Kenny Dalglish’s return to Anfield has been heralded in certain quarters as a cross between the Second Coming and The Greatest Show on Earth but can the, all to human, Scot really justify the hype?
Now thanks to our exclusive statistical breakdown of the curent Liverpool squad and their results over the last five seasons, SBC can finally cast some light on the facts and the fictions surrounding King Kenny. As SBC editor Greg Gordon explains, in this exclusive extended report, the numbers certainly suggest that all is not quite what it seems at Anfield…
Wheeling away, arms aloft after notching yet another crucial goal, Kenny Dalglish was the ultimate baby-faced assassin, long before a certain Ole Gunnar Solskjaer acquired that handle. With his winning on-field demeanour and central role in The Reds’ greatest triumphs, Dalglish’s name runs through the annals of Liverpool’s golden age like the letters running through a stick of rock.
His roll call of achievements reads: seven league titles, three European Cups and five domestic cups – achievements which led to him crowned King Kenny by Liverpool supporters. As player-manager of Liverpool in 1985 and in a six-year tenure as manager thereafter, Dalglish had won three league titles and two F.A. Cups, by the time he resigned as Liverpool manager in 1991, in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster.
Liverpool gave Lennon and McCartney to the world but Greater Glasgow gave Liverpool Shankly and Dalglish. As icons to compare with popular music’s greatest ever songwriters it is no wonder that the two enigmatic Scots are revered like Beatles in the red half of Merseyside.
There is no encore for Lennon and McCartney, but on 8th January 2011, Dalglish became Liverpool’s caretaker manager after the departure of Roy Hodgson and, with a tailwind of seemingly unanimous goodwill, he permanently returned to the Anfield hotseat, for a second time, by signing a three-year permanent deal on 12th May this year.
But what about King Kenny’s so-called Second Coming? Are we witnessing the return of the king or simply the latest chapter in a tale of largely diminishing returns for the club in the post-boot room era?
Here at The Smart Betting Club we’ve put Dalglish’s numbers to the test considering everything from his overall record in context, to his formations, favoured strike partnerships and the influence (or not) of his key personnel. The results, albeit based on a small sample of games, are as surprising as they are informative.
Kenny Dalglish’s Second Coming
Strip away the hype and spin of project King Kenny, disregard the uncharismatic reign of Rafa Benitez and the unmitigated disaster of Roy Hodgson’s brief tenure and you’re left with what is a surprising picture, to say the least.
The table below shows how Dalglish’s Second Coming cuts up so far:
Under Kenny Dalglish Liverpool have played 23 games, since January 2011. The tale of the tape is a 52% win rate that breaks down to 12 wins (52%), four draws (17%) and seven losses (30%).
Breaking down that record further we have 11 home wins (a 64% win rate), three draws (27%) and just one defeat at home to Spurs at the end of last season (a losing percentage of 9%).
Away from home, Dalglish’s record equates to five away wins (42% win rate), six defeats (50%) and a solitary draw (8%)
But having heard the hype, just how does King Kenny’s record compare in relation to his predecessor’s Benitez and Hodgson?
Liverpool’s Long-Term Record
If we exclude Dalglish tenure from the calculations we are left with long term averages stretching back to the 2006/2007 season that show up as follows:
Last five seasons excluding Dalglish:
So have things really improved under the much-trumpeted Dalglish?
Remarkably, given the feel-good factor around the club and the reception Dalglish has received on the terraces and in the media, the answer is hardly at all.
In fact, if you compare, Dalglish’s reign thus far, to Liverpool’s long term performance since the 2006/2007 season you can see that Liverpool have won just over half their games pre-Dalglish (91, 53%) from a total of 171 games played.
And let’s recap Liverpool’s record under Dalglish: it is a winning ratio of just 52% – just 12 wins from 23 games in charge.
Dalglish is doing no better or worse than you’d be inclined to expect, based on his record since taking over in January 2011. Statistically at least, the myth of an Anfield revival, that saw Liverpool talked of as title dark horses as recently as the close season, just doesn’t ring true.
Dalglish’s many fans will counter of course, and with justification, that Liverpool needed a steady hand on the tiller and a return to the boot room traditions of Liverpool’s glory years, after the abortive Roy Hodgson experiment – not least because performances and signings – as well as results – clearly did not pass muster on Merseyside. Dalglish’s disciples will also counter that is remains early days, that the football is much easier on the eye – and that King Kenny as player and manager, has never failed them yet.
Hodgson, the former Blackburn, Inter and Switzerland boss, arrived from Fulham as the League Manager’s Association Manager of the Year for 2010. He was hounded out of Anfield with a record of 31 games played, 13 wins, 9 draws and 9 defeats with a win rate of just 41.94%. The record is poor but Dalglish probably ensured that Hodgson was always on a loser at Anfield. Asked to act as a consultant on the next managerial appointment, following Rafa Benitez’s departure, Dalglish rejected Liverpool’s initial shortlist only to self-servingly throw his own hat into the ring as a potential boss. That gambit failed but thereafter, Liverpool fans simply never took to Hodgson, an urbane, low-key multi-linguist from Croydon, Surrey. He was always on borrowed time.
The first phase of recovery, as witnessed, has been assumed to be a return to a fortress like mentality at Anfield. And indeed, under Dalglish Liverpool have an excellent home record winning seven games from 11 played (64%) since January 11th.
Well, at least it seems good. That is, until you compare the Scot’s 64% win rate with the comparable long term percentage win rate at Anfield for all home games of 66% since 2006/2007 (57 wins from 86 home games).
Under Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool’s away record has not improved either. Good performances have followed bad on the road with five wins and six losses in Dalglish’s 12 away games. That equates to an average win rate of 42% – a percentage that is essentially bang in line with their long term average five year win rate of 40% for away matches.
The bottom line is that while Kenny Dalglish has been hailed as a messiah, he has done little more than maintain Liverpool’s five season average performance, achieved mostly under Benitez.
Is it simply the case that the PR spin attached to having ‘one of their own’ at the Anfield helm is a preferable scenario than soldiering on with Benitez, a manager for whom familiarity had latterly bred contempt?
Perhaps that is a little harsh and too convenient a line – after all 23 games is a short, short noose with which to condemn any manager. And wasn’t quality as much as quantity the key issue under the previous two incumbents in the manager’s office?
For the time being King Kenny deserves the benefit of the doubt.
And, as we all also know, winning and losing isn’t just about the man in the dug-out. As we illustrated in our SBC research into Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal it also comes down to the players and the transfer ins and outs as much as the boss’ football philosophy or tactics.
The Key Players
Most Liverpool fans would probably assume that the stats relating to a trio of latterday Liverpool legends (Carragher, Reina and ‘Mr Liverpool’ himself Steven Gerrard) should form the keenest impression of Liverpool’s (recent) past and present. It is a broadly fair assumption.
The first thing to note is that Scouse icon Jamie Carragher seldom misses many games. The current vice-captain is one of the club’s longest-serving players; he made his 666th appearance for Liverpool in all competitions on the 9th May 2011, thus placing him second on the club’s all time appearance list. In his last 50 possible appearances, Carragher missed just 11 games so a sense of the potential impact of his absence is hard to define. In the 11 games the Bootle-born defender missed, Liverpool drew just once, compared to their 26% draw rate when Carragher is playing. Liverpool average 1.56 PPG with him present and 1.45 without him. The obvious implication is that Carragher may help tighten things up at the back in such a way that Liverpool have been able to consistently take points from close contests with league rivals.
Liverpool’s Spanish keeper Pepe Reina is the second leading light in Liverpool’s ranks. However as an ever-present in The Reds’ previous 50 games there are no available absentee stats to contextualise his contribution between the sticks. Clearly though, his record of 220 Liverpool appearance since 2005 speaks volumes.
There is surely no fan of English football that would take issue with the statement that over the last five seasons, Liverpool’s club captain Steven Gerrard MBE, has been the most dominant English midfielder of his generation.
However, over the last 50 games, the 31 year old Gerrard has been missed much less than might be first assumed.
Amazingly, Liverpool actually average more points per game, more goals for and less goals conceded in the 23 games Gerrard missed, than in the 27 games he played in the last 50. His record reads: missed 23 out of potential 50, with those games comprising 11 wins, 4 draws, 8 losses (48%, 17% & 35%). The average PPG is 1.61. The average GFPG 1.87.
In contrast, Gerrard played 27 out of potential 50, with 11 wins, 7 draws, 9 losses (41%, 26%, 33%). His contributing games accrued 1.48 PPG and 1.22 GPGF.
