Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Patience Needed As Kenny Dalglish Looks To Steer Liverpool Ship To Success

It is said that you learn more in defeat than you do in success. In Liverpool’s case, they will have learned a lot from Saturday’s defeat at the hands of Stoke City. So fickle is football these days, that following three straight victories, there was heightened talk of a possible title push this season. One defeat later, and people start to question whether or not the players are good enough. At least this match should make one thing perfectly clear: Liverpool is not yet ready to be considered challengers for the Premiership, and they shouldn’t be judged as such.

This is after all, a club who were facing a very real possibility of administration less than a year ago. Add to that the team’s shocking performances under previous manager Roy Hodgson, and it was a club going in the wrong direction, fast.

That the squad Kenny Dalglish has assembled over the summer was even being talked about as possible contenders gives an indication of how far it has come. The work of Dalglish, Director of Football Damien Comolli, and of course the owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) this summer can not be understated. They identified problem positions in the team, and filled them with quality players. Many of the players signed conform with the new FIFA Fair Play Rules that are due to be enforced in the coming years. Others fit the FSG strategy, of young players with good resale value. It has also been reported that by clearing out virtually all of their “dead wood” (players of little use such as Phillip Degen, Christian Poulsen, Milan Jovanovic etc), they have lowered their wage bill by £30m. This is now a club with a long-term plan.

However, this plan is, as stated, a long-term one, and immediate success simply isn’t going to happen. Saturday was proof of that. This isn’t something that Liverpool fans will like to hear, but if that were Manchester United in that position on Saturday, you would fully expect them to grab an equalizer, and possibly go on to win the game. United have that ruthlessness that is required, and the ability to carve out a win when it looks unlikely. Liverpool, just like on the opening day of the season against Sunderland, failed to show these characteristics, and have lost valuable points because of it.

It’s no disgrace dropping points away to Stoke however. They have now lost only once at the Brittania in their last 15 games- it has become one of those venues that teams dread playing in. They have also played three games more due to their European commitments, and so is probably a touch fitter and sharper. Like I said, no disgrace, but that doesn’t excuse the performance on Saturday. Liverpool were poor. Simple as that. The fact is that once Stoke took the lead, Liverpool offered very little. Jordan Henderson had the best chance for Liverpool when put through by Jose Enrique, but he shot straight at Asmir Begovic, and then had two more shots blocked before Adam couldn’t find the net either from the rebound. The only other chance for Liverpool came then the ball broke to Suarez in the last few seconds but his instinctive swing at the ball sent it wide. They had a decent shout for a penalty turned away, but all in all, they didn’t play well enough.

It is easy to criticize Stoke, as they were happy sit on their lead and show virtually no ambition in attack. Who can blame them? They are playing a team that they are expected to lose to and have found themselves a goal up. They have every right to shut up shop in that situation. Charlie Adam had an off-day, and because of that, Liverpool’s passing game suffered. He was clearly still feeling the effects of the knock that kept him out of Scotland’s victory over Lithuania, and his ball retention was lacking. The Reds were also evidently missing the presence of an out-and-out right-back, as Martin Skrtel filled in there, offering little in the form of attacking support. Few good moves took place down the right-hand side. Other problems for Liverpool were that their passing lacked accuracy and conviction, and they didn’t get enough men in the box.

Criticism of many Liverpool players, a lot of it from there own fans, is premature. Jamie Carragher is the focus of many people’s attention, having given away the penalty, and there have been calls for him to be dropped. Carragher should not, and will not be dropped. He is still a very good defender and a defensive organizer. Without him in the side, the defence would be significantly weaker, as he is the one who calls the shots in the backline. He is also a leader. Arsenal has been the perfect example of a team without enough leaders, and Liverpool doesn’t want to make that mistake unnecessarily. Henderson has also come in for some stick. He was very good against Bolton, as were the rest of the team, and he was poor on Saturday, as were the rest of the team. To he is not good enough already is being very short-sighted. He has just turned 21 years old, has a full season of Premiership football to his name, and is an England international. Give him time, and he will develop into a top class footballer.

This is a team with several new faces. The likes of Henderson, Stewart Downing, Jose Enrique and Charlie Adam have only just started playing for the club and need more time to get accustomed to how Dalglish wants them to play. All four will play key roles for Liverpool this season, and I am sure all of them will be successes. Top four will be the priority this season, and the squad is capable of getting there. After they got top four, and only after that will a title challenge become a realistic target. All they need is patience.

Mark Lawrenson: Liverpool FC Must Get A Result At Tottenham

Liverpool FC will be disappointed but not downhearted after their defeat at Stoke City.

The manner of the loss was a world apart from the miserable way in which they went down at the Britannia Stadium last season.

