Same team, different results

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“The owners have made it perfectly clear they are in it for the long term. They realise it is going to take time. They realise we can’t turn things round overnight and they also realise the team I am working with is not the team I put together. It [the speculation] doesn’t bother me because I can’t do more than I am doing. I can’t work harder and I can’t work better.” “Whoever takes my place will be doing a similar job with similar players.” – Roy Hodgson, December 14, 2010.

In his comments above, after the defeat at Newcastle, Roy Hodgson was suggesting that nobody else could do a better job with the players at his disposal. Well after Kenny Dalglish led the Reds to victory at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, the fourth victory and clean sheet in a row, these comments look like one of the all time great football gaffes. What may have surprised Roy, and I’m sure all of his chums in the media and LMA, is that Kenny has done this with the exact same squad that Roy had at his disposal, bar the brief cameo from Suarez against Stoke City. Well it hasn’t surprised me because I am not an idiot and I know, just like the vast majority of Liverpool supporters, that giving your players confidence, being dignified in public and having tactical knowledge beyond 4-4-2 and hoofing the ball up the field, will result in better performances and results.

Those that said Kenny Dalglish had gotten rusty on the golf course during a decade away from management have been made to eat their words over the last month. As we have all witnessed, the difference Kenny has made to the performances of the players and overall atmosphere around the club has been nothing short of magnificent.

One of the things I like best about Kenny’s tenure so far has been his post match interviews and comments. Whenever Roy had cause to speak to the media, more often than not we would be shaking our heads (and fists) at the screen as he criticised the players, the fans, made lame excuses, was always on the defensive and acted arrogantly bringing up his long career in management. There are many articles online devoted to Roys most embarrassing comments so I don’t need to start reciting them here, but I’m sure most of you will know what I am talking about. Whenever Kenny gives an interview or press conference we are more likely to be bowing in respect and applauding the man, and any laughter is from his great wit rather than laughing at him in a negative way.

I love the way he never says anything negative about the players or the club, even after the Blackpool defeat he was positive and not on the defensive. He refuses to comment on rumours and only deals with the facts and keeps everything behind closed doors in a dignified manner, which was The Liverpool Way during the glory years. He is never rude to the journalists, like Hodgson often was, and even when refusing to give answers he is often witty. For me the definitive statement from Kenny came after we beat Wolves and the television reporter was pressing him for an answer on the rumours regarding Charlie Adam. The exchange was absolutely brilliant and went like this;

Interviewer: “A lot of the fans watching the show today will want to know if that is getting closer.”

KD: “Well it’s a bit sad when you spin it onto the fans. We know more about our fans than what yourselves do. I know what’s going on, doesna’ mean I have to tell yous!”

A perfect example of the difference Kenny has made can be witnessed in the form of Raul Meireles over the last month. In my opinion, Mereiles was Portugal’s best player in the games I saw during the last World Cup. He was sensational playing in front of the midfield, a position from which he scored a great goal in the rout of North Korea.

Hodgson was working for the BBC during the tournament as a pundit and commentator and I am certain he will have seen at least one of Portugal’s matches. Yet at Liverpool Roy repeatedly commented that he still did not know what Mereiles’ best position was and deployed him in variety of roles. He seemed to settle on playing him at right wing in a flat 4-4-2, where he was lost and out of sorts. Kenny clearly watched the World cup as well and he knew perfectly well that Mereiles would flourish by being played in front of the midfield just behind the strikers. The repeated man of the match awards and four goals in five games are definitive proof that Kenny knows exactly what he is doing.

Credit has to also go out to Steve Clarke who I’m sure has been working hard with the defence. Martin Skrtel has shown some improvements recently and Daniel Agger looks reborn and showing the composure and quality on the ball that has seen him compared to Phil Thompson and Alan Hansen in the past. It is absolutely staggering beyond belief that Hodgson was leaving him out of the team and even strongly rumoured to be trying to sell him. Agger has regained his form and a perfect example of the quality he brings can be seen in the way he carried the ball forward to win the free kick that led to the first goal against Stoke. The four clean sheets in a row and the way we kept Drogba and Torres fairly quiet is further proof of the excellent work being done in training to organise the defence. Glen Johnson is also much improved in his defensive work since being moved to left back to accommodate the excellent Martin Kelly at right back.

I also love how Kenny along with Clarke and Sammy Lee, are flexible with the formation and shape of the team. Rather than sticking with a 4-4-2 in every game, because they have used it for thirty five years, Kenny and his team have the technical knowledge to change things depending on the opponent, such as deploying three at the back.

We are now just six points behind Chelsea and Spurs, albeit having played an extra game, and if we continue in our winning ways the chances of catching at least one of those teams is not out of the question. None of us could have predicted that at the beginning of January when we were only four points away from the relegation zone. Personally I just want us to finish above Chelsea more than anything just to show Torres that he joined a big club but left an even bigger one.

I want to close this week by expressing some alarm over the quotes attributed to Pepe Reina this week. According to the usually reliable Sid Lowe of The Guardian, Pepe is hinting that he would possibly be open to a move to Man Utd or Arsenal. He gave an interview to a Spanish radio station saying he wished to remain in England with a team challenging for titles. He did not say he wanted to leave Liverpool but he did not really give me much confidence that he wouldn’t leave either. I cannot believe that any Liverpool player, especially somebody like Pepe would even consider joining Man Utd but after the last week and a half, it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility either. I am hoping that he comes out and makes a statement that he is fully committed to the club and puts all the rumours to bed, for the time being at least.

Right now I am keeping the faith in him and remembering an interview he gave to the official Liverpool website last year when he signed his new contract. I am thinking of the following words from Pepe;

“Why commit? Because I am happy here and I think the club is happy too. We have been talking lately especially my wife and myself and we don’t see any better place to go. It is personal and professional, the education of my child, it is a bit of everything. I don’t know how to explain it really, but it is a feeling. I felt wanted from the beginning here. It is not always about being competitive or to be in the biggest club, but being at the right club. It is not a sacrifice. I am really proud and lucky to be here. Why? It is about principles at the club. I think Liverpool is the right club for me. I want my children to speak English. If it is Scouse I will still be proud of them! It is a good education for them to speak two languages at the same time. It is priceless.

“Listen, Liverpool is one of the best clubs in the world. Whatever happens, whether we are in the Champions League or the Europa League, it is still Liverpool no matter what. It will always be like this. I see no reason to leave. ‘You could have the pick of a lot of clubs.’ It’s nice to hear, but I am not thinking about leaving Liverpool at all. When the people speak about you in a nice way and recognise the job that I am doing then that makes you feel wanted. My decision is taken. I don’t know what the other lads are thinking, but my mind is clear. I have decided to play many years for Liverpool and I have no regrets at all with that.”

To mark the end of the 30-year wait for a league title, the ‘Liverpool Mishmash’ poster is available to order exclusively on This Is Anfield — the history of the Reds in one image!

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