They don't all sing from the same hymn sheet at Anfield about Roy Hodgson's new perspectives on success. Daniel Agger, whose inclination to attack from defence has seen him left out of the side for the last two league games, declared yesterday that he will not abandon those offensive tendencies.
"The manager's philosophy is that we play football in attack, but not at the back," Agger said. "That's not my style and I'm not that type of player. I like to keep the ball on the ground, and that's what I'll keep doing. Time will show if he [Hodgson] doesn't want to play me because of that. I will never be a player who offloads the ball at every opportunity. I know what I stand for." Brave words so early into a new manager's tenure. Agger's exclusion in place of the arguably pacier Martin Skrtel is one of the few team selections at Old Trafford that Liverpool fans would question, but he misses the point about the reasons why Hodgson has been appointed at Anfield.
Winning a 19th league championship is certainly not among them. The manager acknowledged in his post-match press conference at Old Trafford that fourth was the target. Rather, the job for the next few financially straitened years is to make Liverpool a tighter and more disciplined unit who can fulfil their potential, considerably more limited though that will be with minimal spending.
Solidity is the byword, though whether Hodgson is a manager for the days when the ownership saga is resolved is a question for that seemingly distant day. He may have served his usefulness as a stopgap by then.
Hodgson's more defensive outlook was certainly visible in the Liverpool side which showed such a lack of ambition in the first half at Old Trafford, though in the advance from 2-0 down there was more to take heart from than the doomsayers have suggested. The side's struggle to move from zonal to man-to-man marking will worry Hodgson but Steven Gerrard was not simply looking on the bright side when he reflected brightly yesterday that Liverpool "kept the ball away from [United] and passed it really well." It was often the final pass which spoilt the general effect where Liverpool's play was concerned.
Though Liverpool's summer signings have generally not delivered on their promise yet, with Joe Cole overwhelmed by the size of the task at Old Trafford, Raul Meireles was one of the players who displayed cause for optimism when finally moved back into the central midfield role which Liverpool were thought to have bought him for. All those tattoos Meireles carries include one for every number jersey he has worn in his career. There's a prominent "3", for the shirt he took at Boavista before Jose Mourinho took a shine to him and instructed Porto to sign him, and the "16" which he has worn for Porto and Portugal. But an old-fashioned number 10 he is not.
Portuguese observers were baffled by Hodgson's decision to deploy this natural born box-to-box player, who is inclined to burst from midfield, directly behind Fernando Torres at Old Trafford. One theory is that the manager believed the advanced role would give him more time to adapt to the greater pace of the Premier League than in the maelstrom of central midfield. (It was why Rafael Benitez played Alberto Aquilani in an advanced role, switching Gerrard back, for so long.)
But it was when Hodgson took Maxi Rodriguez off, partnered David Ngog with Fernando Torres and switched Meireles to his natural midfield role, albeit on the right flank, that Liverpool really started to see what £10.7m has bought: energy, momentum and a willingness to put a foot in to tackle. Sometimes, a little more ambition counts.
Meireles certainly has the look of a Premier League player, a foil to Christian Poulsen's game-breaking play, and though the Portuguese is not an individual you might buy to win a title, he looks like an individual who will prosper on less formidable afternoons than Sunday.
And less formidable afternoons will come. Liverpool's league position can be viewed through the prism of their fixtures; an opening five games which have brought them up against three of the current top four. They might have only five points from five but they also have only three points fewer than fourth-placed Manchester City. A derby match in two weeks' time aside, the going will get easier soon. Only when it does, and the league table makes some sense, will Hodgson know whether the top-four ambition is a realistic one.
There is a view at Anfield that Everton's travails and Aston Villa's own straitened times may be significant in the race for a position on which financial stability rests – more significant certainly than a defeat away to the title contenders, historically and culturally painful though that might be.Reuse content