A Troubled Term for Dalglish and Co

This was written as a response to the capitulation of Liverpool’s league form towards the end of the 2011-12 season…

It has been a transitional season of trial and tribulations on Merseyside that has highlighted Liverpool FC’s fundamental lack of direction, philosophy and policy both off the field and on it.

Yet, it is incredible to think that such a miserable league campaign could still be rewarded with two trophies by May that would signify their most successful season since 2001.

There is no getting away from the bare statistics that have been put forward with alarming regularity in the media in the last week – statistics that when viewed in isolation are a damning indictment of Liverpool’s dramatic implosion in 2012.

They have their worst goal difference since 1964-5; this is their worst season at home since 1951-2 and their worst goals per game ratio since 1923-4.

They are further away from a Champions League spot than relegation, illuminated by the fact that in losing 6 of their last 8 league games they have endured their worst run of form since 1953-4.

It says much about how their league campaign has imploded that the primary goal now is to ensure finishing above Everton.

But there are some equally telling statistics behind Liverpool’s nosedive, most notably that since Lucas Leiva tore his knee ligaments the club have taken just 23 out of a possible 60 points, compared to 23 points from 39 before.

It is no coincidence either that since the League Cup Final both Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger have been missing and concurrently Liverpool’s defence has leaked with alarming regularity.

Since the turn of the year the Reds have accrued just 9 points, with only relegation-bound Wolverhampton Wanderers worse off.

Despite missing over half of the season Lucas has made more tackles than any other Liverpool player.

Though this says much about the importance of the Brazilian it is, if anything, a damning indictment on the rest of Liverpool’s brittle midfield.

Liverpool’s entire league season has been undermined by their chronic profligacy in front of goal – an inability to translate performances into results.

What started off as aberrations against Sunderland, Norwich and Swansea has morphed into a season-long plague that has rapidly deteriorated.

This chronic profligacy is highlighted by the fact that no other side has hit the woodwork more times, and their top scorer, Luis Suarez, has a chance conversion rate hovering around 8% – that’s about 15 shots taken per goal.

Maxi Rodriguez’s double salvo against Blackburn Rovers took his tally to 13 goals in his last 20 games, but the Argentine has been inexplicably underused playing just 473 minutes of Premier League football this season.

The manner in which Liverpool’s season has imploded since the turn of the year, and particularly since victory in the Carling Cup Final, lends itself to hyperbole, hysteria and paranoia, but failure to beat Everton in the upcoming FA Cup Semi Final would only increase the sense of crisis that has engulfed Anfield since the Carling Cup Final triumph.

Much has been made of the £113 million that has been spent by Dalglish and FSG since January last year, yet this ignores the rather modest net spend of approximately £40 million – most of it due to the £50 million sale of Torres to Chelsea and the removal of dead-wood acquired by Roy Hodgson during his insipid reign.

That said, the ‘Buy British’ transfer policy of last summer now resembles a resounding and overpriced failure for being patently flawed and has highlighted the incoherence around Anfield.

It was a policy that sought to centre the team around the wrong player – instead of utilising the outstanding talent of Luis Suarez it looked to build around Andy Carroll.

As a result Suarez has cut an increasingly forlorn and isolated figure on the pitch, whilst Carroll continues to struggle to replicate his form at Newcastle United.

With Carroll struggling for confidence and goals, Suarez has often been deployed as a lone striker, when he is far more effective when allowed to roam between midfield and attack which is the position in which he has prospered for his country and for Ajax previously.

The summer signings themselves are not good enough to deliver Champions League football for the owners who demanded such back in August.

Charlie Adam has looked increasingly out of his depth as the season has worn on; Stewart Downing has shown the chronic lack of self-belief which has often affected his performances for England whilst Jordan Henderson has often looked overawed in his new surroundings.

Jose Enrique has demonstrated erratic decision-making which has eroded his confidence and his current form is symptomatic of the malaise which has set in.

There is nothing to suggest that Adam and Henderson are better alternatives than Raul Meireles and Alberto Aquilani, two players who could bring the best out of Suarez yet were inexplicably discarded last summer.

It is premature to write off Kenny Dalglish’s reign as manager after just one full season, but the Carling Cup triumph of February should not paper over the cracks.

As important as it was for the club to be competing for trophies again, the implosion since has been nothing short of staggering.

Previously Liverpool were not reaping the rewards of their performances, but now both results and performances are quickly deteriorating.

Whilst Liverpool’s dramatic u-turn in form has coincided with Suarez, Gerrard and Carroll appearing together consistently for the first time, this is more a result of the lack of stability behind them, exacerbated by the absence of Lucas since November, whose stock grows ever higher the longer he is on the sidelines, and the imperious Agger.

This perspective is essential in understanding why Dalglish is entitled to feel he deserves another season, a chance this summer to right the wrongs of 2011 and build a philosophy and a team that can challenge for a Champions League place.

In order for that to be achieved, Suarez and Steven Gerrard must be prioritised and built around, or Liverpool will continue to wallow in mid-table mediocrity hoping for a scramble for European places.

It is the curious case of the fickle nature of modern football that Liverpool have endured such a torrid season and yet now appear likely to finish it with more trophies than the record-breaking Manchester City (whose own implosion has been similarly dramatic) and yet 2011-12 is more likely to be remembered for off-field ignominy and a league season debacle.

Manchester City were the most recent side to break into the top four and that was on the back of paying over £100 million in the course of the 2010-11 season for Champions League quality players in David Silva, Yaya Toure, Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko, James Milner and Aleksandar Kolarov.

That is the spending that Liverpool must replicate, but without the blueprint for success then there is no hope of attracting players of that calibre.

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