Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The six tricks Liverpool need to apply right now

It was back in January when the red half of Liverpool went crazy celebrating the return of the prodigal son. Kenny Dalglish was back in town and the bad days were over, they believed. With just over a quarter of the new season gone, those fans are still devoted to King Kenny, whilst the new owners are being heralded as saviours for rescuing the club from the pantomime baddies Hicks and Gillett. But just how far have Liverpool come? Despite spending £100m on new talent, the answer is not that far. In fact it is just three points. With 11 games gone last season the demands for Hodgson to leave were cranking up to fever pitch. Defeats by Northampton and Blackpool irreparably damaged his credibility. The statistics though point to the fact that Dalglish has hardly made a difference. He has won 51% of his games but is just that one win better off than Hodgson was at the same point. Dalglish also has the advantage of one more home game to get his teeth into as well as playing promoted sides Norwich and Swansea at Anfield. There is no question of the Scot being hounded out of town as his predecessor was, but just how can Kenny turn Liverpool around.

Rush back Steven Gerrard - Liverpool have always been half a team without Gerrard marauding in their midfield. He is one of the few players in the Premier League with the drive to win games on his own. Teams fear his passing ability and long-range shooting. His presence pulls defenders out of position and his powerful running allows him to burst through from deep. No-one else in Liverpool's squad has these assets. Gerrard is also a perfect foil for Luis Suarez, just as he was for Fernando Torres. He can sit in the space between defenders and the midfield and spread confusion among opponents that Suarez is smart enough to capitalise on. The Reds have been guilty of putting too much stress on Gerrard's body in the past but now, with him coming to the end of his career, they need to ask him to go once more into the breach - and as quickly as possible.

Find a new Carragher -  King Kenny's toughest task. In the days when Dalglish laced on his boots commanding central defenders were ten a penny. They beat up strikers and threatened to beat up team-mates unless they gave their all. Short on ball playing skills but strong on desire to win games, they were the backbone of any team. Think Steve Bruce, Tommy Smith and Sam Allardyce. The current trend in the Premier League is defenders that hate to defend. Managers want ball players with pace and an ability to step into midfield. Chelsea's David Luiz is a classic example. It makes finding a replacement for Jamie Carragher so tricky and makes Carragher's slow demise such a big problem for Liverpool. They are rudderless without his cajoling at the back. The Anfield draw with Swansea was a classic example. Liverpool became more and more demoralised as they chased shadows. A big character with a loud voice was needed to whip them up into a match winning fervour but Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel were as quiet as mice. Dalglish missed out on Phil Jones, a perfect solution to this problem, and really needs to land Gary Cahill from Bolton in January to add some leadership to his side.

Turn Anfield back into a fortress - There used to be a day when teams were beaten as soon as they saw the This is Anfield sign above the tunnel as they ran out to play. Not anymore. Swansea were the latest bunch of freshly promoted players to come to Liverpool and give the home side the run around. A couple of weeks before it was Norwich and just last season Northampton, Blackpool and Wolves all left victorious. The fear factor has evaporated and with it the mental one-goal advantage Liverpool used to enjoy. Dalglish needs to find a set up that allows Liverpool to go gung-ho at home and rip a few teams to shreds, that will play with the minds of future opponents and make it easier to win at Anfield. 

Ditch Carroll and Henderson - Maybe it's the expensive price tags that are keeping them in the team - well it's certainly not their form - but it's now time to drop the dopey duo. They both need a stint out of the side and a spell being coached in the Liverpool way. When the Reds bought Ian Rush from Chester in 1980 they shoved him in the reserves for a year to teach him how to play. Carroll and Henderson may have more experience than Rush but neither of them are proving capable of coping in the Reds first team. Dalglish needs to call time on this painful experiment and gave them a break.

Stop having blind faith in King Kenny – Dalglish was a clever appointment by the new regime when he took over. The club needed a lift following a gloomy couple of years and there was no bigger name to appease the Kop than the legendary number seven. Dalglish had the respect of his players and knew supporters would give him carte blanche to turn Liverpool around. But the dictatorship that has evolved is dangerous with no decision questioned. And there have been several questionable decisions this season. For one, why has Jordan Henderson moved ahead of Dirk Kuyt in the fight for a spot on the right? And why has Maxi Rodriguez been ditched altogether less than six months after scoring two hat-tricks in three games. Dalglish needs to have his selections analysed, his buys questioned. Doubters should make reflect on his decisions and that will make him a better manager.

Drop the Sabermetrics – What is Sabermetrics? It's a system the club's baseball owners have seen work in their own sport in America and hope can be employed in football's over-priced transfer market. MLB team Oakland A's turned into world beaters despite having a tiny budget. They stopped using scouts and started using statistics to pick players and found potential stars in signings other clubs turned their nose up at. Liverpool director of football Damien Comolli is a fan. There is talk his knowledge of the system was a key reason in why he was handed the job a year ago. Already his influence is being felt. Summer signings Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson all had good figures for assists last season. But football is not like baseball in this respect. The numbers matter less than the determination, heart and team spirit a player has when the chips are down and Liverpool need a goal.

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