How Kenny Dalglish has Liverpool flowing
When it was clear that Roy Hodgson was on borrowed time at Liverpool and all the speculation was linking club legend Kenny Dalglish with a return to the managerial hot seat, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one harbouring private doubts.
How would he adapt to the rigours of the modern game, full of highly-paid footballers, agents and around-the-clock scrutiny? How would he cope with the tactical subtleties of today’s football?
Surely, two decades after his stint at the club, time had passed him by? Surely he would soon be found out?
Dalglish, in a short four months, has proved he can not only keep afloat what looked a sinking ship under Hodgson, but has transformed the club to such an extend it is now not only on the verge of European football next season, but even dreaming of a return to the glory days of the 70s and 80s, when Dalglish was a driving force in attack.
For a Liverpool fan who was so sceptical about his return at the start of the year, I am now firmly of the view that Dalglish should be signed, sealed and delivered by the Fenway Sports Group as the permanent man for the job, and soon.
In truth, it seems only a matter a time, and rightly so.
What has been so impressive about Dalglish’s work has been how simple, yet calculated, it has been.
Primarily, he has instilled his men with complete belief, giving them the template and encouraging them to play positive, offensive football, always looking to take the initiative, rarely waiting.
As much can be told from the number of early goals scored in recent times.
Recognising that the traditional Liverpool way was always to be proactive and get on the front foot, Dalglish has returned the club to its roots.
For years Liverpool have been burdened by negative, counter-attacking managers, from Gerard Houllier, to Rafa Benetiz, to Hodgson.
All sought to play the percentages, preferring to pinch goals and points, here and there. In many ways, it was the most un-Liverpool way to play.
Benetiz, after years of waiting, finally worked out the way you have to play in the Premiership, having one genuine crack at the title two seasons ago, only to fall a few points short of arch rival Manchester United thanks to a bevy of points dropped at home.
That side was inspired by the likes of Fernando Torres, Steve Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun, and dished up some superb football.
Apart from that season though and some success in Europe, the club have been nothing short of a disaster in the Premiership, where it most counts.
But you sense the good times could be returning to Anfield.
Watching Liverpool closely, as I have done since Dalglish took the reins, there are a number of technical observations that stand-out.
Obviously Fenway’s money has helped, and the January transfer window business of selling Torres and Ryan Babel (one and a half strikers) for two in Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll looked sound at the time, even if the Carroll fee was well over the odds.
While we haven’t yet seen them team-up on a consistent basis, Liverpool fans got a taste of the potential partnership when they destroyed Manchester City last month.
While Carroll drew the headlines that day with a well-taken brace, it was Suarez’s movement, pace and touch that caused the City defence all sorts of headaches.
It has been that way since he arrived. Again, yesterday, at Craven Cottage, it was the Uruguayan who led the front line with an “outstanding” performance, to quote Fulham manager Mark Hughes.
Speaking about Liverpool’s potential with Suarez as the focal point, Hughes said;
“But they can certainly improve and they’ve got a talented guy (Suarez) at the top of their team that’s going to work and harry and make positive movements in that final third and is going to create goals and chances for himself and his team.”
If Suarez provides the polish, craft and graft, he has able support from Liverpool’s other everywhere man, the adaptable Dirk Kuyt, perhaps the club’s most productive signing over the past five years.
Whether asked to play up front or on the right, the Dutchman simply roles up the sleeves and keeps working.
In that respect, Dalglish’s proactive strategy, which involves a high defensive line and very high octane high pressing game, suits the likes of Kuyt, Raul Meireles and Suarez, all players who like to get on the front foot, perfectly.
The interchangeability of positions looks seamless, a tribute to the work of Dalglish and his coach, Steve Clarke.
Profiting from all this of late has been Maxi Rodriguez, popping up in all the right places to pick up that many rebounds you’d think LeBron James has taken his partnership with Fenway to the Liverpool training track.
Elsewhere, there have been some exciting promotions from within, a Liverpool trait, with John Flanagan catching the eye and Jay Spearing forming a formidable central midfield partnership with Lucas, who these days looks like Alonso and Javier Mascherano rolled into one.
With Gerrard watching from the sidelines and not due back this season, what a luxury it must be for Dalglish to contemplate his options next season.
Depth, both in numbers and quality, is something Liverpool has lacked in recent times, and with Fenway’s dollars, that might finally change.
The early signs are that Dalglish will manage it all with a minimum of fuss.
Tactically, he has handled things with aplomb, shifting slightly, here and there.
In two early games he used a back three, as much to get the base right. Since then, confidence restored, it has been a back four, with subtle tinkering ahead of it.
At home, he has used Kuyt up top, alongside Suarez. Away, as at Fulham, he drops Kuyt out to the right side of midfield, tucking Meireles infield. All the while though Meireles, Kuyt and Rodriguez are encouraged to support Suarez.
Even Spearing is seen advanced of Lucas, often on the edge of the box.
Last week, when Flanagan was being given the run-around by Newcastle’s Jonas Gutierrez in the first half, Dalglish protected him by switched him over to the left for the second half.
Yesterday, he didn’t drop the kid, instead giving him confidence by starting him on the left again. Clever man-management.
It has been the hallmark of his work to date, and, on the evidence so far, Liverpool fans may have cause for more optimism in the months and years ahead.
Follow Tony on Twitter @TonyTannousTRBA
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