Liverpool FC: 8 Players Dalglish Will Need in January to Win the Title
When I was assigned this article, I assumed that it was intended to be an article about potential signings Liverpool could make come January that could spur them on to a successful title challenge.
When I sat down and thought about it, I realized that it's unlikely Liverpool wins the title this season, but more importantly having just signed seven players at a cost of £108 million, soon to be eight for £116 million when Sebastian Coates signs, over the last seven months, I don't think Liverpool will be particularly active in the January transfer market.
So based on this, I decided to go a slightly different way; I hope the editors don't mind.
1. Pepe Reina
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At the turn of the year, Kenny Dalglish is going to need his goalkeeper to be in top form.
Reina is arguably Liverpool's most important player. When he's on top form he's the best goalkeeper in the league and arguably one of the top five keepers in world football.
If Liverpool are to stand a chance of contending, then they are going to need Pepe to be at his very best.
2. Daniel Agger
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When Daniel Agger is fit, he is unquestionably Liverpool's best defender and one of the best central defenders in Europe today. With Agger on the team, Liverpool have an excellent defence, and their goals against record with him in the team proves that.
Unfortunately, Agger's body does not match his immense ability, and throughout his Liverpool career, he has been plagued by injuries. Last season he suffered a serious concussion early in the season, which caused him to miss a number of games and as a result Liverpool looked very poor at the back under the management of Roy Hodgson.
When Agger returned, Liverpool's defence improved dramatically, and during the first few games of the Kenny Dalglish era version 2.0, Liverpool looked impressive at the back and set a platform for those going forward.
The great Liverpool teams were built on great defences, and if Liverpool are to have any chance of challenging for the title this season, they will need their defence to be great. Key to that is the fitness of Daniel Agger.
Dalglish must be smart with Agger and give him a rest when he needs one, because he will be a key player for Liverpool and must play as many games as possible for the Reds to be successful.
3. Lucas Leiva
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I feel I should start by saying that I do not rate Lucas and do not think he is anywhere close to the quality of player Liverpool need in midfield if they are to challenge for the title this season.
A quick look at the last two regular defensive midfielders to roam Anfield in a Liverpool jersey, Didi Hamann and Javier Mascherano, will show you what a massive drop off in quality Liverpool have suffered in that role. With that being said, Lucas is going to be a hugely important player for Liverpool this season.
He won fans Player of the Season last year, an award I don't put a lot of stock in because fans tend to vote for things like that with their hearts and not with their heads, but even I must admit that he was greatly improved last season from previous years.
I don't think he was anything close to the top class player some made him out to be, and he was comprehensively outplayed on a number of occasions, but all in all, he had a good season and played a big role in the season.
He ended last season with poor performances against Arsenal, Spurs and Aston Villa, and has begun the current one with similarly poor games against Sunderland and Arsenal. He really needs to step his game up from here until the end of the season, if Liverpool want to be successful, though.
Lucas is unquestionably a hard worker who brings a great energy to the midfield, and while not a particularly good passer of the ball, he is a reliable passer who rarely gives the ball away. He needs to improve his tackling success rate—67 percent is poor for a defensive midfielder—but he hassles and harries people and never gives up.
Matches are won and lost in midfield a lot of the time, and if Liverpool want to win the required amount for a title challenge, they will need Lucas at his best. They will also need him fit and ready come January because the second half of the season will be key to Liverpool's future, and indeed his own.
4. Steven Gerrard
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The Captain. The Heartbeat of the team. The Driving Force.
Just three of the many terms used to describe Steven Gerrard's place at Liverpool over the past few years. Gerrard has been Liverpool's best and most important player for many years now, and while I feel that Luis Suarez is now the owner of the title "Liverpool's best player," Gerrard is still our most important.
Without Steven Gerrard, Liverpool stand as much a chance of winning the title as Harry Redknapp does of being chosen as the next male model for Calvin Klein underwear.
Gerrard is coming off two disappointing seasons in a row for the first time in his career. Last season was lost to injuries, including the groin ailment that has kept him out of the start of this season; the season before was just a poor one for captain and club.
Steven Gerrard has a point to prove coming into this season. People have started writing him off, saying that he will never be the same player he once was. I disagree with those people.
I think Gerrard has two great seasons left in him, and probably four left overall. If he is to ensure that I can smugly say "I told you so" to those Gerrard doubters come May, then Kenny Dalglish needs to handle him properly.
Gerrard has a long history of muscle injuries, and this latest one is the most worrying of all. When he returns, Kenny needs to ensure that he's not overplayed and that he's wrapped in cotton wool between games. I feel a need to the right side of midfield is the best way to bring Gerrard into the new-look Liverpool team.
