Liverpool fans started the 2011/12 season with optimism as Kenny Dalglish recruited throughout the summer and began his first full season back in charge at Anfield with a promising new squad. Just over 12 months after the iconic Dalglish returned, Liverpool have shown a marked improvement when you compare the first half of this season to the first half of last season under Roy Hodgson. This term, Liverpool’s lowest league standing has been eighth, whilst under Hodgson that was their highest position at the half way point of the season. The signs are there that Liverpool, under Dalglish, are on the right track.
But this season has been far from plane sailing for Dalglish and Liverpool fans. In October talisman Luis Suarez was accused of racism and ended the year being found guilty of the offense as he was handed an eight match ban along with a fine. Dalglish was also given news in December that influential midfielder Lucas Leiva would be out for the rest of the season, two hammer blows for the manager.
The good news is, despite such trauma, Liverpool haven’t gone off the rails and are the only Premier League team to remain unbeaten at home in all competitions. Liverpool also take a 1-0 lead into the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final against Manchester City. On the pitch the latest Liverpool recruits are starting to gel, with new/old boy Craig Bellamy having definitely made his mark already during his second stint at the club, Newcastle recruit Jose Enrique seems to have slotted into the team as if he was always a Red, and youngsters like Jordan Henderson beginning to shine.
Steven Gerrard has made a welcome return to the team. The England international may have only recently returned after an ankle injury, but his affect on the team has been instant. His presence was obviously missed and his return to the pitch has seemingly lifted spirits as high as when Kenny returned for both players and fans alike. It is not just those in and around Liverpool FC whose attitudes that have changed, but the Liverpool team seem to be a different proposition with Gerrard in it, he brings a ‘never say die’ attitude to the side. Some people have said lately that Anfield is not the fortress it used to be, but the stats prove it is and things will only get better with the return of Gerrard.
The bad news however is there have been too many close calls. Let’s start with the draws as there have been way too many especially at home and to teams like Norwich City (no disrespect) where most would have expected a home win. More recently the insanely disorganised draw with Stoke, not to mention how many times the woodwork has been hit on multiple occasions this season. Andy Carroll remains a spare part at the club, showing few signs of improvement, despite his goal against Oldham in the FA Cup. Liverpool have improved, but the question remains whether Liverpool can have top four aspirations again come the end of the season?
Goals are a serious problem, with Liverpool being the seventh worse goalscoring team in the Premier League. It is apparent Liverpool need to recruit a striker if they are to break into the top four again in future. Whether any incoming striker replaces Andy Carroll or not remains to be seen, but the Geordie hasn’t exactly been banging in the goals his £35m price tag suggests he should and has been linked with a return to Newcastle.
While Craig Bellamy has made a positive impact, his recurring knee problem is nothing to take a chance on and his body reacts badly to the cold winter months. Dirk Kuyt was great last season, but sadly he is not having the same luck this year as rumours have circulated about his future, it would not be a shock if he leaves to pursue first team opportunities elsewhere. With another quality striker, the Reds could hopefully turn these draws into wins. For example, Liverpool could already be in the top four if just two of the draws were wins instead.
This January’s transfer window has been pretty dead all around so far, not just for Liverpool, but that can easily change as we edge ever closer to the deadline. Some names that have been floating around include the likes of Demba Ba from Newcastle and FC Twente’s Luuk de Jong. Ba is the signing of the season so far after going to Newcastle on a free transfer, he has proven to be critical as the Toon army occupy the dizzy heights of sixth, with Ba currently second top scorer in the league. Luuk de Jong is currently fifth joint top scorer in the Eredivisie and looks a promising player. Whether either of these players is a serious option remains to be seen, but with the addition of a striker, Liverpool could cement a top six position as they work towards re-establishing themselves as a top four side.
Expectations are high amongst Liverpool fans as usual, but an instant return to the top four was never a possibility and there is still plenty of work to be done. Liverpool can indeed start to push for the top four again if they can convert draws to wins, but the competition is fiercer than ever. Fear not, the signs are there and Kenny has definitely put Liverpool back in the right direction. Reds fans should expect even better times ahead as Liverpool start their journey to recapture those glory years.