After weeks of failure amidst a series of significant victories in the boardroom, Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool seemed to get it right on the pitch on Sunday – at long last. An impressive performance against an average Blackburn side who were struggling with injuries has proved all is not lost with the players and the 63-year-old at the helm, and that time isn’t over just yet for the former Fulham manager. What little hope was there after the defeat of Everton rekindled at Anfield on Sunday – but the flame is still small.
With just a third of the season down, Hodgson’s head was already on a plate and there was even talk of a replacement appearing in Frank Rijkaard, on the back of his dismissal from Turkish giants Galatasaray. Kudos must be given to Roy in his response to this rumour, however, in one of few examples where Roy humoured the needs of the fans as well as that of the journalists.
Rijkaard has just been sacked from Galatasaray – he must be a great manager to have been sacked by Galatasaray! What you are talking about is Frank Rijkaard’s agent putting his name around. It is all speculation
Little faith was shown in Roy, but after eight games and a measly six points there were grounds for talk from fans that the Englishman had to go – ‘he was simply not the right man for the job.’
Hodgson had his way about football, just like his predecessor Rafa Benitez. The Spaniard was forced to take a prolonged bedding in period in English football. His first mistake was dismissing league football over European success for so long, as well as treating the FA Cup on the same level as those do the League Cup in his first ever tie (Djimi Traore, own goal, Burnley). But Rafa changed his philosophy, he adapted to the challenges that faced him, learned from his mistakes and went on to win the FA Cup a season later, overcoming Manchester Utd in the process.
Now it’s obvious Roy has no such difficulties. He’s been in English football long enough to know about the traditions of the FA Cup, the pride of a long-lasting cup run and the fans’ ambitions of a high domestic league finish (although at Fulham, European success rightly took front seat last season).
No, English football isn’t a new atmosphere for Roy – but Liverpool Football Club is not like anything he has experienced before. Keep the fans happy, like so many managers did before him, get results on the pitch, again – like many of his predecessors achieved, and life at Liverpool will be (relatively) smooth sailing. Nobody was expecting any miracles, but Roy, in his first three months at the club, managed to fail dramatically in the above two tasks. He discarded the role as the voice of the fans, instead siding snugly with his press room chums and his rival manager counterparts. He neglected the knowledge of the fans, trying to humour the club’s followers with blinded observations on his side’s underperformances. He blatantly tried to justify Liverpool’s terrible showings when it was even more blatant that it was his tactics and persistence with a Christian Poulsen-handbrake philosophy that was the root of the problem.
‘That was as good as we have played all season, and I have no qualms with the performance whatsoever. I only hope fair-minded people will see it the same way.
On Sunday, in the 2-1 victory over Blackburn where had it not been for Paul Robinson in goals would’ve been more a more comfortable win, Liverpool showed signs of revival as Hodgson showed signs of amendment similar to Rafa when he first came head on with a difficulty. The side pressed, hassled and harried Sam Allardyce’s side into submission and dominated comfortably for seventy minutes, playing nice fast flowing football on the ground which benefited the likes of Joe Cole, Fernando Torres, Maxi Rodriguez and Raul Meireles as they all enjoyed more time on the ball higher up the pitch. The talented attackers who were left bereft of possession before the game could finally get into a flow of good football.
This sudden change in philosophy was urgent from Roy, or more dropped points would have been hazardous to Liverpool’s season and his managerial career. The previous method of playing deep, hoofing the ball around and generally being a low tempo and unchallenging side to play against not only defied the ability of the players at his disposal, but relinquished the club’s authority on the field before they could even establish it. Losses against sides such Blackpool, Northampton, Everton and draws against Sunderland suggest this.
Liverpool have not become a top four side again overnight, but Roy must continue with the method he adopted against Blackburn. Confidence was high, play was quick and the morale reached a season peak. The Reds’ should be aiming for three points and a handful of goals in their next game against Bolton, followed by a win at home to Napoli. The biggest task of the season thus far arrives against Chelsea after that. Like they’ve been able to manage in recent seasons, a win in this tie will be a bolt to Liverpool’s season.
The players at the club were clearly lacking confidence, but by playing to their strengths like he did on Sunday, performances will begin to shape in time. Lucas Leiva displayed what many would admit was a stratospheric improvement on Poulsen, Maxi oozed confidence down the right hand side which wasn’t occupied by Raul Meireles who linked up play between in each half of the field masterfully. Cole, who admitted himself had hit one of his poorest runs of form in his career, also did well. And most importantly of all, somewhat, was Fernando Torres got the ball.
All is not lost at Liverpool under Hodgson. Just like the hiccups that arose in the takeover process, just like the traditions Benitez failed to adhere to in his early years, Roy has room for revival. A new found philosophy with, hopefully, a less defeatist approach and fewer blonde Danes in the midfield.