Wednesday 28 June 2017

The Dalglish Revolution

In four weeks, caretaker boss has transformed Liverpool's season. Rory Smith reveals how

Kenny Dalglish manager of Liverpool celebrates with Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard after their win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images
Kenny Dalglish manager of Liverpool celebrates with Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard after their win over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images

In just four short weeks, everything has changed. It was a month ago today that Kenny Dalglish was summoned off his cruise ship in Bahrain to answer Liverpool's clarion call, to replace the deposed Roy Hodgson and return Anfield to its more usual course.

The Scot took over a club terrified of what lay beneath, preoccupied with the relegation zone.

Six Premier League games later, they stand just six points off a place in the Champions League. It was one of the great mantras of his predecessor that there was no "magic wand" to cure Liverpool's ills.

Dalglish has proved Hodgson wrong. How the King worked his wizardry may yet be the fairytale of the season.

STRENGTH IN UNITY

"Kenny has brought the club together as one," Jamie Carragher says. "The supporters are now behind everything, and the players and supporters are all together. That has helped.

"It was not like that at the start of the season, unfortunately for Roy Hodgson. But Kenny coming in has galvanised the support behind the team."

It was that unique ability that made Dalglish such an appealing prospect for Fenway Sports Group when the decision was made that Hodgson's ill-fated reign had to come to an end.

The troubled final throes of Rafael Benitez's tenure and the battle to rid Anfield of Tom Hicks and George Gillett had left Liverpool with a highly politicised, divided fan-base.

Hodgson, viewed by some as a quisling of the old regime, could not hope to cure it. Dalglish's status is such, though, that dissent is almost heretical.

"Nobody could be more beloved by a set of fans than Kenny," says the club's principal owner, John W Henry. "And not just for his accomplishments on the field, but for his work off the field, through some very difficult times for supporters. He is unique."

THE MIND GAME

Dalglish's press conferences since his appointment have followed two themes: that Liverpool require a modicum of good fortune, and that a little confidence would go a long way.

"There are a lot of really good players at the club," the Scot said on his first day in office. "They have got to believe that they are good players."

Victories over Wolves, Stoke, Fulham and now Chelsea suggest Dalglish's words are starting to have the desired impact. It is not hard to see why.

Much of his squad endured Benitez's constant requests for more funds to buy more players -- hardly a way to inspire confidence -- and then Hodgson's mixed messages, referring to his team as both "overstaffed" and under-resourced.

Dalglish's refusal to issue criticism and his insistence that reinforcements were desired rather than necessary is a breath of fresh air. "He is a legend to all of us and he has been really positive," Dirk Kuyt says.

Daniel Agger, too, refers to him as "a positive guy". To Martin Kelly, the 20-year-old full-back Dalglish has invested such faith in, his manager is "a 12th man, so he makes our job easier".

The Scot has used the full depth of his squad -- Jay Spearing appeared against Everton, Christian Poulsen played at Blackpool, Sotirios Kyrgiakos against Stoke -- while even new recruits are made to feel at home. Luis Suarez was greeted by the manager in Spanish. "Now I do not want to disappoint him in any way," the Uruguayan said.

THE CASE FOR THE DEFENCE

Dalglish's belief in a doctrine of collective responsibility -- on and off the pitch -- means he is loath to apportion either credit or blame. It is hard to escape the feeling, though, that the vast improvement in Liverpool's defence is as much down to another Scot as it is to the manager himself.

Steve Clarke arrived at Melwood with a reputation as one of the game's finest defensive coaches. Since defeat at Blackpool and the 2-2 draw with Everton, Liverpool have kept four clean sheets.

THE LIVERPOOL GROOVE

Given that his involvement in football stretches back only five months, it is telling that even owner Henry can see a substantial difference between the Liverpool of January 8 and that of February 8.

"We wanted to change the type of football we were playing," Henry says of the decision to replace Hodgson. "We wanted it to be a more positive, pass-and-move philosophy. The team was playing in a way which was not suiting the club."

Liverpool's fans would agree. The Kop were raised on crisp, passing football, the sort epitomised and espoused by Dalglish as player and manager, and the switch to hoof and hope under Hodgson was hard to stomach. More importantly, though, a reversion to the club's signature style suits the players, too, none more so than Raul Meireles, with four goals in his last five games.

Fleetingly impressive following his move from Porto under Hodgson, the Portuguese has blossomed into a blur of energy in the heart of Liverpool's midfield. It helps that Dalglish is playing him in his usual central role -- Hodgson bafflingly stationed him on the right initially -- but the change of style is equally crucial. "Kenny plays positive football," Agger says. "Everybody is trying to go forward and defend together."

There is, certainly, no question that Melwood is now a happier place to work. "Training has been slightly different," Steven Gerrard says. "We have had different coaches, with different ideas and different methods. It has been very enjoyable, and we have taken it out there on the pitch."

That, more than anything else, is the Dalglish effect. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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