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How Close Are Liverpool to Being a Premier League Title-Winning Team?

How Close Are Liverpool to Being a Premier League Title-Winning Team?
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

With 57 points on the board and 70 goals scored, Liverpool are currently enjoying both their highest points total and most prolific scoring record after 27 matches in the Premier League.

Boasting a goal difference of +35, Liverpool currently find themselves fourth in the league, four points behind leaders Chelsea and six ahead of nearest challengers Tottenham Hotspur.

Safe to say, then, that this has been a league campaign that has exceeded almost all expectations going into the 2013/14 season.

While Liverpool’s focus should remain squarely on securing a return to the Champions League next season via a top-four spot come this May, there has been increasing talk of the Premier League title outright.

Manager Brendan Rodgers played down suggestions that his side could win the league this season after their thrilling 4-3 win over Swansea City last Sunday, according to the Mirror, but that hasn’t stopped the whispers in and around Anfield.

But how close are Liverpool to being a Premier League title-winning team? Let’s take a look at the Reds and evaluate their status and strength. Enjoy and have your say in the comments below.

 

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Defence: Solidity and composure needed

Let’s start off with the defence, which is clearly Liverpool’s weakest link right now.

They may be the highest-scoring team in the Premier League so far this season but in terms of goals conceded they’re in a disappointing 10th place overall.

Swansea last Sunday was the fourth time the Reds have let in three goals in a match this season, while they have also committed an eye-watering 33 defensive mistakes this term, seven more than second-placed Arsenal.

Liverpool’s defensive situation has, of course, not been helped by the injuries to their defenders: Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger have just returned to first-team action, and Kolo Toure had to fill in on the left side of central defence.

Agger’s performance back in his favored starting role on Sunday was unconvincing enough for Rodgers to replace him with Toure around the hour mark, while Martin Skrtel’s habit of grappling inside the box finally caught up with him as he conceded a penalty to Wilfried Bony almost straight after half-time.

In Mamadou Sakho (currently injured, as is Jose Enrique), Rodgers seems to have found a solid long-term option for that left-sided centre-back slot, while Tiago Ilori’s performances on loan with Granada in La Liga are providing plenty of encouragement and excitement as a potential partner to Sakho.

Which leaves both full-back slots in need of strengthening. Even at full strength, a declining Glen Johnson and an inconsistent Jose Enrique are not title-winning caliber—and Jon Flanagan, enterprising and hardworking as he may be, most certainly doesn’t have the technical foundation to be a regular in a team challenging for Premier League honors.

Rodgers might also consider adding a right-sided centre-back this summer as he continues to groom Ilori for a first-team role.

 

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Midfield: Steel and positioning required

At present, the Liverpool midfield is a patchwork quilt, featuring a makeshift holding midfielder who’s played off the striker in his peak years (because the starting defensive midfielder is injured), a box-to-box midfield runner who is maturing rapidly, and an increasingly deep-lying No. 10 whose impact and productivity can vary wildly between matches.

As a result, they appear to be impeccable and indestructible some weeks but lacking in quality and lethally vulnerable in others.

When the pressure is on and the pressing is turned up a notch, the midfield is capable of producing some truly scintillating (and from the opposition’s point of view, truly suffocating) performances: See the demolition jobs over Tottenham Hotspur, Everton and Arsenal.

But when their opponents also boast some steel, nerves, pace and pressing, things can turn sour very quickly for the Reds.

That’s why they have struggled against the likes of Southampton and Aston Villa this season, while Everton (at Goodison Park) and Swansea City have also posed trouble—simply by going at Liverpool with pace and with an intent to press all the space and time on the ball out of them.

It’s no surprise that two of Liverpool’s most convincing defeats this season came even when Lucas, the supposed specialist defensive midfielder, was in the team: Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in November, and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in December, both had too much quality, pace and attacking threat from the midfield.

Steven Gerrard’s reliability as the regista is also directly affected by his desire—and habit—to move up the pitch to stamp his influence and contribute to the attack, which he has made his trademark over the years in a Red shirt.

We considered Yann M’Vila in January when he was linked with a move to Anfield, per Jamie Sanderson at Metro. For a Liverpool side to boast a rounded midfield capable of dominating the league, Brendan Rodgers still needs a steely defensive presence in the middle of the park.

 

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Attack: Already on the verge of greatness

Up front, though, Liverpool should be all set. (The assumption is, of course, that a Liverpool team chasing the title regularly should also be playing regularly in the Champions League, and thus Luis Suarez will still be wearing Red.)

Their forward line has carried the entire team for most of the season, bailing the defence and midfield out by outscoring their mistakes.

Luis Suarez, topping the Premier League scoring charts with 23 goals this season, is quickly being closed down in the rankings by strike partner Daniel Sturridge, who has already hit 18. Add the newfound confidence of Raheem Sterling, and Liverpool have almost a complete strikeforce capable of rotating across the frontline to devastating effect.

