With both Manchester clubs fighting for the title, attention has been deflected from a more realistic power shift on Merseyside
Last season’s Premier League campaign was arguably the best one in its 20 year history. It was a season full of mesmerising and grossly inflated results; 8-2’s, 1-6’s, 5-3’s, 5-0’s, 7-1’s and so on. It was the season when one city in the North-West of England truly took its place at the centre of the English football universe. The title was fought out in Manchester between United and City, the latter aptly winning it in ‘Fergie time’ thanks to an injury time winner against QPR by Sergio Ageurooooooooooooo (as the legendary Martin Tyler immortalised the moment).
With such a season still fresh in our memories, the new one has come around before we knew it, and the opening round of Premier League fixtures has once more confirmed what some of us thought. Nothing to do with Manchester though, this has to do with a city 30 miles down the East Lancs Road; Liverpool. With all the drama of the final day of last season, a fact that seemed to be overlooked is that Everton finished four points and a place ahead of Liverpool, after a gruelling 38-game league campaign.
Talk over the past few years has been of a power shift in Manchester, but a more realistic power shift is taking place in Liverpool. Last season was an eventful one for the red half of Merseyside, with King Kenny Dalglish assuming control at Anfield for his first full season in his second stint as Liverpool manager. Liverpool did manage to win the Carling Cup and bring some silverware back to Anfield after six years of slim pickings, but there more downs than ups. There was, of course, the extremely poorly handled Luis Suarez – Patrice Evra racism case, which no-one at Anfield emerged from well. There was impotence in front of goal, with Liverpool hitting the woodwork more times then any other team in the Premier League last season and scoring fewer goals than Everton, Fulham and newly promoted Norwich City, this from a striking partnership costing in excess of £50 million. There was criticism of so many players bought for large transfer fees – Suarez, Andy Carroll, Stuart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam, amongst others – questioning whether these players really are ‘Liverpool’ players, as such.
It could be said with some validity that this Liverpool side is still one in transition. This is particularly the case when one considers new manager Brendan Rodgers is still in the process of imposing his style and philosophy of football upon the club, one which many spectators marvelled at and admired last season whilst he was leading Swansea City to a respectable 11th place in the Welsh club’s maiden Premier League season. Judging from the evidence of Liverpool’s 3-0 away defeat to West Bromwich Albion last weekend, it may take some time to implement this style.
Uncertainty over key players future’s is gradually being quelled, with Martin Skrtel ruling a move to Manchester City by signing a new contract and new signings, such as Adam Johnson, may yet come through the door at Anfield. But it will take time for players like Joe Allen and Fabio Borini to adapt to their new team mates, and it remains to be seen if Andy Carroll is part of Rodgers’ plans, given that the former Newcastle striker appears to be the complete opposite of what Rodgers looks for in a player. There are even question marks over Liverpool’s better players. Captain Steven Gerrard was undoubtedly England’s best player at Euro 2012, but his Anfield career has been all too stop-start because of injury over the past 12 months, and this shows in his sometimes anonymous performances. It must also be said that Suarez, although an extremely talented and gifted player with the ability to create an opportunity out of nothing, has a poor finishing conversion rate and his ability to score leaves a lot to be desired at times. This was demonstrated once more last weekend as the Uruguayan missed two or three glorious chances in the six yard box to get his team back into the contest.
The feeling that Liverpool are a club still in transition is palpable.
This feeling of transition is contrasted by the emotions felt across Stanley Park at Goodison Park. Everton are a club that are traditional slow starters in the Premier League, but finish well which manages to shoot them up the table when teams around them are running out of steam. David Moyes has to work on a perennial shoe-string budget but always manages to gain a respectable finish with Everton. Last seasons £4 million January transfer window signing Nikica Jelavic from debt-stricken Rangers was a masterstroke, the Croatian scoring nine goals in 13 league games, giving the blue half of Merseyside a boost when they most needed it. This season, Jack Rodwell has been moved on to the blue half of Manchester for around £15 million, and based on Everton over the red half of Manchester on Monday, they will not miss him much.
Of course, early season victories and defeats lead to an awful lot of ridiculous and completely unfounded knee-jerk reactions from fans and journalists alike. But with all the talk about a power shift happening in Manchester, a similar transfer has been somewhat overlooked on Merseyside, yet it is arguably more likely to happen. Everton is a more stable club than Liverpool in terms of management and their playing staff and this ultimately shows on the pitch. Liverpool may have finances much greater than their Evertonian cousins, but it is the Goodison Park club that arguably uses finances more wisely and shrewdly, certainly in recent years. Record signing Marouane Fellaini certainly justified his fee when placed in an attacking role against Manchester United, where he rightly scored the winning goal in an unplayable man of the match performance. Defenders such as Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines and Sylvain Distin, still imperious at 34 years of age, whilst in midfield, Leon Osman continues to be underrated.
Whilst Liverpool are still trying to find their feet with a new manager in place, Everton may capitalise on this weakness and once more finish above their fierce local rivals in the table. It’s early days yet, but don’t rule out a power shift in Liverpool becoming stronger than the one happening in Manchester.