Kenny Dalglish has got a gripe about the decisions of referee Mark Clattenburg. I think Stoke’s penalty was soft but, let’s be honest, Suarez would have tried for that spot-kick.

That said, Liverpool deserved at least one penalty for handball, but that’s just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.

I’d be more pleased playing-wise, as Dalglish’s men looked good. And don’t forget, Stoke is a difficult place to go and get something these days.

It was the first of a run of four Premier League games which last season Liverpool lost, and the outcome this time around will go a long way to telling us how far the team have progressed.

They go to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, and while Spurs put you under pressure they do give the opposition time to play and I’d expect Liverpool to gain some reward.

If Liverpool have serious ambitions of a top-four finish then they have to go to White Hart Lane and look like a team capable of winning.

The game should see the return of Steven Gerrard. And, if fully fit, I think the skipper will go straight back into the team. There’s little point leaving him on the bench, as he’s such a good player and gets a positive reaction from those around him.

I can’t see the experiment of playing Martin Skrtel at right-back lasting too long. I understand why Dalglish played him there against Stoke because of his height.

But he’s not a full-back – remember Middlesbrough a few years back? – and one of Martin Kelly, Glen Johnson and Jon Flanagan will be the better long-term bet.

Liverpool Possesses Three Near-Term Options At Right Fullback To Replace Glen Johnson

Glen Johnson's injury will give manager Kenny Dalglish further concern about the right back position. It is fast becoming a problem area for the Liverpool defense. Here is a look at some of his right-back options in the near term.

Martin Kelly
The promising Kelly started the season as the first choice right back, and his performances have caught the attention of England manager Fabio Capello. After a bright start to his time in the LFC first team, his 2010-11 season ended prematurely after he tore his hamstring in February. He suffered a hamstring strain in Liverpool's 3-1 win over Bolton. He should return soon, as club doctors said the latest strain was a slight one and would keep him out for two weeks. Kelly has returned to training and is in contention for Sunday's game at Tottenham.

Martin Skrtel
Skrtel, a central defender by trade, was Kelly's substitute against Bolton and performed well enough to earn the start against Stoke. He was defensively sound against Stoke, but did not add much to the LFC attack when he pushed into the final third. It would not be a shock to see him in the starting lineup against Tottenham.

John Flanagan
With league and cup games on the schedule in the coming weeks, 18 year-old John Flanagan should see more first-team action. He is still learning his trade, but has eight games of EPL experience on which he can build. Expect to see him play in LFC's next Carling cup game on Sept. 21.

Alan Shearer Backs Dalglish To Bring Best Out Of Carroll

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish has been backed to bring the best out of England striker Andy Carroll by Newcastle United goal-scoring legend Alan Shearer.

Dalglish has already leapt to the defence of his £35 million striker after his lifestyle was criticized by England head coach Fabio Capello and Shearer has insisted that his fellow Geordie is in good hands with the Anfield boss.

Shearer, who played under Dalglish in the title-winning Blackburn Rovers side in the mid-90s and managed Carroll for a brief spell as Newcastle United boss, believes his former player is in the best possible hands on Merseyside.

“If there is one guy that will get the best out of Andy Carroll it will be Kenny Dalglish and I know that from my own personal experience when I worked under him at Blackburn,” Shearer told Goal.com.

“Whether you are scoring goals for fun or whether you are having a tough time in front of goal Kenny will not change. Kenny will be able to pass on all the experience and know-how that he has gained as a player and as a manager. He will be a great help to Andy.”

Shearer – who will play for Kevin Keegan's Entertainers against Roy Evans' Liverpool old boys at Kingston Park, Newcastle on Sunday, October 9 in a charity game – is confident the 22-year-old Carroll will overcome a sluggish start to the season to win over Liverpool fans.

The former England and Newcastle skipper, who was idolized by Carroll as he came through the ranks at St James’ Park, backed the 6ft 3in targetman to come good amid veiled criticism from Capello.

The Italian said the centre forward had to “be careful” off the field and had to “drink less” than other footballers and called into question his attitude to training while with England.

“Andy is at a great football club and he is working under a great manager in Kenny Dalglish,” Shearer added. “He hasn’t had the best of starts to this season for whatever reason but ability-wise he will never lose what he has got and I sure he will come good again.

“I used to sit and listen to guys give me advice, particularly through the media, so I would hate for him to think that I would be sat here publicly giving him advice so I won’t start now.

“But what I can say is that confidence in football is the biggest thing and once he gets up and running then he will be fine. I have no doubt about that.

“First he must fight to regain his first-team place and then start playing on a regular basis to get back his sharpness and match fitness and it is then that Liverpool will see the best of him.”

Raul Meireles Angry Over Liverpool Broken Promises

Chelsea summer signing Raul Meireles has cast light on his transfer from Liverpool on deadline day.