If Sterling continues to develop as rapidly as he has since coming back into the side this season, the SSS front three of the future will not only cause problems in the Premier League but pose plenty of headaches around Europe as well.

 

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Verdict: Why not this season?

According to the Mirror‘s David Anderson, Brendan Rodgers has suggested that Liverpool are a year ahead of schedule in their quest to qualify for the Champions League.

Given the overall ability and depth of their squad, especially in comparison to the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal, Rodgers may well be right: His team may already be overachieving this season.

He will know that this squad, in any other Premier League season, would not be able to sustain a title challenge over a 38-match campaign, and that he will have to build strongly this summer to ensure that he does have a squad at his disposal that can do just that.

He will also need to continue ironing out the weaknesses and mistakes in his porous defence.

But why not a title challenge now? As things stand, with 11 matches left for the season, Liverpool are just four points off the top, and they arguably have a smoother and more balanced fixture list compared to their rivals.

We’ve looked at the medium to longer term, but this season, Liverpool are just a few less mistakes, a few strong performances against traditional bogey teams, and 11 more inspiring attacking displays from being a title-winning team.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League.

What Brendan Rodgers Must Do Before the Start of the Season

A week from this Saturday, the 2012-2013 EPL season kicks off—which means that all 20 Premier League clubs only have a week and a half to prepare for their first fixtures.

But Liverpool’s pre-EPL season preparations are by no means over yet.

Here are seven things Brendan Rodgers must do before he takes his Liverpool team to the Hawthorns next Saturday.

1. Go Through to the Next Round of the Europa League

First things first: Liverpool, after a year of complete absence from Europe, are back in the Europa League.

If they take care of business at Anfield against Belarus’ FC Gomel.

No matter how obscure their opponents this Thursday may be, Liverpool only hold a one-goal advantage, and any slip-up could be costly.

Liverpool and European football go together.

While the target for the season is to secure a top-four finish and return to the Champions League next season, they will need to ensure that they aren’t out of Europe this season before a Premier League ball is even kicked in anger.

2. Complete Deals for Joe Allen, Gaston Ramirez

Now onto transfer business.

Supposedly linked with substantial Liverpool bids are Swansea’s Joe Allen (The Independent) and Bologna’s Gaston Ramirez (The Standard); both midfielders would add quality to Rodgers’ midfield.

For a side that requires a metronomic playmaker in the midfield to keep the ball moving alongside a more defensive-minded partner (Lucas Leiva), Allen makes sense as an acquisition to bring more creativity and stability in the midfield, and he would also release Steven Gerrard to play in a more advanced position.

Ramirez would add speed and skill to the wings, which should be a key emphasis in Rodgers’ 4-3-3 formation. With few out-and-out wingers in the squad, Rodgers would do well to address this area by bringing in Ramirez.

The Liverpool squad would look much more complete if these two players are finally brought in—and it would do the squad a world of good if their transfers were secured before the Premier League starts for real.

3. Sign Daniel Agger on a New Contract

Besides bringing in some additional quality players, Rodgers will also need to keep hold of his star players.

Daniel Agger has been strongly linked with a big-money move to Manchester City (The Guardian), whose place at the top of English football, regular Champions League action and riches on offer will certainly be enticing.

Agger is one of the best defenders in England, ball-playing or not, and his passing quality and attacking instincts make him a perfect fit for Rodgers’ system.

To sanction such a move would not only be a PR disaster in Rodgers’ case—branding Liverpool as a selling club—but also a huge blow to Liverpool’s preparations for the Premier League.

4. Resolve Midfield Issues

Moving on to the midfield, where, regardless of whether Rodgers does bring in Joe Allen and Gaston Ramirez, there are still issues that must be resolved.

The first is obviously that of finding a regular partner for Lucas.

Steven Gerrard proved in the European Championships earlier this summer that he is capable of putting in a world-class shift in the center of midfield, but he has without doubt made a much bigger impact in a more advanced role over the years in a Red shirt.

With the departure of Alberto Aquilani, who on paper seemed a good fit in Rodgers’ possession-based system, someone needs to come in and fill that role.

Which then raises the issue of Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Jay Spearing.

All three have their attributes—and Henderson seems to have the most potential out of the trio—but at the moment, Rodgers needs to sort out their exact roles in the Liverpool midfield, especially if he will only go with a midfield three.

And that’s not including the futures and roles of Joe Cole and Stewart Downing.

5. Find a Way to Incorporate Andy Carroll into the Side

Rodgers faces some headaches up front, too.

The most notable of which is a £35 million powerhouse headache wearing the No. 9 shirt.

Now that it’s clear that Andy Carroll is vehemently refusing a move away from Anfield (ESPNSoccernet), Rodgers will need to either find a club who will prove enticing enough (Newcastle), or accept that Carroll will be in his squad for at least the coming six months.

Which means that Rodgers will need to find a way to incorporate Andy Carroll into his side.

This after signing Fabio Borini, who seems certain to be Rodgers’ first-choice striker this term.

