James Lawton: Lesson of Leonardo's Inter revival will not be lost on canny Dalglish

Kenny has brought in a truckload of optimism to Anfield but, as Leonardo shows, it is no good if it cannot be injected into players demonstrably fit for purpose
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The Independent Football

Wherever he turns there is discouragement for Silvio Berlusconi, who last season battled ferociously with his Milan team coach Leonardo while Jose Mourinho's Internazionale was winning everything.

The Italian prime minister, already besieged in both the courts and the bedroom, now knows better than anyone that if a day or two in politics can represent a long and harrowing ordeal, the football playpen in which he has invested so heavily over the years can also be quite volatile.

A month or so ago his Milan were 13 points ahead of Inter, whose coach Rafa Benitez was issuing owner Massimo Moratti with his now routine, Plan B ultimatum for either new players or another opulent pink leaving slip.

Moratti must now be quite pleased he chose the second option. Inter, having won their fourth straight Serie A game under new coach Leonardo, on top of a defeat of Genoa in the Coppa Italia, are now only a mere six points behind the leaders, with one game still in hand, but also suggesting that playing football is not some early stint in purgatory.

This was not entirely to the benefit of Leonardo's peace of mind at San Siro this week when some of the authority displayed in a resounding win over fellow scudetto challengers Napoli went missing in the 3-2 defeat of Cesena. However, Inter did produce bursts of attacking football that confirmed the Brazilian's commitment to the kind of expression that wasn't always so pronounced under Mourinho, especially against Barcelona in the Champions League, and became progressively remote under Benitez.

Leonardo, it is true, has benefited from an improvement in Inter's injury problems but at no point, and for the most obvious of reasons that he had a squad that last year won all before them, did he suggest that the club needed a major spending programme. He has been happy to draw from the best of his available resources and the effect has been rather more dramatic than the usual initial impact of a new man on the touchline.

All of this surely comes in support of the argument that while Kenny Dalglish has brought in a truckload of optimism to Anfield, as Leonardo plainly has to the Inter dressing room, it is no good if it cannot be injected into a quorum of players demonstrably fit for purpose.

The Liverpool chairman Tom Werner talks about the need for evolution rather than revolution, Fair enough, but evolution tends to take quite a long time, as Charles Darwin pointed out, and the paramount need at Anfield is undoubtedly enough decently equipped players to send to the barricades not next season but today.

When Leonardo took up the challenge at San Siro he declared, "I still believe in the scudetto. I know 13 points [to make up] is a lot but the championship still has a long way to run." He had the humility, and the good sense, to talk to Mourinho, the creator of Inter's extraordinary achievements last season, and says that one result of the conversation was a deeper understanding of the nature of key players.

Given Dalglish's intense connection with Liverpool, he scarcely requires a primer from Benitez or Roy Hodgson. His need is rather the basic one of all winning coaches, as Leonardo is now proving. It is to get the right response from players of guaranteed quality.

Leonardo inherited a squad of high-achieving players and reacted with respect. If Liverpool and Dalglish are to achieve anything this season, they need such a balance – and a lot faster than you find on any evolutionary scale.



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