Monday, 16 May 2011
Odd Talisman Out
Without wishing to alarm anyone, Liverpool fans are pregnant. All of them. Not with lazy, curly-haired stereotypes (although you never know, I suppose), but with expectation. The potency of the second Kenny Dalglish era is powerful stuff.
The rise to fifth (now down to sixth after the Spurs defeat) from 12th in the space of four months has been achieved without former talisman Fernando Torres and, more recently, with club captain Steven Gerrard sat in the stands. While Gerrard came out all guns blazing last week, he hasn’t played a game since 6 March and can only ‘pencil in’ a return for the first day of pre-season. The big question for Liverpool is how Gerrard fits back into what has become a very efficient, very effective starting XI.
You wouldn’t bet against it, of course, because Gerrard is generally a class act and Dalglish is a romantic at heart; a sucker for club tradition. That Liverpool and their fans are glowing is testament to their form, but Gerrard is getting ahead of himself by talking of Premier League titles. First and foremost, he faces a battle to win back his place.
Jay Spearing and Lucas Leiva – faces of onions, but boots of apples – have been revelations in the centre of Liverpool’s midfield and can provide an effective shield to their defence by virtue of Luis Suarez’s movement, Andy Carroll’s height and Dirk Kuyt’s endless running up front. With better outlets, breakneck running to join the attack – the kind Gerrard is famed for – is instead provided by Liverpool’s wide men – it’s no surprise that first Meirelles and then Rodriguez (and Kuyt) have found their scoring boots in the second half of the season.
Much also depends on how Dalglish decides to strengthen his squad in the summer. Should Dalglish choose to revert to a more aesthetic style, departing from this slightly more direct Liverpool by signing say, Charlie Adam to spray passes about alongside Gerrard… well. The only conclusions we can draw from the possibility are that those in Rows 1-20 of Anfield’s lower tier would be well advised not to buy any soup at half time.
It’s unlikely, of course, that such a wholesale change in style will emerge. But Dalglish will have to be ruthless, first with the trimming of his current squad, then with his acquisitions and finally with how he manages what you assume will be a stronger, deeper squad going into a new season. Handling the triumvirate of Carroll, Suarez and Kuyt has been made easier by Carroll’s fitness problems, though also by the fact that you could probably tell Kuyt to run round a park after the frogs for 90 minutes, and he would. But difficult decisions on the squad and its captain await.
Making the tough calls – and more importantly, getting them right – are an inherent part of becoming a successful (top four) side. Dalglish need only look along the M62 for proof. It would be a massive decision to leave Gerrard out when fit, but as far as the current starting XI are concerned, he would appear to upset the balance.
With the season ending in a game’s time, Dalglish has been spared this most awkward of decisions until August but Liverpool fans would be loath to forget that the side’s best form has come with a midfield comprising Spearing, Lucas, Meirelles and Maxi. Greater than the sum of their parts, certainly, but it is this midfield nonetheless that has been in sparkling form of late.
It may just be that shearing a ‘two-man team’ of those very two has provided renewed focus among the other squad members who have had to emerge from behind two incredibly large shadows indeed. By fostering a greater sense of unity, Dalglish’s biggest achievement this season has been to negate the impact of the individual in favour of a more altruistic approach. And it may not be such as case of bull if the sacrificial lamb for this propulsion of Liverpool back into the top four is the side’s sacred cow.