Manchester City will have been licking their lips at the prospect of this encounter.
With Liverpool’s ever-increasing list of casualties meaning that their side would almost be patched together at the last minute, it looked like a mouth-watering opportunity for City’s squad, brimming with attacking talent, to finish what they started just two games into the season.
If you can cast your mind back that far, you’ll remember City tearing a below-par Liverpool side to shreds, in the process destroying any glimmer of optimism that surrounded Anfield at the time (and there was optimism at the beginnings of Roy Hodgson’s tenure, and following Joe Cole’s arrival, if you’ll believe it). City were rampant, looking to get their season off to a flying start, while Liverpool’s was falling to pieces before our very eyes.
That defeat essentially set the tone for the season to come. It was something that the reds never really managed to shake off, and things only went from bad to worse for the side as one poor performance followed another until things had simply gone too far – and all real aspirations had drifted out of reach.
City will have been looking to do the double over the side they are looking to replace as a permanent fixture in the league’s old ‘top four’. Knowing Liverpool’s defensive frailties, they will have been looking to embarrass the side who have, in many ways, fallen from grace over the last couple of seasons.
But it was Liverpool who had unfinished business – and they came out looking for revenge.
With three potential starters absent from Liverpool’s defence – not to mention the gaping hole in the centre of midfield – there were a few nerves jangling round Anfield prior to the match, not least fuelled by the introduction of young Flanagan, thrown in for his debut in extremely testing circumstances. Though one game isn’t enough to judge a player as a whole, he held his own remarkably well. In truth, though, he was hardly tested.
From the first minute Liverpool played to their strengths. Knowing their weaknesses lay at the back, they stuck by the mentality that attack is the best form of defence, and in a complete reversal from that game right at the start of the season, City simply couldn’t get a hold of the ball.
It echoed the Anfield of years gone by, at the pinnacle of the reds’ game. They were rampant, they were dominant – they were untouchable.
Much of this was down to the excellence of Andy Carroll, who netted his first two goals for the club in emphatic fashion. Luis Suarez settled so quickly into the reds’ frontlines that in many ways he overshadowed the acquisition of his more expensive strike-partner; in virtually every game he has played Suarez has been bright and brilliant, producing at least a moment of magic even if not always influencing the games from start to finish. But having arrived carrying an injury, Carroll’s emergence was always going to be more cautious, unfolding more slowly. He didn’t have the luxury of arriving in a flash to score goal within minutes of his debut.
Tonight, however, was his true introduction. Up until this evening he had shown only glimpses of what he may bring to the squad in the years to come. Tonight, that all changed with one thunderous swing of his left boot as he scored a goal remarkably similar to the one that captured Liverpool’s attention back when he was still in the black-and-white stripes of Newcastle.
More than just scoring goals, however, Carroll also proved that he can be a deadly efficient cog in the red passing machine. Everyone knows that he will create chances by holding up play and cushioning headers into the paths of our more diminutive strikers, but his movement and interchanges with Suarez and Kuyt up front this evening proved that Liverpool’s attack is sharp and deadly, and will become even more-so as time passes.
Indeed, Liverpool’s attack succeeded this evening through the reliance upon Dalglish’s tried and tested passing mentality. The team’s movement of the ball was at once both fluid and tight, piling intense pressure on City’s backline for the entirety of the ninety minutes. Supplemented by the unending industry and high work ethic of a lively and aggressive side, the visiting side didn’t stand a chance.
Annoyingly, this draws attention to Liverpool’s continued failings in other games, against teams that we should be burying without breaking a sweat. Obviously it’s not easy to keep up the same level of motivation and aggression against every team – and not every game is bolstered by the Anfield factor – but perhaps the most disappointing aspect of some games lately has been the team’s tendency to slip nervously into long-ball mode, firing one directionless pass after another in the vague direction of Carroll’s looming silhouette on the horizon. I’ve no doubt that this approach will pay dividends on occasion, but it’s not a system that can – or should – be relied upon for the entire duration of a game. Simply put, it shouldn’t be the go-to approach when our backs are against the wall. If nothing else, the team perhaps needs to gain a little more experience of Dalglish’s approach, and learn to stick by a routine of fluid passing and movement, especially when under pressure.
Liverpool are getting closer. Reasons to be optimistic abound, especially with the prospect of a summer of spending coming up. Players from the squad and the reserves alike are stepping up more and more when it counts, and it may now be all about gaining a little more depth and consistency. Our attack looks especially dangerous; if a few more perfect pieces were to be slotted into the puzzle, it may become second to none.
As the season draws to a close, then, we find ourselves in an extremely strange situation. In many ways there’s very little left to play for. While everyone wants to win every game, no matter the context, in truth Europe looks a step too far at this point, unless both City and Spurs go on an unprecedented run of poor form. In this sense the season is very much a write off, with the team simply looking to rebuild for a more long-term attack on both the league and the continent – and though the prospect of no European football at all next year is a disappointing one, it may be a necessary evil on the way to greater accomplishments.
However, in terms of this season at least, it must be remembered that the blue team aren’t too far behind us. And Europe or no, that should be motivation enough to keep collecting points until the season winds down.
With these grander schemes in mind, though, it brings us to the real unfinished business that surrounds the team. It doesn’t revolve around getting revenge against a team that defeated us earlier in the season, and it doesn’t revolve around getting back into Europe.
This Friday marks the 22nd anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. The importance of this tragedy to the club, its fans and the people of Liverpool speaks for itself – but it also reminds us of the dignity and character of the man presently in charge of the club, a man who lives and breathes Liverpool Football Club: Kenny Dalglish. The toll that Hillsborough took on him as he became so personally entwined in the tragedy eventually forced him to resign from his position at the club, and many have spoken of his return as being prompted by his own ‘unfinished business’; his desire and need to restore Liverpool to its former glory.
His overwhelmingly positive effect on the club since his restoration to the throne has made everyone very much aware that he is the right man to lead Liverpool back to the top – so much so, in fact, that his permanent appointment seems a foregone conclusion, something that is almost taken for granted. But we must also recognise that it’s not a done deal yet, and until it’s made official, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be here to continue his renovation of the team next year.
It may be stating the obvious at this point, but in order to secure the club’s progress in the future – not to mention to endear themselves further to the fans – the owners must make the right decision and sign Kenny up on a permanent deal. If they don’t, then ‘shooting themselves in the foot’ would be the ultimate understatement. Dalglish, through his career, has been an artist capable of crafting the footballing version of the Mona Lisa, whether on the pitch or from the sidelines. But before he managed to complete his masterpiece, other things – things more important than football – got in the way.
This time round, Dalglish’s work simply must not be left unfinished.