Liverpool’s Recent Decline: Time For A Clean Sweep?

By on Mar 26, 2012 in English League Football, Latest | 8 comments

What is now starting to become a familiar hush fell over Anfield on Saturday afternoon as Liverpool huffed and puffed their way to another home defeat, this time at the hands of Wigan Athletic. Whilst this result didn’t necessarily qualify as the shock of the season, it was another sign that a club that has been in the headlines more than most since last August is continuing to derail, with only the inconsistency of those below them in the table keeping them in seventh place in the table. Moreover, some – perhaps many – of the clubs supporters are now having to do what they may previously have considered the unthinkable: question Kenny Dalglish.

There have been distractions and fig leaves that have allowed Dalglish an easy ride to this point. A win in the League Cup – albeit a far from convincing one on penalty kicks against a team a division below them – brought the club its first trophy since the 2006 FA Cup and a guarantee of European football next season. They remain in this years FA Cup too, with a semi-final to come against Everton or Sunderland. In the Premier League, however, this years Liverpool team is again falling well short of expectations, and this is before we even factor in the vast amounts of money spent by Dalglish and director of football Damien Comolli on players that have singularly failed to set the first team alight. And the Premier League and Champions League, as the clubs accountants may well be keen to point out to owner John W Henry, is where the significant money is these days.

Saturday’s result was no freak. Liverpool’s league form has been spiraling in a downward direction since the start of the year. And neither was losing to Wigan Athletic a notably worse result than the team has managed elsewhere this season. Last Wednesday night, for example, they pitifully threw away a two goal lead at Queens Park Rangers, another club that is fighting tooth and nail to avoid relegation to the Championship. Had the Premier League started on the first of January, Liverpool would now be in second from bottom place in the Premier League, with only the dismal Wolverhampton Wanderers below them and, with so much money having been spent on misfiring players over the last fourteen months or so, the question of whether widespread changes to the squad again is either affordable or safe to be left in the hands of those that brought the likes of Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson to the club is a valid one.

This is a question that is worth asking, because some have pointed out that Dalglish has been offered an almost indescribably easy ride since his return to Anfield than his predecessor Roy Hodgson ever was. That Hodgson arrived at the club at just about the worst time that any manager could have done is a detail that seems to have passed some by, and we will never know just where Liverpool would have ended up in anything like the long term, because Hodgson was gone from Anfield not long after the buyout of the club by John W Henry’s Fenway Sports Group. Dalglish’s return in a care-taker capacity was far from an unwise decision. A club that might have been torn limb from limb needed somebody with the gravitational pull to be able to bring it together, and Liverpool’s stabilisation over the course of the second half of last season is a demonstration of just how much this was required. The decision to offer him the job on a full-time basis, however, has for a long time looked a miscalculation based more on sentimentality and a new ownership that was playing to a gallery than a pragmatic decision made with the long-term future of the club at its core.

This season started with a renewed confidence, but distractions and instability have plagued Liverpools season. To drag up the Suarez-Evra affair again seems bothersome, but Dalglish’s reaction to the FA committee’s verdict on the matter can only now be regarded as having dragged something out that the club could easily have extinguished earlier, and the manager’s increasingly chippy manner in press conferences and interviews has hardly assisted any perception that Dalglish has been consistently doing the right thing by the club of late either. Meanwhile, we can argue all day and night about finer details of the “net spend” of Dalglish’s time in charge of the club, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that FSG should surely have expected a better return on the money that they have made available than the limited progress that the team has made this season. They placed Champions League qualification at – or near – the top of their wish list at the start of this season, and such hopes seem like a pipe dream at this precise moment in time.

And for Liverpool supporters, perhaps the greatest frustration will be that there was a clear window of opportunity this season. Manchester United and Manchester City may be increasingly coming to resemble specks in the distance at the top of the table, but Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea have all had bumpy phases as the season has progressed, while Newcastle United have challenged in the top five or six all season with a squad that few would have predicted at the start of the season. Had the money spent on players been spent more prudently, Liverpool could comfortably have been looking at a return to the Champions League come the end of this season. But as things are, whilst European football is already guaranteed thanks to the fig leaf offered by the League Cup win, the team’s recent form means that supporters may be starting to look over their shoulders at the sides just below them in the Premier League table than up at those that they may seek to catch above them.

