Liverpool FC: What Kenny Dalglish and the Reds Should Do To Finish the Season
If I see Joe Cole's name on one more Liverpool team sheet, I'm going to lose my mind.
OK, now that's off my chest, let's get down to business.
Liverpool crashed out the Europa League Thursday in tame fashion as the Reds were unable to overturn a 1-0 deficit to Portuguese side SC Braga. Braga held the Reds to a 0-0 draw in the return leg at Anfield, and while Liverpool dominated the possession, they failed to turn it into anything substantial.
Kenny Dalglish and his Reds now have nine Premier League games left in the season to focus on, and it might turn out to be a good thing.
Unfortunately for the Reds, winning the Europa League was the easiest way for them to earn a spot in the competition next year. The only option now is to finish in fifth place, which involves making up six points on Tottenham, who have a game in hand.
So, the Reds may not be playing European football at all next season, barring a serious slip up by Spurs. But that kind of attitude may just propel the Reds into just where they want to be.
Here are five things the Reds should do the rest of the season to ensure it's still a successful one.
1. Mix It Up on the Field
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Liverpool still have a bit to gain from the rest of the season, but they definitely don't have much to lose.
Kenny Dalglish, this is the time to play with what you've got. Put out different formations to see where each of your players fits best. Most importantly, mix up your team sheets.
The Liverpool reserves are riding high these days and have been banging in all sorts of goals.
Give the youngsters a chance. It's better to test them now than in the beginning of a new Premier League season when you'll be hoping to erase the memories of this one.
My feelings toward Joe Cole also apply to Maxi Rodriguez. The Reds need to get a real look at all their players in the remaining games to see who they want to keep next season, who they want to loan out and who they want to forget about completely.
King Kenny started messing with formations the moment he returned to the dugout, so why should he stop now? When Martin Kelly is fit, he can use a three-man back line again and put out either five or six in midfield.
Another formation the Reds certainly have the players to fit is a 4-3-3 with Dirk Kuyt, Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez up front.
Kenny is still missing Steven Gerrard for a few more games, so now's certainly the time to try and pressure teams as much as possible so they don't take advantage of a weaker Liverpool midfield.
Mixing up formations is a good way to see what you're missing. And if that's not already abundantly clear to him, in Kenny's case, that would be a winger and a left back at the least.
2. You Might Want To Prepare for Life Without Pepe Reina
Scott Heavey/Getty Images
Pepe Reina hasn't so much hinted at leaving Liverpool recently as he's just stated that he knows he's good enough to be on the best teams in the world.
Liverpool is obviously one of the best clubs in the world, but it's one going through a bit of a rough patch, and Reina may not want to stick it out, like Fernando Torres.
Reina is undoubtedly one of the top keepers in the world, and losing him would not be a good thing for the Reds. But Kenny Dalglish and Fenway Sports Group may have to work to keep him around.
His said in several interviews recently that he wants to fighting for titles, especially since he can't break into the Spanish National Team at the moment.
We know Manchester United will need a new man between the sticks since Edwin van der Sar is retiring at the end of the season, and Arsene Wenger may have just realized that his Arsenal is a little lacking in that department as well.
I still don't think Reina will leave because no matter what competitions Liverpool is in, Reina is on great display, but you never know what no European football at all may mean to him.
The Reds have Australian Brad Jones as the backup keeper who has only played in the Carling Cup loss to Nottingham Forest, but it's not like that was his fault.
If United do steal Reina, it would mean their original target, Atletico Madrid's David de Gea, is available, and the 20-year-old is certainly capable.
This transfer saga is really the more likely this summer than one involving Steven Gerrard, so Liverpool should just hope for the best and be prepared for a bit of unpleasantness.
3. Attack, Attack, Attack
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Liverpool bought two world-class strikers in January who can score from all sorts of areas. Kenny Dalglish needs to use them.
The only way to win games in the Premier League is to attack from whistle to whistle. This is what the best teams do, and they're the ones that win the title. Liverpool won't be winning anything this season, but that doesn't mean the Reds should just sit back.
There are nine games left in the season, which give plenty of scoring opportunities to the Reds' many attack-minded players.
Raul Meireles hasn't looked quite so threatening in front of goal recently, but Dirk Kuyt has looked more likely to score of late, so get the ball up front where they can do something with it.
As stated previously, Liverpool really has nothing to lose the rest of the season, so there's no time like the present to go for everything. Many of Liverpool's best youngsters are very capable at scoring and producing goals, so give them a chance to prove it.
Dani Pacheco, Raheem Sterling and more are all fiery, young guys who can really spark Liverpool's game and fans.
Carroll and Suarez now have nine games together to get their partnership going and give Liverpool fans just a taste of what's to come in the future. They should both be eager to score plenty of goals as well, and when either of them has the ball, that's definitely possible.
Kenny will want to have at least two center backs on the field in each game, but other than them and Lucas Leiva protecting the midfield, he should send everybody forward.
Defending should not be a priority right now. Besides, offense is the best defense.
4. Offer Kenny a Long-Term Contract
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Liverpool's principal owner John W. Henry recently shot down claims that Liverpool had offered Kenny Dalglish a two-year contract. Henry said the sides have begun discussions, but they've more been discussions about further discussions.
First of all, it'll happen. No need to worry about that. Kenny wants to be Liverpool's manager, and there's absolutely no fathomable reason the Reds wouldn't want him. It'll just be a matter of years on the contract.
It would be better to get the deal done during the season, so during the summer, Kenny and the owners can get right to work on selling and buying players—and that will be a big project.
Major League Baseball is two weeks away, so now may be the perfect time for Henry (who also owns the Boston Red Sox) to handle this task.
Another reason handing Kenny a contract during the season is good is it shows the players (Pepe Reina in particular) what direction the club is headed in. Kenny has worked wonders for many of the players since coming on, and while they'll be disappointed at a lack of European football next season (assuming), they'll be confident in what a full season under the King can mean for next year.
It will also show a sense of stability to potential transfer targets, something that was sorely missing from the Reds under the previous regime.
5. Reds Fans, Just Keep the Faith
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
This really goes without saying. Liverpool fans never abandon their team. Sure we're all disappointed with the past couple seasons, but we'll get over it.
Playing in the Europa League this season was bad enough. Now, it looks as though Liverpool won't be playing any European football next year. Bummer.
But at the end of the day, Liverpool is much better off now than at this time last year, and no matter how it ends, this season has been a success.
Yes, Liverpool suffered through six months when Roy Hodgson was in way over his head, and the Reds have been knocked out of the Europa League earlier and don't have much of a chance of going back next season.
But this time last year, Tom Hicks and George Gillette still owned the team, Rafa Benitez had no chance of keeping his job and the Reds had a number of unhappy players.
Now, King Kenny Dalglish is at the helm, the owners aren't looking to make the absolute worst decision for the club at every chance and the players are happier, even in defeat.
If the January transfer window was any indication, Liverpool fans can expect Fenway Sports Group to go all out in the summer as well. Liverpool has needed some revamping for a few years now, and John W. Henry certainly seems willing.
The Reds also aren't swimming in debt anymore, a very important fact given they likely won't be receiving all that extra money European football brings.
Last season and this one have been pretty unpleasant for the Reds, but the future is definitely bright. Next season will bring with it fewer games in the early goings, so maybe that'll lead to fewer disappointments.
This season has brought with it a lot of depressing moments, but you can't ignore all the positives. And while those positives didn't really get the chance to affect the club this season, they will certainly carry over into next year.