x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Crown of 'King' Kenny Dalglish is slipping at Liverpool

The Anfield monarch's reign is starting to come under more scrutity, as the summer signings continue to disappoint.

Kenny Dalglish, the Liverpool manager, was furious at his players after the 3-1 loss to Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium.
Kenny Dalglish, the Liverpool manager, was furious at his players after the 3-1 loss to Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium.

Kenny Dalglish did not name names. It was unusual enough for the Liverpool manager to publicly criticise his players without identifying the targets of his ire.

And yet if he spared the culprits some embarrassment with his policy of collective responsibility, it was also, even if inadvertently, an act of self-preservation.

In Liverpool's 3-1 defeat at Bolton Wanderers, as in their season as a whole, the principal disappointments were his signings.

While the back four endured a rare off day, they were afforded little protection. It was a reflection of Charlie Adam's inadequacy at tracking Bolton's midfield runners that Liverpool missed both Lucas Leiva and the willing but essentially limited Jay Spearing.

Meanwhile, Jordan Henderson, - neither a right winger nor a defensive midfielder, nor a particularly attacking one - flits from position to position without making a major impact. In the forward line, Andy Carroll got a rare assist, but the most significant statistic of the £35 million (Dh199.7m) man's year at Anfield is his meagre return of six goals in 34 games.

It reflects, too, on the man who was supposed to be the striker's supplier in chief. Yet a day after Dalglish strangely proclaimed that Stewart Downing was an even better player than he realised when he paid £20m for him, the winger was dropped.

The combined cost of the quartet is £83m. While Dalglish accused his side of betraying the club's traditions, the same allegation can be levelled at him: not in his lack of respect for Liverpool or their opponents, but in his choice of players.

The four pale by comparison with their exalted predecessors. More to the point, they fail modern-day tests: would any get in one, let alone all, of the top five teams in England? The answer, in all probability, is no.

So far, they have been given leeway by the supporters, not because of performances, but because they were bought by Liverpool's greatest player.

A contrast can be drawn with the vitriolic treatment granted to Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulsen last season. Both fell woefully short of being Liverpool players but, in mitigation, they were comparatively cheap. Their crimes, however, were an indelible association with the hated Roy Hodgson, not the beloved Dalglish.

Liverpool's outstanding individual at Bolton doubles up as an indictment of the expensive additions. Signed as a squad player, the fired-up, feisty Craig Bellamy is indispensable now; Liverpool as reliant on him, Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard now as they were on the captain and Fernando Torres in the past. And that was an era of greater austerity, not one when the owners, Fenway Sports Group, have pumped money into the club.

As it is, Bellamy and the left-back Jose Enrique are the sole successes from the summer spending. Combined with the mishandling of the Suarez affair, it raises questions about Dalglish's judgement, both on and off the pitch.

The 60 year old has an instinctive preference for players he knows and his policy of buying British helped Blackburn Rovers win the title in 1995. But times have changed: a decade out of management preceded his return to Anfield. Liverpool's dealings hint at lack of knowledge of, or trust in, the foreign markets. Apart from the Uruguayans Suarez and Sebastian Coates and the reserve goalkeeper Alexander Doni, he has not signed from abroad.

None of which would matter if the domestic additions were securing the desired return to the Champions League. Instead, Liverpool are closer to eighth-placed Stoke City than the top four. They have their lowest tally of league goals at this stage of a season for 40 years, despite the focus on forwards and midfielders in the dearest rebuilding job in the club's 120-year history.

Hard-luck stories and tales of goalkeeping heroics have provided a distraction, but they have not been a factor in the stalemate against Stoke or the loss at Bolton. In any case, possessing the worst chance conversion rate in the Premier League - a mere eight per cent - should suggest it is not mere misfortune that keeps the ball out of the net.

Given Liverpool's struggles to overcome less-fancied teams, a demanding fixture list may offer a perverse form of respite. Four of their next five games are against the top three teams; it is in such clashes where Dalglish has often prospered, producing tactical triumphs based on solid defending. Keep another clean sheet against Manchester City tomorrow and they will be in the Carling Cup final. A first trophy in six years could camouflage poor league form; to some, it would render the season a qualified success.

Yet football's dynamics have changed. Financially, the Champions League is the be all and end all for the top clubs and it is unlikely Liverpool will be participating in it next season. As owner John W Henry and chairman Tom Werner take up their seats in the Anfield directors' box tomorrow night, they have much to ponder. The Americans have already endured a season of expensive underachievement with the Boston Red Sox. Now they may be contemplating another at Liverpool, and quite what that means.

Not least for Dalglish.