However, there is a massive caveat here to be noted. Gerrard has started just five games under Dalglish, however Liverpool won four of those matches including games against Man Utd and Chelsea.
No doubt, Steven Gerrard remains Liverpool’s big game guy par excellence for Dalglish. But can Captain Fantastic be relied on longer term?
The answer is not necessarily. Here is Stevie G’s overall record against top six Premiership sides taken from 50 possible games against top six teams dating back to 06/07.
Playe: 39. Won 14, draw 11, lost 14. 36%, 28%, 36%. 1.36 PPG 1.15 GPGF
Missed: 10. Won 5, draw 3, lost 2. 50%, 30%, 20%. 1.80PG, 2.0 GPFG.
Would it be fair to suggest that, regardless of the prevailing wisdom, Gerrard is actually a negative when the chips are down and he is called on to take big games by the scruff of the neck? The numbers certainly appear to expose a trick played on the eyes. For all his dynamism, perhaps Gerrard simply isn’t as crucial a presence as we’ve all been led to assume.
Let’s again though, hold the firing squad here. Steven Gerrard has struggled for momentum in recent times with his performances broken up by a string of niggly injuries. His performances over the last two seasons should be viewed in that context.
The Flying Dutchman
One of the positives of Dalglish’s Second Coming at Anfield has been the rehabilitation of the square peg Dutch striker Dirk Kuyt. Said to have come on leaps and bounds due to the Scot’s sympathetic counsel, Kuyt has metamorphosed into a key man for Dalglish.
Kuyt missed just 10 games in the previous 50 but Liverpool have averaged just 1.1 goals in those missed matches compared to 1.62 goals per game when he plays.
And of course, Kuyt’s now legendary impact as a key defensive element, when Liverpool cede possession high up the field, has become a major asset to his manager. In the 10 games Kuyt missed from their last 50 Liverpool conceded an average of 1.4 goals per game, compared to 1.0 goal on average in the 40 he’s played. The former Feyenoord man has missed just two games under Dalglish, both this season (Spurs and Sunderland) and on both occasions Liverpool failed to win either game.
The Great Dane?
The Red’s heavily tattooed Denmark skipper Daniel Agger bears the Latin memento mori: “Mors certa, hora incerta” (Death is certain, its time is uncertain) on his back. It’s just one of a number of apposite facts relating to the popular 6ft 3in centre back. Agger is another key man who is clearly missed when not playing.
In the last possible 50 Liverpool outings, Agger played 20 and missed 30. In the games the Dane played Liverpool averaged exactly 2 points per game, but just 1.23 points without him in the side. Crucially, Liverpool average 0.6 goals against with the former Brondby man in situ but they conceded 1.40 goals against whenever Agger missed games in the previous 50 fixtures.
Jose Enrique: Mr Consistency?
After 119 games for Newcastle, left back Jose Enrique arrived at Liverpool in August 2011 for a reported £6m fee. A cult hero in the North East, the Spaniard, formerly of Villarreal, certainly didn’t miss many Newcastle games before arriving at Liverpool. However he was significantly missed when absent. In the last 50 potential games he could have played, he played 34 and missed 11. Of those 11 he missed, Newcastle lost seven, letting in an average of 1.55 goals per game.
Enrique also seems to have been a valuable player at Villarreal in his time there. Out of 38 potential games, he might have played in our La Liga sample, Jose Enrique played just 12 times. Within those games The Yellow Submarine enjoyed a win rate of 55% compared to the 26 games he missed, which had a win rate of just 38% and saw 50% more goals conceded on average.
Andy Carroll: Less Than The Sum Of His Parts?
Just 12 games and one goal into his Liverpool career, Andy Carroll has hardly set the world alight since making the self-same journey from Tyneside to Merseyside as former teammate Jose Enrique.
In the case of the Gateshead-born striker, though, there was always going to be both baggage and expectation as a result of his record-breaking transfer fee.
The fee of £35 million paid by Liverpool for Carroll’s transfer from Newcastle United on 31st January 2011 is the record fee paid for a UK-born footballer. Carroll is the eighth-most expensive footballer in history and also the second-most expensive player playing for a British club, behind Fernando Torres, who moved from Liverpool to Chelsea for £50 million on the same day Carroll signed for Liverpool. His signing was apparently motivated by his performances against Liverpool. That is the kind of logic for signing a player that seldom seems to work out well in time.
