Following eighteen months of mediocrity under first Rafa Benitez and then Roy Hodgson, Liverpool fans were given an almighty boost with the return of a Liverpool legend. The return of the King. Kenny Dalglish. Surely he was the man to bring back the good times to Liverpool, to ensure they win trophies, return to Europe's top table - the Champions League, and maybe to secure a first ever Premier League title.
Fifteen months on however, the jury is very much still out. While Dalglish has indeed secured cup success with the Carling Cup won in February courtesy of a penalty shootout win over Championship opposition, and an FA Cup final date set for May against Chelsea, the league form has been completely underwhelming, and the Reds languish in mid-table obscurity in the position Roy Hodgson found his Liverpool side, once he was removed from office. Has Kenny actually moved Liverpool forward as a team?
Well in terms of trophies then yes he has. A potential domestic cup double is in the offing, and in Cup competitions this season, Liverpool have seen off the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United and Merseyside rivals Everton, which shows that in the big games, Liverpool do possess a strong side, who can beat anyone on their day, and I would not be suprised if they completed that double on May 5th.
The league form however has been completely different. They currently find themselves in eighth place in the Premier League, below fierce rivals Everton, thirty seven points adrift of league leaders Manchester United, and closer to the relegation places than the Champions League spots. Liverpool have won only five games at home which is fifth worst in the league, while away from Anfield, they have lost nine out of seventeen fixtures, a record on par with bottom club Wolves. As it stands, Liverpool are two places and six points worse off in comparison to last season, yet Dalglish insists that progress is being made, a viewpoint shared by former Liverpool midfield and Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp, but it's very hard to see where he is coming from.
Dalglish blames the lack of depth in his squad for the poor league form, while many fans bemoan perceived bad luck, especially when it comes to hitting the woodwork, or squandering glorious opportunities, however bad luck can only be apportioned part of the blame, the rest lies firmly with Dalglish and his signings. He's spent in excess of £100m, and if that sort of spending can't buy you a striker to score more than eight goals (Liverpool's top League scorer this season is Suarez with 8) or a squad with sufficient depth (considering the amount of money spent by previous managers) then something is seriously wrong.
In the Goalkeeping department Liverpool are fine, but that is due to Pepe Reina, one of Benitez's acquisitions, so Kenny hasn't had to worry with that area of the pitch.
Again in defence, Liverpool have looked solid, with a defensive record only bettered by the two Manchester clubs. However as with Reina, Johnson, Agger, Carragher and Skrtel were already in place, while Kenny's signing of Jose Enrique, has been decent enough, although his performances have declined as the season has gone on.
In midfield is where the problems really lie, and part of them are down to Dalglish's poor and over-priced signings. Three or four years ago, Liverpool had a midfield which included the likes of Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano. The latter two of the trio left for Real Madrid and Barcelona, yet Dalglish has replaced them with the likes of Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing, for a combined total of around £43m, a figure similar to that received for the sales of Mascherano and Alonso. These players are simply not in the same class as the departed. Jordan Henderson is perhaps worth £5 million at best. He was signed as part of Dalglish's 'buy british' policy,which has simply failed, Henderson simply does not stack up, he's scored a paltry one goal this season, and has contributed very little all season. Charlie Adam is perhaps even worse. Last season he was the lynch-pin in an exuberant Blackpool attacking force. His delivery from set-pieces and range of passing was second to none. However the move to Merseyside, has seen him seemingly leave these assets on the Pleasure Beach, because they've certainly not been seen at Anfield recently. Stewart Downing was another of these British summer buys who again has failed to live up to his ridiculous price tag. Downing was admittedly decent at Villa and prior to that at Middlesbrough, but he's only shown very brief glimpses of quality during his time on Merseyside, and when you have a player like Andy Carroll up front, you need decent delivery from wide areas, and while Downing on paper should provide that, simply hasn't done so on a regular enough basis.
Liverpools main problem has been in front of goal, on countless occasions this season they have squandered chance after chance, before losing a game. Sunday's defeat to West Bromwich Albion was a prime example. With a frontline of Suarez and Carroll, totalling £58m a goal return of twelve in the league, is simply not good enough. Andy Carroll has been discussed time and again. He's a big imposing presence up front, but while at Newcastle, he had a team built around him to play to his aerial strengths, Liverpool are simply not in the same mould, and he's struggled to adapt, and his measly goal tally of four shows that. As for Suarez, Liverpool should be made for him, in the same way that it was made for Fernando Torres. He and Gerrard have formed a decent partnership, and his quality is obvious, however his reputation for diving, and whole race-row incident with Patrice Evra have overshadowed somewhat his troubles infront of goal, Suarez should be up there with the likes of Van Persie, Rooney and Aguero, he definitely has the ability, but his goal-return is poor at best.
There are serious issues that Liverpool need to address to challenge even for a European place next season let alone a title challenge, and this season's cup successes should not cover-up the fact that they have been below par all season long, and that serious work needs to be done.
The question is, should Dalglish be the man to take them forward?
I'm a great advocate of loyalty with managers. I was against the AVB sacking and the Mick McCarthy sacking this season, and wouldn't jump to the conclusion that Kenny should be shown the door, but the fact of the matter is, he's doing a worse job that Rafa Benitez ever did during his Anfield tenure, and he's in just as poor a position as Roy Hodgson was before he was given the boot. At the moment he is only being saved by his 'legend' status and camouflaging cup runs. I would give him the summer, to make more astute signings, none of this "lets by some average bloke for £20m just because he's English" Liverpool need real quality, a player like Edinson Cavani up front, someone prolific, and maybe an Eden Hazard type creative midfielder. They should take a leaf out of Newcastle United's book they like Liverpool with Torres, lost a big player, but they reinvested wisely, and improved immensely because of it. Liverpool seemed to see the money, and splashed out haphazardly.
In my view Dalglish must have Liverpool challenging for Europe by Christmas, otherwise his days at Anfield may well be ending.
Hopefully you'll all have your own opinions on this so please feel free to comment :)