Complacent Liverpool feel wrath of Dalglish
Bolton Wanderers 3 Liverpool 1
The Reebok Stadium
Monday 23 January 2012
Firstly, an apology. For Bolton Wanderers this was their lovely day; a vindication of their faith in Owen Coyle that, as November turned to December, would have been stretched until the sinews showed. Despite the departure of Gary Cahill, their most valuable asset, they performed beautifully. Liverpool were both beaten and outplayed.
None of this will resonate much beyond the confines of the outer Manchester ring road. When Middlesbrough thrashed Manchester United 4-1 in October 2005, it was not viewed as another stepping stone for the side Steve McClaren was building on Teesside but as a scathing confirmation of the crumbling of Sir Alex Ferguson's regime, viciously articulated by his own captain, Roy Keane. McClaren's emotions were lost in the wash.
Kenny Dalglish was not overtly emotional as he sat in the press room but his words were like lead. They were the words that he had carried with him since he first took the 64 bus from Argyle Street to Parkhead – "respect", "tradition", "history". He accused his players of betraying the lot.
He will have thought long about what he was going to say. Dalglish's public position is one of narrow loyalty to the men around him and a determination not to give those outside Anfield any ammunition to use against his club. This, however, was not an evening where he could possibly have held back and retained any kind of credibility. It was not a night for the usual clichés, that Stewart Downing has "surpassed even my expectations" and "we couldn't be more pleased with Andy Carroll". It was time for some truth. He said it was the worst performance he had seen since his return to Anfield just over a year ago and was founded on layer after layer of complacency.
"Do we think we can turn up and get a result?" he said. "Liverpool football club has never been built on that foundation. They have always been respectful to people and we have always had to work hard to get what we have got.
"It doesn't just come to you and if they don't want to do it, then fine. If you have pride in yourself and your football club, that reflects in the effort you have put in."
In one sense, it may have been understandable that his players' minds were wandering towards Wednesday's Carling Cup semi-final with Manchester City. Silverware, even the League Cup that was part of Liverpool's staple diet during Dalglish's first tour of duty, goes a long way and theirs has been a superbly executed campaign. A trophy in his first full season was what Roberto Mancini delivered at Eastlands. On Saturday there is Manchester United and payback for Luis Suarez.
In Suarez's absence, Liverpool have played four league games and taken four points. However, it would be wrong to suggest everything will accelerate smoothly once the striker returns. This sort of result had been coming. Liverpool have struggled to overcome the Premier League's also-rans. They have dropped seven points against the three Lancashire teams who have spent most of the season in the bottom three while beating Chelsea and Arsenal in London and outplaying Manchester United.
When Dalglish returned, there were those who predicted John W Henry and Fenway Sports Group faced two risks. One was that, like Alan Shearer at Newcastle, he would relegate the club he loved. Because the sharpness had never left him during his exile from management, this was never a possibility. The other was that Dalglish would steer Liverpool away from the rocks, mount a recovery but be unable to push the club into the Champions League or towards a title. Then, what would the Americans do?
When Newcastle's then chairman, Freddy Shepherd, fired Sir Bobby Robson, he likened it to "shooting Bambi". For Henry, it would be like firing Walt Disney from his own studio and that is why Dalglish needed to speak.
Not much Kop? Anfield anxieties
Replacing the old guard
Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher would have graced any era at Liverpool and believe absolutely in Kenny Dalglish's philosophy but where are their replacements?
The Andy Carroll question
Carroll was not that bad against Bolton but if you are going to spend £35m on a footballer it might be as well to base your attack absolutely around him.
Under the rule of thumb that three in every five transfers fail, Dalglish's record has been reasonable but the net may have to be cast more widely and more cheaply.
Keeping Luis Suarez
Suarez has been an outstanding striker at a club for whom his loyalty will be dictated by what kind of football they can offer. Will he stay without the Champions League?
Unlike Rafael Benitez and Gérard Houllier, Dalglish has fully backed the development of home-grown talent. Now should be the time to test Spearing, Kelly and Flanagan.
Bolton: BOGDAN 7/10; STEINSSON 7; WHEATER 7; KNIGHT 7; RICKETTS 7; EAGLES 8; MUAMBA 7; M DAVIES 8; REO-COKER 7; PETROV 7; NGOG 7
Liverpool: REINA 6; AGGER 5; SKRTEL 5; ENRIQUE 4; ADAM 4; HENDERSON 4; JOHNSON 5; RODRIGUEZ 4; GERRARD 6; BELLAMY 7; CARROLL 5
Scorers: Bolton M Davies 4, Reo-Coker 29, Steinsson 50. Liverpool Bellamy 37.
Substitutes: Bolton K Davies (Ngog, 88), Tuncay (Eagles, 90). Liverpool Downing 5 (Adam, 64), Kuyt 5 (Rodriguez, 64). Booked: Bolton None. Liverpool Enrique, Kuyt.
Man of the match Eagles. Match rating 8/10.
Possession: Bolton 53% Liverpool 47%.
Attempts on target: Bolton 8 Liverpool 8.
Referee K Friend (Leicestershire).
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