to a free kick from Steven Gerrard and Garcia showing his vigilance in reacting the faster after Fernando Morientes’ long-range strike. buckled up against the bar to nod in a second.
Everton’s ‘tough’ approach, however, forced Liverpool to make three substitutions before half-time and when Garcia also received a heavy blow shortly before the break there were fears the Reds would have to fight ten men. .
Garcia reappeared for the second half, clearly hampered by injury but determined to help see his team over the line in such a crucial game, and proved to those who had questioned his stomach for the fight when the Chips were really low what it really was, the Reds finally managed to come in 2-1 at the end after Milan Baros was sent off in the second half.
Garcia has become Liverpool’s European talisman this season and, having already scored three times in the two innings in the 16 champions’ last win over Bayer Leverkusen, won a lavish long-range volley as the Reds knocked out Juventus in the quarterfinals to reach the last four.
As Jose Mourinho will never forget, the little Spaniard was then responsible for arguably the most controversial goal of Anfield’s all time as he steered the ball towards Chelsea’s net at the start of the second leg and, Thanks to a combination of the local crowd and the Slovenian match officials, Liverpool were heading to the final in Istanbul and a chance for footballing immortality.
Meanwhile, Alonso had had a rough start to 2005, having his leg broken by Frank Lampard in Chelsea’s New Year’s Day Premier League win at Anfield, and making his return to the Stadio delle Alpi as Liverpool pulled off the goalless draw they needed against Juventus to reach. Champions League semi-finals, only to be denied the chance to play in the biggest game of his life so far – the return leg at Anfield – by Eidur Gudjohnson’s theaters in the first leg at Stamford Bridge, which allowed him to take a reservation and a game suspension.
However, thanks to Garcia’s winner at Chelsea, Alonso got the chance to play in the Istanbul final and when he stood 12 yards from goal in the Atatürk Stadium with the chance to incredibly bring Liverpool down to three goals against AC Milan, who was at his side as he reacted to Dida’s initial save on the kick?
His signing pal Luis Garcia who would have been on hand to complete the rebound if Alonso’s left foot hadn’t arrived first.
Just over an hour later, they were both clinging to Champions League winners’ medals to raise the curtain on a memorable first season at Anfield for them and their compatriot in place of the manager.
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