Dalglish has already claimed one Premiership title thanks to the goals of a Geordie talisman (in the form of Alan Shearer at Blackburn) but so far, the lank-haired targetman is struggling to fill Shearer’s boots as both England and Dalglish’s great white hope.
Of the 19 games Carroll might have played thus far, he has missed 11. With Carroll absent, Liverpool have won 64% of those 11 games scoring an average 2.18 goals per game. That compares extremely unfavourably to the win rate of just 38% and 1.25 goals per game in the eight Premiership games Carroll has played thus far.
Andy Carroll’s goal ratio at Newcastle of 31 goals in 80 appearances is impressive , but it would be wrong to over-emphasise the value of his contribution at St James Park. Based on his last 50 potential starts for Newcastle, Carroll missed just 11 games. When he played the Geordies averaged 1.16 points per game but incredibly, they averaged 1.18 points per game in the 19 games Newcastle played without him in the last 50.
Torres: A Hard Act To Follow At Anfield
The extent of the obligation weighing on Andy Carroll is amply demonstrated by both the £35 million fee but also, more specifically, the impact of his predecessor Fernando Torres at Anfield.
If ever there is an illustration of the fine margins between success and failure in specific games, it is amply promoted in the example of Torres’ Liverpool career.
In all games from 07/08 onwards, Liverpool with Torres playing had a 1.9 PPG average with the striker, and a comparable 1.80 PPG without him in the side. An average of 1.88 goals for per game with him in Liverpool’s ranks fell to just 1.42 GFPG without Torres.
Interestingly, Liverpool drew 42% of the games Torres missed as a Liverpool player, but they drew just 19% of the games he played in, suggesting that Torres’ ultimate legacy for Liverpool was his knck for conjuring crucial goals that turned tight games.
Stewart Downing: Mr Dependable?
Stewart Downing, the former Middlesbrough wide-man scored 9 in 63 games for his previous club Aston Villa but since the winger didn’t miss even a single game from last possible 50 starts there are no absentee figures by way of forming a relevant absentee comparison. At least King Kenny can be confident that he has signed a player prepared to show up for the cause and with a useful knack of avoiding injuries. Downing a likeable would-be DJ and noted charity activist clearly has his head screwed on. His support of the No Messin’ campaign, along with boxer Amir Khan, warning youngsters against playing on railway lines, strikes a pleasantly, off-beat note in the ultra-conformist world of football.
Craig Bellamy: More Trouble Than He Is Worth?
At the opposite end of the spectrum, controversy can’t help but find Craig Bellamy during a 15 year career spanning 10 different clubs.
Having briefly dallied with his hometown club, the fiery Welshman, with a fondness for inflammatory text messages, played 33 out of last possible 50 games for Cardiff last season. They won 52% of them with 1.76 goals for per game. He missed just 10 games. Then the averages dropped to a win rate of 40% averaging just 1.3 goals for per game. Clearly still a Championship-level class act, Bellamy’s Premiership quality formerly, has never been an issue but at the age of 32 and with a game historically reliant on pace it remains to be seen whether he can now make his mark at the club he claims to support. Dalglish claims the Welsh firebrand has unfinished business to attend to at Anfield. Certainly, during his first spell at Anfield, Bellamy appears not to have seen eye to eye with Rafa Benitez and he scored just seven times in 27 appearances in 2006-7.
For reference Dalglish’s current top scorers have been Dirk Kuyt with 10 goals, Maxi Rodriguez with seven goals and Luis Suarez who has scored four already this term for Dalglish, and boasts six from 16 starts for the club. The 24-year-old Uruguayan frontman, wearing Dalglish’s revered No. 7 shirt, cost £22.8million from Ajax on transfer deadline day last January, briefly becoming the Anfield club’s record signing, prior to the subsequent arrival of Carroll from Newcastle.
Liverpool have averaged just 1.14 goals per game in the seven games Carroll and Suarez have been paired together. Kuyt and Suarez has been a much better option, with an average of two Liverpool goals in the 14 games they’ve been paired up.
Under Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool have played a 442 formation 13 times, winning 62% of those games. The success of Dalglish’s return to the tried and tested compares favourably with his general win rate average of 52%. In a 4-4-2 Liverpool average of 2.15 goals per game as opposed to the general average of 1.86 goals per game exhibited in Dalglish’s tenure to date.
