Though European football may be just out of reach for Kenny Dalglish’s revitalized reds, the massive improvements made since his takeover as manager have given the club renewed hope for next season. To many, the Hodgson era represented the beginning of a slide down the English football hierarchy, with Manchester City and Tottenham seemingly the natural accessors to the places towards the top of the table.
Hodgson worked wonders at Fulham, but the writing was on the wall from day one in some sections of the Merseyside faithful, and a string of dour results, including losses to Everton, Blackpool, Wolves, Stoke, and Blackburn, Roy finally exited Anfield on 8 January. The appointment of Dalglish, a hero as both a player and manager at the club, saw skeptics question if the Scot could cope with the complexities and differences the modern game had sprung since he left the hot seat in 1991. But renewed passion and vigor from the same players who struggled or were overlooked under Hodgson, like Martin Kelly, Glen Johnson, and Jay Spearing, have thrived under the new manager, with important contributions.
Fernando Torres’s sulking figure has been replaced by Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll, who along with Dirk Kuyt, already have the makings of a fearful attacking threesome. We take a look at what moves Dalglish and the board will make this off-season in order to return to their former heights near the top of the table.
Since joining from Villareal in 2005, Reina has established himself as one the of best goalkeepers not only in the league, but also in the world, and were it not for Iker Casillas he would have many more caps than his relatively modest 21. However, there have been rumors circulating that the Spaniard may follow his compatriot Torres out the door this summer, with Arsenal at the head of the queue. He would surely command a high fee, but the inexperience behind him would need that at least one top class goalkeeper would be required. No other keepers have made an appearance in the league for Liverpool this season, with just one (Brad Jones) making an appearance in any other competition (2 in the Europa League). Jones was brought in as cover from Middlesbrough, but a lack of first team action has seen him go on loan to Derby County, and the Australian international would surely be a massive step down from Reina. Peter Gulacsi and Martin Hansen have both shown promise for their countries- Hungary and Denmark, respectively- but with both just 20 the number one jersey is a few years away, if it is to be attained. Diego Cavalieri is back in Brazil in loan. Dalglish will be tempted by Europe’s two hottest prospects, Manuel Neuer and David De Gea, but Asmir Begovic, Shay Given, and Kieren Westwood could all be available as well. Igor Akinfeev of CSKA Moscow could also finally move to England after years of rumors. Reina is the obvious number one if he stays, and the priority should be to keep hold of the long-time number one.
Martin Skrtel has been a constant in the centre of defence, but erratic form from Jamie Carragher, Glen Johnson, Sotirios Kyrgiakos, and Daniel Agger saw Liverpool struggle to keep clean sheets under Hodgson. Under Dalglish, Johnson has rekindled his form that saw Chelsea and Liverpool battle for his services, but this time on the left side of the defence. Martin Kelly has also been impressive since getting a run in the team, and the England U21 international looks to have a bright future having gained valuable experience this year. Daniel Agger was perhaps the most vocal critic under Hodgson, but the Dane has shown that he perhaps had a point, showing the courage and skill that was missing earlier in the year. Jamie Carragher seems to be feeling the weight of age, and the Liverpool legend looks further off the pace than previous years. A massive personality he undoubtedly is, but accompanied with the disaster that has been Kyrgiakos, Liverpool will surely be on the market for a new centre half, with Gary Cahill of Bolton and Phil Jones of Blackburn fitting the bill. Fabio Aurelio has failed to figure prominently, and could be sold to fund replacements. A new left back would also be ideal if Johnson is to be returned to the right side, with Paul Konchesky also like to leave permanently following his loan spell at Nottingham Forest. Newcastle left back Jose Enrique has been heavily linked with a move to Liverpool, and the Argentine would certainly strengthen the back line considerably.
Steven Gerrard is the undoubted leader of the midfield and the club itself, and the Liverpool native has been with the club his entire career, having made his debut in 1998. The skipper has been massive, and even at 30 he still seems to have a lot left to give, and despite injury checkering this campaign he has still chipped in with 4 goals in the league, and a majestic hat trick against Napoli in the Europa League. The addition of Raul Meireles from Porto proved to be Hodgson’s best piece of business, with the Portugese international steadily improving over the course of the season, with 5 goals and 5 assists to his name. Lucas Leiva has long divided opinion of supporters, but it must be said his performances have improved this year; regardless, questions remain as to whether he will ever be good enough to play more than a bit part at the highest level. Maxi Rodriguez has impressed, with the Argentine adding some much-needed flair and attacking impetus in midfield. Jay Spearing has been given his chance under Dalglish, and the feisty Liverpudlian has shown commitment in abundance, and at just 22 he will surely play a bigger role next year. Jonjo Shelvey was one of the most sought-after teenagers in England, becoming a vital first team player at Charlton when he was 16. Now 19, Shelvey has represented and captained England up to U19 level, and has already made more than 10 appearances for the Reds this year, and could force his way into the reckoning next year. Joe Cole has failed spectacularly since getting sent off on opening day against Arsenal, and has scored just twice in 26 appearances in all competitions, with Dalglish seemingly not keen on involving the former Chelsea star much. The only consolation is that he was a free transfer. Ashley Young would be the perfect winger to provide service to Liverpool’s attack if he can be prized away from Aston Villa, and Matt Jarvis could be on the move if Wolves fail to beat the drop as well.
At the beginning of the season you would have been hard pressed to imagine the current Liverpool strike force as it is now. Fernando Torres was well on his way to becoming a club legend, and revered by the fans for his boatloads of goals. Fast forward to April, and Torres is now struggling at Chelsea after his 50m move, with Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez each having completed big money moves to Anfield from Newcastle and Ajax. Torres never did seem to have the right attitude, and aside from his brilliant performance against current club Chelsea earlier in the year, he looked a shadow of himself. Carroll has fired in the goals for the Magpies the past 2 seasons, and Suarez has done the same in the Eredivisie. Along with the hard-working Dirk Kuyt, a formidable triumvirate at the front could indeed be on the cards. Carroll is one of the best in the air in Europe, a tough mark from a set piece or open play for even the most experienced defenders. Suarez is tricky, and the ability to beat a defender with a plethora of moves due to his precise ball control, and he tends to notch up assists as well. These three look set to lead the line next season, but a dependable fourth striker for cover and competition is needed. Milan Jovanovic has struggled to do much of anything since joining from Standard Liege in the summer, and has failed to find the net in just a string of appearances. David Ngog is still only 22, but with only 2 goals in 22 league appearances this year, it seems his chance to cement his place as an important player in the team may have gone.