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John Giles: Pool destined for mid-table finish

IT is unfortunate for Roy Hodgson that he should be the manager at Anfield when Liverpool is a club in decline but he is realistic enough to understand that he would never have got the job but for the current circumstances.

He's now working with a squad that might not be as good as the one he left behind at Craven Cottage where he had time to build, refine and improve the players he brought in.

He bought Joe Cole during the summer and is getting a return from the investment, but nobody believes that he is the type of player Hodgson can build a team around -- maybe ten years ago, but not now.

He was a glamour buy, the best Hodgson could manage with the money he had, but a clear indicator of the level Liverpool as a club is now trading at.

Hodgson will try to distil some positives out of a 4-1 win over Steaua Bucharest but he will struggle. The Europa Cup is a reserve team league, a competition where young lads and bench regulars get a run; a bit like the Carling Cup.

FRAGILE

Last night Hodgson had to dig deep indeed to find a team and his bench was filled with names I've never heard before, suggesting that he was trawling the bottom.

No doubt the accountants will have been happy to see 25,000 show up for a European night. They will feel that the Europa Cup is better than no Cup at all, especially when a half decent crowd like that is prepared to dig deep in midweek.

Hodgson said before the game that he needs breathing space to build a new philosophy at Anfield and it struck me forcibly when I read that just how fragile success and greatness really are.

When Liverpool were in their pomp, a spell which spanned three decades, nobody wondered about philosophy at the club. Bill Shankly was the club's philosophy and every manager who followed simply followed the blueprint.

Success piled on success; Hillsborough followed Heysel and when Kenny Dalglish left, a dynasty ended. It wasn't quite like turning a switch but the long view makes it seem that way.

The pretence of greatness was just about maintained by winning the Champions League and other Cup competitions but the solid base of quality required to fight for the Premier League was never there over the last 20 years.

Year on year, the foundations have crumbled and when it looked like American money might inject new life into the club, we discovered that the men involved were taking a punt with a football institution.

But football is cruel and doesn't wait around. I can't imagine anyone other than diehard Liverpool fans who are predicting a Top Four finish this season.

In fact, nearer mid-table seems realistic when you look at the resources available to Hodgson, who has made it clear that nobody should expect any miracles from him.

He has the support of the fans; at least that much was clear from the game last night. The crowd got behind their team and that's a good sign.

But if there is now a realisation amongst Liverpool fans that expectations should be pitched on the low side, a string of mediocre results won't help.

Hodgson had to rest Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard last night to make sure he had some sort of threat to offer at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Good results in the big fixtures kept Rafa Benitez in a job for a long time but if I was Hodgson, I wouldn't be banking on much help from that direction.

DECLINE

Manchester United are also showing worrying signs of decline but Alex Ferguson still has a squad which is light years ahead of Hodgson's and I expect a comfortable win for the home side.

However, Manchester United supporters shouldn't be too quick to claim bragging rights if that prediction holds true. Old Trafford has its own financial issues to contend with and the appropriate attitude should be 'there but for the grace of God ... ..'

The other huge issue hovering over Ferguson and his team is the ongoing media feeding frenzy around the Rooney family.

Wayne Rooney's state of mind is clearly not good and from where I'm sitting, I think Ferguson should give him a month off to go away somewhere private with his family.

PROBLEMS

But I don't know the lad well enough to make a call like that. Ferguson does and he will be the best judge of how to handle Rooney; if there is a way to handle this situation.

It may well be that the best medicine for Rooney would be to let him loose on Liverpool but even a hat-trick against the old enemy won't be enough to resolve his problems.


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