“All I have to say is that I had one promise at Liverpool which wasn’t fulfilled,” said Meireles in the Chelsea press conference prior to their UEFA Champions League clash against Bayer Leverkusen.

“It’s not the only thing to blame. But that’s why the Liverpool fans are unsure why I left.”

“I was aware that Liverpool wanted to sell me in the summer, which was a bit surprising to me,” said Meireles, who was reluctant to discuss his relationship with Reds boss Kenny Dalglish.

“There’s no point touching this subject any more.

“I was a bit surprised, but now I’m just concentrating on my present and future, and that’s with Chelsea.”

Even so, Meireles was pleased to have been offered a further chance to impress in England with Stamford Bridge.

“When Chelsea showed interest, it was like a golden opportunity,” he said.

“I’m here now, it’s a new adventure, and I want to do well here.”

Liverpool Had Little Choice But To Sell Meireles - Comolli

Director of football Damien Comolli has insists Liverpool did not want to sell Raul Meireles but had little choice after he handed in a transfer request and told the club he wanted to leave.

Meireles joined Chelsea in the final minutes of the transfer deadline day last month in a reported £12million move, a switch that angered many Reds supporters.

The 28-year-old Portugal international last week insisted he never wanted to leave Liverpool but admitted he jumped at the chance to go to Stamford Bridge when it became clear he would be sold.

Meireles has accused Liverpool of a broken promise and claimed he was forced to submit a transfer request once they had decided to sell him to Chelsea.

Putting across Liverpool's side, Comolli said on the club's official website in response to questions sent in by supporters: "I think Raul said it himself with what I've seen recently in the press. Basically, he came to see me and said 'I want to leave, I want to play for another club'.

"Our intention was not to sell him but we were put in a corner a little bit when he put in a transfer request and said he wanted to go and that he didn't want to play for Liverpool anymore.

"I think the owners and Kenny (Dalglish) have said it, and we all have the same view. When someone doesn't want to be here it's difficult to say 'you are going to stay'.

"We've been through that process in January with Fernando Torres and this felt like the same situation. We've done it, we think it was the right thing to do for the club, because it's very, very difficult to have somebody here who doesn't want to be here.
"The job of the manager in the Premier League is already difficult having to manage 25 players and only having 11 to start on a match day, so you have to deal with all the others.

"On top of that if you have someone who is adamant they don't want to be here and wants to play for someone else, we took the view it's better if he goes and we get the best possible deal for the club. In the end I think we did well."

Meireles was not the only player to leave Anfield this summer, with Alberto Aquilani returning to Italy after agreeing a loan move with AC Milan for the rest of the campaign, while Joe Cole moved on a season-long loan to Lille.

Asked why Aquilani was allowed to go after impressing in pre-season, Comolli said: "With him it was more a question of opportunities to play. He's obviously a big player, he's got a very good resume and he's a very good player. But Kenny and the coaching staff felt he would play in a certain position.

"As I told Alberto during the summer, unfortunately in that position is someone called Steven Gerrard and it would have been difficult for Alberto to play."

Comolli also dismissed reports that Liverpool now have first refusal on highly-rated Lille star Eden Hazard as part of the Cole deal.

Liverpool's Striker Target Confirms Future

Benfica forward Oscar Cardozo is set to pen a deal keeping him the club until at least 2016.

The Paraguayan's current deal will keep him at the club until 2014, how an offer of a two-year extension is expected to warn off interest in the striker.

Liverpool had reportedly been interested in the 28-year-old, however the player's agent Pedro Aldave says he is currently negotiating the extension.

"The kid is happy in Benfica and it will be normal to stay there, but it is necessary to settle more details," Aldave said.

The fee demanded for the player is reported to be in the region of €60 million, however given that Liverpool have spent over £100 million since the appointment of Kenny Dalglish, the club could be tempted to make a move.

However, the signing of Craig Bellamy on deadline day in the transfer window negates their need for the striker, but if Luis Suarez's reported transfer to Real Madrid ever came to fruition, then Liverpool may be forced into a move.

Babel Blasts Liverpool Training Regime

Liverpool flop Ryan Babel has blamed the Anfield club’s training regime for his poor form in England.

The Dutch forward arrived on Merseyside in 2007 with a growing reputation and a hefty £12m price tag.

But the 24-year-old scored just 12 goals in his four years at Liverpool and was sold to Hoffenheim in January.

The forward has enjoyed a stellar start to his new season in the Bundesliga and puts it down to better training at his new club.

“I think I've had really benefited from the move to the Bundesliga,” he told Dutch paper De Telegraaf.

"We do more preparation work at Hoffenheim than I ever saw in England and we do longer training sessions. I’ve never felt so fit. "

"You need competition to get fit. I often sat on the bench and the schedule in England, with a game every three days, meant the training was only there to maintain us.”