The Scot has experimented with a 4-3-3 on six occasions but a goals per game average of just 1.33 goals for and a win percentage of just 33% (two games) suggests 4-4-2 appears to bring out the best in the personnel at Dalglish’s disposal.
So what has Kenny brought to Liverpool so far?
Notwithstanding the bum note of the recent 4-0 loss to Spurs, the Scot appears to have created a work in progress that is significantly more entertaining than the output of his predecessor Rafa Benitez.
The jury remains out as to whether or not there is anything of substance beneath the illusion of progress underpinning some literally average results.
However there is one thing that the former striker has added to the mix and that is goals – and lots of them.
In Dalglish’s 23 games so far, Liverpool have averaged 1.86 goals for per game, which compares favourably with the clubs all inclusive five year average figure of just 1.69 goals per game.
The biggest change has come in away games with an average of 1.55 Liverpool goals compared to the long term five year average of 1.24 GFPG.
King Kenny has clearly brought the entertainment back to the delight of embattled Kopites, however it remains to be seen if he can bring home the ultimate prize, the Premiership trophy, 21 years after Dalglish masterminded Liverpool’s last successful title campaign. At the moment that goal looks like an extremely tall order.
Kenny’s Second Coming: Another Perspective
While compiling the relevant stats for this article I consulted a number of well-versed Reds of my acquaintance for a second opinion. Leading football odds compiler Carl Rogan as been a regular at Anfield for many years and he obviously has a personal and professional interest in the comings and goings at his club. Here he presents a contrary view on the stats and his belief that the signs of green shoots are very much in evidence at Anfield.
Carl Rogan writes:
“This started out as a few points I was going to make then got right out of hand 🙂
I think in general you are being quite harsh on Dalglish. The sample size you are judging him on is far too small and it is the next 23 games that he should really be judged on. Up until this point, he has taken over a very poor squad of players, during a chaotic period off the field and built a new team which is going to need some time to gel. As you say yourself, one of Liverpool’s most important players, Steven Gerrard, has played just five league games for Dalglish. I don’t read too much into the cold hard stats about points gained with and without certain players as they can be very misleading and ignore a multitude of other factors. There can be no doubt that Dalglish would have a stronger side with Gerrard in it and I am certain he would have increased the win ratio had he been available.
Dalglish took over just days before a visit to Old Trafford and then had three games in a week with Blackpool away mid week, quickly followed by a Merseyside derby. He had to field the likes of Ngog, Jovanovic, Poulsen and Krygiakos in these games and it’s therefore unfair to read too much, if anything, into these early results.
After that it was four wins on the bounce and his results over the second half of last season would have been good enough for Champions League qualification. Under Dalglish in this period Liverpool managed to beat both Manchester sides comfortably at home along with Chelsea away and also took a point of Arsenal at the Emirates (before going back and beating them at the start of this season). There were slip ups along the way, such as West Ham and WBA away but that was only to be expected with the players at his disposal.
This season has been a mixed bag so far but I was always expecting the opening couple of months to be very difficult for a number of reasons.
Firstly, we had several players away at the Copa America, most notably, player of the tournament Luis Suarez. These players then missed much of preseason as a result, along with Gerrard who has been injured. So preparations for the season weren’t ideal.
Nine new first team players have also arrived since January and it was always going to take time for this new team to take shape. The fixture computer could hardly have spat out a worse set of opening fixtures for a new team trying to gel.
Arsenal, Stoke, Spurs, Everton and Chelsea are five of Liverpool’s first six away games and that is as difficult a run of games as you will get in the Premiership. It sounds like I am making excuses here but they are all valid points in my opinion.
Liverpool have had some shocking decisions go against them in the opening five league games. Against Sunderland in the opening fixture, Kieran Richardson should clearly have been sent off for his professional foul on Luis Suarez who then went on to miss the penalty kick. Against ten men at home Liverpool would almost certainly have taken all three points.
Stoke away was another huge injustice with three controversial penalty decisions all going the way of the home side. Liverpool did more than enough to earn a point from that very tricky away game and on another day with a different ref they would have done.
Next we come to Tottenham a week past Sunday, and Liverpool played poorly for the first 25 minutes but then lost Daniel Agger to injury (again) and had two players sent off, there was only ever going to be one result after that. That said, Tottenham didn’t manage to build on their one goal lead until Liverpool had gone down to nine men in the 66th minute.
