The story has been repeated multiple times in the press this weekend: Kenny Dalglish was enjoying a middle eastern cruise with his wife when he received the call he’d been waiting a decade for. From the heat of the Persian Gulf he was catapulted to the simmering cauldron of a United-Liverpool derby. The King was back and bundling old ‘Woy’ Hodgson had been sent packing, the stage was set for another Scouse assault on Old Trafford.
Thirty seconds into the game and that plan had gone to shot, thanks to Dimitar Berbatov’s very best Theo Walcott impression. Giggs placed the resulting penalty mere centimetres past Pepe Reina’s outstretched palms and Dalgish suddenly looked to have gained five years. Dalglish was right to call the decision ‘a joke, I’ve seen the replay and unless they have changed the rules it is not a penalty.” However whilst the contact was minimal, if the roles were reversed you would find few Liverpool players, supporters, or Dalglish arguing with the decision.
Thirty minutes later and the day soured further for ‘King Kenny’, Steven Gerrard decided that the only possible way he could win a fifty-fifty with Michael Carrick was to recklessly dive in two footed. Howard Webb correctly delivered the red card and catcalls of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ echoed around Old Trafford. Dalglish argued the decision was wrong, complaining that the game had become a non contact sport but surely on a second look Dalglish can have no qualms with the decision. It was, frankly, a disgusting tackle from Gerrard and could have easily led to a leg break for Michael Carrick. It’s about time a referee had the courage to dismiss Steven Gerrard, the usual defences for Gerrard were resumed; “He’s not that sort of player” etc. I’m pretty sure the likes of Kevin Campbell and Danny Welbeck would have differing opinions, especially after the latter survived an apparent decapitation attempt from Gerrard.
Ultimately the day didn’t go as planned for Dalglish on the dawn of his new era at Liverpool. United were never really stretched (with the exception of Kuszczak, whose elongated arm span kept our Fabio Aurelio’s exquisite free kick) and managed to play out the rest of the game in relative comfort. It is telling that of all the Liverpool team only Martin Kelly and Pepe Reina came out of the game with their reputations enhanced. The rest of the side seemed to have the same lack of quality and attitude seen under Hodgson. Liverpool supporters can say what they like about Hodgson’s deficiencies and those seen in the dying embers of Benitez’s reign but they need to start looking at the real cause of Liverpool’s malaise; the players.
The first eleven has barely changed since Benitez’s tenure, with Raul Meireles being the only starter on Sunday purchased by Roy Hodgson. Yet this same eleven have received little to no flack from the supporters, who have instead blamed the managers. Benitez is more culpable than Hodgson in this respect. Benitez had five years to mould his side, having a higher net spend than the entire Premiership bar Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur. He brought in average players season upon season and unsettled and subsequently shipped out successful players such as Peter Crouch, Craig Bellamy and Xabi Alonso.
Hodgson never really got time to build his own team, he lost one of the world’s best defensive midfielders in Javier Mascherano and had just the funds generated from his sale to try and rejuvenate an ailing squad. Benitez lives so fondly in the Liverpool fans’ memories due to Istanbul but they also seem to be oblivious to the fact that it was he and his team that was responsible for them finishing seventh last season. Benitez could have done little more than Hodgson, yet Liverpool fans never took the Englishman to their hearts. The calls for Dalglish have been heard since the start of the season.
The fans have finally got their man but is he the answer? Sunday should be seen as a write off, you cant judge a team when they are down to ten men against the league leaders but they did show more spirit and fight than seen under Hodgson’s leadership. King Kenny has the same problems as his predecessor; he needs to find a way to get the whole of this team firing. Especially Fernando Torres who again displayed the body language of someone who didn’t want to be on that pitch. Dalglish took him off after 75 mins, something Hodgson wouldn’t dare do. Dalglish must make Torres fight for his position by bringing in a striker to give Torres support and more importantly, competition – something he hasn’t had for three seasons.
The worry for Liverpool is where they turn if Dalglish also fails: what then? So long seen as the messiah and the answer to all their problems, the fans seem to forgotten he hasn’t managed in twelve years and hasn’t been successful since he left Liverpool. Will the Liverpool fans turn on him if results continue on a downward trajectory or will they finally realise that they whilst they might be a big club they aren’t a successful club anymore?