Dalglish gets glimpse of stormy seas ahead
Anfield hero must bridge gulf in class to save sinking ship
Manchester Utd 1
For a man often castigated for jumping ship as Liverpool manager 20 years ago, Kenny Dalglish's return to the role was rather fitting.
In another port, halfway round the world, Dalglish hopped off his cruise ship in Bahrain on Saturday morning, responding to the distress signal sent by the club he loves. Watching Ryan Giggs gliding around Old Trafford yesterday and hearing Alex Ferguson greet him with a cheery "welcome back", Dalglish could have been forgiven for wondering what had changed.
This was familiar fare from his days at Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers. Dalglish quit Anfield in 1991 just as Ferguson was building towards dominating the domestic game and Giggs' career was taking off.
Just as Ferguson and Giggs remain imbued with a deep passion for the game and a razor-sharp competitive edge, so has Dalglish craved renewed involvement. That is the nature of these footballing obsessives; they cannot stop or retire.
Even while relaxing on the 'Silver Wind' as it floated between Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat and Bahrain, Dalglish was thinking about Liverpool. This is a man once given a mug for Christmas that read "we interrupt this marriage to bring you the football season". Now it was a holiday with his wife being interrupted.
Having left behind one gulf, Dalglish was reminded here he must seek to bridge another. Even without Edwin van der Sar, Nemanja Vidic and Wayne Rooney, United were largely in control of this FA Cup third-round tie, victory sending them to the port of Southampton in the fourth round.
Defeat will hurt, but Dalglish's priority revolves around so much more than a 90-minute cup tie. In his six months at the helm of Liverpool, the shrewd Scot has to steady the ship and unify the club. He started doing this with his opening words to the players about all singing from the same song sheet.
He needs to introduce some leadership into a club that has witnessed behaviour bordering on 'Animal Farm' recently. At least Dalglish's return has instantly ended the fans' mutinous nature; 9,000 of them chanted his name long and loud here.
Cloaked in a coat that seemed a size too big, Dalglish will know the scale of the assignment with Liverpool. He must also link first team and academy, and the performance of young Martin Kelly gave real hope at right-back.
If the choice of starting XI was Roy Hodgson's final act as manager, some significance could be read into Dalglish's bench. When Glen Johnson's partner went into labour, Dalglish promoted Kelly and sat the 19-year-old defender, Danny Wilson, among the reserves.
Joe Cole suffered an injury in training but neither Paul Konchesky, so disliked by the Liverpool fans, nor Milan Jovanovic, so far from Liverpool standards, made it. Dalglish's tactics were sound enough, 4-5-1, with Steven Gerrard and Raul Meireles breaking towards Fernando Torres. The tempo and hunger were better.
But he needs to improve an average squad. He also needs a coach, somebody such as Steve Clarke, although there will always be a place for the loyal Sammy Lee. Dalglish will need more dynamism from Torres, who was eventually replaced by David N'Gog, and more discipline from Gerrard, whose reckless challenge on Michael Carrick brought an inevitable red.
Before going a man down, Liverpool went a goal down. Dalglish's players had probably only just dried out from a mischievous sprinkler before kick-off when they learned that when it rains it pours.
Within 31 seconds of Howard Webb's opening whistle, the World Cup final referee was pointing to the spot following Daniel Agger's challenge on Dimitar Berbatov.
Liverpool were outraged by the way United's No 9 milked the minimal contact, collapsing to the floor. Berbatov insisted he is no diver, and that contact was made, but he reacted rather like a feather in a wind tunnel.
Agger, though, was naive to make such a challenge in an era when scruples have long been burned on the altar of win-at-all-costs expediency. Giggs duly home swept the penalty. Along with Giggs, Rafael demonstrated why Gary Neville's retirement may be imminent.
Liverpool responded, Dirk Kuyt wriggling through until stopped, and then Gerrard shooting low but failing to trouble Tomasz Kuszczak. Gerrard's next act was irresponsible, not an X-rated lunge like past ones on Gary Naysmith, George Boateng or Kevin Campbell, but still dangerous.
As Webb summoned Gerrard over, Liverpool's captain fiddled with the arm-band, as if trying to remind the referee of his status. Webb would not be swayed and pulled out a red card. It's a simple rule with tackling nowadays: leave the ground and you are likely to leave the pitch. Gerrard is now kicking his heels for the games with Blackpool, Everton and Wolves.
Maybe an element of frustration had stained Gerrard's thought process. Carrick had just caught him and Rafael escaped with a two-footed challenge on a hesitant Meireles moments before. As Gerrard trooped away, the Stretford End broke off from their usual barracking of the Liverpool midfielder to assail Dalglish's ears. "You're getting sacked in the morning," sang United fans.
He is unsackable. Dalglish's six-month tenure hardly began in the most auspicious manner, and there was almost worse when Jonny Evans headed Giggs' corner against the bar, but there were sufficient opportunities to encourage the Scot after the break. Torres' half-volley struck Rio Ferdinand. Ryan Babel and Fabio Aurelio tested Kuszczak.
For United, Michael Owen then replaced the subdued Javier Hernandez and was greeted with: "Where were you in Istanbul?" Owen responded by nutmegging Martin Skrtel and Kuyt. As the tie slid into injury-time, there was Giggs still running, still twisting and turning. This was never going to be a cruise for Dalglish. He has a lot of hard work ahead. (© Daily Telegraph, London)