Monday 20 November 2017

Suarez saga isn't Dalglish's only problem

Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

OVER the years Alex Ferguson has got rid of several Manchester United players on a point of principle -- the principle that he felt they were no longer good enough to play for the club.

Jaap Stam and Lee Sharpe are two of the many players that Ferguson felt he could jettison because of their misdemeanours yet Eric Cantona and Roy Keane got far more latitude because they still had their use for the manager. Then, when Keane crossed the line as a 34-year-old, Ferguson's forgiveness had suddenly evaporated.

Most of Ferguson's emotions eventually come down to what happens on the pitch. Now that Arsenal are no longer a threat, he's happy to speak up for Arsene Wenger. When Manchester City became a threat, he felt compelled to question their philosophy on posters. And now that Liverpool only have one player who really makes them tick, Ferguson wants them to get rid of him.

Ferguson might be enjoying a rare moment of beating the populist drum but, leaving aside the moral maze that the Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra incident has developed into, he also knows that Liverpool would be a far weaker side without Suarez. The problem for Dalglish is that Saturday's game made that all too clear.

Afterwards, in front of the cameras, Dalglish attempted to go down the cantankerous, blame-deflecting route which is becoming an unfortunate default setting but, while he might have thought the Suarez questions were "bang out of order", there are several others that might have been just as awkward.

Why was his five-man midfield so dominated by a Manchester United quartet containing one player who retired because he thought he was no longer good enough and another who has been around so long that he made his debut when goalkeepers could pick up a back-pass?

Why, when Pepe Reina launches a ball up the field in injury-time, is Andy Carroll being out-jumped by Rafael? And why, seconds later, could Jordan Henderson not get a simple cross past the first, and smallest, Manchester United defender when he had six players to aim at?

When he reviews the video and finally sees Suarez's refusal to shake Evra's hand, Dalglish might also reflect on another game-changing moment in the first minute when, after Rio Ferdinand went into the ground like a javelin, Steven Gerrard's club-footed pass allowed Jonny Evans to look as though he could read the game like Franco Baresi rather than allowing Liverpool a three-on-one attack.

If Suarez's actions, or inactions, lit the touchpaper for the bile and nonsense to flow from the stands, through social media and onto the airwaves, Gerrard's pass set the tone for Liverpool's on-pitch performance which, for all the flak he will take over his Suarez stance, will be of far greater concern to Dalglish.

It's possible to pick out misplaced passes from any match but in pressure situations in the first minute or the last, good players make good decisions and, on Saturday, Liverpool didn't have enough of either.

Whatever Suarez's reasons for refusing to shake Evra's hand, his mood was unlikely to be helped when he saw a midfield behind him of an out-of-form Gerrard, a never-in-form Henderson, Jay Spearing, Stewart Downing and Dirk Kuyt. It's enough to send any world-class striker into a huff.

Dalglish deserves credit for his astute appointment of Steve Clarke who has helped Liverpool's defence -- four of whom were at the club before Dalglish arrived -- become a modern version of Chelsea's defensive unit in the early Mourinho years yet the improvement of players elsewhere in the team has been sadly lacking.

In describing Carroll's relative improvement, some commentators meant it as a compliment when they said he was now resembling the player he was at Newcastle. An alternative way of looking at that, is that he hasn't improved in a year with Liverpool.

Kuyt continues to resemble a cross between Kevin Kilbane and Paul Dickov whose honest-as-the-day-is-long attitude and occasional important goal absolves him from regular periods of anonymity, while Dalglish said recently that Downing was "a better player than I thought he was going to be". How much more than £20m Dalglish would have paid for Downing if he'd realised just how good he was remained unanswered.

It's generally accepted that Liverpool have improved since Dalglish took over from Roy Hodgson but, with 13 games left, they find themselves seventh, 19 points behind United.

At various stages of the season, Andre Villas-Boas and Arsene Wenger have been castigated for on-pitch matters, but Dalglish has generally escaped scrutiny from his own supporters even though Liverpool trail Chelsea and Arsenal by four points, despite the awful season the latter pair are supposed to be having. Depending on how the table is viewed, Liverpool are either four points behind a Champions League place, or six points ahead of the team in 10th.

Yesterday's attempt to dig upwards by all concerned might bring some credibility back to Liverpool Football Club -- to give them their full, strangely elongated current title -- and by their next league tie with Arsenal on March 3, they could have won the Carling Cup and be looking forward to an FA Cup quarter-final.

But when Liverpool were winning leagues during his first spell in charge, Dalglish would often say that the league table doesn't lie. In that regard at least, he's realistic enough to know that nothing has changed.

Irish Independent

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