With Liverpool’s victory over Norwich bringing them tantalisingly close to a 19th league title and their first in 24 years, David Sheehan, takes a look back at the 1989/90 title winning side, which held off the challenge of a Paul Mcgrath inspired Aston Villa, and assesses which players from today’s side would be worthy of a starting place in that famous side.
Goalkeeper – Bruce Grobbelaar v Simon Mignolet
Oh dear. Can Grobbelaar be even considered for inclusion given his tainted legacy of alleged match fixing? Grobbelaar played every minute of the 89/90 season, keeping 12 clean sheets in the process. Mignolet has also been an ever present between the posts for Liverpool this season, with 10 clean sheets thus far to the Belgian’s name. Liverpool have conceded 44 this season so far compared to 37 for the 89/90 side.
Verdict – Bruce Grobbelaar
Giving the Zimbabwean the benefit of the doubt in relation to the match fixing allegations, his skill on the pitch earns him the nod ahead of Mignolet. Grobbelaar won six league titles in his time at Anfield and is also remembered for his ‘jelly legs’ which helped secure the 1984 European Cup final victory. The Belgian is still establishing himself at Anfield and recent mistakes against West Ham and Norwich have created doubts about his long term future as Anfield’s number 1.
Right Back – Steve Nicol v Glen Johnson
Glen Johnson has always been summed up for me by Tony Cascarino’s quote – “good going forward. You get your £17 million worth then. As a defender, though, he plays like a £500,000 Portsmouth reject“. Steve Nicol made 343 appearances for Liverpool over a 13-year career at Anfield following his signing from Ayr United in 1981. The Scot won five league titles at Liverpool and was part of the European Cup winning side in 1984 (despite missing a penalty in the shoot out against Roma).
Verdict – Steve Nicol
A reliable defender and also able to fill in at right midfield, Nicol was a mainstay in the Liverpool side that dominated 1980s English football. Johnson has undoubted ability in attack which is suited to the ‘false full back’ style currently being played by Liverpool, but question marks remain over his ability to defend.
Centre Half – Alan Hansen v Daniel Agger
A tough break for Agger to be up against a Liverpool legend. Hansen lifted the title as captain at the end of the 89/90 season – his last season in a 13-year career at Anfield. The Scot is widely regarded as one of the greatest Liverpool centre halves ever for his ability to bring the ball out of defence to set the team on the attack. Agger’s season has been interrupted by muscle injuries this year and currently finds himself out of the team following his latest return from injury.
Verdict – Alan Hansen
Hansen won eight league titles at Liverpool and in 1990 became the first outfield player to win league titles in three different decades. Agger has proven himself a capable centre half at Anfield, however, Hansen cannot be overlooked given his trophy haul.
Centre Half – Glen Hysen v Martin Skrtel
Hysen was signed at the beginning of the 89/90 season to provide cover at centre half given concern over Hansen’s long term fitness as he approached the end of his Anfield career and began to succumb to persistent knee injuries. However, the Swede’s ability saw him establish himself as part of a defensive partnership with Hansen, keeping Gary Gillespie on the bench for most of the season. Martin Skrtel’s form has been sensational this season, particular in attack, where he has scored seven league goals – the biggest total by a Liverpool defender since Emlyn Hughes.
Verdict – Markin Skrtel
While rumours of a move away from Anfield to link up with former boss Rafa Benitez persisted during the summer, Skrtel has been an ever-present at the heart of the Liverpool defence since replacing Kolo Toure for the home fixture against Man United in the third round of fixtures this season. His threat from set pieces has been an added bonus for the reds.
Left Back – Steve Staunton v Jon Flanagan
Staunton and Flanagan offers a tough comparison – Staunton was also 21 as he filled the left back position in the 1989/90 season. Flanagan has established himself as first choice this season in the enforced absence of regular left back Luis Enrique. Staunton was a consistent performer in the 89/90 season, on the back of his solid performances in the FA Cup winning season the year before. Flanagan provides a local link for this Liverpool side, having grown up in the shadow of the home stadium.
Verdict – Steve Staunton
A tough call but the Irishman gets the nod. He was sold too early by Graeme Souness as he took over the following season and went on to have a successful career with Aston Villa and the Republic of Ireland. Flanagan’s performances have been outstanding this season, but it is too early in his career to force himself in ahead of Staunton.
Right Midfield – Ray Houghton v Raheem Sterling
Sterling’s form has been a revelation this season for Liverpool and on the back of a match-winning performance against Norwich, he has been described as the best young player in Europe right now by Brendan Rodgers. Houghton spent five seasons at Anfield from 1987 to 1992, winning two league titles and two FA Cups. An industrious right winger, who often provided assists when cutting in from the right, Houghton also established himself in the Republic of Ireland team during his time at Anfield.
Verdict – Raheem Sterling
Pace will always frighten defenders and Sterling ‘s speed is electric when he is allowed space to run in to. His form is likely to see him start for England in the coming World Cup in Brazil.
