2010-2011 proved to be a season of change at almost every level of Liverpool FC’s hierarchy. Firstly there was the departure of Rafael Benitez to Champions League winners Internazionale, due to the Spaniard’s constant duels with the LFC board, he was replaced by LMA Manager of the Year, Roy Hodgson.
The Anfield faithful were quietly hopeful that Hodgson would be able to usher in a new era at Anfield. The new signings Milan Jovanovic, Joe Cole, Paul Konchesky, Brad Jones & Raul Meireles signalled the club’s (lack of) ambitions. Also there was a change of sponsor, for the first time in 18 years Liverpool would not be sponsored by Carlsberg but instead by Standard Chartered.
The season started in earnest, specifically Skopje, Macedonia. David Ngog scored to give Liverpool their first win under the ‘Roy Hodgson Era’. Many Liverpool fans were cautiously optimistic to see what Roy could bring to the club. A top 5 finish in the league and a decent cup run in Europe was what many thought would have amounted to a good season given the circumstances. Liverpool then had a very solid performance in the league in Hodgson’s first Premier League game in charge against Arsenal and were aggrieved to only draw, with Arsenal scoring a late equaliser, a very promising start nonetheless. The flashpoint was Joe Cole’s red card on his debut for the club, a sign of things to come for his Liverpool career it would seem.
Liverpool’s next Premier League match was away to Champions League hopefuls Manchester City, surrounded by controversy as want-away Argentina captain Javier Mascherano refused to play for the club in trying to engineer a move to Barcelona. Nevertheless a 3-0 loss to City was unacceptable, a lacklustre performance and Liverpool were brushed aside, an early omen and a sign of Liverpool’s awful away record to come under Hodgson. Liverpool would go on to lose away to Manchester United, get dumped out the Carling Cup by lowly Northampton and get beat by rivals Everton in what Hodgson farcically described as Liverpool’s “best performance of the season”. If not inaccurate then a damning indictment of his own stewardship.
It could be argued that the poor showing on the pitch lead the supporters to turn up the ante on activities off the field, demonstrations and protests were scheduled in order to remove Tom Hicks and George Gillett from the club. On 15th October 2010 the club was sold against Hicks and Gillett’s wishes to New England Sports Ventures in what Tom Hicks blasted as an ‘Epic Swindle.’ A new dawn beckoned at Anfield, increasingly poor performances on the pitch however put Roy Hodgson’s managerial position under doubt. The one highlight being the victory at Anfield over Chelsea, one of the few positives of Hodgson’s tenure. The fans were not content, the team seemed disjointed and un-motivated, and several more poor results would seal Hodgson’s fate.
The Return of the King
By January 8th Liverpool had 25 points from 20 games, level with Blackpool and Everton. Despite a last gasp winner against Bolton, John W. Henry, in the first significant move of his Liverpool ownership decided to put an abrupt end to Roy Hodgson’s reign as Liverpool manager.
Kenny Dalglish was appointed caretaker manager, a popular decision among many of the fans. However certain elements of the media pointed to Dalglish’s lack of recent managerial experience and claimed that he would be out of touch with modern football management.
Dalglish’s first match in charge was on the 9th January 2011 away to Manchester United in the FA Cup Third round which Liverpool lost 1-0 to a controversial United penalty. Liverpool then lost 2-1 away to Blackpool in Dalglish’s first Premier League game for 13 years and it was clear that both Dalglish and the club faced an up-hill battle. However after a string of positive results the early warning signs were good. Liverpool’s first win was against Wolves at Molineux was quickly followed by a home win against Fulham.
Despite early signs of improvement, Fernando Torres rocked the club by requesting a transfer to Chelsea at the end of the transfer window. In response Liverpool recruited Luis Suárez and Andy Carroll, to replace the Spaniard and a new and exciting dynamic strike force was created, that the Anfield crowd were anxiously looking forward to see in action.
It was not long however before Fernando Torres would come up against his former team-mates as Liverpool had to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge only one week later. Liverpool lined up with an unconventional back five with the express intent of nullifying Chelsea’s fearsome front three. The plan worked perfectly and Liverpool snatched a dramatic 1-0 win. It’s important to note here the unsung effect of former Chelsea defensive coach Steve Clarke, brought in at the same time as Dalglish, Clarke’s input as well as Dalglish’s man-management have been largely responsible for Liverpool’s late season revival.
Despite the negatives, which include a disappointing away defeat to relegation battlers West Ham, defeat in the Europa League to Braga, and a 2-1 defeat to Roy Hodgson’s West Brom. The positives have been magnificent, In arguably the performance of the season, Liverpool beat Champion’s elect Manchester United 3-1 at Anfield with a hat-trick for the resurgent Dirk Kuyt. Though Kuyt took the glory it could be said that the real star was Luis Suárez whose pace and trickery turned Manchester United inside out. Then there was the 3-0 victory of Champions League Qualifiers Manchester City and a The 5-0 drubbing of League Cup winners Birmingham in which a resurgent Maxi Rodriguez grabbed a hat-trick and was Liverpool’s biggest win of the season. Dirk Kuyt’s 101st minute equaliser at Arsenal also ranks as one the season’s highlights.
In judging Liverpool’s player of the season there are several contenders, including Maxi Rodriguez who’s late run of good form ended with him bagging two hat-tricks at the back end of the season. Raul Meireles had a solid first season in the premiership as did Luis Suárez. A notable achievement is Martin Skrtel playing every minute of Liverpool’s Premier League season and Pepe Reina as always was solid in-goal. However the resurgent Dirk Kuyt, Liverpool’s top scorer achieved his best goal tally in the Premier League and his joint best overall, the highlight being his hat-trick against Manchester United.
Under Hodgson’s reign the prospect of qualifying for Europe would have been unthinkable, but up until last day defeat against Aston Villa it had been a distinct possibility. However the single greatest achievement of Dalglish’s reign has been the rise in the league table, with Dalglish winning 33 points and vastly improving Liverpool’s goal difference. Overall Dalglish’s effect can be summed up by better team selections, a new belief installed into the players and a positive approach to the tactical aspect of the game. Dalglish’s experience within the club has seen him bring through a promising crop of youth players, motivate a squad that under Hodgson was blasted as average and galvanized a club going nowhere into European hopefuls. With the acquisition of several top-quality players in the summer, under the right stewardship Liverpool will certainly be a lot closer to the prize next season and will look to improve on this season’s 6th place finish with all eyes on Andy Carroll and Luis Suárez set to spearhead Liverpool’s Premier League attack.