Stevie's best season came in Rafa Benitez's second year, where he played right side of midfield and was nothing short of incredible all season. He also played right side of midfield for the majority of the treble winning season under Gerard Houllier, and in my view, that's where Kenny should play him.
Gerrard's always been known for his spectacular goals, his driving runs and his dynamic displays. The most overlooked aspect of his game, and in my view one of his greatest attributes, is his fantastic crossing ability. Liverpool have a certain No. 9 who thrives on great crosses, and from the right, Gerrard can provide them.
If Gerrard is eased through the first half of the season, then come January he can be properly unleashed, and he can have the huge impact we all know he is capable of in the second half of the season.
5. Stewart Downing
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Let me start by saying that we overpaid for Stewart Downing. He was not a good buy at £20 million, and if we were going to spend so much for a left winger, we should have bought the best available, and that was Juan Mata. Now that I've said that, let me begin.
Downing is going to be a very important player for Liverpool for one reason, and one reason only. If he can bring his best form onto the pitch week in, and week out, then Andy Carroll is going to score goals. If he can't, then Carroll will find goals hard to come by.
Downing was very clearly bought to service Carroll, and while he's not worth the money we paid for him, he is capable of doing that if he's at his best.
Last season Downing had an up and down first half, as he was switched from left wing to right wing and back again. In the second half of the season, played regularly on the left, Downing was excellent for Villa and produced quality service for their front-men from the left flank.
Liverpool need him to find that form and reproduce it. Carroll's game, regardless of what some may think, is reliant on the service he receives, and in particular the crosses he receives from the wings. I've already stated that I think Gerrard can be a good supplier from the right, but Liverpool need Downing to be a good supplier from the left.
For Liverpool to win the league, they will need Andy Carroll to score 20-plus league goals. For Andy Carroll to do that, he will need Stewart Downing in top form.
6. Luis Suarez
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It's very simple, Luis Suarez is Liverpool's best player, and without him in top form, Liverpool would have finished no higher than 10th last season and wouldn't have any right to even think they could manage a top four position this year.
For Liverpool to have a chance at winning the title, Suarez must play as many games as possible. If Dalglish wishes to rest him, he should do so early in the season, because come January when the title race really kicks off, Liverpool need Suarez to be at his best and in the team every week.
I really don't think there's much more to say on this one.
7. One from the Bench
To win a title you need not just a great team, but a great squad. Liverpool certainly have a much stronger squad now than they have had in previous years, but whether it is great remains to be seen.
A key factor in a title winning squad is an impact player off the bench. Last season Manchester United had Hernandez in the early part of the season, and Berbatov in the late part of year, who were their impact players. Both came off the bench on multiple occasions last season to score key goals, and that was one of the main reasons United captured the title.
I don't expect Dirk Kuyt, Jordan Henderson, Raul Meireles or Maxi Rodriguez to be regular starters for Liverpool when every one is fit, so between those four we must hope that at least one can stand up and be counted when the get the call from Kenny that they're going on.
If not, then the one piece of business Liverpool do in the January transfer window could be to bring somebody in that can provide goals from the bench.
8. One from the Academy
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Steve McManaman. Robbie Fowler. Jamie Carragher. Michael Owen. Steven Gerrard.
Five Liverpool greats. Five players that came through the academy in the 1990s. Unfortunately for Liverpool, the standard of player who came through the academy in the 10 years following Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen was not up to the required needs of Liverpool Football Club. Now, that seems set to change.
One of the major highlights for Liverpool fans last season was seeing Martin Kelly, Jay Spearing, John Flanagan and Jack Robinson playing regular games for the first team. It was a breath of fresh air to see these young kids, who had grown up within the club, breaking through onto the first team stage.
This season fans will be hoping for more of the same. In my view the two most likely to see first team action this season are Connor Coady and Raheem Sterling.
Coady is a defensive midfielder in the Didi Hamann mould. If he can make the breakthrough this season, it will be a big boost to the squad and will help take the pressure off Lucas Leiva.
Sterling is easily the most exciting young player Liverpool have produced since Michael Owen. A winger blessed with fantastic pace, incredible skill and brilliant finishing ability, he really seems destined to be a star.
I can see Coady and Sterling featuring in the Carling Cup pre-Xmas and getting a number of first team games in the new year.
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So that's all from me for this article, I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
I tried to stay away from the wishful thinking type articles naming players I'd like to see us sign which have become commonplace of late, and instead focus on what we've already got.
As always feel free to leave comments and thoughts.