Liverpool's American owners are beginning to harbour doubts about Roy Hodgson and are particularly concerned about the manager's increasingly fractured relationship with supporters after the excruciating home defeat to Wolves on Wednesday.
The owners are understood to have been surprised to find that Hodgson had questioned the supporters after the 1-0 defeat, during which ironic chants of "Hodgson for England" and calls for Kenny Dalglish were heard. Though Dalglish is understood to feel Liverpool still have no appetite to appoint him as caretaker, the club's owners believe that the fans should not have been further alienated after a performance in which the club's principal owner, John W Henry, was not convinced the players were sufficiently committed. Hodgson observed after the match that in his six months as Liverpool manager "the famous Anfield support has not been there" and called on "those fans to become supporters as well, because this is the time when the club needs supporters".
The 14-day break caused by the cancellation of Liverpool's fixtures with Fulham and Blackpool created the platform to excel against a Wolves side who arrived at Anfield with the worst away record in the four English leagues. In those circumstances, the Americans were particularly surprised by the listless performance Hodgson's players put in. A make-or-break month appears to lie ahead.
Henry and his chairman, Tom Werner, had been hopeful that Hodgson could at least see them through to the end of the season and initially expressed surprise at the level of criticism the 63-year-old has incurred. If Hodgson were to be sacked, the problem is who might be available to take the club through to the summer. It is understood Dalglish would jump at the chance if he received any encouragement for a return which would restore the link to the supporters, though his temporary appointment could store up more trouble. Were Dalglish to succeed in any way as a caretaker, it might be difficult to remove him harmoniously in favour of a younger, long-term manager such as Marseilles' Didier Deschamps, Porto's Andre Villas Boas or even Bolton's Owen Coyle.
There is also the risk that, after a decade out of the front line, Dalglish simply could not deliver Liverpool towards the top of the table. In the meantime, he remains a brooding presence for Hodgson. "In the summer we lost one manager and got another one in," is the limit of Dalglish's cool assessment of the new manager in his latest column for the club's weekly magazine.
The Americans may be reluctant to move swiftly, with the FA Cup third-round tie at Old Trafford only nine days away, and there are good reasons not to react prematurely and instead wait until the summer to move for the kind of young manager Henry may prefer.
Hodgson's players, whom he insisted yesterday still support him, have proved themselves perfectly capable. The side had started to show signs of promise only last month, with a creditable display in the defeat at Tottenham and victory over Chelsea before demolitions of Aston Villa and West Ham. Two dire defeats and two cancelled games have now destroyed the momentum. Coyle's Bolton present a tough challenge tomorrow.
Hodgson is a popular figure within Anfield and there is a feeling among some that he is too candid and articulate for his own good at times. Nothing the manager said in his questioning of the supporters was factually inaccurate – there has, indeed, been little fans' support for him – and his language on Wednesday night was not intemperate. But by calling for better support he has rendered his relationship with supporters an even more dislocated one. There is also a feeling – perfectly justified – from some quarters at Anfield that Fernando Torres has escaped scot-free from the wrath of fans, while Hodgson has taken all the abuse.
Hodgson believes one of the reasons why smaller teams are regularly beating larger ones in this Premier League season is that the days of journeymen teams are over and that every side has at least one elite potential match-winner, from Wigan's Charles N'Zogbia to Wolves' Matt Jarvis.
With each side capable of achieving a decent level, Hodgson reasons, delivery from that star player is more often the difference between success and failure. Torres is one of the star men for Liverpool and, despite playing in every League game bar one this season and enjoying a contract way beyond that of Jamie Carragher, he does not look interested. It has not been lost on some that Torres' only star performance was in the first half against Chelsea, the side to which he would welcome a move.
Privately, Hodgson believes the Spaniard's problems are physical and psychological, but Liverpool have stored up trouble by making the player bigger than the club, whose former managing director Christian Purslow was desperate to keep the striker as part of the process of making the club attractive to buyers. The informal understanding reached before Henry's New England Sports Ventures group took over was that Torres would be permitted to leave at the end of this season if Liverpool had failed to qualify for the Champions League and a £50m offer came in.
Now, the 26-year-old seems to be beyond the manager's control. Tactically, Hodgson's style, with Pepe Reina punting long balls in the direction of Torres when he needs the ball played to his feet, is often less suited to him, but that does not account for his poor season.
Torres the terrible
After some great years at Liverpool, 2010 has seen the striker struggle for form and fitness, looking increasingly unsettled.
March Penalty spot disruption goes unpunished. After heading Liverpool ahead at Old Trafford, Torres then kicked the spot before a Wayne Rooney penalty. Torres went unpunished by the FA.
April Hauled off at St Andrew's Withdrawn after 65 minutes of a 1-1 draw at Birmingham City, prompting a bemused reaction from Steven Gerrard.
June/July Limited role in World Cup glory Torres was clearly unfit at the World Cup in South Africa. He started four of Spain's seven matches, but was substituted in all of them and only once lasted beyond 58 minutes. Scored no goals.
September Accused by Ferguson Sir Alex Ferguson said that Torres made "an absolute meal" of a foul by John O'Shea in Liverpool's 3-2 defeat to United. "There is no doubt he tried" to get O'Shea sent off.
November Scores against Chelsea and Wigan Both goals are his in a 2-0 win over Chelsea at Anfield. Then strikes his fifth goal of the season at the JJB – and has not scored for Liverpool since. Seen turning his back and looking uninterested as Jermain Defoe missed a penalty in the 2-1 defeat at White Hart Lane.
Tomorrow v Bolton (h); Prem
Wednesday v Blackburn (a); Prem
9 January v Man United (a); FA Cup
12 January v Blackpool (a); Prem
16 January v Everton (h); Prem
22 January v Wolves (a); PremReuse content