This month sees Liverpool Football Club reflect on a year since Kenny Dalglish returned to the manager’s position. To say it’s been quite a year is to utter an understatement that deserves a withering look in response! So how has the year been?
This is not a statistician’s report on how many games have been won and lost with the percentage of wins and how many more goals have been conceded or scored. None of that. This is just an overview of an outsider’s perception of how the club has been since his appointment.
It’s worth remembering the context in which he joined the club. The 2010-11 season began under the Hicks/Gillett reign and they had appointed Roy Hodgson to be manager after dispensing with the services of Rafa Benitez following a very disappointing season in which Liverpoool finished seventh in the league. Hodgson’s time at the club, however, was fraught with difficulty from the start. Some did not think he was good enough for the job, and as the months progressed results, performances and fan reactions conspired against him. Under such difficult circumstances every blip got magnified and the pressure on him increased. Even when new owners in FSG took over from H/G there was little positive favour going in Hodgson’s position.
With the Christmas he had, it may seem somewhat inevitable especially with the negative sentiments emanating from fans that his position would soon reach an end and so it did. Much to the joy of many involved with LFC the owners made a savvy move in bringing in Kenny Dalglish to replace Hodgson. His conduct calmed and unified the fractures in the club and a good run in the league saw the club compete for a fifth place finish, only to miss out due to a poor end of season. This was a blip, though, as fans ended the season optimistic about the progress the club could make.
The summer months and transfer dealings would give a big clue as to how the club would progress to join the January purchases of Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez. The purchases of Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Jose Enrique, Charlie Adam and later Craig Bellamy were definitely additions to the squad without necessarily convincing as a whole as to whether they made the squad stronger. (Yeah there’s Doni and Coates, but they are definitely either cover or for the future more than the others.)
At present the club are in sixth place a point behind Arsenal in fifth and five points behind Chelsea in fourth place.
Liverpool have shown in a lot of the games so far this season a lot of efforts on goal without them being converted to actual goals and with crucial points dropped at home to the likes of Swansea, Blackburn and Norwich there have been a few question marks about the cutting edge available in the side.
Luis Suarez for most of the season has been the one likely to cause the most threat in the attacking third and his tireless running, harassing and subsequent silky skills and determination to create goal-scoring chances for himself or others has been a bright spot for the Reds in a season that has really been more solid and consistent, than truly outstanding or devastating. It has been impressive to be able to field a similar looking back five for so many matches seeing Agger and Skrtel develop their partnership whilst Glen Johnson has retained his right back post after early season and arguably the best signing of those that have joined the club Enrique has been something that Liverpool have not had in years – a solid, reliable left back. Only Manchester City have a better defensive record and a lot of that is down to this consistency and before his injury Lucas continued to impress with his displays breaking up attacks from the opposition and starting ones with simple passes.
Yet the game is based on scoring goals and in this area the Reds have not hit top clinical form. Some have suggested that the club should buy a striker in the January window and the name of Darren Bent has been bandied. This I believe to be just press banter to do something with their times to stir up something out of nothing. On paper Liverpool’s attacking options should be more competent than they are at present – Suarez, Bellamy, Carroll, Kuyt and Maxi should be coming up with more than the 24 league goals we’ve managed in 20 games. That is nowhere near the sort of form that will take the club to the promised land of the Champions League, especially with the competitors above finding the net with a regularity that hints at where the Reds should be aiming.
Media tattle as ever has surrounded Andy Carroll’s form and the amount of appearances and goals he has contributed so far to the season. The reason why I won’t get on the bandwagon of slating Carroll is because the style Liverpool has played, especially before the return of Gerrard, has not suited Carroll at all. What he is finding is that it is taking a considerable while to adjust his game to a style that is still evolving from the way Benitez played, to the way Hodgson played, to how Dalglish wants to establish his own ethos on the game. So with that being Lucas and Adam in central midfield, beyond that it hasn’t suirted Carroll’s game. Kuyt isn’t the man to provide the ball in a way that utilises your strengths. The real interesting thing is how Downing, likewise, in as much as he’s worked hard and doggedly hasn’t been bombarding Carroll with chances either.
The play has suited Suarez more than Carroll and it is evidently the case that Dalglish hasn’t unleashed the two of them to work as a striking partnership. I see that in how it’s not a straightforward big-man and little-man combination because Suarez is busy flitting in and out of the wings and Carroll can kinda look a bit lost wanting to know what to do and where to go. Sticking Carroll on his own up front isn’t working too well for him either as he tends to be isolated in that position, though again you’d have thought Bellamy and Kuyt would know how to support him when it came to attacking opportunities.
Stevie Gerrard’s return has been lauded with his impact on the Newcastle game and also the role he played in the recent semi-final match at the Etihad stadium against Manchester City. There is no doubt that he remains a quality player, yet in the same way as it is evidently the case that Dalglish is slowly moving towards life without Carragher, so Gerrard’s injury was a time to establish a system that would make it hard for Stevie G to return. This role has basically come to Adam to play and he has taken it to mean license to try some of the ‘Hollywood’ passes that cross the pitch rather than consider simpler passes that could still set up promising attacks. Likewise on Stevie G on his return has also resorted at times to those glamour passes that impresses for technique but hardly for attacking efficiency.
Yesterday saw another disappointing home performance and a failure to score enough goals to win a football match as we limped to a 0-0 draw against Stoke City. People can talk about the opposition but the whole point of brilliance is to overcome these obstacles.
At the start of the season it was not unreasonable to see Liverpool challenging for a place in the top four. To date many still expect the Reds to challenge for a coveted Champions League place and with a good run there is no reason to believe that cannot be possible. Yet at present, the side looks laboured, lacking in imagination and creativity, more into being industrious rather than being relentless. You cannot afford to rely on one player to instil those key qualities and expect the team to be successful and as yet there is a lot lacking in the Liverpool side. With the steel apparent in all the sides above with the possible exception of Arsenal, there’s nothing to suggest that Liverpool are good enough to challenge for a place in the Champions League, let alone aspirations for a title reign..
I sometimes reflect on if we really are in a better position on the pitch than we were under the two previous managers. I also appreciate that Dalglish is still at the rebuilding stage both in terms of personnel and style. Yet while he rebuilds three of the five clubs above us have already taken significant strides ahead. Those who mock Chelsea’s current position may not be mocking when things click into gear for AVB’s side. Arsenal have gone on a good run of form as well, which is why Liverpool find themselves in the position that they do. Finishing in sixth place this season will not be progress – it will highlight the gap that remains between the club and where it aspires to be.