x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Liverpool flops shielded by shadow of an Anfield icon

The English Premier League club's expensive signings cannot hide behind their manager, Kenny Dalglish, forever, writes Richard Jolly.

Kenny Dalglish still enjoys the advantages of his past success with Liverpool.
Kenny Dalglish still enjoys the advantages of his past success with Liverpool.

When Liverpool reappointed Kenny Dalglish as manager, it was inevitable they would revisit their past. And so they are doing, albeit not in the manner intended.

Saturday's 0-0 draw with Swansea City was a reminder of more recent history. In the autumn of 2008, it was Anfield stalemates against Stoke City, Fulham and West Ham United that, rather than the speech remembered as "Rafa's rant", cost Liverpool a first league title in 19 years in a season when they earned 86 points.

Two years later, and in a rather less distinguished campaign, the most damaging blows inflicted upon Roy Hodgson were struck on home turf. Northampton Town, Blackpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers returned from Merseyside as victors. As each discovered, Anfield has a capacity to bring the best from the visitors and Swansea, who enjoyed the majority of possession, were superb on Saturday.

Yet their resistance was part of a trend that ought to concern Dalglish. While Arsenal, beaten at Emirates Stadium by Liverpool in August, have constructed their revival on their own turf, with five successive league wins there to draw level with the Scot's side, the Merseysiders have four draws in six home games.

If an inability to overcome Manchester United, when the better team, is forgivable, the visits of Sunderland, Norwich City and Swansea were expected to yield three points apiece, rather than in total.

Such results are doubly damning. Whereas both Rafa Benitez, towards the end of his reign, and Hodgson are entitled to argue theirs were underfunded teams, Dalglish has been allowed to spend around £115 million (Dh675m) in 2011, some £40m more than he has recouped.

Moreover, much of that money has been invested in proven Premier League players. The reasoning - that they would take less time to settle - seemed sound but several Anfield careers are yet to justify that thinking.

Saturday was an especially inopportune occasion for some of the costlier recruits to underperform.

With John W Henry, the owner who financed Dalglish's overhaul, in attendance, the £16m Jordan Henderson was hauled off at half time, the £35m Andy Carroll was removed midway through the second half and the £20m Stewart Downing was deemed fortunate to complete the game.

In each case, large numbers have brought low returns. Downing is yet to score or make a league goal. Admittedly that statistic would have been altered had Carroll converted his cross, rather than crashing it against the bar, but the consequence is that the most expensive English footballer of all time has struck four times in 17 league games since trading Newcastle United for Liverpool.

Each benefits from the identity of the manager who signed him, being granted a Dalglish-shaped shield. The excellent Luis Suarez and Jose Enrique, his two best buys, need no such protection.

The Uruguayan endured a rare off day against Swansea, with the consequences apparent in Liverpool's inability to score. And yet Suarez's normally scintillating displays have brought a new twist to an older theme.

Before his arrival, the oft-voiced criticism was that Liverpool were a two-man team, such was the reliance on Steven Gerrard and the now departed Fernando Torres. Now, with the captain missing most of Dalglish's reign with injuries, that tag could be tweaked: Liverpool look dependent upon one player.

If anything, that is exacerbated by the pricey additions. Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez proved prolific alongside Suarez at the end of last season but both, especially the Argentine, have been underused after Dalglish's summer spending. Craig Bellamy, a rather cheaper addition, has the catalytic qualities to mean he ought to have featured more.

Yet Dalglish appeared to display a surer touch when perming from the players he inherited.

The quest for vindication from his flagship additions is understandable, but had anyone other than Anfield's ultimate idol bought them, grumblings of discontent may be louder. At the moment, the Scot still enjoys the advantages of being Kenny Dalglish. Judgements are applied on the basis of his iconic presence, rather than performances themselves. But there will come a point when others have to live up to their reputations, rather than taking refuge in the huge shadow he casts, and when his past becomes less relevant than Liverpool's present.

Star performances between the posts

Sunday was a day of three notable goalkeeping displays. While Asmir Begovic's error-prone performance helped Bolton Wanderers beat Stoke 5-0, the other two were outstanding. Ali Al-Habsi's acrobatics were not enough to prevent Wigan Athletic from losing 3-1 to Wolves, but the second and third goals were especially cruel on the Omani, who had repelled shot after shot in the build-up to both.

Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur's 3-1 win at Craven Cottage owed much to Brad Friedel. In a game where Fulham had the majority of chances, the American's one-man rearguard action provided reminders of his - some would say, the - greatest goalkeeping display in the Premier League, when Blackburn Rovers won 2-1 at Arsenal in 2002.

The 40 year old had a tough start to his Spurs career, conceding eight goals in his first two games, but the subsequent eight matches show that he already ranks among the signings of the summer.

And, by extending his run of consecutive Premier League appearances to 285, he illustrated that Sir Alex Ferguson is not the only veteran breaking records.

 

sports@thenational.ae

 

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