It is often said that the night is darkest before the dawn. Under a month ago Liverpool played host to a Wolves side that left Anfield with three unexpected points; three firm nails into the coffin of Roy Hodgson’s gloom-filled tenure at the helm of the club. This afternoon the same fixture took place, but it was far and away a different Liverpool side. Over the course of the two games, one was Liverpool in disguise, cloaked in a veil of mediocrity; the other allowed their true red colours to show through.
Dalglish’s men took to the pitch without fear; the memories of Wolves’ triumph over them were relegated to a distant past, as though they occurred in another lifetime. Instead, the reds looked dangerous and buoyant, breaking forward in numbers and constantly putting the home side under pressure. Torres looked as eager as ever to get his name on the scoresheet – which he did twice, the first created by Meireles – and the scoreline certainly could’ve been more considering Kuyt’s chance and Jonjo Shelvey’s later effort, again set up brilliantly by Meireles.
It is perhaps fitting that Dalglish’s first win comes away from Anfield. The restoration of Liverpool’s home as a fortress will no doubt be on his agenda, but even more desperate was the improvement of the reds’ dire away form. By claiming victory away from the comfort of home support, Dalglish has made a statement of intent, starting a new era as he means to go on.
But that’s not to completely disregard the dangers posed by a lively Wolves side. In truth Liverpool were lucky not to concede on numerous occasions, with the defence looking incredibly shaky in parts. It’s the result of a lengthy hangover from weeks and months past, where the reds shipped far too many goals and scored too few: a simple formula for defeat. Mistakes, complacency, a lack of concentration and, at times, of determination, all factor into this. With each passing goal the team conceded there seemed to be a new reason and a new scapegoat; it’s certainly not been the fault of one individual. Rather it’s the result of a collective effort, and it’s absurd to imagine that the entire backline could – or should – be replaced. What the defence needs to do is gain some solidity and consistency, and their first clean sheet in an unimaginably long time will go a huge way to restoring some confidence.
Indeed, I’ve previously spoken at length about the importance of belief and confidence in the team, not only from the fans but within the players themselves. Dalglish, in such little time, has already brought much of this belief back, and there is no better manifestation of this than Raúl Meireles, easily Liverpool’s man of the match in today’s performance.
After a great strike against Everton last week to finally break his duck, Meireles entered this game with supreme confidence, striking the ball from outside the box at every half-opportunity. Dalglish will no doubt have instructed him to do this – to believe in himself, to give it a shot – but he would not have expected what came next, as Meireles reaped the rewards for his opportunism with a magnificent strike that would be a worthy winner of any competition. His majestic, looping volley took everyone by surprise and all but ended the game as a contest, giving Liverpool the two goal margin they desperately desired in ultimate style.
If this confidence continues to flow through the veins of Liverpool’s players game by game, it is possible that they will finally start to live up to the potential they contain, and in turn may rid themselves of the unwanted tag of underperformers. This can only be improved even more as Dalglish begins to assert himself on the squad further, imparting his wisdom and mentality and creating a real bond with the players. If anyone is able to squeeze every ounce of talent out of the current crop, then it is the man who is currently leading the way out of a dismal period for the club.
Of course, it’s not as simple as just getting the team to play to their potential. For all of the skill they do possess – skill that has been lying dormant all season – there is a genuine limit to their talent, and the club should seek reinforcements sooner rather than later. The past week especially has been filled with transfer rumours, and it’s no secret that Liverpool need to spend wisely and improve their squad in a number of key areas. Luis Suarez, one of the recurring names taking up the headlines, would be a perfect addition to a squad often short of flair and firepower, whilst Glen Johnson’s lack of effectiveness at left-back indicates a real need for a quality player suited to that position. I’ve no doubt Aurelio would be up to the role if it weren’t for his inconsistent fitness levels; one candidate that has appeared, though the link may be tenuous, is Fabio Coentrao. The Portuguese wingback, who excelled during the World Cup, would be a superb signing, though whether there is any truth to the rumours – or whether we would be able to lure him to Anfield in its current state – is another story altogether.
As an aside, the game featured the uncommon sight of a lineswoman, who had a huge decision to make in the build-up to Liverpool’s opening goal, where Meireles seemed to dart offside. She ruled that there was no infraction and the goal stood, and I couldn’t help but hold my breath: if the decision was wrong, she would be the subject of an intense wave of criticism from Wolves fans and Liverpool detractors nationwide. The decision, though, was picture perfect – and it wasn’t an easy one. In an age where officials are criticised more than ever for careless mistakes and incorrect decisions, it is perhaps ironic that the one figure many may single out to be prone to an error got an incredibly tough one right. Maybe her fellow linesmen would do well to follow her lead.
Liverpool next play host to Roy Hodgson’s old side Fulham, though it comes too late for the now departed manager. The reds shouldn’t get ahead of themselves after today’s victory given Wolves’ position in the table, but it signalled genuine improvement and should Liverpool reproduce this level of performance throughout the season, then more victories shouldn’t be too far away.
If Hodgson was the spectre looming over the night, spreading shadows far and wide, then Kenny Dalglish has already proved that he is the beacon that will lead the way out of the darkness. Liverpool are far from their best, but that’s to be expected: the strength of the midday sun is still a long way off for the reds. Right now, everyone can simply be content that there is at last some light breaking over the horizon.