Saturday 25 March 2017

Dalglish must tackle reds' key weaknesses

Kenny Dalglish was probably the last man who needed to be told that Liverpool's problems run so deep that a sudden injection of the feel-good factor was ultimately going to be as valuable as a toothpick in the operating theatre.

If any confirmation of this was needed it came at Bloomfield Road this week when the cut-price heroes of Blackpool not only battered down the legacy of Rafa Benitez and the ill-fated Roy Hodgson, again, but also the surge of optimism that came with Dalglish's re-appearance on the touchline at Old Trafford last weekend.

Dalglish's expression said everything: pain, exasperation but also, and more than anything, a profound understanding of the scale of challenge he has accepted.

If he had a scintilla of doubt before, Dalglish understands now that he not has only to re-animate and re-energise a formerly great football club, he has to substantially remake it. But how?

1 He has to impress on owner John W Henry that the value of his own appointment will dwindle quickly without evidence of an understanding that the renovation, in real terms, cannot be delayed until the end of the season.

This transfer window has come too quickly to serve as anything more than an opportunity for some basic strengthening of resources, but this has to be undertaken as a priority.

As Blackpool increasingly dominated a match that Liverpool had laid a claim to with the early strike of Fernando Torres, Dalglish's body language became increasingly explicit.

He didn't have enough defenders who could defend in a way that was fit for purpose and, in the absence of Steven Gerrard, there was also an appalling shortfall in the creation of anything like convincing rhythm or momentum.

Dalglish needs significant signings in this window, one in defence -- where £18m Glenn Johnson's fundamental shortcomings have become embarrassing -- and one in support of Gerrard in midfield, where the best of Hodgson's little spree, Raul Meireles, looked insipid in the face of a wave of tangerine.

One of the great signings of recent times, currently obscured by a mysteriously nagging injury, was Arsenal's £6m acquisition of the Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen.

Liverpool's new director of football Damien Comolli, has to come up with such a suggestion very quickly if he is to give a little early credence on Merseyside to a scouting reputation which is large, but not exactly undisputed.

2 Dalglish has to build on the most positive aspect of the debacle in the shadow of Blackpool Tower. This was, by a huge margin, the encouraging evidence that he may have stirred Torres out of his malaise.

That he had already done so with Gerrard, who grew up in awe of his new boss's legend, was evident enough in the force of the England player's early impact on the Cup-tie at Old Trafford, but here, perhaps, Dalglish will perhaps have to issue a reminder that passion on its own is only half a solution.

It is in this area of his work that the Dalglish effect is most guaranteed to have a measurable effect.

Under Benitez, for a dismaying period of time, and Hodgson the heaviest evidence was that the players lacked one of the crucial ingredients of success at any level of the game ... a working respect for the man in charge.

Daglish was, of course, unlike his two predecessors, or three if you remember the years of steady decline under Gerard Houllier, a player of brilliant accomplishment.

He understands, supremely, the fine line between confidence in your playing environment and the disillusionment which comes with the loss of such certainties.

3 Tactically, Dalglish has already moved to arm himself against the charge that for all his aura and achievements, he may be a man around whom the game has flowed onwards and elusively.

The appointment of Jose Mourinho's right hand man at Chelsea, the knowing pro Steve Clarke, suggests that oversights in tactics, especially in Liverpool's currently naïve defence, will be avoided.

Certainly there must be a reasonable confidence in the ability of Dalglish to draw out the maximum surviving potential of his squad and one indicator of this has been the impressive authority of the young defender Martin Kelly.

He, for one, has accepted the manager's invitation to go out and show the best of his game.

4 There is no doubt that Dalglish will continue to remove quite the worst impression created by Benitez in his final, unravelling season: the sense of an overbearing presence, a schoolmasterly insistence that everything that Liverpool did on the field had to flow directly from the force of the coach's football intellect.

The consequences of that were plain enough before Benitez departed for his brief and disastrous reign at Internazionale -- the self-belief of Liverpool players had reached a quite pitiful level.

That was the nightmare inheritance of Roy Hodgson and it was a problem beyond any of his attempted solutions -- even after the extraordinary victory over Chelsea, a false dawn if we ever saw one and made a little easier to understand by Chelsea's rapid decline from the awesome standards they had set at the end of last season and the start of this one.

Dalglish's demeanour after both defeats has been impressive. He has conceded the huge scale of his challenge, but at no cost to the idea that he will work with some patience to bring up the team from the bad place they have been occupying for some time.

5 The easy part is already accomplished. Dalglish has made his first withdrawals from a personal bank account which, whatever happens in the next few months, is underwritten by inexhaustible credit.

However, if the fans are placated now, if the worst of their furies have been absorbed and satisfied, he needs to point out that in the past their anger has proved to be irrationally selective.

When the Benitez regime was failing so miserably, they found it convenient to heap all the blame on an old and derelict ownership.

The trick required of Dalglish, for everyone's sake, is to persuade the new lot that they have achieved merely a passing public relations coup.

To make something of it that is more than mere window dressing, he needs to have some teeth ... he needs at least two new players.

Irish Independent

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