So, when Liverpool headed to Bloomfield Road to take on one of the league’s flimsiest defenses after a relatively encouraging performance at Old Trafford, an emphatic victory was the expectation.
Then, Fernando Torres, whom Dalglish had vowed to somehow get back into gear, scored a beautiful goal just two minutes into the match and Dalglish seemed a true magician.
Two hours later, Liverpool had lost the match 2-1, after being dominated for 70 of the match’s last 80 minutes, including the entire second half.
Well, there are two reasons. First, Blackpool is a legitimate mid-table Premier League team that can look like a scrap-heap version of Arsenal when they play at home. Second, Liverpool’s players weren’t as good, even if they are supposedly “better.”
Blackpool deserve all of the credit in the world for the win. They were resilient and positive, and disciplined in defense even as attacking-minded as they are.
Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Stephen Vaughan and Luke Varney made brilliant runs through the center of midfield, and Charlie Adam was spraying perfect longballs like Paul Scholes.
DJ Campbell and Matthew Phillips were faster and more active as forwards than were their defensive counterparts.
Goalkeeper Richard Kingson made no mistakes.
All in all, it added up to a team that enjoyed pace, space, creativity and a killer instict going forward, and limited easy chances in defense. With these kinds of performances, Blackpool won’t just stay in the Premier League. They’ll do so comfortably.
So, if Liverpool lost 2-1 to Blackpool in early October, and 2-1 on Wednesday — despite the different managers — it can only be said that the players were outplayed.
But, what was missing?
The list is far longer than most supporters would like, but it comes down to a few generalizations.
The team is slow. The team isn’t creative. The team is mistake prone.
While the team was more positive in approach than under Hodgson, you couldn’t help but notice how many spells of possession ended with longballs hit too far for Torres.
Even on counterattacks, balls were being sent long, mainly because there was nobody else up in support. There was no attractive, passing football to be played.
In the first half, Milan Jovanovic was able to fill such a void, creating slashing runs down the center and playing with width on the left, and Martin Kelly was greatly influential down the right side in the opening minutes as well, but otherwise Liverpool was playing with three de facto holding midfielders, Raul Meireles, Christian Poulsen and Lucas Leiva. Hypothetically, the trio may have been playing in wider or more forward roles, but it doesn’t matter where you put a holding midfielder. They are what they are, and as a result, the trio simply clogged the center of the field and made runs forward only conservatively.
Then, there is Torres’ striking partner, Dirk Kuyt, who at this point, isn’t a wide player or a forward at all, but an attacking midfielder. Kuyt isn’t remotely a bad player — neither are Meireles or Lucas (Christian Poulsen may be) — but they are all being used in roles too forward for their skill sets.
In order to create a successful attack, you need pieces that fit together. That means having one or two natural central midfielders, two natural wide players, and a pair of natural forwards who complement each other with differing strengths.
There’s nothing that Dalglish — or Hodgson — can do about the fact that Liverpool’s best 11 simply can’t be constructed as such.
On defense, an even more obvious example of a misplaced player is present. Glen Johnson, a right-sided midfielder, is playing right back — left back on Wednesday actually — and, unsurprisingly, he made defensive mistakes.
Central defense was particularly poor today, but the issues afflicting Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel were different ones.
Neither are in form, being apt to be caught out of position, and since the players in front of them are not finding space, their distribution has been limited to sending the aforementioned hopeless longballs to Torres.
Agger will get up to speed as he recovers from injury. He is a quality player. Skrtel, in an ideal situation, is backing up Jamie Carragher — or another player to be brought in soon.
Bringing in players, in fact, is the most sensible solution, given that half of the squad is playing in unnatural roles, and we are lucky enough to find ourselves in the midst of the transfer window.
The news isn’t new. The squad needs at least one pacey, natural wide player, another defender, and a tall forward.
Bringing in all of those pieces — quality ones — may be an unrealistic goal for January, but if Dalglish and Damien Comolli are intent on keeping the club in the Europa League, they really must make progress to such ends.
If they do, we may even begin to see what we used to know — that Lucas, Meireles, and Kuyt can be pretty good, and that Torres can be downright spectacular.
Then, and only then, will the rebuilding process truly have begun.