Find the right mix, though, and he might just be surprised what Carroll can bring to the team.

6. Sort out Player Loans

And after Rodgers sorts out his personnel situation, he will need to go one further and decide which ones to farm out on loan.

The likes of Raheem Sterling, Suso and Jonjo Shelvey all performed well in Liverpool’s preseason games and will likely get further chances to impress in their final friendly against Leverkusen this weekend, but only Rodgers will know how close to regular first-team action they might be.

The recent introduction of the U21 Premier League is a great reason to keep them on for regular action for the Liverpool reserves if they sit out their senior-team games, but conversely, a loan spell might do their Liverpool careers a world of good.

Of course, Rodgers will also pay close attention to the loan market to bring in players who might be made available.

7. Make Sure Luis Suarez Really Does Move on from the Evra Incident

The breaking news this Tuesday was that Luis Suarez signed a new contract with Liverpool (BBC Sport).

The on-field implications of this are all positive: There is no need to go on about the kind of explosive and unpredictable creative play that he brings to the Liverpool attack.

But equally, Suarez brings explosive and unpredictable liabilities off the field, which the Liverpool hierarchy will want to limit drastically.

Only a few weeks ago, Suarez seemed to reignite his race row with Patrice Evra last season—a move that Rodgers was quick to address in the media.

Rodgers suggested publicly that it was in the best interests for all parties concerned that Suarez “move on” from the controversy (The Guardian).

He will want to make sure he does move on and make all the headlines on the pitch, for all the right reasons.

Conclusion

So far, Brendan Rodgers has made a very good impression on Liverpool fans by saying all the right things.

But he will know as clearly as anyone that the ultimate judgment will be his results on the pitch.

To ensure that he gets off to a good start, he still has a lot of work to do this summer—all of which should ideally be done before the Premier League kicks off once again.

 

Original article from Bleacher Report

On Andy Carroll’s Possible Loan Departure

Since Brendan Rodgers arrived at Anfield, he’s done almost everything right.

Recognize the history of the club, conduct sensible and well-spoken press conferences, appeal to the players and fans.

Almost everything.

Amidst rumors linking Liverpool’s record signing Andy Carroll with a loan move away from Anfield, Brendan Rodgers has also failed to confirm his No. 9’s future at the club.

As West Ham confirm their interest in taking Carroll on loan for the season (via ESPNSoccernet), here are six reasons Liverpool and Brendan Rodgers would be absurd to let Andy Carroll leave on loan—and feel free to have your say below.

1. He’s on a High

The first reason is almost blindingly obvious: Andy Carroll is in a good run of form.

He ended the English Premier League season with a consistent run in the Liverpool first team, and turned in improving performances as the spearhead of Kenny Dalglish’s attack.

His domination over John Terry and Co. in two matches against Chelsea will serve as stark reminders of the aerial ability he brings to the table.

This form was replicated with a few more encouraging displays with Roy Hodgson’s England in this summer’s European Championships, and his goal against Sweden was a classic England center forward’s header.

With a new manager coming in and Carroll’s personal desire to prove himself as a Liverpool player, Liverpool should see an ambitious young striker return to training in a few weeks’ time.

2. Fan Backlash

Because of this encouraging upturn in form for both club and country, Carroll’s place in the hearts of Liverpool fans has risen considerably.

For a fanbase still smarting from Fernando Torres’ exit a year and a half ago, and for a club still looking for a fearsome striker, Carroll represents, to some extent, a possible striking hero in the making.

The potential to see Steven Gerrard start alongside Carroll and Luis Suarez will also be one that fans are looking forward to.

To strip this hope away before a ball is even kicked doesn’t seem too sensible.

Brendan Rodgers will do well to take note that the Kop’s say in the proceedings is usually quite large.

3. Who’s the Replacement?

Liverpool’s well-known Achilles’ heel from the 2011-2012 season was their inability to finish their chances.

In a fluid passing system with a striker capable of scoring and setting up chances aplenty for his teammates, Carroll might offer a clear solution to the Reds’ conundrums.

And if he leaves?

Luis Suarez, while a world-class creative forward on his day, doesn’t finish like a predatory striker can.

And the likes of Clint Dempsey and Fabio Borini—who have been linked with moves to Anfield in recent weeks (via the Daily Mirror and BBC Sport)—while they possess encouraging goal-scoring records, are not one-stop solutions to Liverpool’s goal worries.

4. Every Good Team Needs a Plan B

In Rodgers’ ideal 4-3-3 formation, Liverpool would field players capable of ball retention, control and movement on the pitch to dominate possession of the ball.

The idea is that, just like Swansea last season and aspiring to Spain this summer, there is no need to field a physical striker when technique and passing is all that is needed to win.

All of which sounds well and good, but this is a Liverpool that needs time for Rodgers’ tactics and ideas to work across the board.

When the pundits called for the addition (from the start or from the bench) of a striker and wingers to Spain’s 4-6-0 formation in the Euros, they had “Plan B” in their minds.

