Liverpool and Kenny Dalglish: Why Now Is Not the Time to Make Major Changes
Frustration, disbelief, cynicism, defeatism and deja vu—it seems every Liverpool fan must have fallen into one of those categories following the defeat at Anfield to West Bromwich Albion, giving a successful return to the ground for Roy Hodgson.
There’s no other way to say it; Liverpool battered West Brom.
And still lost.
The Reds had a majority possession in the first half and created several decent chances, but the second half was pure one-way traffic; a training ground exercise in attack versus defence.
Unfortunately, somehow, yet again, defence won.
After an hour of play at Anfield there looked like there could only possibly be one winner; Pepe Reina was a complete bystander in the second half—though we mustn’t forget his excellent one-handed stop in the first half from Chris Brunt—and watched on as Dirk Kuyt and Jordan Henderson did the now-customary honours in cracking the woodwork, Daniel Agger almost got on the end of a ball across the six-yard box, Andy Carroll headed over the top and Luis Suarez saw goalkeeper, defender and offside flag thwart him time and time again.
But Liverpool still came away with nothing.
A moment of foolishness from Glen Johnson, who was excellent in defence against the Baggies and fairly terrible with the ball at his feet save for one or two crosses, saw West Brom snatch a goal from basically their only chance in the second period, though it might even have finished up 2-0 if Shane Long had decided to turn and shoot when one-on-one with Reina instead of inexplicably passing back and outside of the penalty area.
Has Kenny Dalglish really blown it—has he led the team to a worse position than before he arrived?
Well, no, and yes.
The Reds were 12th when Kenny took over, so clearly we’ve stayed above that level. But after finishing sixth last season, the expectation was there to improve that by at least a single place, and the hope was to improve by at least two places.
Going back a place or two, though…
Losing is hard, no doubt about it. And losing poorly, without fight or application, is inexcusable for Liverpool Football Club.
The games against Bolton away, Sunderland away, Spurs away—they weren’t good enough, for a number of reasons.
But defeats against Wigan, Stoke, QPR, Arsenal and now West Brom?
I wouldn’t have changed too much from those games. Liverpool outplayed their opponents in all of those fixtures, and got nothing to show for it. It has happened too often this season, of course it has, and the results and points gained cannot be excused or repeated in the future.
But changing manager is not a sure-fire way to eradicate those problems. Liverpool were fantastic at times against West Brom, except for the final finish. Can Dirk’s first-half miss be blamed on Kenny? Or can Henderson’s shot hitting the ‘keeper and rolling out, instead of into the back of the net like Reina versus Sunderland?
How many fans, pundits and bloggers were calling for Owen Coyle to take over when Roy Hodgson was about to get pushed? I can think of several relatively “high-profile” people. Little more than a year on, Coyle has less than half a dozen matches to save his team from relegation.
I’m not suggesting he’s become a bad manager, but it certainly offers an indication that things might not have been as smooth as those would have had you believe back in January 2011. Likewise Bolton haven’t ditched him, because they know if they can just get through this term unscathed they can be back challenging for the top half next term.
In the summer, there were plenty of people calling for Andre Villas-Boas to be appointed instead of Dalglish full time; eventually he went to Chelsea instead. Look how that one turned out.
Ralf Rangnick? He was another name “in demand.” He lasted six months at his last club, Schalke, before walking out due to fatigue.
Changing managers does not solve problems, it creates new ones which that manager then has to solve to make the team successful.
Liverpool don’t have massive problems at this point in time, they have a few very specific ones; clearly the first one that springs to mind is the apparent inability of anyone in the team to score goals on a regular basis.
A talented and consistent wide midfield or attacker would also be on the agenda to address, as would better competition on the left side of defence and a clever midfield operator, somebody to pick a pass through a tight defence. Might I add, somebody to pick a pass just like Jay Spearing’s to Suarez in the second half against West Brom…but on a far more regular basis.
The Reds would do far better this summer to add three or four choice players to the squad in key areas, rather than dispense with Dalglish (or move him upstairs, which would essentially be the same thing) and start over anew, just a year and a bit after the last project started.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think John W. Henry, Tom Werner et al will be keen or quick to jettison Dalglish; the removals of Damien Comolli and even Dr. Peter Brukner are a clear enough indication of what is expected and what will be tolerated by the club.
Dalglish will get this summer to bring in further players, though we are yet to see to what price limit he will be able to spend. Next season he will be expected to blend this season’s recruits with a few other new names, and lead them to more success.
A domestic cup, which could yet turn to two cups, gives him credibility and authority with the players who must trust him to lead them back up the table.
Premier League form has not been consistent enough, nowhere near it in terms of results. But the actual football on show, the interplay, link up and movement has ranged from good to superb in most matches. Similarly, when presented with the first choice back five of Reina, Johnson, Jose Enrique, Agger and Martin Skrtel, Liverpool’s defence has been largely excellent, with Lucas still to return.
With both a few improvements and a little more luck—seriously, are Liverpool likely to hit the woodwork 30 times again next season?—in the final third the Reds would quite easily have another 10 points on the board, and while even that would need to be improved it would certainly be a big step in the right direction.
Over the remainder of this season the Reds need to ensure two things: they finish above Everton, and they give everything at Wembley to beat Chelsea in the FA Cup final.
Two trophies in a year is something Liverpool haven’t achieved—excluding Super Cups and the like—in over a decade, and it would be a huge enticement to potential signings this summer to come into a trophy-winning team.
No doubt 100 or more good players can be ruled out without Champions League football to offer, but double that amount and more can only dream of playing for a team with a genuine chance of winning the Europa League trophy. So even a “sideways” move from, for example, Athletic Bilbao, Udinese, Bayer Leverkusen or Sporting Lisbon takes on an appeal when coming to a team who is spending money and on the up.
A building season is always a frustrating one, and there are plenty of things Liverpool could have done differently to make this one a little easier on themselves…but sacking Dalglish is not one of them.
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