Overall I’d say the majority of Liverpool fans are quite pleased with how things are progressing under Dalglish. The team is generally playing good attractive football and is showing a lot of potential. Fourth place is very much achievable and maybe even third isn’t beyond reach.
For all the talk in the media of title challenges, that has never once come from anyone inside the club. John Henry the owner, has stated publicly that we are not ready to challenge this season and that the team is still a work in progress. I think much of the title talk is a result of the perception that we have spent a lot of money but our net spend this year is only around £35million, which in comparison with Man Utd, City and Chelsea, isn’t actually that much.
In response to your individual player analysis I would make the following points:
Pepe Reina is one of the most popular players at the club and one of the top five keepers in the world in my opinion. Convincing him to stay was one of the most important deals of the summer, if not the most important. You only need to look at the trouble Arsenal have had with keepers over the last few years or Man Utd in the period in between Schmeichel and Van der Saar.
Our defence came top in a Liverpool Echo poll of supporters as Liverpool’s weakest position (this was before Enrique signed to be fair) and it remains a cause for concern. Liverpool have kept just one clean sheet in eleven games stretching back to last season and conceded three goals in four of their five pre season friendlies. Left back has been a big problem position in recent years and last year’s signing of Paul Konchesky a complete disaster. Jose Enrique has made a promising start in this position and was one of the few players to come out of the Tottenham game with any credit. He looks solid enough defensively but is a real asset going forward and will help open up the smaller teams at home who come to Anfield and stick ten men behind the ball.
You could say the same thing about Glen Johnson on the opposite flank. Johnson gets a lot of stick for being poor defensively but I think a lot of this is over the top and stems from a couple of high profile errors whilst playing for England. There are better full backs defensively without doubt but in the modern game, you need your full backs to be able to attack and on his day, Johnson is the best attacking right back in the league in my opinion. He will more than make up for the odd goal he costs the team by what he can offer in terms of assists and even goals. Unfortunately, Johnson has not started a Premier league game this season because of an injury and with Martin Kelly also picking up a knock, this has cost Liverpool goals and points. When Johnson and Enrique are both able to take the field together they will offer real width and are going to be an important part of how Dalglish wants to play.
Central defence has been a problem position for Liverpool this season and is the main reason we have not been able to keep clean sheets. Jamie Carragher is a club legend but he is now in the twilight of his career and starting to make too many errors. His mobility is diminishing and he really needs to be phased out of the team sooner rather than later. His clumsy challenge on Jonathan Walters at Stoke which led to the winning goal is something he has always had in his repertoire.
Daniel Agger, on his day, is an outstanding ball playing defender the like of which has not been seen at Anfield since the days of Alan Hansen. He is our best centre half but unfortunately seems to miss a significant portion of every season injured. He has just been ruled out for another month after fracturing ribs at Tottenham and if he cant manage to stay fit once he returns, he could be in real danger of being offloaded in the summer as patience runs out with him.
Martin Skrtel is another player who, again, on his day, is a very good defender. However, he has been plagued by inconsistency and like Carragher, has his finger hovering over the self destruct button too often. Skrtel has had a torrid time so far this season and his confidence must surely have taken a knock. To be fair to him, he cannot play at right back where he has been asked to fill in for Johnson and Kelly, and Dalglish has to take the blame for leaving him exposed against Gareth Bale of Spurs. If Skrtel and Carragher cannot find some form in the next month then it could be a real problem for Liverpool with games against Everton and Manchester United on the horizon. New signing Sebastian Coates has looked decent in his two short appearances against Tottenham and Brighton but at just 20 years old and fresh off the plane from South America, he cannot be relied upon to fill such an important position until he is a bit more experienced.
Dalglish has completely remodeled the midfield over the summer with the signings of Adam, Henderson and Downing.
Steven Gerrard is now available again and I think how he performs is going to have a huge outcome on Liverpool’s success this season. On the evidence I have seen so far, Henderson is not ready to have a significant impact on the first team whilst Charlie Adam just isn’t good enough.
Adam is slow, lacks mobility, is a poor tackler and has poor defensive positioning. He needs to become a squad player if Liverpool are to ever challenge for the title and hopefully now Gerrard is back, this will come to pass.
Downing has looked impressive so far and will hopefully see more of the ball now that Gerrard is back to take control of the midfield.