If all-conquering Spain, with their footballing philosophy permeating through their national setup, need a Plan B, Liverpool would most definitely need one in Rodgers’ first season.

5. Or a Plan A

And who’s to say that Andy Carroll wouldn’t make a credible option in the starting XI?

While Rodgers has a clear idea of the Spain-inspired system he would like to implement at Liverpool, he has conceded that his formations will be based on the players he has at his disposal.

With a record signing who just happens to be a targetman with some fearsome attributes, Liverpool could have the flexibility to employ a variety of tactical setups.

What about a dual-striker system that requires the midfield to break through and lay on chances (Italy)?

Or a targetman-boasting system that relies on a high-pressure midfield and wingers cutting in (Portugal)?

These are all options that require strengthening in different positions, of course, but nothing that a Rodgers 4-3-3 wouldn’t need anyway.

6. What He Needs Is First-Team Experience at a Top Club

In recent days, Andy Carroll has been linked with newly promoted West Ham (via the Daily Mirror) and Fulham (via the Telegraph), whose Clint Dempsey might be interesting Liverpool.

He might get his (and Rodgers’) wishes of extended playing time, but this is not what he needs.

With all due respect to the Hammers and the Cottagers, Carroll got his sustained first-team action during his breakthrough Premier League season playing for a newly promoted Newcastle side.

Carroll needs constant exposure to the pressures that come with being a striker for a club expected to win week in, week out.

Of course, in the (almost) immediate aftermath of the Euros, Andy Carroll was linked to Italian giants AC Milan (via the Daily Mail).

The abundance of forward options present at the San Siro (Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Antonio Cassano, Robinho, Alexandre Pato) should ensure that Carroll wouldn’t be faring that much better in terms of minutes on Italian shores.

Conclusion

When Kenny Dalglish splashed the cash for Andy Carroll—regardless of how much a panic signing it had been following Torres’ desire to leave for Chelsea—he saw a striker who would be central to a pass-and-move philosophy.

A year and a half on, his successor, Brendan Rodgers, is supposedly already considering Carroll’s future in a similar passing-based footballing style.

Andy Carroll, quite simply, should be given the chance to establish himself at Anfield.

 

Original article from Bleacher Report

On Steven Gerrard’s Euro 2012 Campaign

England weren’t good enough after all.

As Andrea Pirlo’s audacious chipped penalty sent shockwaves through the mind of Joe Hart (so says the man himself), the lesser-known fact is the nerve and conviction with which Steven Gerrard, England’s new skipper, converted to start England off.

So while Roy Hodgson’s England ultimately showed that they were good but not good enough, Steven Gerrard, with three game-defining assists in three group games, leaves the 2012 European Championships with his reputation enhanced.

What can Liverpool learn from his Euro 2012 campaign?

Here are six lessons from Steven Gerrard’s fruitful summer that new Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers should note—and, as usual, feel free to have your say in the comments below.

1. He’s Still Got It

For the majority of the 2011-2012 season, “unfit” was almost always mentioned in the same sentence as Steven Gerrard.

In and out of the Liverpool side due to injuries, he failed to find any sort of sustained run in the first team until the final weeks of the Premier League season, which led to doubts about his ability to stay fit and on form for a prolonged period of time.

But having finally maintained that fitness in the tail end of the season, Gerrard arrived at the Euros fit and sharp, and his performances reflected a man in top form, both physically and mentally.

2. He Needs to Be Used Wisely

On the flip side, while Steven Gerrard went about his three group games in impeccable form, the sight of him succumbing to cramp after just 70 minutes against Italy in the quarterfinals was surely a reality check to Liverpool fans.

As is the realization that he is, after all, 32.

This is not the Gerrard of old.

The lung-busting box-to-box midfielder who would unleash a long-range screamer one second and arrive in his own penalty box for a goal-saving tackle the next is, unfortunately, no longer.

The key to keeping him fresh and to fully make use of what Gerrard can bring to the Liverpool team, Brendan Rodgers must use him wisely and not be afraid to rest him once in a while.

As Ryan Giggs will testify, this kind of player management will do Gerrard all the good in the world in the long term, as will a reinvention of his role in the side.

3. He Can Be a Central Midfield Option…

But before Gerrard is converted into a full-time No. 10 or even an out-an-out striker for the remainder of his playing days, we have now reawakened to the fact that he can play in the center of midfield after all.

He might have enjoyed his most productive years as an attacking midfielder behind Fernando Torres, but this summer has shown that, when his team needs him, he can deliver in his favored central midfield position.

They used to say that he didn’t have the positional discipline to be a full-time central midfielder.

Scott Parker will no doubt beg to differ.

4. …Or, Actually, a Starting Right Midfielder

Besides central midfield, Gerrard also provided timely reminders of his qualities out on the right.

Rodgers would do well to remember that Gerrard enjoyed his most productive personal season in 2005-2006 playing on the right of an attacking midfield trio.

