March is drawing to a close and Liverpool find themselves in all too familiar territory. Miles adrift of would-be Champions and with no real hope of a top four consolation, this league season has become one to forget.
It is not all doom-and-gloom of course with one trophy secured and a genuine shot at another looming. Nevertheless the remit set in August has been well and truly missed; a fact harder to swallow given both Arsenal and Chelsea’s publicised struggles.
Wednesday’s surrender at the hands of QPR defies explanation. Just how the reds lost a game they dominated for 77 minutes and seemingly wrapped-up well before then remains a mystery. But the fact is we did lose, again. Yet another set-back in a campaign dogged by bad luck and woeful finishing. Inevitably the inquests raged with certain quarters blaming the manager. Such a witch-hunt is expected of the press but not so Liverpool supporters.
The media have had it in for Kenny Dalglish ever since his first spell in-charge. His dry wit and scathing put-downs amuse some but leave many journalists scolded. It should come as no surprise then to open up today’s Daily Mail and find a quite embarrassing piece questioning the Scot’s overall performance and chances of keeping his job. Similar murmurings are sweeping the tabloids in a bid to unsettle Kopites.
All fans are entitled to their opinion but those turning on Dalglish should remember both who they support and the man’s status at LFC. Sure, mistakes have been made – most notably in the transfer market. Whether Kenny or Damien Comolli is to blame in that regard is open to debate. But strides have been taken in the past year, despite the hullabaloo currently sweeping phone-ins and message boards alike.
Less than 18 months ago the club’s very existence was called into question. The genuine threat of administration was avoided by a matter of hours and the team itself sat 19th. Big players had either jumped-ship or craved an escape route as the final embers burned in Hicks & Gillett’s battlefield. People forget the damage done to Liverpool by this pair of cowboys, who stripped-away and dismantled any promise shown under Rafa Benitez. By way of a parting shot they replaced him with a manager totally out of touch and depth. The entire institute seemed to be dying a slow and painful death in September 2010.
Restoring such ruins takes time, no matter how much money is thrown at the project. Since Kenny succeeded Roy Hodgson he has begun that process, albeit slowly. The style of football has improved no-end. Take Wednesday as a case in-point, our pass and move game was a joy to behold and we should have been out of sight by half-time. There has been the odd fixture where we have toiled but for the most part we control possession and create chances of plenty. Statistics tell us Liverpool have won more corners and hit the woodwork more than any team this season. That in itself underlines the change of emphasis compared to Hodgson’s painstakingly dour approach.
Defensively we have also sharpened-up, for the most part. Only the top two have shipped fewer goals and our first-choice back four is a settled and competent unit. Martin Skrtel in particular has developed into a terrific and reliable defender – no longer rash or prone to moments of madness.
Not only that we have just won silverware – our first in six years. The focus placed on the Champions League and a route into such is so great that pundits overlook the importance of winning domestic trophies. Six years without silver, for a club this size, was too long and Kenny ended that draught – something harshly overlooked.
The likes of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez meanwhile have also pledged their future to the cause, underlining their belief in our long-term aspirations. Furthermore we have guaranteed European football next term, a bargaining tool no matter how much of an after-thought the Europa League has become.
Forward strides are being taken but patience is required. Wholesale changes are not necessary, just one or two tweaks to the squad and a reconciliation with Lady Luck. It is on that note where the tail-end of this campaign may become beneficial. With little left to play for in nine Premier League games why not blood some of our promising youngsters?
Around this time last year we were commending Kenny for rewarding the likes of Jay Spearing, Martin Kelly and John Flanagan with starts. All three fared admirably and the former two have featured heavily since. With the pressure seemingly off I would love to see others follow in their footsteps and experience first-team action.
The buzz surrounding Raheem Sterling refuses to fade and a fantastic goal against an experienced Arsenal reserves this week heightened calls for his inclusion. Those who follow our junior sides will know his form dipped earlier this season but he’s now back and apparently frustrated with his current lock-out. Why not throw him in against Wigan or Villa? At least award him with a place in the squad and a cameo role – something he’ll benefit from no-end. It would not be a case of sink or swim but rather a small taste, an opportunity which would delight both him and the disgruntled punters around Anfield.
Sterling is not alone in showing great potential. Connor Coady has many admirers, as do Suso and Adam Morgan (a goal-scorer anyone?). And let’s not forget Jonjo Shelvey, who would probably offer more than both Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam at present. Nobody is expecting the manager to unleash a kid’s team but not integrating them while the pressure is off would be represent a wasted window.
Changes made to Liverpool’s academy have been well-documented. The likes of Rodolfo Borrell and Jose Segura were brought-in to revolutionise our system and produce a greater pool of talent for the first-team to pick from. Involving at least a couple of the aforementioned prospects would justify their methods and inspire those youngsters moving through the ranks at Kirkby.
We have a long tradition of producing our own talent, a well which dried-up not so long ago. In many instances the quality was lacking but others fell by the wayside through a lack of opportunities. It is difficult to offer chances to those on the periphery in games with plenty riding on them but with little but pride at stake what’s the harm in taking a punt now?
The issues which have derailed Liverpool’s league campaign will no doubt be addressed come the summer months. But before wasting tens of millions on possible remedies why not see if we don’t already possess some solutions.