By Kevin Koczwara
Not many people thought Liverpool had a chance at qualifying for European competition next year when the club lingered closer to the bottom in October. Things changed quickly though.
Now, people are talking about fighting for the coveted fourth place in the Premier League and a chance to play in the Champions League, despite the team’s leading scorer and talisman striker, Fernando Torres, walking out on the club just before the January transfer window slammed shut.
The change in the mood around Melwood and Anfield is because of Kenny Dalglish. It’s that simple. Since his appointment as interim manager, Liverpool has been resurrected.
Chelsea latest to feel the King’s wrath
The Reds went into Stamford Bridge yesterday the underdogs, and riding a three-game winning streak. To top it off, Fernando Torres was starting his first game with his new club, Chelsea, after turning his back on Liverpool. Liverpool tried to arrange a gentlemen’s agreement with Chelsea when the two teams worked out the $80 million deal for Torres during the closing moments of the transfer window. It didn’t happen, and there was no way Liverpool could beat Chelsea in London without its best player, right?
With Dalglish in charge and leading Liverpool back up the English Premier League table, anything looks possible. Yesterday was no different.
Going into the game, Chelsea was in fourth and looking to get its title chances back on track. With Manchester United dropping three valuable points at Wolves yesterday, 2-1, (United’s first loss of the season) and Arsenal drawing, 4-4, in dramatic fashion with Newcastle, Chelsea had the ball in its court and should have been able to make up ground at home against anyone, especially a Liverpool team that couldn’t beat Blackpool on the road. But now that Dalglish has had his fingers in the squad and enough time to lift the team, Liverpool looks anew.
El Nino gets nothing
Fernando Torres made the start, but found himself on the fringes of the game. He was removed in the 64th minute to jeering from the small, but loud, section of Liverpool fans. “You should have stayed at a big club,” sang the Liverpool faithful as Torres walked off the field, alone and regretting the words he chose earlier this week about going to a “big club”. Little did he know Dalglish’s gang would pick up the momentum and his former teammates would wreck his debut by scoring only five minutes later.
Hodgson can claim something good from his time with Liverpool. He did purchase Raul Meireles from Porto, but he cannot lay claim to being the one who opened up the Portuguese to the Premier League. Dalglish let him out of the bag. Hodgson stifled the midfielder by forcing him out wide or into small pockets of space with no creative freedom, Dalglish has gotten the best from the midfielder by allowing him and Steven Gerrard to roam, to feel out the game and get on the ball as often as possible, opening up the whole Liverpool attack. Dalglish’s impact has paid off. Meireles scored the lone goal of the game — his fourth in five games — after converting a Gerrard cross on the volley.
On the rise
With the win over Chelsea, Liverpool has put together four consecutive wins, something the club couldn’t do with Hodgson charge for the first half of the season. The Reds held onto their fourth consecutive clean sheet — also something Hodgson was never able to do while in charge — and won its second game away from home under Dalglish. Liverpool already has more away wins in five league matches under Dalglish than it did under Hodgson in five and a half months.
In five league games Dalglish has the team within six points of fourth place Chelsea, a remarkable turn of events after the team looked dead in the water during Hodgson’s last game, a 3-1 defeat to Blackburn at Ewood Park. The team lacked pride and confidence under Hodgson, and it showed in the Blackburn game as the team never clicked and never looked like it was ever going to threaten to try to fight back. There was that extra umph missing from the side.
Dalglish looks to have gotten it back.
The Scot willingly sold Fernando Torres to Chelsea for a record fee because the player didn’t want to be at Anfield sporting the red jersey, and to Dalglish, that’s enough to send a player on his way. Dalglish has restored the coveted Liverpool pride and way. He has set out regaining the team’s confidence and lifting the it by their boot-straps and showing them the way things are meant to be done: One day at a time.
“We went it about it in the same way as every day since we came in, with determination and effort and pride and respect for the football club,” Dalglish told Sky Sports. The determination showed yesterday. Liverpool defender precision and muscle, out-classing last seasons Champions, and out-working them so much so that the Liverpool only allowed one shot on net. A staggering statistic against a team like Chelsea that can score goals in bunches.
If New England Sports Venture and its principal owner John Henry want to keep getting the best from its squad and move up the table, fighting for a Champions League place and even the title, then they better get moving and give the King his castle again, because he looks like the savior this team has been looking for. Dalglish has restored pride to the team and brought fans back to their seats. He has restored the class and dignity to the air in and around Anfield. Liverpool looks like he never left his post 20 years ago now that he’s taken back over.
But don’t ask Dalglish about the future, he could care less. The King is just living in the moment and keeping his team on track.
“That’s [speculation about the future] not my concern, my concern is Wigan next Saturday. What happens will happen,” said Dalglish about the prospects of leading Liverpool beyond this season. But the fans should be concerned because with himin charge things can only get better for Liverpool.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.