And Gerrard’s three assists for England this summer all came from deliveries out on the right.

He might not be as explosive as he was before, but he still retains the pace, physicality and crossing to make a top-class right midfielder for years to come.

5. Put Him on Set Piece Duty

Which leads us on to the next point.

Those who lamented David Beckham’s gradual exit from the England international scene surely took into account what he could offer by way of crosses, corners and free kicks.

But any worries that England would lack a strong set piece outlet were fully dispelled after Gerrard’s productive tournament, when he delivered set pieces that were Beckham-esque in execution.

Last season, Kenny Dalglish used Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson et al on corners and free kicks.

Gerrard provided a timely reminder that he remains the best man for the job.

6. He Might Make an Anfield Career out of Andy Carroll Yet

The best players make those around them tick.

With one swing of his gifted right foot, Gerrard delivered a picture-perfect cross against Sweden that was met with precision, pace and power by Andy Carroll.

The result: 1-0 to England, right out of the Alan Shearer tome of headed goals.

A few months ago, the fact that Andy Carroll, Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez were only starting their second ever game for Liverpool together hit the headlines.

If Gerrard is put on set piece duty and becomes the main provider for Carroll, he might make an Anfield career out of Liverpool’s record signing yet.

 

Original article from Bleacher Report

Brendan Rodgers, Dirk Kuyt and Adaptability

I’ve held out on writing a first piece on Brendan Rodger’s appointment and a last piece on Dirk Kuyt’s Liverpool career, because I’ve wanted to organize my thoughts on both. (That, and I’ve been extremely busy for the last few weeks, but of course that’s irrelevant here. Somewhat.)

So, first, a warm welcome to Brendan Rodgers, and a fond farewell to Dirk Kuyt.

Let’s talk about Dirk Kuyt.

He’s been a staple in the Liverpool side I’ve followed religiously over the past few years. There are endless tributes all over the print media, all over the Internet on Kuyt’s work-rate, his indefatigable stamina, his knack for being at the right place at the right time, his selflessness, his teamwork, his passion towards the Liverpool cause. There’s no need to further extol his virtues, if only because I’d only be beating a (nearly-) dead horse.

To me, Dirk Kuyt will be remembered as who he was – a Liverpool great – because he adapted.

And, while he played at center-forward, second striker, left winger, right winger – no, this isn’t a tribute to his versatility, but rather his mindset. Dirk Kuyt adapted.

When he first arrived from Feyenoord, where he set scoring records as an out-and-out striker, Kuyt adapted to the hustle and bustle of the Premier League.

Then, when Fernando Torres arrived, bringing with him that all-too-rare world-class ability to turn chances in goals, Kuyt was moved to the right wing without even making a noise. He continued to deliver his big game-winning strikers. He continued to defend from the front. He continued to time his runs to help break up the opposition defence. All from the right wing. He adapted.

You see – to me, there is an added mental dimension to adaptability.

It’s like Steven Gerrard, who moved to right-back in Istanbul to shut out AC Milan’s Serginho. He did that with the team in mind. He was moved out to the right side of midfield to facilitate a new tactical approach in the 2005-2006 season. He finished that season with his best ever goals tally. He moved up to second striker just to provide the finishing touch to a world-beating partnership spearheaded by Torres.

Sure, Gerrard is famous for publicly expressing his preference for a central midfield position. But when push comes to shove, Steven Gerrard adapts.

Sometimes this kind of attribute is considered to be at the detriment of the player himself. Kuyt was never considered a world-class right-winger during his time at Liverpool. Gerrard has been used in all kinds of positions and had been overlooked as England captain all these years.

But those of us who step back once in a while recognize this adaptability. And we reserve the highest kinds of tributes for these players.

Enter Brendan Rodgers.

It’s been an impressive first week at Anfield for Rodgers, no doubt. He’s made all the right noises, impressing upon us fans the kind of approach he wants to bring to Liverpool and outlining the fact that he has the experience to take Liverpool up to the top.

All of which is well and good, but ultimately it counts for nothing if you can’t adapt to the job.

Rafa Benitez adapted. He came from Valencia looking for a challenge, and he got it with a sub-par Liverpool squad whose quality was reflected in a fifth-place league finish. Yet he worked with a squad containing the likes of Djimi Traore and Igor Biscan, and took home a Champions League trophy in his first season.

He studied his opponents and adapted his gameplans specifically against them. He brought in new players to add new options to the team, he revamped the youth academy, and he grew as a member of the Liverpool community.

Now, it didn’t always work – how many times were we frustrated when Torres got subbed around the 70-minute mark when Liverpool needed a goal? What about when he publicly pursued Gareth Barry at the expense of Xabi Alonso? What about when he persisted with a yet-to-mature Lucas?

But Benitez adapted. A look back on his record at Liverpool showed that, if anything, given the ownership situation during his reign, Benitez adapted, all right.

