x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Gerrard returns from ban to give Liverpool revival added impetus

Liverpool have spent January welcoming icons back to their rightful domain and the captain's arrival coincides with Kenny Dalglish's comeback to the touchline after an absence of 20 years.

Steven Gerrard will be back at the centre of Liverpool’s midfield against Fulham at Anfield tonight.
Steven Gerrard will be back at the centre of Liverpool’s midfield against Fulham at Anfield tonight.

Liverpool have spent January welcoming icons back to their rightful domain.

Compared to Kenny Dalglish's comeback to the touchline after an absence of 20 years, Steven Gerrard's return to the midfield after a three-game ban barely registers.

But passages of time in every season at Anfield can be defined by the captain: by his absence, his presence and the scintillating times when he touches greatness.

It gives Gerrard the capacity to overshadow almost everyone who surrounds him.

Not quite all, however. The first game of Dalglish's second spell in charge, the 1-0 defeat to Manchester United, was notable for Gerrard's dismissal, but principally for the Scot's second coming.

Gerrard's subsequent suspension, coupled with the concession of a goal from a penalty awarded after 30 seconds, suggested one of the briefest honeymoon periods in managerial history.

But while it is rare that a positive is derived from Gerrard's unavailability, this may be that exception. Liverpool have improved on a game-by-game basis, with Raul Meireles, the Portuguese summer signing from Porto, a particular beneficiary, and the caretaker-manager demonstrating that his influence is not restricted to his natural constituency of admirers.

Gerrard and Jamie Carragher are the obvious Dalglish lieutenants in the dressing room, but the ultimately emphatic 3-0 win at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday occurred without either.

The 30-pass move that preceded the third goal prompted Dirk Kuyt to liken Liverpool's style of play to the "total football" made famous by Johan Cruyff's Holland team of the 1970s.

There is an element of hyperbole to such descriptions, but they could not have been applied in the recent past.

The twin criticisms of Roy Hodgson's Liverpool were that they were too direct and too defensive.

Neither is a valid critique of Dalglish's team just yet.

Yet Gerrard's return poses problems, albeit of the right sort. Meireles served as the principal support to the rejuvenated Fernando Torres at Molineux.

That role may have to be ceded tonight at Anfield, with the Portuguese accommodated in a deeper role. Christian Poulsen, the Danish midfielder who enjoyed a restorative afternoon against Wolves, is nonetheless the logical candidate to drop out.

Tonight's match against Fulham is a rearranged fixture with apt meteorological metaphors. Anfield was engulfed in snow in December, when it was originally scheduled. Now Liverpool are enjoying a warmer climate.

"They've had a change, Kenny Dalglish has gone in and he's a huge figure there," Mark Hughes, the Fulham manager, said. "Everybody seems to be back on board. Maybe it's not the easiest time to go there because everyone's on a high."

That was not the case a month ago. Another consequence is that a rematch has lost most of its reunions. While Danny Murphy returns to Anfield, of the men who traded the banks of the River Thames for a sight of the River Mersey, Hodgson has been sacked and Paul Konchesky is sidelined by managerial choice.

But it has been a rehabilitative January for both clubs.

Liverpool do not have a monopoly on revivals as the Fulham team Hodgson drilled have belatedly returned to the sort of form they displayed in his time at the club.

Hughes's team have seven points from nine games. "We're delighted with the way we're playing and the results we're getting," the former Wales manager added.

Should his side win, they will leapfrog Liverpool; should they take three points, they will make history. Fulham have never emerged victorious at Anfield.

They have the option of giving Steve Sidwell a first start in midfield since his move from Aston Villa.

Liverpool have Milan Jovanovic fit again and the option of including Joe Cole, but no new faces as the pursuit of Charlie Adam and Luis Suarez continues.

But Anfield has already witnessed enough upheaval this month and Liverpool appear all the happier for it.

sports@thenational.ae

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