When Kenny Dalglish looked at his fixture list in August 2011 I am sure he never imagined that April fool’s day would be a day in which laughs would be kept to a minimum on Merseyside.
But with Newcastle sitting ahead of them in 6th place and eight points clear the reality is Liverpool could very well be a laughing stock of the Premiership if that gap is increased to 11 points this Sunday.
Cup success aside there has not been much improvement in league form since Roy Hodgson tenure last season, this is despite the fact Liverpool have spent 100m thus far under Kenny.
A measure of a manager is the quality of player that they can bring to a club. In Kenny’s case it’s somewhat unfair to label the credit (Blame) with him for the players that have arrived. It is unclear how much of a say Kenny actually has in the transfer policy, what is very clear is Damian Comolli’s responsibilities are to identify the type of player that statistically suits for each desired position.
Comolli has unearthed some quality at previous clubs most notably Bale at Spurs. Bale is a key example because the fact it took him four seasons to reach his potential indicates a fundamental flaw with the metric based system. If a club needs immediate results, sourcing a player with great stats but playing in a weaker team will often take time to respond to the step up in class. Of course the alternative is signing players that have great stats and are producing these for clubs at a similar level. However Liverpool cannot compete financially with Chelsea, City and United in this market.
Does the Bale example mean Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson will flourish into world class players in the future? Only time will tell and the future is something Kenny has not had the luxury to theorise about. The present is critical for Dalglish if he can close the gap between Newcastle this will keep the growing angst amongst supporter at bay for another season.
We should however not underestimate the successful cup campaigns this season with one trophy already added to the cabinet; a win on Sunday would help the club back on the track as the drive for a cup double gains momentum.
A better measure of Dalglish as a manager is what he can get out of the player he is given to work with and until the festive period he seemed to be making steady progress. Sure some of the new signings had struggled but results are what matters and Kenny was moving the club in the right direction.
So what has changed since then, one major factor is the absence of Lucas Leiva in central midfield. His absence has left a gaping hole in Liverpool’s midfield. This is something Liverpool have struggled to patch in the last 3 -4 months, resulting in many point being dropped home and away. Lucas’s return this summer will not only relieve Dalglish’s stress levels but also that of the players such as Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Jay Spearing who have really felt the burden of having to stitch Liverpool’s midfield together.
The gaping holes in centre midfield since Lucas’s untimely injury are only widened when Adam is playing, although Adam has pace when he builds up a head of steam, his first five yards is tragically slow and he lacks the mobility of a typical central player. With 61 free kicks conceded so far this season it is clear he struggles to win possession from the opposition. This staggering number of fouls has him third behind Fellaini and Grant Holt on the league’s worst offenders list. It was always expected that his work load was going to be higher at a bigger club but nobody expected him to have to work so hard in the defensive positions, his indiscipline in doing so has affected his confidence in the attacking third so much that he has only three assists and no goals to show since January.
If Liverpool were to try and cut their losses with Adam by moving him on they would struggle to reach a sizeable figure, this means it’s highly likely he will stay this summer. With a fit Lucas in the team next season Adam’s will have more freedom to express himself with the ball at his feet. Unfortunately his limitations mean Liverpool will only ever get the best out of him if they nullify his opportunity for weakness and increase the opportunity for him to display his strengths.
Verdict is to keep Adam but minimise his defensive duties and utilise his attacking qualities more.
Unlike Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson is mobile and is no slouch over first five yards so he would seem the natural selection in the centre. Unfortunately for him Liverpool’s imbalance on the right side has resulted in limited opportunities for him to play in centre. With no natural right winger and Bellamy not available on a consistent basis Kenny has favoured Henderson over Kuyt on the right flank to”do a job”, and that’s just what he has done, sacrificing his own progression and self confidence for the sake of the team.
Cue the criticism we have heard his way, bad passer, poor positional sense and that he often fades in games. This criticism is valid but this can be eradicated from his game if he is giving consistent game time in centre, after all Henderson has been signed as the long term replacement for Steven Gerrard so the sooner he grows the better. Gerrard himself has shown in the last half decade that his presence in centre of midfield often fades, this has been a perennial problem for Gerrard when playing in a deep central position. When Gerrard does dominate a game in the centre it is so obvious that it leaves a lasting effect, but big performance like his epic hat-trick against Everton do not level out the many other games that he fades out of. If Kenny does figure out what Rafa Benitez figured out very early on that Gerrard lacks consistence for this position and pushes Stevie into a more advanced role then Henderson will get his chance.