Roy Hodgson didn’t. He failed to grasp that Liverpool, hoping to climb their way back up the Premier League table following an underwhelming season, weren’t looking for underwhelming signings clearly not up to Top Four standard. He failed to grasp that a safety-first approach, while it worked at mid-table Fulham, wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the ever-demanding Kop. He failed to grasp that a defensive and conciliatory media personality didn’t fit with the bullish continental profile that a modern Liverpool want.

Kenny Dalglish, too, didn’t. Entering the Liverpool all-time records for Top Five most expensive signings four times in six months wasn’t what we were looking for. Nor was persisting with those same players when more clinical and experienced options were sat on the bench. Nor was adopting a confrontational approach to the media.

Unfortunately, in hindsight, Hodgson and Dalglish’s departures, while under different circumstances, were understandable and inevitable.

Whether or not Rodgers’ appointment is a useful solution depends very much on how he can adapt.

He knows that John Henry’s preference is to build a squad on bargain signings. He did that at Swansea. But while we don’t need an Andy Carroll or a Luis Suarez every transfer window, perhaps free transfers like Mohamed Diame aren’t enough. Look to the capital for a £10-million Lukas Podolski or a £7-million Marko Marin for a perfect example of cost-effective ambition.

He knows that everyone’s preference is to play good football. He did that at Swansea. But during the journey to become England’s answer to Barcelona, perhaps a balance has to be made in view of goals, victories and points. Just because Andy Carroll is a traditional British targetman doesn’t mean he can’t fit into a multi-faceted Liverpool side, as so many pundits are suggesting. Arsenal, whose penchant for attractive football is legendary, hoofed it long to Robin van Persie this season. That’s how they scored both their goals in their 2-1 win at Anfield.

Most of all, Brendan Rodgers knows that ultimately, it’s up to him to do his talking on the pitch. His last stint at a Top Four challenger was as an assistant at Chelsea. He will have to adapt to being top dog at Anfield.

He said in a recent interview that there are three kinds of Liverpool fans: the ones that support the manager regardless of results; the ones that need to be convinced by results; and the ones that can never come round.

I’m a proud, unabashed member of the second club.

All you have to do, Mr. Rodgers, is adapt and show that you can lead Liverpool forward.

It’ll be a hell of task.

Godspeed, King Kenny.

This is my first post with Kenny Dalglish as a tag. This is also my first time referring to him as King Kenny.

It’s likely to be my last time for both.

As a child of the Steven Gerrard era, I will forever carry with me the notion that Steven Gerrard is the greatest player ever to have played for Liverpool. In that sense, perhaps I am cursed with not ever getting a chance to see Kenny Dalglish in his pomp.

I’ve read endless stories, from both online articles and on the Liverpool boards themselves, about Dalglish’s near-superhuman feats. About how his skills as a striker were second to none. About how he seamlessly took up the managerial reins way back in the late 1980s to oversee a smooth transition. About how Liverpool suddenly found themselves in disarray after he left.

As one of the most successful clubs in history, Liverpool rightly have a fascination and obsession with the past.

Kenny Dalglish came from that past. And what a glorious past it was.

The fairytale ending to the Return of the King would be that the club legend, parachuted from the past into the current hot-seat, would bring about such a change in fortunes that he would be in charge of Liverpool’s return to their glory years. That, having saved the Titanic from sinking, he would restabilize it so perfectly that it would have the momentum to charge on forever.

That was the dream. Of both Kenny Dalglish and the fans that grew up in his time, who learned to idolize Liverpool’s most famous #7.

And so, for merely having the conviction, the passion and the commitment to even contemplate stepping into the breach and steadying the sinking ship at Anfield, Kenny Dalglish must be commended.

The way that he has conducted his exit from the club has been in all the right ways that should have become a hallmark of his second reign, the class, the dignity and the manners. Looking back at the pictures of a fiendishly grinning Dalglish in celebration of a Liverpool goal, and reading Alan Hansen’s sharing of Dalglish’s love for Liverpool, makes one’s heart sink with heaviness.

Why must a club legend, so revered and adored by all Liverpudlians, make way? It just doesn’t seem right.

But therein lies the unfortunate advantages of being a child of the modern era.

The fact that I don’t have a sentimental bond with Kenny Dalglish, with his achievements as a player and then as a manager for Liverpool, gives me an almost alien sense of neutrality when it comes to Dalglish the Liverpool manager of 2011.

Because I’ve always judged him for what he’s supposed to do, and that is manage and bring the best out of Liverpool.

In that respect, Dalglish has sadly not delivered.

The context will always be important when looking back at this particular case, because he was never FSG’s first choice as manager. In fact, judging from their delays in making the announcement of his permanent deal last year, FSG might never have wanted him in more than a caretaker role, to stabilize the club and get everyone on the same side.

But when you have fans calling for his permanent employment in every game and through every possible venue, your ambitions of finding someone you really see fit will have to make way for just the time being.

That Dalglish has stayed in the Anfield hotseat for so long is a testament to his stature and iconic status at Liverpool. It wouldn’t be any exaggeration to say that sacking any other manager with his record this season would be no surprise.

