Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Kenny Dalglish’s first game Premier League game: Is the glass half empty or half full?

Liverpool stumbled again to another league defeat. No real surprise there to be honest this season. But this game was Dalglish’s first premier league game. This game holds great significance. As Liverpool’s worrying league form is the underlying reason why Roy Hodgson was sacked last week. Also this was the first game of which Dalglish oversaw training and tactical preparations. This was the game where the Liverpool fans were hoping to see glimpses of the Liverpool old, rather than this pathetic underachieving side.

Liverpool under Hodgson were heavily criticised for being too defensive and negative away from home. Against Blackpool, Liverpool showed a striking attacking intent. Liverpool pushed the defensive line quite high, the likes of Lucas and Raul Meireles were given the licence to support in attacks. This is an encouraging sign for Liverpool. As it shows a philopshy to press on and attack. However, I think time is needed. Raul Meireles didn’t have his best game for the club. He often gave the ball away in poor positions or chose the wrong pass. This could be due to the high pressure closing down tactics adopted by Blackpool, which limited Merieles time and space on the ball.

The wingers which saw the surprise inclusion of Milan Jovanovic and regular Dirk Kuyt. Both players saw a lot of the ball, but were far from effective. Kuyt looked uncomfortable playing in the style Liverpool adopted. It was as if both players couldn’t handle the pace of Liverpool’s pass and move approach. Kuyt struggled to keep the ball and had difficulty in executing crosses and passes. While Jovanovic kept running into cul-de sacs. The poor performances from the duo emphasised the crying lack of creative edge on the flanks. The full back Martin Kelly showed great awerness by playing a good through ball to set up Fernando Torres’s frist goal. However, besides that there was no real intent going forward in the full back positions for Liverpool. This is mainly because Blackpool’s flamboyant attackive approach would expose the space left behind if the full backs consistently went forward.

To put it bluntly, the goals scored by Blackpool all stemmed from errors from Liverpool players. The first goal; a poor touch by Meireles, allowed Blackpool to capitalise in a clinical fashion. While the second goal was a defensive error by Glen Johnson for allowing his man roam free in the six yard box. But it’s unfair to point fingers at Johnson. The team didn’t sufficiently defend the original set piece and should have been far more organised for the re-bound ball. Throughout the game Liverpool defensively looked vulnerable every time Blackpool attacked. This has been the sorry story of Liverpool for the last two years. Liverpool’s success have always been built on solid defensive foundations. While Liverpool constantly look weak defensively against any of their oppositions. This uncertainty in defence begins to infiltrate in the other areas of Liverpool’s play.

Dalglish in his post match press conference commented that, ‘There are a couple of things there that we can sort out.’ In regards to the two goals conceded by Liverpool, the errors can be rectified on the training pitch. Once the team develops and fully understands Dalglish’s passing and moving philosophy, mistakes such as misplaced passes and poor touches, which were aparent against Blackpool can be rectified. Under Hodgson, Liverpool rarely played with great pace. The pace of the game also contributed to the first goal. Liverpool tried to adapt to the fast pace of the game, but were unable at times to handle the tempo. This lead to mistakes such as misplaced passes. And explains why Blackpool edged possession by 52% /45%.

Whereas the second goal, more focus on the training ground on defensive organisation whether its open play or set pieces, will deeply assist the team. Some may turn around and say, ‘it may take the player’s time to adapt into Dalglish’s philosophy.’ This is a fair point, but the performance against Blackpool shows especially in regards to passing and moving, the team have already developed an understanding. But defensively there clearly is a lot of work to be done by Dalglish and his coaches. And I think the defensive display by Liverpool not only against Blackpool but throughout the season will be worrying Dalglish far more than any other department.

As much as Liverpool showed their attacking intent, they failed to have any creative edge in order to get into the final third of the pitch, and really challenge Richard Kingston – the Blackpool goal keeper. This was the difference between the two sides. Blackpool were able to get into Liverpool’s final third, whereas Liverpool found it difficult to exploit Blackpool’s defence. Dalglish admitted Liverpool have to work on their 'final pass.' This is a problem which has been crying out throughout the season. Liverpool especially away from home have found it incredibly difficult to create any chances for Fernando Torres, hence why his form has been so poor.

One thing Fernando Torres has been criticised for this season, its been his work rate and body language. A lot of pundits have argued Torres’s body language portrays a man where the last place he would want to be is Liverpool. The red’s dismal defeats against Blackburn and Newcastle highlighted the team’s apparent lack of desire. However, against Blackpool Torres along with the whole team showed great desire to try and make something of the game. One alarming matter which occurred to me was that Liverpool’s drive began to ware off as the game progressed.

Dalglish argues the team ‘needs belief.’ In other words, the team needs confidence. This is a valid point. As most of the players who played against Blackpool were the same players who hammerd both Madrid and Manchester United in 2009. If Dalglish can rebuild the teams confidence collectively and individually, the team have strong chance of reaching their potential. But its unknown, whether or not this Liverpool side can adapt to Dalglish’s passing and moving philosophy. Against Blackpool some of the players looked clearly out of their depth at this style of play. However, I think its vital for Liverpool to work collectively on their defence. Liverpool haven’t been beaten by the brilliance of the opposition, they have been beaten by their own incompetence defensively. The teams which have conceded the least goals this season are; Man City (16), Man United (19), Chelsea (19), Arsenal (22). Surprise, surprise, most of these sides, if not all of them are challenging for the title this season. If Liverpool can improve defensively and become more organised at the back, this will naturally instil confidence in the teams play and will make the team more difficult to beat.

I think there is a great more to come from this Liverpool side under Kenny Dalglish. If the team can adapt and successfully execute Dalgish’s passing and moving philosophy, the team can develop a fluidity, but this fluidity hinges on confidence and belief. Dalglish must motivate his players into believing their abilities. This confidence will come with the assurances of a solid defence. Dalglish and his coaching staff have to reorganise a continually exposed defensive department. But Dalglish has a limited time to do all this work. The glass is half full, not half empty.

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