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Thursday, 26 May 2011

The Return Of The King

Anfield is always excited about European nights.  Precisely, Champions league nights. Those are the kind of nights both players and supporters crave for season after season when European footballing giants are expected at your arena to challenge your team. Most of the time Liverpool responded to such circumstances with heart and soul and made the Kop scream and chant in elation. However, Anfield will not get electrified similar to Champions league nights when Liverpool strides out for Europa league matches. Yet, the qualification for Europe’s second tier competition, Europa League, can be considered as tremendous achievement if you judge the way Liverpool played under Roy Hodgson during first half of the season. 
Yesterday at Craven Cottage, proceedings were special. Final score line showcased the way Liverpool flourished under King Kenny, Fulham 2 Liverpool 5. To strike 5 goals at Craven Cottage, where Fulham kept six clean sheets in seven league fixtures since New Year, provided Liverpool supporters around the world something to cheer for as bitter rivals Manchester United prepare to celebrate their 19th League title.
To be frank, I was not expecting Roy Hodgson to work miracles at Liverpool. The LMA manager of the year, who arrived at the club in the summer, never got settled to the atmosphere and traditions at Liverpool. His poor tenure at Anfiled was further complicated by the ownership issues as well as the then Kop darling, Fernando Torres’s perplexing behavior in most of the games he played under Hodgson. Somehow Torres lost the appetite and passion to play and win for Liverpool and that had a major impact on Hodgson era at Liverpool. Would you believe Roy Hodgson, who guided Fulham to 7th place finish in League and final of Europa League in the previous years, managed only one away win during his time at Liverpool ? Apart from that, Liverpool was engaged in relegation battle after 6 games when the most prestigious club in Premier league was positioned 18th in the league table !
In October 2010, US Company New England Sports Ventures, owner of the Boston Red Sox, has completed its takeover of Liverpool FC. Then the New Year arrived, along came Liverpool’s savior !
Kenneth Mathieson ‘King Kenny’ Dalglish.
Even though new to football, John W Henry, NESV head was thrilled by the appointment of Kenny Dalglish as caretaker manager when Roy Hodgson was sacked.  John Henry quoted, "Kenny was not just a legendary footballer, he was the third of our three most successful managers - three giants. We are extraordinarily fortunate and grateful that he has decided to step in during the middle of this season."
Kenny Dalglish first managed Liverpool from 1985 to 1991, when he resigned on health grounds. In that time Liverpool won the Double in his first season, as well as the League two more times, the FA Cup twice and the Charity Shield twice. His second stint started against Manchester United in FA cup 3rd round match at Old Trafford. What a way to reignite the rivalry with Sir Alex Ferguson. In spite of the defeat at Old Trafford, Liverpool looked different under Dalglish and displayed a spirited performance.
Sometimes things will not happen the way followers, owners and even players wanted to, when a legend takes control of dressing room. Story at Liverpool was not different. Loss at Old Trafford was accompanied by defeat at Blackpool and a home draw with Everton in the league. Well, those were the games Dalglish wanted to experiment with his players and team combinations. Dalglish did one thing that Rafa Benitez and Roy Hodgson dared to do; substitute Fernando Torres when not on song !
Much awaited first win came at Molineux in the expense of Wolves where Fernando Torres grabbed a double. That winning streak continued with home wins against Fulham and Stoke. In between, an unthinkable event happened at Anfield. Fernando Torres was sold to Chelsea for a British transfer record of 50 million pounds ! Even though Torres started finding net and performed better under Dalglish, the Scot was not in a frame of mind to keep an unhappy player in his team. In came Luis Suarez from Ajax Amsterdam and Andy Carroll from Newcastle United. The man who assembled a formidable strike partnership of Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton at Blackburn Rovers is promising something similar in Carroll and Suarez.