Lucas Leiva has been a player I’ve absolutely despised in the past but to be fair to him, he’s improved a lot over the last year. He has cut out his reckless challenges in dangerous positions and makes up for his limited tackling ability by being able to read the game very well and excelling at intercepting passes rather than players.
Maxi Rodriguez is a useful squad player who can contribute goals from midfield whilst Jay Spearing kicked on considerably when given a chance at the end of last season. He will need to improve still further if he wants to be involved more regularly however.
Losing Raul Meireles on deadline day was a blow, not so much because he was such a great player, he was good, not great, but because we weren’t able to replace him. I think we still need to add a top quality creative midfielder player if we are to challenge for the title, Juan Mata would have been ideal.
The impact of Luis Suarez has made the name Fernando Torres a distant memory and he really does look the real deal. He has everything and will create as many as he scores. He is a danger round the box with set pieces and holds the ball up brilliantly for his size. If he carries on the way he is going Luis Suarez can become our modern day King Kenny. My biggest fear is that the two Spanish giants start sniffing around as early as January, we need to win a cup this season to hopefully convince him we are heading in the right direction.
Craig Bellamy was a good late acquisition and should prove a potent weapon coming off the bench or covering for injured players. He is a definite upgrade on David Ngog.
And then we come to Andy Carroll. At £35million the pressure was always going to be heaped on if the goals didn’t follow. There are worrying stories that he is still enjoying his private life a bit too much shall we say and he needs to find some focus if he is to be a success at Liverpool. He is a huge threat in the air and I am still confident he will do well even though his Anfield career has been slow to get going. With everybody fit Luis Suarez should provide a perfect foil and with Downing, Enrique and Johnson all able to put a decent ball into the box (Charlie Adam too I suppose) he should have every chance.
We also have the option of Dirk Kuyt to play up top or on the right of a 4-3-3. He really should have been deployed in front of Skrtel v Spurs to help shackle Gareth Bale and I am getting a feeling that Kenny isn’t sure how to incorporate him into his new Liverpool vision.
With the players we have, I think that 4-3-3 is the formation that will yield the greatest return and gives us multiple options too. With Lucas sitting as the DM, we can then play Gerrard along with one from Adam, Henderson and Rodriguez.
Then the forward three can be any combination of Downing, Kuyt, Bellamy, Carroll and Suarez.
Enrique and Johnson can bomb forward to provide width although we’d have to be careful not to leave ourselves too open away from home.
In a 442 we only really have Downing to play wide. Henderson and Adam don’t look comfortable out there and Kuyt struggles there too. Kenny seems to be flicking between the two formations and you sense he is maybe undecided which way to go yet. Now that Gerrard is available again he should show his hand on this and concentrate on sticking to one formation as much as possible (obviously it’s good to change it in certain situations for certain games).
To conclude, I think we are on the right track. We are fighting it out for fourth with Arsenal and Tottenham and are rightful favourites of the three. At time of writing this, Betfair’s “top four finish” odds were 5/4 Liverpool, 13/8 Spurs and 11/4 Arsenal and if anything I think we should be a little shorter. I’d swap Arsenal and Tottenham’s prices around as the recent media coverage, writing off Arsenal and lauding Spurs for comfortably beating nine men, has distorted the market in my opinion, as has the negativity surrounding our last two results. Tottenham have defensive weaknesses and have the distraction of the UEFA Cup too.
The Liverpool support stand behind their manager like no other (as long as he doesn’t come from Croydon and have several Scandinavian minnow clubs on his CV) and will give King Kenny that precious footballing commodity, time.
We have a fantastic batch of youngsters emerging at the club and having a legend such as Dalglish guide them into the first team (when previous managers refused to place trust in youth) can only be a good thing. If we don’t make fourth it will be a huge disappointment and could have real long term consequences for the club in terms of attracting and retaining the top players. If that were to happen then things could start to get messy, because if Dalglish does fail I really don’t know how we’d get rid of him. A sizeable section of the support stuck by Houllier then Benitez for a good season too long, I don’t know how long it would take for them to turn on Dalglish – and of course, such is his standing at Anfield that some never will.”
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About FormLabBlack: The stats used in this article all appear courtesy of FormLabBlack, the so-called ‘most effective football betting tool on the market today’, created by Betfair founder Andrew Black. You can find out more here: FormLabBlack