King Kenny in search of another Wembley Coronation

Gavin Cooney previews Saturday’s FA Cup Final with Chelsea at Wembley.

When Liverpool emerged from the darkness of Roy Hodgson’s reign under Kenny Dalglish this time last year, the only thing shining brighter than hope for Liverpool fans was the crown fixed back on King Kenny’s head. The Liverpool legend was back in the dugout, and had successfully welded a divided club back together. Liverpool concluded the 2010/11 season playing the expansive football that served as an epoch in footballing history during Dalglish’s previous reign. New signing Luis Suarez was rendering Fernando Torres a distant memory, while Andy Carroll, only fit to play in March, seemed to have a lot to offer once he had a full pre-season under his belt. The director’s box also offered hope to Liverpool fans.

Admittedly, it was more of a relief to not see American Capitalism’s version of Stateler and Waldorf bickering from their ivory tower, but the new owners also embodied positivity. John Henry swept into Anfield upon a tidal wave of support, success and sabermetrics. Henry, Tom Werner, Ian Ayre and Damien Comolli personified a new era, where money would go to buying quality players whom the club would eventually owe a debt to, rather than servicing a different sort of debt. Eyebrows were raised when 44 million pounds were spent on Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing. Nonetheless, hope springs eternal, and with Dalglish’s customary beaming smile lighting up the touchline, hope seemed eternal.

Fast forward a few months and that hope seems like it could not have been further from posterity. The myriad of crisp sterling notes spent on Henderson, Carroll et al seem like a waste of money, one of the purveyors of the sabermetric revolution has been sacked (Comolli) and Dalglish’s customary smile has transformed into a dour Glaswegian grimace. Liverpool have endured a woeful league campaign, lying in eighth place. Rather than the new arrivals propelling Liverpool towards an assault on Champions League football, they have floundered and are partly responsible for the yawning sixteen point chasm between themselves and fourth place. Henderson, Downing, Carroll and Adam have been thoroughly unconvincing while Jose Enrique and Craig Bellamy have impressed sporadically. Only Luis Suarez has been an unqualified success, however the ugly Patrice Evra affair cast a dark cloud over the football club, and further chipped away at Shankly’s seemingly unshakeable foundations. The facts are as stark as they are dark; only Wolves have picked up less points than Liverpool in 2012, look odds on to stumble to their worst goal-scoring record at Anfield since 1903, and Dalglish has won just twenty eight per cent of his league games at Anfield. These damned statistics reveal one thing: Kenny Dalglish’s crown has slipped.

Liverpool’s league season has been over for some time; by contrast their cup has runneth over. The cup competitions have arguably been Dalglish’s only saving grace. Having won the Carling Cup in February, the Red’s cup consistency has continued in the FA Cup and have won only one home game fewer in the FA Cup than in the Premier League. Oldham were effortlessly dispatched 5-1 beneath the Friday night lights in the third round, while Manchester United were knocked out courtesy of Dirk Kuyt’s late winner in the subsequent round. The Reds devoured another lower league team in Brighton in the fifth round, winning 6-1. The result meant Liverpool had beaten Brighton home and away in both domestic cups, and the same fate befell Stoke who were beaten 2-1 in the quarter final at Anfield. The cup run has provided the expensive new signings with some ammunition to hurl at their critics; Stewart Downing’s only goals have come in the FA Cup, while Andy Carroll headed the winner in the semi-final showdown with Everton.

Liverpool have been thoroughly tested in the FA Cup: beating their two greatest rivals in Man. United and Everton, while also surviving a brutal clash with Stoke. Granted, Liverpool received all the home draws they could have hoped for, and there have been a couple of relatively easy matches against lower league opposition, but Dalglish and his men have passed every test the oldest cup competition in the world could have thrown at them. In terms of Liverpool’s most impressive performers, Martin Skrtel’s outstanding season has been continued in the cup; Luis Suarez has deserved more adulation than infuriation while Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Jay Spearing and Daniel Agger all deserve recognition.

Now for the greatest test of all: Chelsea. Chelsea have endured their fair share of domestic woes this season, however since giving AVB his P45, the Blues have impressed under Roberto Di Matteo. Liverpool fans are right to be worried about facing Chelsea, as the Londoners are reminiscent of Liverpool themselves a few years ago. Chelsea’s heroic performance in the Nou Camp drew comparisons with the Merseysiders under Rafa Benitez, who travelled to Europe’s greatest footballing cauldrons with similar spirit and had similar success. The thoughts of the Sunday morning headlines must also send a shiver down Scouse spines; with Fernando Torres finding form just in time to test himself against his old team.

That said Liverpool can take great confidence in their recent record against Saturday’s opponents, their record during Dalglish’s second spell in charge reads played three, won three. Liverpool have had a miserable league season, a campaign miserable enough to loosen the crown from Kenny Dalglish’s head. The only way to consolidate that crown it is to have what Dalglish has had on numerous occasions in the past: a Wembley Coronation.

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