x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Tottenham defeat is a lesson for Liverpool's Kenny Dalglish

Liverpool's 4-0 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur was a bad one, but it was only three points dropped. However, if they consistently make the same mistakes as they made on Sunday, they will not be favourites to claim fourth spot and Champions League qualification.

It was frustrating against Tottenham for Kenny Dalglish, who saw his team punished for playing to high a defensive line in a 4-0 loss.
It was frustrating against Tottenham for Kenny Dalglish, who saw his team punished for playing to high a defensive line in a 4-0 loss.

Visiting White Hart Lane, Liverpool lose in part because of a major misjudgement by one of the manager's flagship signings. It was Sunday's story, but also a repeat of sorts: last year, an errant Paul Konchesky allowed Tottenham Hotspur to pilfer victory while Charlie Adam's dismissal contributed to this week's setback.

If the similarities end there, Kenny Dalglish's second spell in charge has been framed in the context of Roy Hodgson's reign. It has worked to the Scot's advantage; besides the residual affection he earned as the club's most distinguished player and its last great manager, he is also the anti-Hodgson, imbued with Liverpool's traditions, espousing their passing game and prompting hopes of a return to the glory days.

Yet consider the likely reaction had Hodgson's team suffered Liverpool's heaviest defeat to Tottenham since the days before Dalglish was even a teenager. The Scot will not meet with the same outcry, and rightly so: the general sense remains that Liverpool are on an upwards trajectory and one defeat, however heavy, should not change that.

Nevertheless, much went wrong at White Hart Lane and it cannot all be attributed to Tottenham's excellence or mere misfortune. Adam is a case in point: Liverpool can argue his first booking was harsh, but his second was for a tackle sufficiently late and high that a yellow card was the lesser of the punishments on offer to Mike Jones, the referee.

Nor, arguably, was it out of character. There is a difference between a deep-lying and a defensive midfielder and Adam falls into the former category. The problem is not so much that he cannot tackle, but that he thinks he can. Two full seasons at Blackpool brought 25 yellow cards.

The other early departure, Martin Skrtel, was only playing right-back because Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly are both injured. Nonetheless, he was not helped by either his poor decision-making - needlessly ploughing through Gareth Bale was bound to bring a second caution - or team tactics. Liverpool's high defensive line in the first half would have been a risk for a side with a quicker back four; time and again, it allowed Bale to knock the ball into space and set up a sprint with Skrtel. There was only ever one winner.

Skrtel's station on the right was, in part, the consequence of Dalglish's correct recognition that the Slovakian's form over the last couple of seasons no longer justified automatic selection in the centre of defence. A clinical assessment of the players he has inherited has aided the Scot's cause, and it is telling that Hodgson's signings are conspicuous by their absence nowadays.

Where his judgement can be questioned in his choice of his own recruits. It is understandable, given the manager's legitimate insistence that the players were signed for the length of their contracts, rather than simply a few games. Nevertheless, the deserving and long-serving Dirk Kuyt ought to have offered more than either Jordan Henderson or Andy Carroll.

As it was, Henderson, unconvincing in three positions at White Hart Lane, ended as an ersatz right-back with a makeshift midfield trio of Lucas Leiva, Jay Spearing and Craig Bellamy, while Luis Suarez was removed from the attack in case he completed a hat-trick of dismissals.

It was the sort of chaotic conclusion that indicated a game plan in ruins. Tellingly, Tottenham were far superior when Liverpool had 11 men, let alone 10 or nine.

One match can be deceptive but, if the season began with Arsenal as the favourites for fourth place and that mantle swiftly passed to Liverpool, now Spurs may look the likeliest. And that takes Liverpool back, not to Hodgson's ill-fated spell in charge, but to Rafa Benitez's final year when Tottenham took the Champions League spot Dalglish is now charged with reclaiming.

 

It has become part of footballing orthodoxy to presume that promoted clubs require a flying start to stand any chance of survival.

Instead, at the fifth time of asking, Norwich City and Swansea City belatedly recorded a first win on Saturday, with Brendan Rodgers's side finally ending their goal drought.

With Queens Park Rangers, aided by heavy investment, taking all three points at Wolves, it was a weekend to suggest each is actually improving. And a league table where two clubs in their 11th successive season in the Premier League occupy places in the relegation zone presents a worry to the division's more established members.

 

How violent does violent conduct have to be? It was a pertinent question at Bolton.

Ivan Klasnic was dismissed for the gentlest of butts on Marc Tierney - a rightful punishment for his idiocy, if not the offence itself - while Norwich's colossal centre-back Leon Barnett escaped unsanctioned for a terrifying mid-air collision with Klasnic, where he flattened the Croatian and did not take the ball.

Only one could have caused an injury, and it was not the incident that reduced Bolton to 10 men.

sports@thenational.ae