So perhaps he outlived his stay. Perhaps he was only supposed to come in for those 6 months, reinforce his legendary status in Liverpool eyes by turning around a potentially disastrous season, and step down to oversee a transition to a new era.

Those who have been following my blog will know that I have not been a vocal supporter of Kenny Dalglish over the past few months, there was no schadenfreude on my part when I read about Dalglish’s sacking, just sadness that the fairytale didn’t end up happening.

But for all the doom and gloom that is likely to reverberate around the Red half of Liverpool in the coming few weeks, there is actually a huge potential for excitement underneath all the debris.

Liverpool have managed to secure record-breaking commercial ventures and partnerships despite not having been involved in high-profile European competitions for two seasons. And FSG have shown that they can back a manager with the funds needed to build a squad. The club might lack a central managerial spine right now, but the ingredients are there for the next manager to make a splash.

As for myself, while I’m awaiting FSG’s next move with apprehension, I still dream of a fairytale ending where the future is bright, European and silverware-shiny.

If that does happen, I’m willing to bet that Kenny Dalglish will be looking on with pride.

Thanks, Steven Gerrard.

The title of this piece seems a bit premature, given that Steven Gerrard hasn’t ended his career, and a bit inappropriate, given that Liverpool just lost the FA Cup to Chelsea last night.

But rather than putting out a match reaction on the final itself, I thought a tribute to Steven Gerrard should be in order.

After all, he is the main reason I started following Liverpool in the first place, and the main reason I’ve stayed with the Reds all these years.

I’ll spare all the unnecessary obsessive touting of his skills, experience and superhuman feats, because everyone who knows football will know what a force of nature Gerrard has been for Liverpool, in the Premier League and in the Champions League.

I’d rather comment on the issue of loyalty.

Perhaps Gerrard is a soft-spoken guy. His interviews are normally quite bland, and while he affords a smile once in a while if an interviewer mentions the 2005 Champions League or a great goal he scored in a man-of-the-match performance, he often puts on a poker face in interviews even after the best of celebrations.

But seeing the unbridled joy he exhibits when he celebrates a win on the pitch, and having read his perhaps-too-hastily-published autobiography, we see that this guy is Liverpool through and through.

Set aside that public flirtation with Chelsea in 2005 that is still often reminisced upon (usually by supporters of other teams). To think that a young captain of 24, barely approaching his prime and with the world at his feet, shouldn’t be tempted by untold riches on offer and an ambitious team in the country’s capital is to be naive and utterly unrealistic about being a professional athlete. (In that respect, although my heart tells me to think otherwise, Fernando Torres’ departure for Chelsea made sense, especially considering the circumstances then. And the circumstances now.)

No, the fact that he chose to stay (where Michael Owen once left, remember) should speak volumes about this man’s integrity, commitment and loyalty.

And the fact that he still puts on the Liverpool shirt week in, week out (when his fitness allows) as often the only fighter on the pitch says everything we need to know about this man.

As a mere spectator (and one from an overseas armchair at that), I can’t even begin to count how many rebuilt teams he’s had to work through. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to win a Treble, then having to play with the likes of Salif Diao and El-Hadji Diouf. Then to win the European Cup and the FA Cup, and then to return to reality alongside Nabil El Zhar and Jermaine Pennant. And then to hit heady heights with Javier Mascherano, Xabi Alonso and Fernando Torres, only to wake up year after year to see their departures.

Then to wake up with the prospect of playing alongside Paul Konchesky, Christian Poulsen. And now Jay Spearing and Jordan Henderson.

For years, I tried to mirror that sort of unwavering loyalty by putting on my own #8 shirt whenever Liverpool had a game to play that day. And for an extended period of time, this coincided with a run of Champions League games in which Liverpool went unbeaten whenever I watched them live with my Gerrard top on.

Then that run finally came to an end – and when you’re working a full-time job like I am now, it’s hard to sport a Gerrard shirt on match-days. Times have changed.

Yesterday, I set aside all the presupposed characteristics of a working man and retrieved my Gerrard shirt from my shelves. And for a brief two hours last night, I returned to my heart-on-sleeve instincts, shouting my voice coarse for a team that has become part of my life, courtesy of a man who has made that much impact on it.

But the hard fact is that Liverpool are no longer what they used to be, and Gerrard is no longer what he used to be.

Still, until Andy Carroll came on and changed the game, Gerrard was the only person on the pitch to not be overawed by the occasion, to still put on the fight he’s done so often in his illustrious career.

Maybe, when he hit a Carroll knock-down into the stands, it was all too reflective of an erstwhile powerhouse whose finishing prowess have deteriorated to that extent.

But for the last 20 minutes of the game – even towards the last 5 – I was hoping, yearning, straining for that loose ball to fall to his feet outside the area, so he could, much like he did 6 years ago, be the hero again. So that Stevie G could once again save the day. So that his smile would be plastered across the front pages with the familiar Roy of the Rovers, Captain Fantastic, Super Stevie G headlines again.

