Dalglish struggling to justify costly gap year

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Last season Newcastle trailed Liverpool; now they are ahead despite selling them their best players. Steve Tongue on today's eagerly awaited clash

Great expectations; what a curse they can be for football teams. Last May a Liverpool side whose form had been bad enough for five months to get Roy Hodgson the sack finished 12 points ahead of Newcastle United. Spending another £35m net in the close-season as opposed to Newcastle's £2m net might reasonably have been expected to push the clubs further apart. Yet going into today's meeting on Tyneside, and even after beating them 3-1 at Anfield just after Christmas, Kenny Dalglish's team trail Alan Pardew's by eight points.

Dalglish suggested recently that anyone judging his beloved club on League positions alone required "an intelligence check". Perhaps a belief that there is more to it than that stemmed from his one full season in charge of Newcastle, when he finished 13th in the Premier League, preferring to remember reaching the FA Cup final and beating Barcelona in the Champions' League.

This time it is again to the cups that he is looking, although even with the Carling Cup tucked away – a real struggle in the final but after some good away wins in earlier rounds – the season will look underwhelming if the FA Cup does not join it in the once overcrowded Anfield trophy room.

Dalglish has made much of bad luck – although Manchester City have now struck the bar or post more often – affecting the home form, although away from Anfield they have lost eight times and still have fewer away points than anyone above them, including Newcastle.

A more significant factor is surely the quality of signings made in what he calls "a huge turnaround of players" and how they have performed. As our panel shows, Newcastle's have done markedly better for less than one quarter the cost.

"If someone comes in, they have to be a lot better than what we've got," Dalglish reiterated on Friday. His purchases, on the face of it, should have been, but have not turned out so, as even members of the extended Liverpool family admit.

Phil Thompson, a former club captain and then assistant manager under Gérard Houllier, stills calls the club "we" but admits: "The team is average, a lot of players have not done it. When we signed Andy Carroll, never mind the fee, I and other fans thought 'what a great signing'. I'd have been gutted if he went to another club. I'm hoping it's a transitional season but you can't hide behind the fact that it's not really worked. If you look at all the signings, so many of them haven't hit the ground running."

John Barnes, who joined the club in 1987 just as Thompson was finishing, makes a perceptive point about the newcomers: "When I went to Liverpool I'd had six years at Watford and 30 England caps, consistently playing well for six years to get a move to a big club. Peter Beardsley had five years at Newcastle, 15 or 20 caps; John Aldridge, Ray Houghton similarly.

"But because of the demands now, Andy Carroll had one year at Newcastle, Jordan Henderson one year at Sunderland, then they get big-money moves through no fault of their own and Liverpool have to pay the going rate. And even when Peter and I went there, it's in the lap of the gods whether it works straightaway."

It certainly did for those two. Liverpool won the League by a street, somehow contrived to lose the Cup final to Wimbledon, and the following year should have done the Double for the second time in four seasons. That was the level the club operated at for the best part of 25 years and the sort of standard that subsequent teams have been judged against.

Both Barnes and Thompson, who were speaking after appearing at the SoccerEx European Forum in Manchester, agree that expectations play a part in all that and while Liverpool have failed to live up to theirs, Newcastle have done the opposite.

Barnes nevertheless expected less than some people: "I never thought with the squad Liverpool had that they would challenge for the title. I feel they have a distinct lack of quality. They relied on [Steven] Gerrard and [Fernando] Torres too heavily and now they're relying on Gerrard and Suarez. Kenny wanted it to have worked in the first year but he is looking for the long term, hoping these are going to be Liverpool's heroes for the next 10 years.

"While Liverpool have been disappointing, Newcastle are a surprise," Barnes added. "They've done it differently. What they've done is bought good players from abroad like [Yohan] Cabaye and [Cheick] Tioté, knowing they're not going to be at Newcastle for ever, but to get immediate success. Maybe to sell them next year for a profit and then they'll bring some more in for four or five million. So the two clubs' philosophy has been different."

Having played under Dalglish at both clubs, Barnes still believes in him and suggests that, crucially, the Liverpool players do. Thompson will not have many words said against the manager either, and he sums up: "Everybody [at Newcastle] has played to their potential, whereas ours haven't. But Liverpool's vastly different because of all the expectations."

Ah, those great expectations. And at what some of us still call St James' Park, Liverpool will expect again this afternoon.

Transfer hits and misses

Newcastle United

Hit Hatem Ben Arfa, Jan 2011 (£4m after loan): Gifted midfielder who has proved inspirational despite missing several months with a broken leg.

Hit Demba Ba, June 2011 (free): 16 goals in 24 starts, one of bargains of summer after relegation at West Ham.

Hit Yohan Cabaye, July 2011 (£4.8m): The steel to match his compatriot Ben Arfa's silk in midfield.

Hit Papiss Cissé, Jan 2012 (£9m): The fee showed the club's increasing confidence – already looks justified.

Miss Gabriel Obertan, Aug 2011 (£3m): Initial good impression by the Manchester United signing faded.

Miss Davide Santon, Aug 2011 (£5m): More was expected from an Italian defender who has now lost his place.

Liverpool

Hit Luis Suarez, Jan 2011 (£22.8m): On pure footballing grounds, proved the main attacker Anfield hoped for.

Hit Jose Enrique, Aug 2011 (£5m): Has made left-back position his own, Newcastle failed to replace him.

Miss Andy Carroll, Jan 2011 (£35m): Fee wasn't his fault but would have looked expensive at half the price.

Miss Jordan Henderson, June 2011 (£20m): Struggled from his first game against former club Sunderland.

Miss Charlie Adam, July 2011 (£9m): Has had his moments but mainly from set pieces. Looks much smaller fish in a bigger pond.

Miss Stewart Downing, July 2011 (£20m): Man of match in League Cup final but frequently exasperating and without a League goal.

Steve Tongue

Newcastle United v Liverpool is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 1.30pm

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk