Not much to smile about for King Kenny
Hang on, Scousers!
Before any of you begin to hurl invective in my general direction, hold your horses. Let me set a few things straight:
1. I am an Arsenal fan.
2. I admire and respect Kenny Dalglish.
3. I respect the tradition and values of Liverpool Football Club (except those displayed during the dark days of Gillett and Hicks).
4. I would LOVE it if Liverpool finished above Man United, Chelsea and Man City in the Premier League table (well, I guess I just sent a written invitation for three large consignments of invective from Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and the Etihad Campus—or whatever it's called—respectively).
I have followed the goings and comings of this transfer window with some interest, and I feel that while Liverpool have certainly done well in terms of quantity, King Kenny may have missed a trick in the quality department, leaving his squad somewhat short and imbalanced.
Of course, I do realize that he knows a million times more about football than I ever will, and am prepared to graciously gorge on the generous helping of humble pie that may come my way.
Where do I stand, boss??
Let's start with the age-old question. Do you fit the players you've got into a pre-decided system, or do you decide on a system based on the players you've got?
Either way, Kenny's in trouble.
Because he's got so many similar players (aka, central midfielders), he's either got to play them out of position, play an awkward formation or leave them on the bench. That's the problem when you don't have a balanced squad. Now I know that Kenny may off-load the likes of Aquilani and Poulsen, but that's not going to be easy, especially at a price that pleases Mr. Henry.
The devil is always in the details. So let's look at who Kenny's got for the six midfield and striking positions. I would imagine that Gerrard, Kuyt, Suarez and Carroll select themselves. That leaves two positions to be filled. Given his sterling show last season, I think Lucas would be a shoo-in, too.
And then there was one. One position to fill. And Meireles, Aquilani, Cole, Maxi, Adam, Henderson, Downing, Jovanovic, Poulsen, Shelvey and Spearing wanting to be that chosen one. Did I leave anyone out?
Now the formation. If Kenny plays 4-3-3, as I think he might, he'll have Kuyt and Suarez alongside Carroll, and Lucas, Stevie G and another behind them. That means no real width, and no one to provide the much needed service to Mr £35 million.
If he plays 4-4-2, with Carroll and Suarez up front, he can have Downing and Kuyt out wide, with Lucas and Gerrard in the middle. Given the latter's attacking focus, it may often leave Lucas and the defense exposed. What all this also means is that there's no place for Meireles, Adam, Henderson, Maxi and Cole. And if Kenny fails to shift a few out, he's going to be spending more time than he'd like to on keeping his legion of bench-warmers happy.
Charlie Adam: genuinely top class? No one else thinks so.
There are two ways to judge the strength of your squad:
1. Who wants your players?
2. How many of your players will get into the teams you aspire to overtake in the league table?
Let's get question 1 out of the way first. And start by looking at the inflow during the last two transfer windows. The only player who ticks the box is Luis Suarez. No top team wanted Carroll, Adam, Henderson, Doni or Downing. Definitely not for anything near their final selling price. And in this silly season of transfer madness, has any top club been rumoured to be interested in signing a Liverpool player? Well, if they have, no one's told me.
Now for question 2, and my answer is sure to raise an eyebrow or two. My answer is three. Gerrard, Kuyt and Suarez. And if I'm generous, I may add Reina. If you look at United, Chelsea, Man City and even Arsenal, you'll name at least six or seven.
The best (and most likely) hope for this squad is that the whole is significantly greater than the sum of the parts, but it's unlikely that even Kenny and Steve Clarke can do enough to oust their nearest rivals.
Flying the flag for the isles
I just realized that I need to add disclaimer No. 5: I have nothing against the United Kingdom. In fact, even though they colonized my country for close to 200 years, I stand up for "God Save the Queen."
I did some research on the buying patterns of the other top clubs over the past six transfer windows. There seems to be a clear foreigner bias. Of the last 10* major signings made by Manchester United, six are foreigners. The corresponding figures for Chelsea and Man City are 8 out of 8* and 9 out of 10* respectively. I didn't even bother to check for Arsenal.
But why this trend, and then this contrary artificial noise (and premium) surrounding British signings? Quite possibly because the best international players possess greater technical skill, and have the needed heart to survive at the top of the Premier League. Liverpool, however, have gone British. Six out of their last 10 signings are local. Is it any wonder that their fortunes have nosedived?
Being an Arsenal fan, I realise the importance of having a British heartbeat to your team, especially in the league. How we've missed it since the departures of the famed back five, and latterly, Campbell, Cole, Parlour and Keown. But it is as important to have oodles of technical ability and tactical nous in your squad, something that the average British player of today severely lacks. Something that Liverpool may miss in season 2011-12.
* Last 10 signings:
- Man United: De Gea, Young, Jones, Lindegaard, Bebe, Smalling, Hernandez, Obertan, Owen, Valencia
- Chelsea (8): Torres, Luiz, Ramires, Benayoun, Zhirkov, Quaresma, Deco, Bosingwa
- Man City: Aguero, Savic, Clichy, Dzeko, Milner, Balotelli, Kolarov, Silva, Yaya Toure, Boateng
Here's what we want, Kenny
John W. Henry is indeed a far cry from the crazy days of Hicks and Gillett. But his publicly declared demand for a top-four finish may put unnecessary pressure on the playing and coaching staff, pressure they may not be able to withstand.
Add to this a potentially dissatisfied squad, an early cup exit or two, and Liverpool could go on a run of bad results that will seriously undermine their owner's lofty aspirations.
Time is running out for Mr Liverpool
Gone are the days when Liverpool could put sequences of clean sheets together. The two men responsible for this steely rearguard are now in decline. Jamie Carragher, who has all my respect for his playing record, and more significantly for being a one-club man, is not what he used to be, prone to making mistakes and losing his rag. Pepe Reina, Mr. Safe hands, is now Pepe Reina, Mr. Butterfingers.
Glen Johnson is happier going forward than the other way, Daniel Agger is not world class, and the club are still on the look-out for a top notch left back. The only name being mooted is Newcastle's Jose Enrique, which takes me back to slide 3.
And if Kenny plays with only one holding midfielder (Lucas), that means even more pressure on the creaking rearguard.
Bottom line: Should have wasted his money on Jones instead of Henderson!
Conclusion: I do hope that Liverpool regain some of their lost glory, and would love it if they took points off the rest of the top six, besides Arsenal. Common sense, however, suggests that this year at least, it may be a bridge too far.