By Kevin Koczwara
Kenny Dalglish celebrated his 60th birthday on Friday, but the real party was put off until Sunday when ‘King Kenny’s’ men beat up on Sir Alex Ferguson’s team, 3-1. The win, a crowning achievement over Liverpool’s hated rivals, marked the high point thus far for the remarkable turn around under Dalglish.
Since his appointment, Dalglish has lead Liverpool to a 5-2-2 record in the league, wins over top-four teams Chelsea and Man United are the highlights of his time. The Scot brought faith back to the club, something that was sourly missing. His moves in the January transfer window reignited the team.
The purchase of Luis Suarez from Ajax could be the best buy of the year for any team. Suarez quickly adapted to the Premier League. His performances so far would put him in contention for EPL Player of the Year despite making so few appearances because of the January transfer. He’s a game changer, and he is just getting started.
Suarez’s impact can be seen directly when looking at the fixtures he’s played. He scored a goal in his debut against Stoke, a game Liverpool won easily, 2-0. Against Wigan, Suarez struck the cross-bar on a beautiful free kick and he hit the post before that from the run of play; Liverpool ended up tying Wigan, 1-1. Against West Ham, he was taken out of the game by the Hammers ability to stifle his supply line in the midfield. He had his chances, but he was unable to find the net, and Liverpool lost 3-1.
Against United, Suarez was the catalyst for much of what Liverpool did despite not scoring a goal. On each of Dirk Kuyt’s three goals, Suarez was the last Liverpool player to play the ball before Kuyt tapped in.
The first goal was set up by Suarez’s ability to control the ball in tight spaces and change direction in a second. He weaved in and out of United’s defense in the box and found space to fumble the ball across the goal line to Kuyt, who calmly slotted it home. On the second, Suarez won the ball back in the United third, got to the touchline and chipped a ball towards Raul Meireles on the opposite side of the box, Nani tracked back for United and headed the ball back goalwards for the waiting Kuyt to head home another easy goal. And on the third Suarez again showed his ability to hit a dead ball up and over a wall. The striker picked the bottom right corner of the net and had a perfect timed dip to the shot that caused Edwin Van der Sar to bobble the ball into Kuyt’s path.
Suarez not only created on the break and in the box, he also marked Paul Scholes when United enjoyed possession in the Liverpool half. When Suarez dropped back to defend he sat central and made sure to pressure Scholes whenever the ball dropped to the veteran midfielder. It’s no secret that Scholes is the outlet man for almost everything United does, but his cunning ability to find space and knock the ball around usually allows him to dictate play. Suarez did his best to eliminate that while using the match up to his advantage on clearances and the break — Scholes is noted for his poor tackling ability.
Suarez will be vitally important to how Liverpool ends this season. His absence in the Europa League squad is noticeable. Liverpool can’t seem to break, push or create without him in the line up.
The positive going into the two European games? England’s most expensive Englishman, Andy Carroll, is fit again and rearing to go after coming off the bench in the United win. The 22-year-old striker will get his chance to get back his match fitness against Braga in two legs over one week. The FA Cup exit was disappointing this season for Liverpool, but the lack of a weekend game in between the European matches gives Carroll and the rest of the squad the proper rest between games and should allow the team to stay fresh heading into an important league game with Sunderland on March 20.
While a top-four finish and the coveted Champions League spots may be out of the reach of Liverpool this season, it hasn’t stopped the Reds from making the year’s biggest steps forward in the English Premier League. A team lingering on death and relegation earlier this year has turned it around and become one of the top teams in England again. The display over a less than perfect or fully fit Manchester United showed doubters England’s most successful club is again a force to be reckoned with.
Kenny’s birthday may be over, but with the way Liverpool is playing and the way the new additions are shaping up, the celebration looks likely to continue.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.