Then we witnessed the ‘defensive master plan’ against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Fielding three central defenders, two in standard position; Martin Škrtel & Daniel Agger, and one sweeping central defender; Jamie Carragher, Kenny Dalglish nullified Chelsea attack which included ‘Anfield legend’ Fernando Torres. The manner in which Jamie Carragher threw his body to block Torres’s goal bound shot emphasized the Reds desire to deprive Torres opening the account for Chelsea against his old club. With Carroll out injured and Suarez warming the bench for the whole match, I would say the same Liverpool team Dalglish inherited from Hodgson did that perfect job at Bridge through Meireles goal. There was robustness in the Liverpool side along with remarkable changes. Most notably Torres wore a Blue jersey instead of Red. But, the prominent one was the presence and influence of ‘King Kenny’ on the organization called Liverpool.  
In spite of slips against Wigan and West Ham, Dalglish took no time in responding with a resounding victory against Manchester United at Anfield. Dirk Kuyt, the unsung hero and a tireless performer in the Liverpool side grabbed a hat trick but the plaudits went to El Pistolero, Luis Suarez. His dazzling movements, vision, and alertness in the field along with goal scoring capabilities made him Kop darling and soon everybody forgot about the man who became a blue ! And look at the jersey number Suarez wear…..the holy number 7 once sported by none other than his manager, Kenny Dalglish. It’s too early for a judgment, but, the Kop as well as Dalglish himself is expecting Suarez to become the true inheritor to Liverpool number 7. Is it a coincidence that Luis Suarez can play as a striker and second striker as Dalglish did during his playing career ? Let’s wait for next Premier league season.
It’s always important for a striker to open the scoring for his new club in order to remove the expectation burden on him and to express himself free in the turf. The most expensive British player in the history, Andy Carroll, pounced on the opportunity against Manchester City at Anfield with a double during that commanding victory. Dismantling of Birmingham, Newcastle and Fulham followed with Maximiliano Rodríguez racking up 7 goals in 3 matches including hat tricks against Birmingham and Fulham. The way Raul Meireles, Lucas Leiva, and Jay Spearing performed in the midfield made Dalglish pleased when you consider the talismanic Steven Gerrard’s absence due to injury.
Looking towards future is always important for Liverpool and I was not taken aback when I saw the next generation of Liverpool players drafted to first team plans under Dalglish who already knew the potentials of Jay Spearing, Martin Kelly, John Flanagan and Jack Robinson. Don’t forget Kenny Dalglish was looking after the youth academy at Kirkby when Rafa Benitez was Liverpool manager. Wait for Raheem Sterling to join the first team sooner or later to mark his name in the Anfield history.
Before the arrival of ‘King Kenny’ for his second spell, any opponent and manager facing Liverpool had a simple strategy. ‘Stop Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard. You stop Liverpool’. With Torres no longer a Red and Gerrard missing the second half of the season through injury, Liverpool have thrived under Dalglish knowing that team is always important than players. Dirk Kuyt, Maxi Rodríguez and Raul Meireles contributed 28 goals between them while Luis Suarez managed 4 goals along with his plentiful assists. Now that look like a team performance and the credit can be given to Dalglish and Steve Clarke, first team coach.
With two games remaining, Liverpool lie 5th in the Premier league table above Tottenham whom they entertain at Anfield on coming Sunday. A Liverpool win will ensure Europa league spot, the reasonable achievement considering the 12th position of Liverpool when Dalglish took over 4 months ago. Whatever happens in the future, Roy Hodgson and Kenny Dalglish already possess something unfamiliar to Liverpool way. While Hodgson became the ‘shortest serving Liverpool manager’, Dalglish became ‘the first Liverpool manager to serve a second term’.
Will Dalglish become the first Liverpool manager to win the League in different spells ?

Will he become the first Liverpool manager to win the League after 1990 ?

Well, to get a positive answer to those questions there is a bare minimum requirement which is not in Dalglish’s control. Upgrading his status of caretaker post to permanent manager of Liverpool FC. Rest of the things certainly lie in the hands of Dalglish and his squad for next season. A few more quality additions, like a central defender, a left wing back, one or two natural wingers, and a defensive midfielder would make Liverpool challenging for 19th League title for which Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher can sweat blood.

11th May, 2011
The day after Liverpool beat Fulham, Manchester City beat Tottenham
Reds currently occupy 5th position in Premier League table

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