Centre Midfield – Steve McMahon v Steven Gerrard
McMahon was Liverpool’s midfield enforcer in the late ’80s and early ’90s and has the distinction of being Kenny Daglish’s first signing when he signed for Liverpool in September 1985. Bought to replace Graeme Souness, McMahon was to have a successful career at Anfield, winning three league titles and two FA Cups, including the 85/86 Double. Gerrard has often carried the team on his own over the course of his Liverpool career. His performances against Olympiakos and AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League have already gone down in Anfield folklore, while the FA Cup final of 2006 has become know as ‘The Gerrard Final’.
Verdict – Steven Gerrard
Gerrard has re-invented himself as a deep lying midfielder this season and has firmly been the club’s leader during the title run-in. If Liverpool can see out the season as champions, his impromptu on-pitch huddle after the victory over Man City will further cement his status as a Liverpool legend.
Centre Midfield – Ronnie Whelan v Jordan Henderson
Whelan was an integral part of Liverpool’s dominant side of the 1980s , winning six league titles during his 15-year spell at Anfield which ended in 1994. A creative and goal scoring midfield player, Whelan scored the winner in two League Cup finals and also formed part of the treble winning side of 83/84 which won the league cup, league title and European cup. Jordan Henderson has been a vastly improved member of Liverpool’s charge to the title this season. Almost sold by the club in Brendan Rodgers’ first transfer window in charge as a makeweight in the pursuit of Clint Dempsey, Henderson has developed over the past two seasons to become a Liverpool regular. As Steven Gerrard has moved further back the pitch, it is Henderson’s high energy style which is setting the tempo of the Liverpool midfield.
Verdict – Ronnie Whelan
Henderson is unlikely to match Whelan’s trophy haul during his Anfield career. The Irishman was a central figure in the early part of the Jack Charlton era with the Republic of Ireland and is remembered for scoring one of the finest ‘shinned’ volleys in international football against the USSR.
Left Midfield – John Barnes v Philippe Coutinho
John Barnes finished as Liverpool’s top scorer in the 89/90 season with 22 goals and secured his second league title with Liverpool that season. A silky left winger and dead ball expert, Barnes later converted to central midfield under Roy Evans. He completed 10 seasons in total at Anfield, achieving iconic status with the fans for his role in the ’88 and ’90 league winning sides and the ’89 side which won the FA Cup and narrowly lost the league to Arsenal. Coutinho has settled into his role as the creative force in the Liverpool side in his first full season at Anfield. Signed from Inter Milan in January 2013 for £8.5m, the Brazilian has proved a coup for the Anfield side at that price and has forced his way back into the Brazilian national side this season. Coutinho has provided eight assists this season to his colleagues.
Verdict – John Barnes
22 goals from left wing is a phenomenal achievement. Barnes’ skill deserved more than the two league titles he finished with at Anfield. Coutinho has progressed well in his second season with Liverpool and will be an important part of Liverpool’s ability to unlock defences in next season’s Champions League.
Striker – Peter Beardsley v Daniel Sturridge
Beardsley arrived at Anfield from Newcastle in the summer of 1987 along with Barnes and Houghton. With the sale of John Aldridge to Real Sociedad a few weeks into the 89/90 season, Beardsley established a partnership with Ian Rush in Liverpool’s 4-4-2 formation. Beardsley scored 10 goals in 29 games before losing his place to on-loan Israeli striker Ronnie Rosenthal in the closing weeks of the season. Sturridge has been prolific for Liverpool this season scoring 20 league goals in the campaign so far. His ‘SAS’ partnership with Suarez has terrified defences. However, Sturridge can be frustratingly wasteful in front of goal and can infuriate his playing partners.
Verdict – Peter Beardsley
Sturridge is unlucky to lose out in a season where he has scored 20 league goals, however, one gets the feeling that Liverpool’s tally of 96 league goals so far would be even higher if they had the benefit of Beardsley’s talents to create and finish.
Striker – Ian Rush v Luis Suarez
The hardest call. Suarez is likely to win the individual player accolades at the end of the season and has been the driving force in Liverpool’s charge on the title. Suarez has scored 30 league goals despite missing the first five league games of the season and not taking a single penalty. Rush is Liverpool’s all time leading goalscorer with 346 goals and won five league titles at Anfield. He was also part of the 1981 and 1984 European Cup winning sides and won the European Golden Boot in 1984.
Verdict – Luis Suarez
The Uruguayan has been the standout player in the Premier League this season and in addition to his goals has contributed an astonishing 25 assists – more than double the total of his nearest rival.
Manager – Kenny Dalglish v Brendan Rodgers
Verdict – Kenny Dalglish
Despite the amazing upturn in Liverpool’s fortunes that Brendan Rodgers has engineered, ‘the King’ still gets the vote. Dalglish captured three league titles in his five full seasons as Liverpool manager, adding a further two FA Cups including a Double in the 85/86 season. His role as the public face of the club following the Hillsborough disaster, attending the majority of the 96 funerals, furthered enhanced his legacy with Liverpool fans.
Liverpool 2013/14: 4
Liverpool 1989/90: 8
David Sheehan, Pundit Arena.