Alas, it wasn’t to be.

And so, rather than the outright anger at Kenny Dalglish for his time-and-again incompetent tactical approach and personnel selection, rather than the outright depression that Liverpool couldn’t cap a terrible season with the scant consolation of a Cup Double, the overriding emotion I felt was the heartbrokenness that Liverpool have not done justice to the loyalty of their captain all these years.

I was told after I left the bar that the cameras showed a Steven Gerrard in tears.

I’m glad I didn’t witness it.

It might’ve been too much.

Why the League Should Trump All for Liverpool

I couldn’t get up for the 2:30am Champions League semifinal between Barcelona and Chelsea last night.

Not that I didn’t want to, but after getting out of work at 10pm, I couldn’t muster the physical stamina to wake up in the middle of the night to watch a clash between neutrals.

I’ve just watched the match highlights.

Before I continue, let me just preface this by saying that, if Chelsea do go on and win the Champions League, thereby securing Champions League football for next season irrespective of where they finish in the Premier League, I will fully retract everything I’ve said about Fernando Torres making a bad decision to leave Liverpool.

Because let’s face it – finishing as champions of the (footballing) world’s most difficult competition, getting another shot at it next season, and a major pay raise: how is that in any way a bad decision?

It’s not nice being on the receiving end of a “I told you so,” but sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and say that you got it wrong.

Now. As I was saying, I just watched the match highlights.

The first thing I noticed was the Champions League anthem playing in the background as the camera did its customary panning of the players from both teams and throughout the pre-match handshake.

I grew up on that anthem.

There was a time when I’d first gotten into Liverpool, when Liverpool, during the early 2000s, weren’t a fixture in the upper echelons of European football, just as Liverpool aren’t now.

But I grew up, as a fan, watching Liverpool in the Champions League.

During all my years abroad in Boston, Champions League action featuring Liverpool in September and February weekday afternoons on ESPN2 was a staple. I proudly strutted my Liverpool jerseys around campus and wore my heart on my sleeve. I left class early and ran back to the dorms to turn on the TV, door open, and crank up the sound.

When Liverpool scored – and boy, did Liverpool score – I ran up and down the hallways, and my hallmates all came to check out the tiny TV screen out of curiosity. I didn’t have to persuade them to stay; they stayed for the rest of the game out of their own accord.

I remember the days when I was proud, so proud to be a Liverpool fan.

Call it glory-hunting if you will – and I will gladly admit that, yes, I do like supporting a team that wins. One that, if it’s not winning, is showing enough resolve and consistency year on year to earn the chance of competing for the top prize in its profession. Is that such a big fault?

For overseas fans like us, who sadly don’t have a strong local club (or league, for that matter) to follow, it’s not any romantic sentiment of a local club for the community, not any family values in the stands, not any domestic and continental domination before our time – though, having grown into Liverpool’s club culture over the years, I have to say that I have gained a massive appreciation for the unique Kop culture. (But it had to start somewhere.)

No – it’s the idea that I’m rooting for an institution that believes in its right to compete at the highest level. That strives to match its opposition, no matter how financially, technically or physically superior. That, in the words of Clive Tyldesley in the aftermath of the 2005 Champions League final, “have been the most wonderful underdogs.”

And for a time, for that period when I became a fanatic, when I fell in love with Liverpool Red, when I exhibited such extreme emotions that I rarely muster, the Champions League became synonymous with my team.

That is of course failing to mention the rich financial windfalls that come with Champions League placings and performances. In both the short and long run, the extra income does wonders in terms of player recruitment amongst other things – but in a reflection of the emotions and the passions that the beautiful game brings about, those come in a distant second.

Sure, Liverpool this season have won a first piece of domestic silverware in six years, and might secure a domestic Cup Double with an FA Cup win over a considerably improved Chelsea side – but Liverpool, even in this season of wretched league results, have always proved to be wonderful underdogs, capable of cranking out a performance when they most need to.

The real challenge is to be able to maintain that consistency and high level of performance in an ever-competitive Premier League – to finish in those much-coveted Champions League spots.

It’s no surprise that Liverpool fans still hold up five fingers when it matters most.

Because once you maintain your game at that level, you earn the right to compete with the very best. And then, only when you get to compete with the very best in the world, your ability to come up with the most extraordinary triumphs become a prized asset, the reason why people become so attached with an institution boasting a never-say-die attitude.

So my overwhelming thought when I watched Torres skip around the keeper like his old days in Liverpool red wasn’t about his decision to leave Liverpool.

It was – and stayed with – that Champions League anthem.

If it was Liverpool standing there with that anthem roaring in the background – preferably barely audible beneath the stirring renditions of You’ll Never Walk Alone – you bet your backside I’d be tuned in at any time of the day to witness the occasion.

Because it’d mean that Liverpool will have returned to the Liverpool I know best.