If Gerrard continues in the deeper role Henderson has no option other than play the waiting game. If this is the case it is also plausible that Henderson could be loaned out to gain some experience. This could have a negative effect if Liverpool cannot find a club which are competitive enough to suit Henderson development.
A loan move will not give him the opportunity to grow, while staying at Liverpool and playing consistently in the centre would develop his game to a higher level in a shorter time. This scenario hangs on whether Dalglish will sign a natural right winger as expected and if Gerrard is advanced forward. These decisions are fundamental in the determining the growth of Henderson and also Liverpool’s challenge to the top four.
Verdict give Henderson more starts playing central midfield.
Lucas’s injury and Henderson’s misfortune to fit the criteria as a stop gap right sided midfielder have conspired in Jay Shearing’s good fortune. He has finally gotten the breaks he needed to force his way into the Liverpool team, this is no complement to his ability more so to his patience.
The fact that Spearing has made 12 league appearance this season is a measure of how far Liverpool have dropped off the pace of the top four and that is no disrespect to Jay. He is a good reader of the game and positions himself well defensively, he also has high stamina and intensity and is at his best when hassling player off the ball. For Liverpool to have a loyal squad player like Spearing is a great asset, especially considering that the modern game is littered with petulant pre-Madonna’s.
Just look over to Fergie’s United, all his Champion winning squads had loyal squad players. God knows if Liverpool suffers injuries to their central players in future seasons they will be glad to have a back up player like Spearing. Verdict Keep his as a squad player
The arrival of a right winger will push Dirk Kuyt further out the door. The Dutch international has struggled to hold his position this season. Kenny favours an attacking, patent, pass and move style which does not suit the more methodical Kuyt. With the team retaining more possession Kuyt’s hard work off the ball is not a great asset to Kenny’s style of play. This leaves him the most likely of all the players to leave this summer. Liverpool’s loss will inevitably be another team’s gain. There will be no shortage of offers for a player that scores important goals.
It is expected that he will make a return to Holland but maybe not before he has a swansong season in Italy. If Liverpool can convince him to accept another season being a bit part player he will again be an important squad member. Although maybe a decent European championship will give Liverpool the opportunity to capitalise on his value.
Verdict: Wait until after European championships and make decision based on market value.
If Kuyt is suffering from Kenny’s style of play the opposite must be said of Glen Johnson, has been one of the bright lights this season, he has improved his decision making no end and looks very assured and even dynamic at times. This summer he will travel to the European championships as first choice right back providing the future England manger does not favour the inexperience but highly rated Kyle Walker ahead of him. Should Johnson get the nod and he carries through his club form his stock will surely rise.
This will lead to some serious interest from top clubs, which may be hard for Liverpool to ignore considering there is a readymade replacement waiting in the form of Martin Kelly. There is no argument that Kelly is a capable replacement as he has proved on many occasions this season but selling Johnson would send out a message that Liverpool are turning into a selling club.
They have made profits on Alonso, Mascherano, Torres doing the same with Johnson would only add to the growing fear that Comolli is trying to turn Liverpool into another Arsenal, self-sufficient but never going to content.
Verdict: keep Johnson he will be an integral first team player.
The only departures this summer that can have a positive effect are the loaning out of younger talented players to other premiership teams. It would be great if Liverpool had a production line of stars like Barcelona, who have worked very hard over a long period close the gap between their first and second teams. Real Madrid on the other hand take some negative press for not schooling talent to the first team but if you look at their squad it is littered with player who left or were loaned out to get experience and subsequently went onto became important first team regulars in their respective La Liga clubs before returning to Real. United and Arsenal have proven this model has worked in the premiership time and time again. It’s now time Liverpool follow suit with the likes of Shelvey, Raheem Sterling, Nathan Eccleston, and more.
If Liverpool can give their young talent the experience they need in the premiership and work on creating a more balanced team that utilises current player’s key strengths, with the addition of two quality attacking players this summer they will surely have a structure to compete for Champions league football over the next few seasons. But as stated above the present is very much the focus and if King Kenny cannot close the gap this Sunday and clinch a memorable cup double in May he will struggle to attract the two quality signings he needs and may even find he that time can prove to be the fooling of any King.
You can check out my website at http://bettingclever.com/