|Kenny Dalglish is enjoying the kind of loyal support that previous managers did not [GALLO/GETTY]|
Perception, they say, is everything. Because as the Liverpool faithful continue to talk up the revival under King Kenny, the reality is that things are only marginally better than last season.
If they fall to a highly possible defeat at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge on Sunday, the Reds will have just three more points than they did after a dozen games under the much-criticised reign of Roy Hodgson.
And now, with Luis Suarez being charged with racial abuse, Dalglish faces the possibiliy of being without his best player for several matches should the Uruguayan be found guilty.
There’s no doubt that the fluid and attractive passing game under Dalglish is a vast improvement on the stodgy style of the last couple of years. But the distraction of the Suarez case is the last thing the veteran manager needs as he enters a nerve-jangling nine days during which his season could be defined.
After Sunday’s match, Liverpool host top-of-the table Manchester City next weekend before another game away to Chelsea – in the Carling Cup quarterfinals just 48 hours later. If it doesn’t go according to plan, the Reds could enter December in eighth position on the table, already out of one competition and with their top striker on the sidelines.
“Even with the immense respect that Dalglish’s long connection to the club rightly brings, fans would have a right to ask why the target of a top-four finish again seems unachievable”
Even with the immense respect that Dalglish’s long connection to the club rightly brings, fans would have a right to ask why the target of a top-four finish again seems unachievable.
Backed by the Fenway Sports Group, Dalglish has spent a reported $165 million since taking over in January, which dwarfs the funds made available to Hodgson and Rafa Benitez under the previous owners.
Benitez’s final season in which Liverpool finished seventh is rightly remembered as a deep disappointment. And yet his side was in an almost identical position to where the Dalglish’s men now find themselves.
In the happier, previous campaign under Benitez when the Reds came within a whisker of winning the title eventually claimed by Manchester United, they were in second spot after 11 matches on 26 points.
It is certainly not time to panic as Liverpool are unbeaten since September, although three home draws in their past four matches was highly unsatisfactory. But Dalglish needs to take a good, hard look at which of his fresh recruits aren’t doing the business on the pitch.
Success and failure
While the excellent Suarez, Jose Enrique, and to a lesser extent, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam, have performed, Andy Carroll ($55 million) and Jordan Henderson ($25 million) aren’t living up to their inflated price-tags.
Would a return to the youth policy work better? Dalglish will remember the relative success that he enjoyed at the end of last season after inheriting Hodgson’s squad when he threw a batch of unheralded tearaways into the mix, including Jay Spearing, John Flanagan, Jonjo Shelvey and Jack Robinson.
|Dalglish has been blessed with the funds to buy players such as the skilful Luis Suarez [GALLO/GETTY]|
But it is risky to assume that this raw brigade could immediately achieve the consistent results needed to guarantee Champions League football for 2012-2013, which is the stated minimum requirement for this season.
No one will argue with Dalglish’s decision last January to sell off the fast-fading Fernando Torres for $78 million to Sunday’s opponents. But the sight of old boy Raul Meireles – a $19 million August deadline day departure – wearing a blue-shirt sits less comfortably with the Anfield faithful.
Eighteen months after Benitez departed the Merseyside club, there’s growing speculation about how the Champions League-winning manager would have done with the kind of American dollars that Dalglish now has access to.
Between 2006 and 2008, Benitez reportedly set up moves to Liverpool for the likes of David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Dani Alves and Pato only to see them fall through because the cash-conscious club was slow to act.
Benitez never won the League Cup during his six years at Liverpool. But, this secondary competition may suddenly become important to Dalglish, despite his threats to play an under-strength side due to the fixture congestion that sees it staged so soon after the Manchester City match.
With not even the Europa League to aim for, how Liverpool do in domestic Cup competitions might provide a crumb of comfort should the clubs above them on the league table pull away.
That’s why the first of the Chelsea games is so crucial. Win, and they are level with their London rivals and on the brink of the top-4. Lose, and they could be 15 points off the premiership pace and 10 adrift of their arch enemies, Manchester United. An away draw must be the minimum requirement.
In recent weeks, Dalglish has huffed and puffed about elements conspiring against his side, from poor refereeing to crazy scheduling to the trend that sees his unlucky forwards and midfielders hitting the woodwork more times than any other team this season.
But, privately, the Scotsman will be wondering why things aren’t going better. He knows that the Reds are close to ‘clicking’ but for some reason they are not.
It could all start on Sunday against Chelsea – but if it doesn’t, he might need to find something or someone else to blame.
* Jason Dasey is an Asia-based international sports broadcaster and host of Football Fever, the world’s first international soccer podcast with an Asia-Pacific perspective. Twitter: JasonDasey
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