During the darkest moments of Roy Hodgson’s time in charge of Liverpool Football Club a little over a year ago, we noted that supporters of this particular club may be uniquely ill-equipped to deal with anything resembling failure. At the end of this season, it will be fifty-eight years since the club last lost more league matches in a season than it won, meaning that a Liverpool supporter would have to be a pensioner now in order to be able to remember having finished below the half-way point in a league table. At the time of writing, Liverpool have won eleven and lost ten of their thirty Premier League matches so far this season, but there has been little evidence to suggest that this team’s form will improve in the future.

Yet for all of this, it seems inconceivable that Liverpool will simply jettison Kenny Dalglish before the end of this season. A domestic trophy – perhaps even two – will be some consolation for a wasted year in the the Premier League, and it is difficult to see what the club would gain, with the possible exception of a considerable amount of internal strife, by replacing him now. In this respect, it would be considerably tidier to shuffle Dalglish upstairs during the summer, reputation still largely intact, allow a new manager to salvage and discard the bits of the current squad that he wishes to and write this season off as a transitional year. Supporters of the club may, however, already be wondering how progress can be measured after twenty-two “transitional” years.

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    8 Comments

  1. NOBODY SEEMS TO BE LAYING BLAME AT COMMPLIS DOOR?? THIS FELLA IS AN ABSOLUTE USELESS DICK!!

    Fleetwood

    March 27, 2012

  2. Another home defeat??????? 2 all season!!

    I’m not one of these buying into “they are tired” brigade either and our form has been awful since Jan, but answer me this, what would sacking Dalglish achieve? another 2-3 seasons of another manager putting his players in place?? LFC are not Newcastle/Chelsea they don’t replace managers every season.

    Fred

    March 27, 2012

  3. Mourinho!

    Chunky

    March 27, 2012

  4. The Liverpool fans were pretty vehement in wanting Hodgson out and Dalglish in. So if the fan’s first-choice man has had a go, and flopped, then at least the next manager might actually get a fair crack of the whip. Perhaps they should go for David Moyes.

    Dave

    March 27, 2012

  5. There are no rules about replacing managers. KD got the team and fans buoyed up mentally last spring. All Liverpool fans thank him for that. It appears that Comolli is a fraud as a gifted picker of talent. Dalglish and Comolli have linked their career paths at Anfield and reason says that their future decisions will resemble past decisions.

    To expect some previously unseen enlightenment will come to this duo during the summer is similar to allowing a desperate gambler on a bad streak to double down at the tables in a frenzy of flop sweat. They have to believe in their formulations; they can’t rework their soccer beliefs at this (late) stage in their careers.

    Thanks Dalglish for all he’s done and provide him some sort of emeritus position.

    buckyball

    March 27, 2012

  6. If Dalglish’s track record is anything to go by, I suspect he won’t want to stay at Liverpool’s front line for too long anyway. I’d imagine that as long as it looked as if he had some input into the choice of successor, he’d be happy to go upstairs.

    Kev, Swansea

    March 27, 2012

  7. Another negative Liverpool article Ian, you really are getting predictable. I bet elsewhere with other clubs you are saying that patience is a virtue and that managers cannot make a difference over night. I wouldn’t for a minute say that Liverpool have progressed in the league this season, but the answer to it at this point certainly isn’t a knee jerk sacking, or indeed an embarassing shuffle him upstairs manoevre. And you could wait to refer to the Suarez affair.

    You write some good stuff but this is below par.

    Dave Wallace

    March 27, 2012

  8. At the end of the day, all other side issues ignored, the question should be about the type of football that Liverpool are playing and what’s going wrong.

    Liverpool have a very good defensive record, one of the best in the league except recently where they have been without key defenders.

    They had created more chances than any other team at one stage of the season, yet their conversion rate was one of the worst.

    This doesnt suggest to me that KD is getting it wrong, more that he is getting it right but failing in key areas.

    Liverpool had a very poor Carroll earlier in the season and Suarez banned for a number of games. And even with them both available, neither have shown the clinical finishing required of a front man.

    Their defence is excellent when they can choose their first choice players but struggles once they have more than one injury which suggests a lack of depth. And they haven’t had Lucas in midfield to lay in the tackles that he does so well for them.

    In most games they’ve even played well enough to win but seemingly stuttered to a draw because they couldn’t finish their chances. Turn just four of those home draws into wins and they’re equal with Chelsea and Newcastle.

    It hasn’t been a great year but its hardly the dreadful football they were playing under Hodgson.

    mintox

    March 28, 2012

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